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Had a huge open canvas in front of me: Anupam Roy on scoring the music for Piku

The award-winning composer reminisces about his debut in Hindi cinema and shares memories of the late Irrfan Khan who starred in the film.

Sonal Pandya

Shoojit Sircar’s Piku (2015) reunited the filmmaker with a few of his familiar collaborators as he worked with writer Juhi Chaturvedi and cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi once again. But he also worked with some other artistes for the first time. Besides working with stars Deepika Pakudone and Irrfan Khan in his film, Sircar introduced composer Anupam Roy to Hindi cinema.

Roy spoke with Cinestaan.com on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the film's release (Piku was released in India on 8 May 2015) and revealed how he got the opportunity to score both the soundtrack and the background music for Piku, and how he went about shaping the film’s sound.

Roy made his film debut with Srijit Mukherji's Autograph (2010) and there was no looking back. The composer's entry into Hindi film music happened quite serendipitously.

“I had started my journey as a composer, lyricist and singer in Bengali music," the former engineer explained. "I started making a living out of music. Shoojit Sircar noticed my development and my music. He called me and asked if I could contribute to his film Piku. That was a big thing for me because I had no idea, no clue that I’m getting such an important opportunity. I composed a song called ‘Bezuban’ and played it to him.”

Sircar liked what he heard and asked Roy to compose another track for Piku. “At that time, I got to know about the film’s plot, the cast of the film, and I was pretty unsure what was expected out of me, but I got to know about the journey they were to make from Delhi to Kolkata,” he said.

Roy composed the ‘Journey Song’ and the name stuck when it made it into the film, and then Sircar asked him to take on the complete album.

“It was a really amazing moment for me,” Roy recalled. “These days, it’s very difficult to get one full music album as music director. There are [a few] people working and you usually get to do one song, maybe two songs max. But [Sircar] not only gave me the opportunity to work on five songs, but also the film’s background music. Piku is a fantastic project in my career. I always look back and think about the days [as] I really enjoyed working on a film like Piku.”

At the Filmfare awards in 2016, Anupam Roy won the trophy for Best Background Score and was nominated for Best Music Director as well. Piku, written by Chaturvedi, is the story of the Banerjee family, septuagenarian and hypochondriac Bhaskor (Amitabh Bachchan) and his daughter Piku (Padukone) who undertake a car journey with Rana Chaudhary (Khan) from Delhi to Kolkata. The film ended up winning three National awards, an acting award for Bachchan and for screenplay and dialogues for Chaturvedi.

The sound of Piku is unique with both Western and Indian instruments blending in beautifully. Asked how he balanced them, Roy replied, “I think the milieu we are living in is a kind of mix of both worlds. So I did not try, it came naturally. These are the times, the times we are living in, so there is a deep influence of the West, and of course, we have our Indian traditions in music all over us, so these two rivers, I would say, they come and meet somewhere, and this is 2020 we are living in where the music of the entire world has come together in a vast ocean.”

Besides the background music and songs, Roy co-wrote the lyrics for the album. “I wrote the lyrics for three and a half songs," he joked, "and that is all my Hindi! My vocabulary was exhausted and we got in Manoj [Yadav] to help us out with the rest.

"Actually what used to happen is when I went to Shoojit to play the songs to him, I would put some random lyrics on the melody so that he gets an idea how it might sound. But he thought the lyrics were going with the movie, so it was his decision to keep them, otherwise we could have got someone else to write those parts.”

The composer said he and Sircar discussed the vibe of Piku and he was most fortunate not to have any constraints on his compositions in his first Hindi film. “He gave me total freedom and liberty to see what I can come up with. I had a huge open canvas. There were no restrictions, I could do anything!”

When Roy composes in Bengali, he always writes his own lyrics. But when he composed for Piku, the process ended up getting reversed; he first composed the melodies and then wrote the words. Of late, he works by getting the lyrics first and then trying to work a score for them. But five years ago, he was also trying to come up with a different sound. In the ‘Journey Song’ there are a few Bengali lines woven in as well.

“People in Bengal have a certain taste and ear," he explained. "They are trained to understand and appreciate a certain kind of music. [It’s] not necessary that kind of music will be appealing to the pan-Indian audience, and that’s what makes it really difficult for me. It’s very challenging that a tune that would appeal to a person sitting in Chennai or Delhi or [anywhere] in India.”

For the film’s musical themes, Roy created wonderful instrumental pieces that matched the characters and their moods to a T.

“I composed around seven or eight pieces and kept sending them, one was on the violin, one on the sitar, one on the sarod. I had not seen the movie at that time and had no idea what was going on. Then [Sircar] said he really liked the sarod theme and would like to use it. Then I saw the movie and I saw that this fits perfectly, then I started to enhance it, and there were other pieces I composed after watching the movie also, especially the sitar theme where Irrfan and Deepika explore the city of Kolkata. Otherwise we tried to keep things very simple and organic, because the essence of the movie itself was very realistic. Anything complicated would sound contrived. The major part, I think, is the acting of the people on screen. They make our lives very simple.”

Naturally, the conversation turned to Khan, who died tragically last week. The actor had been diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour in 2018. Roy remembered his first meeting with Irrfan Khan for the film.

“[The] first time, I think, I was in Shoojit-da’s office having a discussion with him when Irrfan and his wife [Sutapa Sikdar] stepped in. I stood up and Shoojit-da introduced me, and, of course, he needed no introduction. It was a brief meeting and he wished me luck and he went inside for some other meeting,” Roy said.

Later, they congregated again at a special screening of the film for the cast and crew. “It was a big deal for me, because that was my first time that any Hindi movie that had my music was getting screened. I was thrilled and having a nice time, and Irrfan was there,” Roy reminisced.

The Piku team was in a joyful mood afterwards, he stated, thinking of the feel-good film they had made. “Everyone had liked the movie, all the crew members and cast were really hopeful that the movie would do well because there was some positive thing coming out of it," Roy said. "At that time, I had spent the evening with Irrfan and it was one of my memorable evenings, I would say.”