Friends first, musical collaborators later—that’s composer-singer Amit Trivedi and lyricist-singer Amitabh Bhattacharya. A decade-long friendship resulted in Bhattacharya writing lyrics for—and sometimes singing—Trivedi’s compositions. Their partnership is not exclusive, and not without mutual critiques. The best of their teamwork is evident in the soundtracks of Dev.D, Udaan, I Am, Aisha, this week’s Ghanchakkar, and the forthcoming Lootera. The worst? Hear it from them. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Amitabh, you came to Mumbai to become a singer but got sidetracked into lyric writing.
Bhattacharya: I hold Amit responsible for that digression, but I always neglected singing. Amit practically grabbed me and got me into lyrics. His point was, if singing is supposed to happen it will happen eventually, but why give up something you are good at when opportunities are coming your way.
Trivedi: We had worked on a private album together and he was incredible. He was a great singer, but I found his lyrics more powerful than his singing. This talent was screaming out. So when I was doing my first film ( Aamir , 2008) I was nervous because I was branching out into something new, so I thought I should call on a friend.
Are you critical of each other’s work?
Trivedi: Sometimes that happens. Usually, whatever he writes, I go ahead with it. The best part of a beautiful song is that it should say something powerful and hold you for 5 minutes. His thoughts are so powerful and he weaves them so well with his poetry, words and rhyme, and being a singer himself, the metre is perfect.
Bhattacharya: In the early days he was so okay with everything I used to write that I would challenge him and say, do you even look at what I write? He said I trust you, it sounds good to my ears so I go ahead with it. But sometimes what I have written does need a little tweaking. But Amit has done some great work with others such as Ishaqzaade, Kai Po Che and English Vinglish.
When a film fails, do you feel disappointed?
Bhattacharya: If we have done Aamir, Dev.D, Udaan, then we have also done Aiyyaa. Dreamum Wakeupum is so unusual for Amit.
Trivedi: I tried my hand at it, but when a film fails, you do feel bad, dejected, disappointed.
Bhattacharya: It is worse for him because he also does the background score, which takes so many hours over a year. The songs of Aiyyaa were popular. They got the eyeballs but after that the fate of the film is not in our hands.
Trivedi: I have always worked towards a film, the script and the director’s vision. I am a director’s guy. He can extract what he needs from me. Sometimes it may work and sometimes it may not.
Amit, how do you find new and interesting voices for each soundtrack?
Trivedi: We get lots of demos. When I am working on a song, whether Iktara or Pareshaan, I hear a particular voice in my head and luckily I came across these singers. I would hear a demo and I would be like this is exactly what I am looking for. I was at home and a jingle was playing on TV. That voice got my attention and I called Nikhil D’Souza in and the first note he hit was bang on. He became the voice of Sham in Aisha.
Bhattacharya: He is chased by singers because things have really changed for those he’s given a break to. Amit’s graph and choice of films has been different. So are his melodies and music. When my mind is too cluttered with other projects, I prefer to push the clutter aside and write his stuff at peace because his melodies are so different from everything else out there.
From ‘Aamir’ to ‘Lootera’, looking at each other’s careers, what stands out?
Trivedi: It was easier before. Now there is less time, more work.
Bhattacharya: Fortunately the work we have done has been respected and appreciated so we seem to have lived up to a standard. It’s not that you run out of ideas, but to keep reinventing yourself becomes more challenging. We were more carefree in our earlier films.
Trivedi: I get most of my ideas from the script and the music comes out of that. When I am reading a script, if a story really excites me I start thinking about the sounds, the process of making music, what should I do, what new things can I add. Then I discuss this with the director, we bounce ideas, come to a conclusion, and then my creative process starts. Like Vikramaditya Motwane is phenomenal. He knows his music and he knows what he wants. He won’t take anything that doesn’t match that vision.
There’s ‘Bhaag DK Bose’, ‘Badtameez Dil’ and ‘Chikni Chameli’ at one end and ‘Tauba Tera Jalwa’, ‘Naav’ and ‘Shikayatein’ at the other. Colloquial lyrics seem to work better than the more poetic ones.
Trivedi: It’s the audience’s taste. But I also blame Amitabh. I see kids singing these dirty songs that they don’t know the meaning of, singing Booch Maar Ke. I was, like, what the hell. We are just catering to the taste of the nation. Every kid is exposed to these things. They don’t know Udaan and I Am but they know Character Dheela, Pungi and Chikni Chameli. We are contributing to the shit and that’s what the majority of this country is lapping up.
Bhattacharya: I have my own strong opinion about this. We are doing our jobs. If I have been given the responsibility to write a song for a particular situation that will sell the film, I present options but the final call is not mine. But I do believe the primary censorship lies at home. You have to look at these fast-food kind of songs with a certain visual in mind—a promotional number. Even I heard Choli Ke Peeche, etc., as a child, but I am not a pervert or an anti-social element. We have met so many people who have loved the music of Udaan but the soundtrack never got its due.
What are your future projects?
Trivedi: We are working on Bombay Velvet, which is a major one coming up end of next year. Besides that discussions are on for Rajkumar Gupta and Vikramaditya Motwane’s next ones. But right now it’s Ghanchakkar and Lootera. After that is Queen.
Bhattacharya: Since Agneepath I have been doing lyrics for the entire film. My next will be Chennai Express .
Who are your inspirations?
Trivedi: A.R. Rahman, Madan Mohan, S.D. and R.D. Burman, Coldplay, (Pink) Floyd, Sting, Beatles.