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Interview Hindi

I always tell my director that I’m a pen to write with: Veere Di Wedding composer Shashwat Sachdev

Talented composer, singer and lyricist shares his short journey with us in an exclusive conversation.

Shashwat Sachdev

Mayur Lookhar

As films have become shorter in length, songs are more often than not made for promotional purposes. Perhaps, this has in some way affected the quality of Hindi film music too. Low quality lyrics has seen many composers resort to an easy option of remakes. Thus, when a refreshing track comes our way, the composer becomes the new attraction.

Shashwat Sachdev is one such artist. The man from Jaipur has only composed for three films so far and yet shows a deep understanding of Indian classical and Western music. He made his debut with Phillauri (2017) wherein he presented some refreshing, endearing Sufi numbers. In the title track of Kaalakaandi (2018), he scored a nice mix of contemporary and desi music that had a touch of jazz. And now he has Veere Di Wedding, for which he has composed four songs – each different in genre and melody. While it would be easy to categorize his music under ‘East meets West’, that would not be a true assessment of the young musician's calibre.

“To me, it’s about owning my desi. For my newer music, I can’t let go of my heritage, for I want it to live. But for my heritage, I can’t cover an old song. There has to be a balance," says Sachdev.

He started learning music from the age of three, then learnt classical Western music on piano during his school days. He studied law, then headed to the US to polish his craft in music. Speaking exclusively to us, Sachdev talks about his music and praises Rhea Kapoor for being a pillar of support. Excerpts.

Phillauri, Kaalakaadi, and now Veere Di Wedding. I wonder whether Shashwat Sachdev is now the official DJ/composer for films where drama centers around a wedding?

That’s really cool way of putting it. I honestly don’t know what to say, but most of our films tend to have a wedding.

When I start working on a film, after meeting the director, and after reading the script there are two things that are most important to me - how my musicality connects with the producer or the director of the film, and what they expect from my music, and second is how much is the scope of music in their script.

I was approached for a lot of projects, but the scope of work didn’t inspire me. In terms of Phillauri (2017), when I read the script and when I met [producers] Anushka and Karunesh Sharma, it was a music based film than a wedding based film. What inspired me was how my music can be a part of their journey and script. 

The same was the case with Rhea Kapoor [producer of Veere Di Wedding]. We immediately connected on the musicality. We started working on it three years back. I started working on this even before Phillauri. Initially, I was only supposed to do a couple of songs in the films. Then we started working, and other projects happened, and I ended doing four, it was supposed be to be five, but I’m so happy. I was parallelly, working on the two films. What is important is that kind of people that you work with and not that it is any wedding film.

Your mother wanted you to be a lawyer, so you studied law, your father wanted you to sing you became a singer, composer...

Retrospectively looking, the kind of support that my family has extended is a huge reason why I am a musician. Not many people get that social or emotional support from the people that they live with. It just doesn’t apply to your parents, but the people with whom you work with.

You mentioned about Kaalakaandi (2018). Mr Khatter [Rohit Khatter, founder-chairman of Cinestaan Film Company] is a marvellous human being.  The kind of support that he gave me for even that one thing, I can’t tell you how much it touched me. You meet someone for the first time and it might the change the course of your life a little bit. Rohit Khatter is one such person.

You come across as an obedient son. Similarly, now looking at the various genres of music you have explored in the three films, so far, can we say Shashwat Sachdev is a music director who delivers whatever is asked of him? 

That is so  true. I always tell my director that I’m a pen to write with, a creative tool to work with. I will write whatever you want me to. In that box that you would put me in, my responsibility is to do that job properly, start with complete conviction and then reinvent or find something fresh and new in the space that you want me to work into. Be it an inventive bhangra track or a music piece that is based in 19th century. My job is to find a creative balance between what is expected out of me, and then what I want to do. 

In Veere Di Weeding, you have explored different music styles. Were you merely sticking to the director’s brief, sticking to the situation at hand, or you chose to compose what you felt was the best for the lyrics? 

Honestly, I can’t personally take all the credit. Rhea Kapoor herself has a musician’s soul. She was the person I associated with as far as music was concerned. When we exploring each situation, we did it together.

Wasn’t director Shashanka Ghosh involved in the music? 

No, he came much later on. He was always there, as he is the director, but Rhea Kapoor, I think, has been the music curator, or that music producer who would give me that money, time resources, the space, conviction, encouragement, saying, 'Ok Shash, this is what we think we should do, now you go ahead and do it'.  

Some times, it would be take month or, like in the case of 'Bass Gira De Raja', it happened overnight. I sat down at 11pm, I wrote, sang, produced, arranged everything and at 7.30 am, I sent her [Rhea Kapoor] a message that I have finished doing the song. I told Rhea that we should do a thumri (Hindustani classical genre). I’ve learnt Hindustani classical music for 22 years and have been playing the Western classical piano for 11 years. So, the idea for me is owning my desi. I have grown up listening to Hindustani music, SD Burman, OP Nayyar, Naushad, so it’s very important that we own our desi.

The kind of sound that I like, the kind of sound that I want to listen to myself, I produce that. I told Rhea that we should do a thumri, that these girls are listening to in the car. Rhea was like, 'Come on, thumri?' She still asked to make it and present. I wrote, and composed a thumri overnight, arranged in a contemporary way and I sent it to her. At around 12.30-1.00 am, she called me over wanting to listen to it. She really liked it.

