Born into a family whose musical roots can be traced back to the legendary classical singer Pandit Motiram and beyond, it was quite natural for a young Lalit Pandit to make the decision of making a career in music. In a career spanning more than 30 years, the composer has given listeners some of the best songs to have been churned out of the Hindi film industry. From 1991 – 2006, Lalit, along with brother Jatin, composed timeless music for films like ‘Khiladi’, ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’, ‘Dilwale Duhaniya Le Jaayenge’, ‘Khamoshi The Musical’, ‘Ghulam’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Mohabbatein’, ‘Hum Tum’ and ‘Fanaa’, among others. As a solo composer, too, he has to his credit a bunch of popular songs including the chartbuster ‘Munni Badnaam Hui’ from ‘Dabangg’.
In this interview, he talks about his eventful journey as a composer, the desire to do a lot of work in the independent music space, memorable albums, the most difficult project he worked on, the common and differentiating factors between him and brother Jatin, unethical practices in the music industry, upcoming projects and more.
A couple of months back, you ventured into the independent music space with your debut single ‘Jaane Kidhar Le Jaayein’. Would you like to create more music in this space?
Yes, I would like to create a lot more songs in the independent music space. I will try to make songs of different genres. In films, songs are made according to specific situations. You work under a lot of restrictions. Certain songs don’t get selected into films. In the independent music space, you get a lot of creative freedom.
You had sung the song ‘India Se Aaya’ from ‘Kehta Hai Dil Baar Baar’. Three years back, you also composed and sung the song ‘Kuch Toh Dil’ for the web series ‘Flames’. Would you like to sing more often?
I have sung in a lot of other films too but yes, those were smaller parts. I have sung the title song of ‘Rok Sako To Rok Lo’ along with Shaan and Babul Supriyo. I had also sung in ‘Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar’. I have sung for one of my upcoming films called ‘Love You Loktantra’. The film has been written by Sanjay Chhel. It has been directed by a young filmmaker called Abhay.
You had also sung for the album ‘Rhythmic Love’ which you had put together with brother Jatin in the ‘80s. A couple of songs from that album were reimagined for the films you did in the ‘90s. For instance, the song ‘Dil Kehta Hai’ from the album became ‘Chand Taare’ in ‘Yes Boss’.
That’s right. ‘Rhythmic Love’ was one of my earliest works as a composer. We recorded that album in October 1986. All the hit songs, which were spawned from the album like ‘Bin Tere Sanam’ (‘Yaara Dildara’), ‘Chand Taare’ (‘Yes Boss’), ‘Tum Hi Hamari Ho Manzil’ (‘Yaara Dildara’) from the album were composed by me. Jatin had sung many of my compositions for the album.
Is it true that Mirza brothers heard the album and offered you ‘Yaara Dildara’, your debut film as a composer?
Yes, that’s right. ‘Rhythmic Love’ had some really good songs but unfortunately, it was not publicised very well. Shahrukh and Mahrukh Mirza were my friends. I made them listen to the album and they liked it so much that they offered us ‘Yaara Dildara’. The music of the film is popular till date.
Apart from films, you kept working on private albums/songs from time to time. There was ‘Jahan Ho Pyar Ka Mausam’ from the debut album of the pop band ‘Viva’. You had also composed a terrific song called ‘Ana Ki Chandi’ for a Pakistani serial in the mid-2000s that was sung by Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal.
Yes, I have done a lot of non-film work as a solo composer too. I have done solo songs with Javed saab on a campaign on adult education organized by the government. I have done a song on Narmada River for the Madhya Pradesh government. Asha Bhosle ji, Abhijeet, Shaan, Babul Supriyo, Javed Ali and I had sung for it. I did a song for Maharashtra government on the occasion of Bhimrao Ambedkar Jayanti Divas.
Which, according to you, is the most underrated Jatin-Lalit album?
‘Paandav’ had a very good soundtrack. ‘Bada Din’ was the first home production of HMV and it had some excellent songs too. In the 2000s, ‘Rok Sako To Rok Lo’ was an underrated soundtrack. ‘Bhookamp’ had some good songs which deserved more attention. I also love ‘Dil Tere Naam Se’ from ‘Aadmi’.
