After a quiet year in 2009 in which they had one stand-out hit (You May Be) from a solitary CD (Aladin), music directors Vishal and Shekhar’s return to the forefront of Hindi film music this year began with I Hate Luv Stories – a movie that became a sleeper hit in no small part to its soulful, dreamy set of songs.
Their recent second release of the year – for the much awaited Sid Anand helmed, Ranbir Kapoor-Priyanka Chopra starrer Anjaani Anjaana – is a total corker. Framed by their crisp, clean sound, AA has all the soulfulness of a V-S CD but with the right amount of crazy that brings a distinct edge to their songs.
I invited half of Vishal-Shekhar, Vishal Dadlani, to tell us more about the making of the music of Anjaani Anjaana and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstar, which he is judging this year along with Shekhar, Daler Mehndi and Sajid-Wajid.
Hi Vishal, welcome to the Line of Sight. The career seems to be rocking. The hits are flowing. Is Jasmine tea still doing the trick for you? Or have you switched to another personal fuel?
Vishal: Still on the green tea binge, but we found this great tea-store at Phoenix Mills, so there’s a lot more flavours and versions. The current favourite is this delicately flavoured tea called Shangri-La #390. I’m at about six cups a day, and a couple more at night.
In films the music really sticks when the movies are hits. Your last three big hits: Dostana, Bachna Ae Haseeno and IHLS are all romances so the association tends to be strong. Does it concern you that you’ll be stereotyped if one of the edgier movies you compose for isn’t successful?
Vishal: To tell the truth, I’m just happy to be working with the people we work with. Whether it’s Farah [Khan], Anubhav [Sinha], Tarun [Mansukhani], Siddharth, Sujoy [Ghosh] or Punit [Malhotra] we’ll do any films they bring us, in any style they need.
The reason is simple. These are friends, and they mean a lot to us, over and above films and music. So, yeah, go ahead and stereotype us, if you will. But, you gotta admit, each of the films has a sound, one that comes directly from the director’s collaboration with us. IHLS sounds nothing like Anjaana Anjaani, which in turn has no bearing on Tees Maar Khan, which has Farah’s signature full-on mass-based super-smash music!!
Oh, and wait for Break ke Baad, that’s a rom-com too, but will turn the sound on it’s head! It’s almost a new-age alt-rock album. Danish [Aslam] has great taste in music!
This partnership of yours with Sid Anand (Salaam Namaste, Ta Ra Rum Pum, Bachna Ae Haseeno) is becoming the stuff of legends. What works with the three of you that keeps bringing you back together again?
Vishal: Sid is a great guy. The real secret is that he does his own music. We direct his films for him. Hahahaha!
No, seriously, while recording Salaam Namaste, Sid says to me “I’m never doing a film without you guys.” Matter-of-fact, straight faced. I was like “Seems completely bonkers! We better do a good job for him!”
He’s stayed true to his word, though. While doing BAH and Dostana, the schedules overlapped. Both Sid and Tarun were kind enough to make adjustments for one another, rather than get someone else to do their music. That faith means a lot to us.
In fact, right now, Farah, Anubhav, Tarun, Danish are all being extra-supportive. It’s one of those rare times we’re working on more than a film at a time. It’s a little chaotic, and a little stressful, but we’re enjoying it.
Ok let’s talk about Anjaani Anjaana. Killer hook with the after-stutter on the title song. Were you just improvising because you ran out of words and then decided ‘man this just sounds good’?
Vishal: Hahahahaha, no, but that’d work too.
Look, the thing with a dance song is, every film has three of them, and it’s getting harder and harder to find a new way to do a club thang. You gotta look for that stand-out hook, something that differentiates your song from the others, and most importantly, something that sticks!!
This idea just showed up while Shekhar and I were jamming, so we bashed it out for Sid, and he loved the vibe. Boom! We never even thought of it as a stutter. Just a different way to say the words. And it’s an RD-esque song, pretty much, so we thoroughly enjoyed doing it!
On Hairat, you seem to have taken a standard issue, delicate romantic song and transformed it with those fuzzy guitars and making Lucky sing really fast. Its Rocky Ali singing like he’s been inspired by Usain Bolt. Tell us more!
