While Viju Shah made his debut as a music composer in Hindi films in the early ‘90s, he started playing for his father Kalyanji Virji Shah and uncle Anandji Virji Shah (popularly known as the duo Kalyanji-Anandji) right from the time he was in high school in the ‘70s. Though Viju was widely known for incorporating electronic or synthesiser heavy sound in his music, he was equally comfortable with Indian melody as evident by a large number of songs he has composed. ‘Vishwatma’, ‘Gupt’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’, ‘Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’, ‘Tujhe Meri Kasam’ – these are some of the many films he composed memorable music for. In this interview, he talks about his long and eventful journey as a composer, being a part of MX Player’s ‘Times Of Music’, thoughts on recreations, putting together the score for ‘Class Of ‘83’, why he does not like ‘tags’, underrated albums and more.
Several years back, Mithoon had stated in an interview that you have always been one of his favourite composers. How was the experience of collaborating with him and recreating his songs for MX Player’s ‘Times of Music’?
When they approached me for the show, I thought we would be asked to simply recreate each other’s songs, similar to what is happening in films these days. They said that we could make some minimal changes to the song according to our sensibilities. I asked them to give me a day to think about it. When I was sure that there would be no interference and I would be given enough freedom, I said a ‘yes’ to the show. I got a free hand when it came to choosing the singers and the musicians. When you are recreating a song for a film, there is pressure from the director and other people. That was not the case here. They initially wanted me to recreate “Tum Hi Ho” but because of some issue with the label, we could not go ahead with the song. Then, they asked me to recreate “Maula Mere Maula” from ‘Anwar’. Apart from “Maula Mere Maula”, Mithoon had composed another song for the film called “Javeda Zindagi”. After hearing both the songs, I told them that I would like to recreate both the songs. They were a little shocked and told me, “why do you want to do two songs?”. I told them they do not have to worry about timing and other factors. I wanted to do a good mashup of these two songs. I had worked a lot with Mithoon’s father Naresh bhai. I had not met Mithoon many times but I really liked his music. I did not know which song of mine he was going to recreate. I am not sure but I think initially he also wanted to recreate two of my songs, “Tip Tip Barsa Paani” and “Subah Se Lekar” but he decided to stick to just “Tip Tip Barsa Paani”. I was excited by the fact that a young mind would be working on this song. I loved the way Mithoon recreated “Tip Tip Barsa Paani”. He gave it a fresh and contemporary sound. Both of us had equal freedom to recreate each other’s songs the way we wanted to.
What is your take on songs being recreated for films? I remember when Kalyanji-Anandji’s “Khaike Paan Banaraswala” was recreated for ‘Don’ (2006), you had an issue with it.
When my song “Aankh Maare” (‘Tere Mere Sapne’) was recreated, I did not have any issue with it. In fact, a positive aspect about a song getting recreated is that youngsters, who might not have heard the original, will get to hear the song albeit in a new avatar. Having said that, you have to give credit to the original composer. The one who is recreating should get the credit for recreating or rearranging the song. But, you must mention the name of the original composer. In the case of ‘Don’, there was no mention of the original composers. The original lyricist’s name was mentioned but the composers were not credited. That is why I filed a case against them. Once I went to a function, when the DJ was playing “Aankh Maare”. A friend of mine took me to the DJ and asked him whether he knew me. The DJ said ‘no’. My friend told him that I was the original composer of the song that he was playing. The DJ was embarrassed and said music companies do not credit composers properly and that is why even they do not get to know the composer’s name when they are playing a song. Recently, the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) started this wonderful initiative called ‘Credit The Creators’. Even if you are recreating or presenting somebody’s work in a new avatar, you have to give proper credit to the original creators. Even earlier, when music channels used to play the songs, they used to name the singers and the label but not the name of the composers or the lyricist.
You had recreated Kalyanji-Anandji’s songs for the remake of ‘Victoria No. 203’ (2007).
Yes, I told my producer specifically that those two songs should have Kalyanji-Anandji’s names as the original composers and I should only be credited as the arranger or the person who has recreated it.
Your name was mostly associated with electronic or synth-based music. But, when somebody follows your discography he would realise you were as versatile as one could be.
I never believed in these tags myself. I have always believed that a composer should mould himself according to the director’s vision. Like Firoz Khan ji, Rajiv Rai was inclined towards modern and electronic music. He was particular about the sound of the song. I wanted to give a new dimension to the songs through electronics. For me, there is no replacement of the sound created by acoustic instruments. ‘”Tip Tip Barsa Paani” has got ghungroo tarang, balalaika, santoor, irish santoor and a lot of other wonderful acoustic instruments. We face a lot of pressure from the producers and directors and that actually helps at times. Rajiv Rai wanted a garage-like and trance-based sound for ‘Gupt’. I remember we had gone on a tour with Amit ji (Amitabh Bachchan). There were dancers from Farah Khan’s group. I gave the cassette of ‘Gupt’ to each of the dancers and asked them to hear the songs and give their feedback. They heard the songs but there was no reaction from them. Perhaps, because it was a very new sound and the kind they were not used to hearing. The music picked up slowly and then, it became one of the highest selling Hindi film albums of all time. Rajiv picturised the songs beautifully and that added to their overall appeal. The visuals play an important role in the popularity of a song.
