The creative bankruptcy that seems to have pervaded Hindi film music in recent times is among the things that prompted production house Drishyam Films to launch Drishyam Play, an initiative that aims to help promote both non-mainstream genres as well as upcoming singers, lyricists, composers and instrumentalists.
“You can see that, and I’m very blunt on this, even big films don’t shy away from taking old songs and remixing them,” says Drishyam Films founder Manish Mundra. “It’s a shame that we cannot deliver genuine music or write genuine lyrics. The truth is exactly the opposite because there are so many people who are ready to write, compose and sing, but they don’t have a platform.”
Indeed, it’s been a year dominated by the reworking of hits from the 1980s and 1990s, none of which is an improvement on the original. The idea behind Drishyam Play, says Mundra, is to “deliver soulful music and reconnect Indian music to its roots, which we’re gradually losing out”. As a production house that has built its reputation on championing intelligent, well-crafted independent cinema such as Ankhon Dekhi, Masaan and Newton, that’s a task his team and he are well primed to execute. “When we curated this property, we felt that just as we support cinema, which is not mainstream Bollywood, we should replicate the same ideology in music,” says Mukta Bhatt, head of the project.
To this end, Drishyam Play will produce and release a series of music videos that highlight genres and forms such as Sufi music, thumris, ghazals, qawwalis and even indie rock. Special attention is given to the lyrics. “The main ingredient is the poetry,” says Bhatt. “We realize there are a lot of meaningless songs coming out.” Bhatt wrote the words for Rab Jogi, the first video released under the banner. The Punjabi Sufi-fusion tune, featuring Rajasthani folk vocalist Mame Khan and playback singer Harshdeep Kaur, was an instant hit, tallying over a million views on YouTube within two weeks of its release in October.
Rab Jogi opens with the rabab, and prominently features the sarangi and vocals that gradually soar as the song progresses. Comparisons with the tunes on popular TV series Coke Studio, which over the years has set the template for tasteful fusion, are inevitable. Mundra admits that the series, especially the Pakistani version, “created a benchmark” and says that “even if we get to 20-25% of that level, I think we would have succeeded”. A key difference is that whenever appropriate, the tracks composed under the Drishyam Play platform will be used in the soundtracks of Drishyam Films and will also be up for grabs for other production houses. Rab Jogi, for instance, will be featured on the original soundtrack of Ganesh Shetty’s Anaam, which is scheduled to release next year.
Khan and Harshdeep Kaur are relatively well known; the newcomer on Rab Jogi is one we don’t see on screen, composer Santosh Jagdale. This, Mundra says, was a considered decision. “You have to have a unique combination,” he says. “There should be something new in the whole composition, a musician, a drummer, a lyricist. If you put everything new, then probably the attraction will be less.” Jadgale has also scored the next Drishyam Play track, Main Banjar, by vocalist Nandini Srikar who, like Khan and Harshdeep Kaur, is part of Coke Studio’s India alumni. The original version of Main Banjar by Mohan Kannan appears in Drishyam Films’ climate change drama Kadvi Hawa. Srikar’s rockier interpretation “would not have worked” in the movie, says Bhatt, adding that over the next few months, they plan to put out a new video “every 20-25 days”.
Next year, Drishyam Play will travel to villages across the country to find and record folk musicians. The ultimate goal, Bhatt says, is to build a bank of original compositions that showcase lesser-heard genres which are increasingly being drowned out by the cacophony of popular Bollywood sounds. “The main idea is to create fresh music,” she says. “A song will find its destiny, whether it’s going to end up in a movie or if it’s going to stay on Drishyam Play.”