Vishal: Actually, Hairat is the song voted “least likely to be in a Sid Anand film”. The moment we put it together we went, “Nah, he won’t get into this at all. It’s too heavy.” And, Sid came in and surprised us. I’m still a little bit rattled by the fact that he got into it. Makes me want to try crazier things for the next one!
As for Lucky, he actually sang that song three tones lower and several bpm slower. We had to electro-generate what we wanted from his take, cuz he’d left town, and we wanted to bang it! Usually, a vocal-file freaks out if you tweak it too much, but this time, Calvin, our engineer, worked extra-hard on this one, to make it sound right.
Right after Faqeera (Badmaash Company) I’ve come to appreciate that Rahat’s voice sounds great on rock ballads. How did you arrive at giving him Aas Pass Khuda?
Vishal: Honestly, he was the obvious choice on Aas Paas Khuda. We wanted a voice that could make the high-notes pierce ones consciousness. Nobody does that like Rahat does it.
Shekhar had written this hook phrase, “Tu Na Jaane Aas Paas hai Khuda”, and I wrote the rest of the words around it. By the time we had the song, we could only think of one voice to carry it. And, gotta say, the only thing that makes this song a “rock-ballad” is HiteshSonik’s programming. Absolutely brilliant musician, and a true pleasure to work with.
Tumse hi Tumse has a wonderful trademark Vishal-Shekhar breeziness to it. I’m really happy to see Shekhar on it because that song has some complex vocal parts to it. How did it all come together? I’m particularly curious about CaraLisa Monteiro’s piece in it.
Vishal: We did six drafts on this song. 40 days of orchestration, and programming. Eventually, we went back to the first vibe we had on it! I wanted to kill everyone during the recording of this song!
Caralisa came in on one of the programming dates we had with Jackie V., and she wrote the lyrics that she sings. The song itself is pretty simple, but the lyrics have a funny story to ‘em. We were working on something else with [frequent collaborator] Anvita [Dutt Guptan], and just as a concept she’d left the lyrics to the mukhda lying around. Nothing to do with this film at all.
Shekhar put those lyrics to this tune, and suddenly it was a song that Sid loved! By which time, she’d left for London to shoot (she travels with the films she writes, dunno if this was Housefull or Patiala House), so we had to find someone else to finish it. Luckily for us, Amitabh Bhattacharya was kind enough to do so!
What I love about this song is Shekhar’s effortless vocal take, and the seamless collaboration-of-sorts between the three lyricists. Oh, and also, this is the first time since Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi that Shiraz Bhattacharya, Pentagram’s drummer, has played on a film song for us!
Before I ask you anything about the next song (Tujhe Bhula Diya) I’d like to congratulate you in Sa Re Ga Ma Pa style. Kya baat hai! Jiyo! And please, ore bataao!
Vishal: Thank you. Tujhe Bhula Diya was originally recorded in my voice, and I truly love this song. The lyrics, though extremely simple, mean a lot to me. But, Sid had a problem. Which was that all three songs I’d sung, showed up in a row in his film. And it bothered him.
Now I was happy to let anyone sing any other song, but I really wanted to sing this one. However, both the other songs (Anjaana Anjaani, and I Feel Good) had notes that only two or three people in the biz can hit. Shankar and KK were both inaccessible at the time, i think they were touring, so we had to keep my voice on those two. Shekhar didn’t want anyone else to sing this song either. So I had to make the cruel call, to take my own voice off my favourite song in the film, and ask Mohit [Chauhan] to come in on it.
Luckily, Mohit has a natural and beautiful way with melody, that has only enhanced the song. And Shekhar’s qawwali rendition just uplifts the whole thing! So all told, no complaints.
You’ve done vocals on two songs with Shilpa Rao (I Feel Good and Anjaani Anjaana). Was that just a coincidence? And what was Sid looking for in those songs?
Vishal: Funnily enough, these two really are scratches, that we kept. I know I always say this, but it’s true. We really wanted KK on the title track, but he wasn’t around, like I said. So my scratch vocal became the final vocal.
The same with “I Feel Good”. We tried a couple of singers on it, but the high note on the chorus was becoming problematic. had no choice but to keep my take. As far as Shilpa goes, Sid was clear that hers is the voice that suits Priyanka best, and also, we’re still hungover from what she brought to Khuda Jaane [Bachna Ae Haseeno]. So there was no doubt on her singing the title track at all.
