Making music for Aamir Khan
The music of 3 Idiots is getting great reviews and the man behind the compositions is Shantanu Moitro.
An economics graduate from Delhi, Moitra chose advertising over a lucrative bank job at first. The sudden realisation that he is the son of artists -- his agricultural scientist father plays the sarod and his mother is a kathak dancer -- made him turn towards music.
He started with jingles and then did the album Ab Ke Saawan with Shuba Mudgal. On hearing the song, Sudhir Mishra offered him Hazaaron Kwaishein Aisi, which forced him to shift to Mumbai.
The shift did a whole lot of good to him and today, he has some of the biggest films to his credit like Parineeta, Lage Raho Munna Bhai and 3 Idiots.
Sitting at his Bandra recording studio, in the western suburb of Mumbai, he talks to Nithya Ramani about the music of 3 Idiots and adds what tough taskmasters director Rajkumar Hirani and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra are.
Image: Shantanu Moitra sings Give Me Some Sunshine
'Zoobie Doobie was a tough song to record'
How was the experience of making music for 3 Idiots?
The first song we worked on was Give Me Some Sunshine. It wasn't made for a character or a situation. When I compose, I use mostly Bengali words that don't mean anything. We -- including lyricist Swanand Kirkare -- realised that as college students, we often used to sing with no words. The groove then came in and then the lyrics.
Next was Zoobie Doobie. It's similar to Give Me Some Sunshine. I gave a bit to Swanand to develop on and add lyrics. During the sitting with Raju Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, they realised there was some magic in this nonsense. It doesn't mean anything but Zoobie Doobie gives a flavour to the song. So we kept it.
Zoobie Doobie was a tough one to record because we recorded it about five times. The same thing happened during Lage Raho Munna Bhai for the Pal Pal song. We recorded that song about five times and called Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal repeatedly. When it comes to these two singers, we never know what we want from them.
When it came to Aal Izz Well, I had no clue what to do. According to me, the cock-a-doodle thing is the best way to start anything in life. It starts a day, then why not a song? I used the same in Ab Ke Saawan when I worked with Shuba Mudgal. I can relate to this cock crowing because when I was young, there was a rooster in front of my house and it would crow at 12:30 pm. I think I carried this childhood trauma along with me till today.
After wondering what to do with the song, Swanand came up with this Facebook forward that he got. It was a chick that sees an egg on a frying pan and asks, 'Brother, is this you?' Raju loved this idea and said that was a brilliant start for the song. That is how we came up with 'Murgi kya jaane ande ka kya hoga, life milegi ya tawe par fry hoga, koi na jaane apna future kya hoga'.
I think the last line is the ethos of all of us working on 3 Idiots. None of us knew what we wanted with life. I didn't know what my future was, music just happened and I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow.
Raju Hirani too has been clueless for most of his life. He was an editor who didn't know what to do with his life. He keeps saying he didn't know how he became a director.
Image: Shantanu Moitro sings Aal Izz Well
'All Vidhu Vinod Chopra films and Raju films are like an entrance exam for the armed forces'
How is Raju Hirani to work with?
I think all Vidhu Vinod Chopra films and Raju films are like an entrance exam for the armed forces. There is Vidhu on one side and Raju Hirani on the other. They are very clear as to what they want. They are dedicated and are at it from morning to night.
There are many things that a director can tell you and many things he can't. All you need to do is trust him blindly.
Their passion and dedication makes them tough and pleasurable to work with. You know that you will be pushed to a point till your best is out. If you slacken, you can be assured that they will pull you up. It is like graduating from IIT, your job is assured at the end of your graduation.
So have there been times when you got frustrated because you didn't know what Raju wants and he was not satisfied till he got what wanted?
Always. And Vinod will come in to pacify and help us with the compositions. That is the best thing about Vinod -- he never comes in as a producer; he always comes in as a creative person. He is always there to help in the tunes, write lyrics and make music. Same with Raju. If he rejects something, then that is the final word. He is the director, the captain of the ship. What he says is what he gets.
But I think that is what makes a song good better. Because Raju knew what I was capable of and would push me till I do my best. You tend to lose objectivity of the song because you're working on it continuously and get so close to it. Once the song was over, I took some time off and now that I have revisited the song, I am really proud of what I have done.
