So Bombay Dreams will finally come to India late this year. Is this something you’ve been asking for?
Yes. We urged the producer to stage it here since the play is about India and they now plan to take the show to several Asian countries as well. So we will reach out to a far bigger audience. You want the world to listen to your music but you think, they already have great music, they may not be interested in listening to yours. But I was lucky that God showed me the way with Bombay Dreams. And that they accepted my music.
What other international projects are coming up in 2005 for you?
I’m currently composing the music with the Finnish folk group Varttina for J.R.R. Tolkien’s theatre production of Lord of the Rings: a Musical. We’ve just completed the basic tunes that make up 40 percent of the music, so there’s loads left to do. It’s been a very refreshing experience, totally different from anything I’ve done earlier. The production will debut on London’s West End this year. And I’m working on my symphony …
You’ve done a Chinese film, Tian Di Xiong (Warrior Of Heaven And Earth), directed by He Peng. How difficult was it working in a totally alien language?
(smiles) Know something? I love watching Chinese films. After you’ve done quite a few films in regional languages and Hindi too, you want to broaden your horizons. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying I’ve achieved all there is to here. I just look on this as taking a step in one more direction, exchanging ideas with new people. The only difficulty was learning the language, but the translator who made me understand the soul of the language solved that problem.
As for the music, they are our neighbors and there is not much of a difference between their music and ours. Most often they use Raga Pahari, which is known as Raga Mohanam in Karnatik music. The instruments they use are different, of course, and I learned to play them, so that helped.
Closer home, Swades had great music but the film itself didn’t fare too well at the box office. What do you think went wrong?
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are focused on commercial success (nothing wrong with wanting to make money) and those who want to make a statement and enjoy commercial success too. Ashutosh belongs to the second category. I admit the movie was a bit slow but its intentions were good; its heart was in the right place. To give another example, Mani Ratnam’s films always have a moral. He doesn’t care about their box-office fate. But he’s also clear that he doesn’t want his audience to be limited to those who watch offbeat films. He wants his films to be seen by everyone. That’s why he insists on great music, great picturisation, and creates excitement about his movie. Ashutosh is more real.
Did you like the film?
Many people liked the film. I liked the script; that’s why I scored the music for it.
Why did you score only two songs for Kisna?
After I had recorded four songs for Subhash Ghai’s Motherland, he changed his mind and decided to make an entirely different film. At that time I was busy with Bombay Dreams, Lord of the Rings: a Musical, and so many other projects. So I told Mr. Ghai I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on his new film right away. But I didn’t want to let go of the project either so I offered to do one song for it.
People keep complaining that the quality of Hindi film music is deteriorating. What do you think?
I don’t think it’s going down. The music of Devdas, the songs, and their picturisation infused vitality into the product. In Lagaan, too, there were little gems here and there. If a producer wants to make a film a success today, he needs to have a very strong idea to work on as well as the conviction and the team to pull the product through. Else he has to go for soft porn. And that’s exactly what’s happening today. When they run out of ideas, filmmakers opt for soft porn. Unfortunately, there’s no in-between today. There’s no 50-day run either. It’s 100 days or zero.
Speaking of Devdas, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and you were supposed to work together. What happened?
I respect Sanjay Leela Bhansali for the incredible work he has done. We were supposed to work together on Bajirao Mastani and in fact, I was about to let go of Lord of the Rings for Bajirao when he suddenly announced my name as music director for Black. I asked him, “What’s going on? This isn’t the film I was supposed to do and it has no songs!” He explained that there was a slight change as he wasn’t yet ready for Bajirao Mastani. I promptly sent a fax to the producers of Lord of the Rings to say I was on. Ideally I like to work on one project at a time.
You are the only Indian film music director to have tasted success outside India. Are you satisfied with what you’ve achieved abroad or do you hunger for more?
I still yearn for different kinds of work. But at the same time I think everything should come to you naturally. You shouldn’t dream of the impossible; if it doesn’t happen it leads to frustration. If God wants the impossible to happen, it will. So I don’t keep thinking about it; I wait for opportunity to knock on my door and make full use of it. And I do work very hard.