There were some films which you had composed music for but never released. ‘Loveria’, directed by Kundan Shah and featuring Saif Ali Khan and Karisma Kapoor, was one such film. Do you plan to release the music of these films some day for your fans?
I am the only person who has these songs. ‘Loveria’, in my opinion, is one of the best albums I have worked on. It produced by ABCL, Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s production company. Majrooh saab had written all the songs for it. I hope I can find the right way or platform to make our fans listen to the songs from our unreleased films.
As a solo composer, ‘Munni Badnaam’ from ‘Dabangg’ remains your biggest hit. In an interview you had stated that the ‘Dabangg’ soundtrack was ready but producer Arbaaz Khan and director Abhinav Kashyap were looking for that one big song that could help their film. That’s when they came to you. While Jatin-Lalit were primarily known for their melodious compositions, both of you had also composed ‘item’ numbers like ‘Yeh Teri Aankhein Jhuki Jhuki’ (‘Fareb’), ‘Meri Raaton Ki Neendein Uda De’ (‘Sarfarosh’), ‘Chhalka Chhalka Jaam Hoon’ (‘Aankhein’). How was the process of creating ‘Munni Badnaam’?
It was the first time I was credited as a lyricist on a song. I wrote simple lines that people could relate to easily. Phrases like “main jhandu balm hui” had a certain ring to them. “Munni badnaam hui darling tere liye” was a very memorable line. I worked on that song for close to forty days. I wanted it to be technically perfect. We worked very hard on the structure and the arrangement of the song. After the split, it was difficult to make a comeback. It was the first time a composer, who had split from his partner, had made a comeback. I have done 20 films as a solo composer in all these years.
As a composer, you scored a couple of hits in films like ‘Dulha Mil Gaya’ and ‘Besharam’ as well. The song ‘Kaash Ek Din Aisa Bhi Aaye’ from ‘Showbiz’ was quite popular at the time of its release.
Yes, ‘Showbiz’ was one of my first films as a solo composer. I had done many films with Mukesh Bhatt and Mahesh Bhatt in the ‘90s like ‘Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan’, ‘Fareb’, ‘Ghulam’ and ‘Sangharsh’. I will be grateful to them for giving me an opportunity to compose the music for their film as a solo composer shortly after my split with Jatin. Unfortunately, the film didn’t work, so the music didn’t become as popular as it could have been.
Which has been your most challenging film as a composer?
‘Mohabbatein’ was definitely the most challenging one. Since it was a very big project, we had divided the work on the films we were doing at that point. We decided that I would work on ‘Mohabbatein’ and Jatin would work on other films that were happening at the same time. I had made three antaras for each of the songs as the film had three young couples. Then, of course, there was a track involving Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan too. We had to create a crescendo in some of the songs which would signify Amit ji’s (Amitabh Bachchan) arrival. There were several structural challenges associated with it. Every song had a lot of drama to it. I had even made a four-minute long music piece which Shah Rukh and Aishwarya dance to. A bunch of new singers were being launched with the film and it was my responsibility to see that they rehearse properly. The film itself was a big responsibility as it was our first collaboration with Aditya Chopra after Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. Anand Bakshi saab was our lucky charm. Every film that we worked with him on had super-hit music.
Apart from being a skilled composer, you are a good instrumentalist too. As a child, you were interested in sports and elder sister Sulakshana Pandit was worried about you losing focus in studies. Because of this, you were sent to a boarding school. Did your musical training get affected because of this?
Coming from a musical family, a lot of things came naturally to me. I grew up in a musical environment and music was all around me. Even before I went to boarding school, I sung a lot of songs for Pancham da (R. D. Burman) in chorus along with my brothers and sisters. I had also sung for a lot of jingles composed by Brij Bhushan ji as well. When I was in boarding school, I read several books on guitar and learnt to play the instrument on my own. Later, I learnt to play several other instruments mostly on my own. I have a good knowledge of instrumentation. I feel the arrangements I used to do was one of the USPs of Jatin-Lalit’s music. That was one thing that helped us stand out. Even people like Pyarelal ji and Anandji bhai who understood the value of orchestral arrangements and were master arrangers themselves, appreciated the arrangements on our songs. Most of our contemporaries used to get the arrangement done by others. Playing multiple instruments helped me a lot to do arrange songs myself.