Not many know this but you actually started your career with ‘Don’ (1978).
I was in seventh standard when I worked on ‘Don’. Electronic instruments were used very interestingly in ‘Don’. When the electronics came, I was very excited. ‘Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar Ka Deewana’ was the first song I worked on. I played the synthesizer in the song. I still remember the date distinctively. It was 24th August 1974.
You have done so much wonderful work in all these years. Name one song which is very close to your heart.
I do not think I have done much. I still have a lot do. I hope to keep doing good work in the future. It is difficult to pick my favourite songs but “Mere Piya” from ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ and “Mere Sanam” from ‘Gupt’ are two songs that come to my mind now. “Mere Piya” was an out-and-out Indian melody in which we mostly used acoustic instruments. I give a lot of importance to arrangements. Arrangement achcha nahin hoga, toh gaana flat pad jaata hai.
Which is that one album of yours which you think deserved more attention?
There are many albums. I think ‘Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat’ should have done better. After the songs were ready and I played them to Bakshi sahab, he told me the songs are modern, have depth and are very soulful. He would never attend the recordings of any of his songs, so it was the first time he was hearing the songs. If the film turns out to be good, the album would be remembered for a long time. Unfortunately, the film did not do very well and the songs did not receive as much attention as they should have.
Apart from ‘Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat’, you worked with Anand Bakshi on a couple of other films like ‘Tere Mere Sapne’, ‘Gupt’ and ‘Mohra’.
There were a couple of other films we worked on which got shelved. I was very young composer who was just starting out and he was a veteran. I would be very nervous around him. There were two songs in ‘Mohra’ by Indeevar. The first song we recorded for the film was ‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast’. At that time, he gave a big lecture to us (laughs). He asked us why we got another writer for the film. He told me “if you want me to write ten mukhdas, I will do that but if you show what I have written to different people and ask for their opinion, I would not like it”. He was a director’s writer. Bakshi sahab preferred writing the lyrics first. These days, most directors like to have the tune ready first. When I made him hear the tune of “Tip Tip Barsa Paani”, he said the tune was too long. He further told me that that was a time when songs, which had a shorter duration, became bigger hits. I then asked him to forget the tune and write the mukhda. But, he eventually warmed up to the tune of ‘Tip Tip Barsa Paani’. Rajiv, on the other hand, liked songs that were longer in duration. He wrote the entire song in fifteen minutes.
Let’s talk about your some of your lesser discussed albums. ‘Tujhe Meri Kasam’ (2003) had a bunch of popular songs. The film completed 100 days of run at several theatres in the interiors of the country and there was a lot of craze for the music.
There was a song I had composed for the film but it was never used. I consider it to be one of my best compositions. I hope to use it in some project someday. The director of the film, K. Vijay Bhaskar, had a great ear for music. I always follow the director’s vision.
The soundtrack you had put together for Hansal Mehta’s ‘Chhal’ was quite interesting too.
Yes, ‘Chhal’ had a very inventive and modern soundtrack. It was a thriller and did not have much scope for music but we managed to create songs of different moods and genres. Back then, Hansal Mehta was one of the very few filmmakers who were well-versed with the art of using songs or music to take the story forward. I had also worked him on an unreleased film called ‘Anjaan’. We had recorded one song with Kailash Kher called ‘Gumshuda Chain’. After that we lost touch but I hope to get to work with him someday.
“Na Kajre Ki Dhaar”, which you used in ‘Mohra’ (1994) was a tune originally composed by Kalyanji – Anandji. What were the most important lessons that you learnt while working with or being around them?
I played as a musician with a lot of music directors. I have always been a learner. I used to observe them and study their style. Every composer had their own style. I used to get inspired by them. As far as my father and uncle are concerned, I have been inspired by the fact that they mostly created situational songs keeping in mind the story of the film. And, those songs became huge hits. They had a big range as music composers. I was a child when I heard “Na Kajre Ki Dhaar” and it stayed with me. It was made for a film but for some reason, did not get used back then. When I became a music director, I really wanted to use that song in a film. When I pitched the song to Rajiv, I changed the orchestral arrangements keeping the trends of that time in mind. If I had played the old song to him, he would not have approved of it.
You had also produced songs for Nadeem-Shravan. You had arranged a couple of songs for Nadeem Saifi’s private album ‘Sayyesha’.
Yes, at that time I was playing for a lot of composers apart from creating my own music. I also arranged two songs for Nadeem – Shravan in ‘Do Knot Disturb’ (2009).
You won the Filmfare Best Background Score Award for ‘Gupt’. In India, composers who do the background score do not get a lot of recognition.
Earlier people did not understand the importance of background score and that is the reason people put together the BGM are not given as much importance. Now, things are changing and they are getting due credit for their work.
You recently did the background score for ‘Class Of ‘83’ which was received very well. How was that experience?
Director Atul Sabharwal had complete clarity about the music he wanted for the film. Since the film was set in the ‘80s, he wanted typical synth-like sound for the background score. I told him I could bring a contemporary touch to the music as well but he asked me not to do that. He was particular about the background score reflecting the period the film was set in.