Sanjay Leela Bhansali speaks to Subhash K Jha on composing music for his latest film Ram Leela.
10 songs in the soundtrack of Ram Leela, each one vibrant lilting throbbing with the flavour and passion of our heritage and culture. How much satisfaction did this music bring to you?
I enjoyed doing the music thoroughly. I had a certain visual in mind for every song, and while creating the sound it was uppermost in my mind to make sure the songs live up to the visuals I had thought of. But I know I've a long way to go as a music director. But yes, I worked hard for two years to create the right sound, and then to treat the songs visually in keeping with the sur of the characters.
How important is music to your cinema?
It is the most important thing in my life. I think I am alive because of music and Lataji's songs. There is music when I write, when I shoot, when I eat even when I sleep. Lataji's voice has been my main motivation from the time I was a child. I remember hearing her Bhajan 'Jai Jai Narayan Narayan Hari Hari' every morning at the bus stop from the paanwalla's radio as I waited to reach school. She filled my life with divinity. The film music of the 1970s left a lasting impression on me. Over the years, I've studied her voice deeply. Now when I compose music I feel every song I create is dedicated to her. Her work reminds us that the search of excellence can result in perfection. I learnt how to live, how to discipline myself make films through her music. If I don't hear her for a day, I'd feel deprived.
My musical influences are so vast and strange… a lot comes from the Gujarati folk music that I've heard since my childhood. Being a Gujarati I grew up with these sounds. My mom (Leela Bhansali) used to sing Gujarati folk songs all the time while cooking, working, flying kites. She also used to choreograph Garba numbers for films. Those authentic folk voices are rare these days. I travelled to the interiors of Gujarat to get the authentic folk sounds. I got Osman Mir to come from Gujarat and sing 'Mor Bani Thangat'. Besides Gujarati folk, I was influenced by all the music that my father made me and my sister Bela hear. We heard Hindustani classical maestros like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Kishori Amonkar and the Qawwalis of Shakila Banu Bhopali. I don't claim to understand classical music. But I enjoy it. Then he would also make us hear the Marathi folksy sounds of Dada Kondke's films. This was his way of connecting us to the art on every level. I feel we must not lose connectivity with our folk musical tradition.
How do you balance out your vocation as a filmmaker with your passion as a music composer?
I do a lot of pre-planning. And music is always the starting point of my films. The minute I get an idea for a film I start humming the songs connected with the theme. I finish composing the songs and then start shooting the film. And the fact that I am not fully literate as a music composer makes the music a challenge. Because I learn more about music composition as I shoot. I have to thank my recordists and music arrangers for making my sound seem complete. They show a lot of patience with my rapid musical ideas. I hum and sing all the time and ask them to record my creation any time of the day.
Ram Leela has 10 songs. Such wide variety?
Only seven of them have finally gone into the film. They reflect my love for the music of R. D. Burman, Madan Mohan and Laxmikant-Pyarelal and the amazing choreography of P.L.Raj. And my greatest influence in song picturization is V. Shantaram. I am crazy about the way he shot his songs. And then Raj Kapoor, Raj Khosla, Guru Dutt and Vijay Anand.
How do you find the voices to give expression to your musical expressions?
I love vintage music. Shah Rukh Khan recently gifted me a record player and some RPM records. I cherish them. But time moves on. I feel we have a lot of very accomplished singers even today. Shreya Ghoshal, KK, Mohit Chauhan and Sunidhi Chauhan are outstanding singers. In Ram Leela, I've worked with newer excellent singers like Arijit Singh and Aditi Paul. Arijit, I had heard for the first time in 2006 in a reality show. He is a very special singer. It's a different musical sound today. But I enjoyed interacting with the younger lot for my music. Creating the music was relentless. My team had to wrench the tapes out of my hands and submit it for production. I am very happy with my music in Ram Leela as I was with my compositions in Guzaarish. Every song was a different challenge.
All the lyrics in Ram Leela are done by a pair named Siddharth and Garima?
They were introduced to me by CEO Sandip Singh. I didn't know them. But the minute I heard their lyrics, I immediately knew they were right for Ram Leela. And the songs started happening. I've seen R D Burman composing 'Ek Ladki Ko Dekha' in 15 minutes, the entire song, during the making of 1942: A Love Story where I was an assistant. As a child I used to wait for his songs in Jawani Deewani and Caravan on the radio. To see him record in the voice of Lataji was a turning-point in my life.
How successful were Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukon in putting across your songs?
They gave all of themselves to the music, became a part of the sound and danced like a dream. Before shooting for the song 'Tatad Tatad' he would be listening only to Govinda and Anil Kapoor songs. There would be laughter joy and music on the sets all the time. Of course there were times when I'd suddenly change the steps and Ranveer and Deepika would be thrown completely off-course. I don't like to rehearse too much for my song picturisation. How brilliantly the two adapted to my style. Deepika got blisters and wounds on her feet during the Garba song. Still she'd say, 'Let's do one more take.' When Priyanka Chopra shot her song she said, 'Good we rehearsed for two days because when we shot the song we didn't use a single step from the rehearsals.'
Whom between Aishwarya Rai and Deepika is a better dancer?
That's a trick question. Deepika is outstanding. She is as gorgeous and disciplined as Aishwarya. Deepika has a very sharp mind. When she talks she talks sense. Deepika is playing a character named after my mother. She is a special way beyond anything anyone can expect from her. But I'll tell you something. Aishwarya is very special as a friend, actress and dancer.