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25 years of Gupt: Music composer Viju Shah discusses the making of the cult soundtrack

Shah won the inaugural Filmfare award for Best Background Score for the Rajiv Rai thriller starring Bobby Deol, Kajol and Manisha Koirala, which was released on 4 July 1997.

Sonal Pandya

Rajiv Rai’s Gupt: The Hidden Truth (1997) was one of the most-talked-about films of the year of its release. Starring Bobby Deol, Kajol and Manisha Koirala, the Hindi blockbuster had a buzzworthy twist ending and a groovy soundtrack. The star power, music and story have ensured its longevity through the years.

Music composer Viju Shah played a big part in the film’s success. He won the inaugural Filmfare award for Best Background Score for the thriller, which was released on 4 July 1997. In a telephonic interview, Shah spoke about the reception to the score, its legacy and how the cult soundtrack was put together.

Speaking about Gupt’s longevity, Shah said the film was a little ahead of its time: “When the music was released, no one was saying anything about it, good or bad. They were mum about the whole thing.”

Shah told Cinestaan.com that the music for Gupt was released on Ram Navami in 1997 at a quiet ceremony at Rajiv Rai’s office. Also present was the filmmaker's father, the veteran producer Gulshan Rai, who released the albums.

“At that point in time, we were going on a tour for some shows with Mr [Amitabh] Bachchan and I had given the cassettes to choreographers and dancers who were along with us, just for their reaction," Shah said. "But again, I got no reaction from them and no one was saying anything about it, good or bad.”

But once the songs began appearing on television in rotation throughout the day, interest began to pick up. Shah had advised Rai to release all the songs together and see what happens. The music picked up slowly but surely.

“When I saw the songs in Madras when we had gone for mixing, I felt Rajiv had taken the songs to some other level,” Shah said. “That was a big plus point for the music of this film.”

“The best part is [that] till today people remember [it] and a lot of shops in Ahmedabad and places outside Bombay call and say they play my tracks to check their systems. I could just thank god for this, and that no one has thought about recreating any songs from Gupt,” he laughed.

Shah was also nominated for Best Music Director and Alka Yagnik for Best Female Playback Singer for 'Mere Khwabon Mein Tu', but the composer picked up the first-ever Best Background Score award for Gupt. He worked on infusing the background score with the melodies of the six songs and the title track. “That’s always been Rajiv’s trait, making themes out of them and effects,” he said. “They are all interspersed.”

Rai and Shah had previously worked on Yudh (1985), Tridev (1989), Vishwatma (1992) and Mohra (1994) and made a great team. Before going away on holiday, the filmmaker dropped by and discussed the story idea with Shah and told him to get ready.

He recalled, “[Rai] just said, ‘I have an idea whereby the main heroine is the murderer in the film.’ And I was so excited, I said yes. You felt excited that a character who was there in front of you throughout the film turned out to be a murderer. The only point becomes how to justify it, why she has done it.”

When they began working on the score, Rai told him he was looking at a trendy, trance-like soundtrack for all the songs. Together, they discussed the melody and rhythm, putting in a lot of time and effort.

Shah recalled being taken aback initially by the film’s title. He said, “People associated Gupt with Gupt Gyan, Gupt Rog and all these sex-based films. I said it sounds very weird, but he told me the real meaning of Gupt is the hidden truth. He registered the title, but then when he played one of the tracks to me of Deep Forest, the title-track inspiration came. The sound effect they used sounded like Gupt. I remember going to his place at 11:30 at night and saying to Rajiv, ‘You keep this title and we can create a track on this.’ And that’s how we started working on the title track.”

After the tune was in place, they went to Anand Bakshi for the lyrics and to incorporate the title into the songs. The veteran came up with the lines, 'Yahan wahan dhuaan dhuaan / Chhupa kahan oh gupt hai woh', making the title track stand out even more. The song became a theme that played throughout the film, whenever Kajol came in.

Shah’s personal favourite of the Gupt soundtrack is ‘Mere Sanam’, which features the lead couple being chased. Both he and Bakshi kept this in mind when creating the song. He said, “If you concentrate on the lines ‘hazaaron hai baatein, magar waqt hai kam’ and ‘jee le zaara’ because [Deol] knew it was the end of the road for him.”

With the song ‘Mushkil Bada Yeh Pyar Hai’, the trio got down to the song composition after a cup of tea. The veteran lyricist got started with adjectives like gehraiyaan and pareshaniyaan and stated, ‘Abhi antara mat karo iska, yehi chalne do.’ They gave him the song title and the rest just clicked under Bakshi.

Shah reminisced, “We worked hard on this film. There were a lot of arguments during the recording of songs, but all in the interest of the songs. Bakshi saheb has done a phenomenal job. These picturizations have been something else. I had told Rajiv, ‘Gaane ko ek naya jaan diya hai’, especially if you see Jaisalmer, Manali and Kerala in the songs. That was his forte.”

Next week, the film will be screened again on the big screen by Radio Nasha with stars Kajol, Koirala and Deol in attendance at South Mumbai's Metro theatre. The composer is awed that youngsters still come up to him about the music and are keen to see the movie on the big screen.