As a music composer, your work involves setting the mood for a film or series. How do you work with a director to make sure their vision is aligned with yours?
The whole work is a lot easier when the person you are working with shares similar interests and taste in music. Then the work is to align our two understandings of the project. Additionally, it’s great to have guidance from a director who knows what he wants or at least what he doesn’t want, but is still open to new ideas. Then it becomes collaborative, but it’s guided. That’s why Sacred Games and working with Vikram has been great for me – I feel guided. He has a clear sense of score and sound knowledge of how a score should be applied. His general knowledge in music and interest in it shows. Working with somebody who is creative and logical, and really guides you the right way makes all the difference.
Which part of the script or story informed your choices for the soundscape of Sacred Games?
The general mood of the film was unlike anything else I’d seen – and that came through in the writing. The writing of the script gave a clear impression of the world of Sacred Games. The script gave a sense of the dark zone, something more than just another gangster story, something I hadn’t seen done before. Then, knowing Anurag and Vikram were involved in it, I knew it would be absolutely in the right hands to choose the right sound to suit that darkness – and it is; the mix of Sacred Games is just perfect. The story itself, the book, has to be credited as well.
What’s your process like when you first begin work on any project?
The process really varies; however, I have one standard process. I’m much like you when you write something – you may well spend a few days jotting things down, going through ideas, and writing it down on scraps of paper. I translate this whole writing process to music and have my own little untidy writer’s process. I work alone and I compose from home so there is a lot of alone time. I work from a studio only when I’m recording, mixing or showing someone my work. Sometimes my work is non-linear, starting in the middle of the film or series. At times, I go astray in the middle and just start composing something else for another part of the same project. The first few days I just toss around ideas, juggling things, starting things and leaving them incomplete, with multiple sessions open in my computer at a time. Then, the structure comes in, and there is a method to the madness, because we all have deadlines to meet.
What have been some of your toughest challenges and what are some of the changes you’ve experienced in a post-Me Too industry?
There are some things that all women face in all fields – like not being heard. I won’t lie, there have definitely been times I’ve walked into a room full of men and there is a certain bias in the air – ‘Oh, she wouldn’t know anything about this thing,’ so I’ve definitely had that feeling, but I have brushed it off, because at the end of the day I have to get the work done. Other than this, I haven’t had any gender-related issues. I don’t know that there is a formula for this. Post-Me Too, there is definitely a level of consciousness and awareness that will benefit everyone. I don’t think anyone wants extra caution or fear, we just want basic awareness and basic manners.
You’ve worked on music for Marathi & Hindi films, shorts, features & documentaries, big budget films & indie films, and now some major shows on Amazon & Netflix. What is the commonality or differences between these?
Let me add to the list: I’ve also worked on my father’s Bengali film. The commonality of what really matters is whether or not it’s a beautiful piece of cinema. If it is, then my job is a whole lot easier no matter what the format or language. But if you want to talk about differences, there is a big contrast in the style of work when it comes to format. For example, with a series, there’s a different process altogether. I treat every episode as a film. For every episode, I take a thematic approach and consider the curve with a definite beginning, middle and end. Of course you have to maintain a flow from one episode to the next. That’s why it’s really important to establish the world of the series to maintain the sound from episode one to episode eight, and so on.
While Sacred Games & Leila are both “Indian” shows, they are on international platforms. How much do you consider the international audience when creating music?
I don’t of anybody, Indian or international. I just think of the narrative.
If India had a bigger off screen music scene at the time when you started your career, do you think you would be working in film & cinema as your primary work now?
I never really knew I was going to become a music composer, and when I did know, I never set out to have a band or anything. I have a fear of performing, so that was out of the question for me. With composing for cinema, I have the luxury of hiding in a locked room and doing my own thing. Plus, I have always loved films since I was a child – and I still do. If you love music and you love film, then scoring is a great place to be. Having said that, I’ve been influenced by on screen and off screen things from all over the world. Film alone didn’t have anything to do with my reason to score.
Who are some of your role models and greatest inspirations?
Well, I love a lot of composers. I love Thomas Newman. Rahman. Trent Reznor. Massive Attack. Ravel. Chopin. Influenced career-wise? I’m not sure. It’s more just that I wished I was 1/5th as talented as them, that I could be as cool as them.
What are some films that have floored you when it comes to the musical composition?
I loved the soundtrack of Deadman. The entire film was about the soundtrack. Definitely Amalie. At the time, nothing had ever been done like that. It’s very simple and yet amazing. As far as Indian cinema, Dil Se, the film, has the best album collection of songs. Garden State by Zach Braff has combined songs, and that is a really good collection. These are just a few.