Composer Raju Singh has been best known for his imaginative remix albums in the late '90s as well as some standout original albums like Alka Yagnik's Tum Yaad Aaye and Jagjit Singh's Unique later. He got his biggest fame as one of Hindi cinema's finest background music composers (Chandni Bar, Ishq Vishk, Page 3 and almost all films of the Bhatts including Zeher, Gangster and Raaz 3 to this year's biggest hit Aashiqui 2. He has also been composer in a few films, like Khichdi – The Movie, and has composed the title songs or music of cult shows like Indian Idol, C.I.D. and Boogie-Woogie, besides doing jingles galore.
In a freewheeling chat at his Juhu home, Raju Singh Panesar, to give his full name, enlightens us on the Sholay experience.
Destiny apart, how did you land up with Sholay?
Kunal Mehta and Parikshat Sahni, who are eminent in this field as Sound Designers, were approached by the Sippys family that has converted the film into 3D. They suggested my name for the music. Jayantibhai Gada, who is presenting the film, happened to call Javed-saab for something else, and since he was one of Sholay's writers, asked him what he thought of me. Javed-saab told him, "Trust Raju with your eyes closed!" I owe this assignment to Javed-saab as much as to my colleagues!
We – Kunal, Parikshit and I – then made a demo of the train sequence and Gabbar Singh's entry, and we were on! And it is very gratifying to know that Gada-ji has been praising me to the skies everywhere!
What was your initial thought when asked to do this film?
The first thought was that this was my way of reconnecting with Pancham-da, the man who taught me so much. In his last phase, I had worked with him for over seven years, apart from his long association with my father. I was never approached by anyone to talk about Pancham-da tributes, but now it seemed as if he had reserved his best for me and decided that "Mera baccha Raju Singh hi Sholay karega!"
We were very clear that the music would not be changed into anything modern and just be a restoration of his work, so my credit reads "Music Re-Composed and Re-Created by Raju Singh".
Did you get anyone from the original team on board?
No, most of them are no more. But we took guidance from key names who were with Pancham-da on the film who are, however, not active today – like Kersi Lord, and like singer Bhupinder Singh, who had played the guitar in the opening sequence. My father is otherwise active but here he only guided me when asked for advice.
And how did you go about restoring Sholay?
For every advantage we had, like Dolby Atmos Sound and better reverb machines, we faced some grave and real challenges.
The foremost was the problem that there is only one print that is now existing with the Sippys. And music was missing either for seconds or a couple of minutes from many parts! One example was that despite the film being in Stereophonic Sound, as the train sound increased in the robbery sequence, the music could no longer be heard! So I had to compromise on my resolve not to use electronics and program the whole film on my keyboard along with my musician Sourabh, and then imagine and replicate what must have been there in those gaps and insert it just right.
But the biggest handicap was the fact that power supply used to fluctuate in the '70s. So, unlike today, when we use a click track for the timing, those tiny ups and downs in the current used to minutely alter the speed of the tape up and down and this would change the pitch! For the lay audience it was barely noticeable, but we noticed it more and had to work upon it.
We kept the original song or sound track in the center and reproduced the music with live musicians. Yogesh Pradhan was of invaluable help in the notations. The song 'Mehbooba O Mehbooba' in particular was very much affected and needed a lot of work.
What Kunal and Parikshit did was clean the entire track, removing the background music, songs and sound effects, so that only the dialogues were left – we had thought of getting the dialogues dubbed but gave up the idea as many actors were dead and we did not want mimics. This laborious process took us seven months! Then we had to work on our add-on tracks and put everything back in. We also had to do six months of acoustic work in music at Chennai's Media Artistes Studio with Geeta Kurupa. When we started out, we did not know what level of perfection we could achieve, but I think we have managed, thanks to Sascha, Shehzad and Shaan from the Sippy clan, who understood what we were after and stood by us in providing or facilitating everything.
Oh, there were plenty! Remember that electric scene where Sanjeev Kumar comes with gifts and finds his whole family massacred that swinging jhoola, the wind blowing and Gabbar against the landscape?
For the music for Sanjeev's walk to his home, a very unusual 'instrument' had been invented by Pancham-da! He had got iron rods welded all around a car differential (the ball-like structure under the chassis) that was filled with water, so that when they were strummed with a violin string, a specific pitch – which you have heard in the film – is emitted. As far as we knew, this 'instrument' was never used in any film again. Thanks to my musician friend Sameer Phatarphekar, we traced the son of the late musician who had played it and actually got him to play it for us!
Another incredible feat was one of our team members actually dancing barefoot on glass fragments in our studio to reproduce Hema Malini's climactic dance, because nothing else could have got us that identical sound!
Finally, since the credits for all the new names involved in the 3D version have been placed against a black frame even before the original and much-loved opening credits, I decided to musically connect the two parts with a flugelhorn that was played by Kishore Sodha and pads. They flow seamlessly into Bhupinder-ji's guitar in the original.
We heard that Dharmendra was very moved when he saw the completed film.
I was actually working on the background music of Dharam-ji's Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 when I showed him some sequences and what I had done. He was almost in tears and said, "This is the best possible gift to 100 years of Indian cinema."