For “I Feel Good”, we were working on the scratch, and Shilpa’s name came up for the vocal part. This was about 11pm. I called and asked her if she could swing by the studio, and she did. We did a test take, on a Shure SM58 mic, from inside the control room itself. She sounded so good, that it’s the same take you hear on the song.
Speaking of I Feel Good, you’ve always spent a lot of time doing interesting percussion. On this CD you seem to be doing a lot of interesting things with vocal as well. Is this an addition to the Vishal-Shekhar sound that has been evolving?
Vishal: Dunno. We’re not really analysing it too much. Just having a good time, and doing what sounds right, really. What’s really evolved with our sound, is that we are pretty brutal when we don’t like something, or if it isn’t right. We say so, even trash songs that don’t work out exactly right.
In fact, on this soundtrack, I have two fully recorded songs, that have just been left aside. Options for the Club Title track, and Tujhe Bhula Diya. Maybe someday we’ll release an album of B-sides from Sid Anand’s films!
You sing so many songs these days, and for all kinds of composers! I’d have to say you are right up there in the Top 5 vocalists in terms of banging out hits. Now – instead of people liking your scratch vocals and keeping them – do you find yourself planning out which songs you’ll sing on your own CDs?
Vishal: Nope. To tell the truth, as a music-director, I’m pretty sick of my own voice right now. It’s too overexposed! I’m happier singing for other people, but only when it’s people I know, and like.
Like I truly enjoyed singing Reham-o-Karam for SEL, in “We Are Family”. Nobody else would ask me to sing a song like that, so it was really refreshing! I’ve also done a super song for them on “Patiala House”. And a killer track for Amit Trivedi, on a film about the Jessica Lal murder.
I have to ask you about Shruti Pathak (who sings the closing song on this CD, a redo of Aas Pass Khuda with Rahat). These lovely low notes come out of her throat. This is the first time you’ve used her. What prompted the collaboration?
Vishal: It’s simple really. We heard Mar Jaawan, from Fashion, and just had to use her voice! And then Rasiya, from Kurbaan! Also, we have a common manager, and she plays a lot of our shows with us, so we know her fairly well. She sounds awesome on both the tracks she’s sung here.
Any other major contributor to the CD?
Vishal: I have to mention Abhijit Nalani, our programmer and arranger, since Jhankaar Beats. Without him, we wouldn’t have that “sound” we’re so famous for. In fact, Abhijit IS the sound of all our work! He’s an extra-ordinary musician, and almost everything new you hear sonically, boils down to the three of us bashing heads together to come up with it.
No Vishal and Shekhar soundtrack would be what it is without him.
Last time we spoke you weren’t sure about doing another Sa Re Ga Ma Pa (SRGMP). I am really happy its worked out this year. You judges seem like a mad group of people. What are you looking forward to this season?
Vishal: We have some truly outstanding talent on the show this time. much as I miss having Amanat [Ali] and Raja [Hasan] around, these new kids are awesome too! Shekhar and I always go into this looking for that one new distinct voice. Last time we found two, hopefuly we can better that this time.
The bar has been set this year by Indian Idol. (You know they found like a really good singer this time.) What do you think SRGMP will have to do to really stand out this year?
Vishal: Don’t know, don’t care. The TV show means nothing to us. We’re all about the singers, finding them, and getting them going. That’s our trip. Whenever anything good happens with Raja, he sends us a message. For me that’s worth a lot more than TRP’s.
I am going to do a public service to all SRGMP contestants by asking you the following two questions. What are the three things in a person that really tic you off?
Vishal: Bullshit, Sucking up, and doing things slowly.
What are the three things in a person that really make you like them?
Vishal: Talent, intelligence, humility.
Finally a personal question: how do you maintain that brilliant trademark Turkish Ninja goatee of yours? Care to pass on some grooming secrets for the people who want to look like a rock star?
Vishal: I have a Turkish Ninjette come shave me every morning, while another one gives me a pedicure in my hot-tub.
Vishal thanks for doing this. Give my best to Shekhar, Daler, Sajid and Wajid. May all your songs be loved and even the least loved ones be huge hits.