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Interview Hindi

Amit Trivedi: The time I spent composing for Bombay Velvet was the best phase of my life

On the fifth anniversary of the release of Bombay Velvet, award-winning composer Amit Trivedi recalls the struggle of composing his first jazz album and discusses why it did not receive much recognition.

File photo: Shutterbugs Images

Suyog Zore

Bombay Velvet (2015) reunited filmmaker Anurag Kashyap with music composer Amit Trivedi after their first collaboration, Dev D (2010). Dev D's music had become popular with the masses as well as the classes, and Trivedi had won the National and Filmfare awards for his work.

Naturally, there were great expectations from their next collaboration, which came after five years. A gangster drama set in 1950s Bombay, a stellar cast, Kashyap as director and a first-of-its-kind jazz soundtrack by Amit Trivedi, Bombay Velvet had all the ingredients to become a blockbuster. But the film was panned by critics and ended up as one of the biggest disasters of the Hindi film industry.

Unfortunately, the box-office performance of the film also affected the music and despite being one of the most innovative albums it soon faded from people's memory.

Speaking with Cinestaan.com on the fifth anniversary of the film's release (Bombay Velvet hit theatres on 15 May 2015), Amit Trivedi opened up about his struggle composing his first-ever jazz soundtrack. Excerpts:

You had said before the film's release that the music of Bombay Velvet will grow on people. You had high hopes of the album. So when it didn't get the recognition it deserved, how did you deal with​ it?

Yes, I had really high hopes of Bombay Velvet, because it was the first time somebody was attempting jazz [in Hindi cinema]. 'Mohabbat Buri Bimari' did become a hit and people still sing it in reality shows, so that song kind of made its mark, but yeah, except that, the rest of the songs did not get much recognition.

I would be lying if I said it didn't affect me when the film flopped. You learn from that experience and move on. But despite its commercial failure, the best part about Bombay Velvet was the entire process. The process of creating that music was so beautiful. It was the most fascinating phase of my life. We had so much fun working on that film. Ultimately, that matters the most.

So, can you tell us something about the process?

I worked extensively on that film for three years. The first thing was to learn and understand jazz, so the first few months I spent only listening to and understanding the genre. Not modern jazz, but the old-school jazz from the 1950s and 1960s. Jazz from that era had a completely different vibe, so learning that was exciting but also extremely difficult. I used to also chat with fellow musicians and try to figure out the nuances of the genre.

Later, I started creating my own ideas. Actually, I wanted to create a hybrid of two worlds. I wanted to do Frank Sinatra meets OP Nayyar. I was aiming for that kind of combination. And I genuinely believe I was successful in doing that. The Indian audience is not used to listening to pure jazz, so I wanted them to be introduced to this genre of music but in a little Indianized way.

In the 1950s, Bombay used to have those big band jazz orchestras. As the name suggests, they were big bands with a huge orchestra. They had horn sections, string sections, woodwind sections. So I researched what kind of music they used to play in those times and tried to incorporate it in my music because I wanted to make sure our soundtrack was authentic to that era.

How did you choose Neeti Mohan to be Anushka Sharma's voice? It was a risk, considering she was not a popular name back then and she was going to sing most of the songs from the film.

Yes, I agree she was not a popular name at the time we choose her as leading singer. Actually, I had heard her song 'Chali Re' from Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012). When I watched the song, I realized her voice perfectly matched Anushka Sharma's personality. So we finalized her as Anushka Sharma's voice in Bombay Velvet.

Why do you think jazz has never been a popular genre of music in Hindi cinema?

Yaar, jazz is generally not a popular genre in the world, not just in India. There are hardly a few people who enjoy jazz. Youngsters nowadays prefer Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber.

Is there any particular reason for it?

It's a very complex genre of music. It's very expressive and more hard-core than other genres. It's also very deep and has many layers to it. You need patience as a listener to appreciate the little nuances of that music. And, honestly, who has such patience nowadays? So it doesn't have any chance to become a popular genre of music, especially in India.

Still, I made it a little accessible to Indian audiences by toning it down to Indian sensibilities, which is pretty evident, especially in songs like 'Mohabbat Buri Bimari'. But I also made sure it's still in the realm of jazz. I was aware that if I do the hard-core jazz, it will just go over their heads.

You recorded the songs and score with a live orchestra in Prague [in the Czech Republic]. Because they have their own conductor, how much say does a music composer have when the conductor is conducting the orchestra?

I have all the say. It's my song, it's my music. I'm the creator. They are just transcribing the music for me. So I had all the say. And everything was written down. Everything was pre-planned. We had written down every note. They only had to play it.

Do you think if the film had worked, the soundtrack would also have become a hit?

Definitely it would have. The film has to be successful for the soundtrack to become a hit in Hindi cinema. In our case, it was all the more important because the soundtrack was central to the film's narrative. It took the narrative forward. So if one had to enjoy the soundtrack, it was imperative that he or she watch the film.

'Fifi' from Bombay Velvet was a remixed song. What is your opinion about the growing trend of remaking songs?

Yes, that was a remixed song. It all boils down to public demand. The majority of people like it, so we make it. It's just simple economics of demand and supply. If people stop listening to remixed songs, then obviously the music industry won't produce so many remixed songs. But now, there is a demand for such songs, so we make them.

Bombay Velvet also had a distinct background score. Can you tell us a little bit about that process?

The background score also took a lot of time. I was working for more than six months on the score. Scoring a film is a strenuous process. You have to watch each scene multiple times, understand the emotions of the scene, understand the emotions of the characters, and what the scene wants to convey to the audience. You have to think of all these things while composing the background score. This process becomes a little easier if you have the final edited version of the film. But Bombay Velvet's editing took a lot of time, so it slightly delayed my work.

The film's background score was heavy on symphony orchestra whereas the soundtrack was pure jazz. Why was that?

It was a conscious decision by our director Anurag Kashyap. He wanted that grand symphonic sound, I guess.

If you were given a chance to compose a jazz album again, would you do it?

Why not! It's fun and challenging to do jazz. I will definitely do it. But, obviously, there has to be an audience for this kind of music. Sirf main akela sun ke kya karunga?