When you say Vinod doesn't come in as a producer, what do you mean? Does he tie you down with anything?
Look at the kind of films he has produced -- Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai and now 3 Idiots. I believe it is very difficult for a director to produce films. I have never seen him try to win an argument just because he is the producer.
He offered me Lage Raho Munna Bhai even before Parineeta released so I don't feel he is offering me the film because Parineeta was successful.
Image: Shantanu Moitro sings Zoobie Doobie
'Raju and Vinod have never ever asked me to deliver a hit'
What is your style of working? How do you come up with tunes?
I don't have a bank of tunes. I don't like working inside a studio. That is not how I work. I like to go out, travel and meet people. I capture the sounds I hear and try to incorporate them in my music. It is very spontaneous.
The style of work is simple. Once I get to know the film, Swanand comes in. My association with Swanand has been a long one as we have worked with each other in about eight-nine films. He is a complete whacko! For the first two days, we pretend to work but we don't. On the third day, when we have to present, the pressure seeps in and that helps us come up something instantly. I always try to listen to my heart.
Raju and Vinod have never ever asked me to deliver a hit. They have never given me a CD for reference. If that happens, your work becomes tougher because you have to judge your work on various parameters. But these people are always there to help you.
In Aal Izz Well, there is a line: Scholorship ki pidiya daru, gham to phir bhi mithta nahi, agarbattiyan raakh ho gayi, god phir bhi dikha nahi.
These are great lines. I have seen college students who pray to god -- aaj tak mandir gaya nahi hoga, par exam ke time pe he will be like paas kara do. Now this line didn't fit in the song composition. But I thought they were great lines and didn't want to tell Swanand that it wasn't fitting in the song.So I created the rap. Swanand raps this line himself.
Did you interact with college students to know their taste of music before you came up with these tunes?
No. I have never known a poet who has gone to the moon to write about it. We have all been college students just a few years ago so we know what it is like to make youthful music. That is why you are a creative person.
The lyrics in Munnabhai movies and 3 Idiots are similar -- the usage of words like mamu and chachu. Isn't this a little tapori or would you still attribute it to college youth?
College youth are tapori people. Even a college guy, who appears polished, is actually not. Aal Izz Well has become a sign off or a hello message. These become signature statements and they don't come from thin air. I think that is the genius of Raju Hirani. Aal Izz Well came from the script.
Image: Shantanu Moitro sings Behti Hawa Sa Tha Woh
'I didn't let life change much by not signing too many films'
Did Aamir Khan, being the perfectionist he is, join in the music sittings and give inputs?
3 Idiots is clearly a Raju Hirani film because Aamir wasn't even there when we did the music. He joined me when I was doing the background score and it was great to have him.
Do you go on the sets of the film?
I usually go but this time I didn't because they were shooting in Bangalore. Secondly, I was busy with the background score of the film. These guys had a ball playing badminton, basketball, cricket, chess and what not. When I saw the making of the film, I thought it was the cast and crew who were playing but then realised that the IIM students were playing with them.
How has life changed post Hazaron Kwaishen Aisi and Parineeta?
I didn't let life change much by not signing too many films. I travel a lot. The only thing that has come is confidence and the feeling that whatever I am doing is of some worth. I feel happy that what was a hobby for me has become a profession and I feel blessed. Many of my college friends who are high up on the corporate ladder call me up and say that they wish they could do what they wanted, as I am. That was shocking.
I love mountain climbing, astronomy, cooking and gardening. We have just one life and we are meant to multi-task.
Who are your gurus of music?
I am a fanatical fan of Salil Chowdhury. I am a fan of Panchamda (R D Burman) and Madan Mohan but there is something about Salil Chowdhury that suits my style. There was an article about him that called him unpredictably predictable and I think that sums him up as a person. I think that is what I have set out to do.
What is kind of music do you listen to?
All kinds of music. During my school days, I would listen to the radio because they would play South Indian hits and western classical music. I used to live very close to the airport. Very early in life I realised that unless I do something profound, there was no way I was going to be on that aircraft.
Mountain climbing. I am going to take off to some mountain.
Image: R Madhavan, Aamir Khan and Sharman Joshi. Inset: Shantanu Moitro