You have also written the lyrics of 'Bass Gira De Raja' song. They are no ordinary lyrics, but speak of a woman’s sexual desires, her urges. Now normally, only a woman can best describe it. It’s remarkable that you have managed to bring out those desires through your words.

In the social structure that we live in right now, there is very less, remote possibility for a real expression to come out. It is so difficult for one to express oneself, for you put yourself up for immediate judgement, when you say something. There is one phrase called 'drop the bass', a phrase for electronic music, when the bass drops, that’s when the main part of the song hits.

I interpreted it as 'Tu Bass Gira De Raja' but it also has this connotation of.. [pauses] moving all the purdah [veil], and just talk to the point. When I composed this initially, it was a proper thumri. Lyrics were quirky and naughty. By the time it was composed, it remained less of thumri, but more of bass.

I’m sure there are plenty of stories from Veere Di Wedding. Can you share with us one memorable anecdote?

I said the same during the launch of Veere Di Wedding that more than people calling my music refreshing, a lot of credit also has to go to the team that has worked on it. Here I think a lot of credit has to go to Rhea. I was two months old in Mumbai when I met her. I met her very randomly. I tagged along with friend who was going to meet Rhea.

She heard my music and said, 'Shash, I was looking for you, you should do music for my film. We have to do couple of songs. It will be a multi-composer album but I can’t commit to the whole album being done by you'. Eventually, we did four songs back-to-back and came a point where she said, maybe you could compose for the whole film.

A couple of months back, two songs were added, one was Badshah’s, and the other by White Noise [a band]. But the kind of support she gave me out of nowhere and the kind of music that I did, I can't help but express my gratitude to her. Immediately, I started working for Phillauri three months later.

The music of Phillauri came like a breath of fresh air. The lyrics of 'Sahiba' and 'Dum Dum' are as precious as pearls. I call them pearls as we don’t get such lyrics nowadays. How much did you enjoy scoring for these tracks?

'Dum Dum' didn’t have a formulaic structure. It is very non-linear. The same goes with 'Sahiba'. It starts somewhere else and ends somewhere else. In 'Sahiba', the makers initially wanted a transformation of a Punjabi singer.

The guitarist is from Los Angeles, plucked strings were played by Youngmin Kim from Korea, the percussionist is Bashiri Johnson, who has worked with Michael Jackson. I wanted to explore Indian music with an international interpretation.

The end lyrics, music of 'Sahiba' was truly special.

That was added later. The song only had one part but I felt that there needs to be another section after it. There had to be a crescendo in the end. The song needed to explode. I told singer Romy that we needed to do more in the end. Till then, the song duration was about four, four and a half minutes. Romy felt the song would end up looking so long. We got lyricist Anvita Dutt and told her that we wanted to add more to it.

Are you disappointed that despite having great lyrics, 'Sahiba' lost out on 'Ullu Ka Pattha' from Jagga Jasoos (2017) at the Filmfare Awards?

[Laughs] The only thing that is important to me is how applicable my song is to a listener’s life, or even my own life. Nothing else matters. I’ll give you a personal example. Two years ago, I had a written a song for my own wife during our wedding. She used to always complain that I had never written a beautiful song for her. She is my childhood friend. When we were getting married, I thought I should a write a song on the fact that we think our relationship is very important, but maybe, our relationship is just another mediocre relationship, and you shouldn’t give it too much importance. I wrote a song on this that went like:

‘Khaas khaas lagti hain sabko apni kahaani, sabke ek se afsane, ek si kahani, aa hum bhi aam ho jaye, sabhi ke jaise waqt mein hum bhi chap chapaye, hum bhi apna ek ghar banaye.'

She liked it. Around the same time, I met Rhea. She said that the film has a love song wherein the guy is proposing to a girl. You think there should be a song for the moment? I played her the song that I’d written for my wife. Rhea said Shashwat, this is the story of my life. This is my love song. So, you see my love song was immediately applicable to her too. A song like 'Sahiba' you will listen to and it applies to your life. But it may not appeal to those who want to listen to bhangra. With all due respect, to some a 'Tamma Tamma' is more applicable. Similarly, I guess an 'Ullu Ka Pattha' may have been more applicable in the jury’s life.

I read that you worked in Hollywood. Would you like to talk about it? 

I worked with a lot of music producers, helping them. I was an associate producer on lot of projects. I was arranging, producing for bigger known composers like Marc Shaiman. He is one of the most influential composers in the world right now. 

Then I worked with Grammy Award-winner Tony Maserati. Working with them, my taste for music got polished, a taste or overall perception of art. Everyone would tell me, you learnt so much of Indian music, but you are not getting an opportunity to use it. So, how are you satisfied? They felt I should go back to India.

Can you talk about your background? How you started learning music? 

My father is a doctor, an anaesthesiologist. And my mom is a lecturer of Philosophy in college. I think I was about 3-4-years old when mom started to teach me singing. Thereafter, I learnt from Ustad Ramzan Khan sahab for 18 years. Simultaneously, I learnt piano from Trinity College of Music, India for 10 years. I went to Los Angeles, where I enrolled for song writing workshops. Then I worked as an associate producer for music composers, before returning to India, and here I am.

Although it is a very short journey, how do you look at your life so far?

I look at it with thankfulness. What else? My career is just too short to add any comments.