Were your styles or approach as composers different?
Jatin was into romantic songs. He would mostly stay away from westernised songs. I was an all-rounder and was comfortable composing any kind of song. I had a good command over both Indian and Western music. Almost the entire album of ‘Mohabbatein’ was composed by me. ‘Vaade Iraade’ was largely composed by Jatin.
Jatin is nine years older to you. Professionally, both of you worked together for more than 15 years. What did you learn from each other?
To a certain extent, we had similar taste in music but our styles were quite different. ‘Chaand Taare’ (‘Yes Boss’) was a westernised song and it was very different from Jatin’s style as a composer. He had worked almost fifteen years before me but he had never composed these kind of songs.
The atmosphere at your house was very musical. In the evening, you would sing and play instruments along with your brothers and sisters and the neighbours would come to listen to your renditions as well.
Growing up in a musical environment helped me groom myself as a composer. Most of us were interested in music. However, my siblings were not very good at their studies. Among all my siblings, I am the only graduate (laughs).
You were still in college when you got the opportunity to compose for ‘Yaara Dildara’. You were the youngest among all your contemporaries.
Yes, most of my contemporaries like Nadeem – Shravan and Anu Malik started their career in the ‘70s. I was the youngest of the lot. Even Jatin had teamed up with our elder brother Mandheer and started working from the late ‘70s. The pressure also came from the kind of films we were doing. ‘Khiladi’ was the first production by Venus and they had entrusted newcomers like us to do the music. Some of the senior arrangers were also reluctant to work with us. When we were working on ‘Pehla Nasha’, we had a disagreement with our arranger. The song was then programmed by me. I had created the piano pieces. I was fresh out of college then. It’s been a long journey. I have worked for almost 31 years now.
Who were the music arrangers you enjoyed working with?
Manohari Singh and Babloo (Chakravarthy) da did contribute a lot to our music. There were many songs which I had done complete arrangements for. I never sought credit for it as I was a music composer and that kind of system was not there.
In a way, the trend of having multiple composers on a film, which is very common now, started with ‘Dillagi’, a film which Jatin and you were the main composers on.
The industry is not very ethical when it comes to a lot of things. I have never stepped inside anybody else’s film. When somebody would get in our film, we would leave the film. ‘Aankhein’ was one example. There were certain films like ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…’ where there were time constraints. We were fine with the idea of Karan (Johar) getting other composers on that film as he had very little time to lock the music. When Arbaaz asked me to do one song for ‘Dabangg’, I told him Wajid will have to call me up and tell me he is okay with me doing the song. The Music Directors Association has a law which states you must take permission from the signed composer for a particular film if you want to use a couple of songs from another composer. Unfortunately, nobody takes this law seriously.
You had stated in an interview that the competition today has become far more intense today.
There is more competition today as keyboardists have become composers. Music direction is a specialised job and there are very few people today who have the requisite skills to compose a proper song. A lot of people think they have become composers once they learn how to use a bunch of software on their laptop.
Despite doing quality work in the 2000s, there was a dip in the number of films you were doing. You had to settle for many small, obscure films too. Why did that happen?
I agree that our volume of work was very less in the 2000s. I am not sure what the reason behind that was. Having said that, the ratio of success was tremendous. We gave our best to some of the smaller films we composed music for like ‘Chand Sa Roshan Chehra’.
After a long time, Jatin and you came together for a concert in Mumbai last year. It was attended by fans in large numbers and was a huge success.
Yes! My wife produced the show. We were planning to do it every year. The show was organised in February and then, the lockdown happened in March. Once things get better, we hope to organize it again.
Which is the next project you are working on?
I have completed a film called ‘Love You Loktantra’ it has Esha Koppikar, Sneha Ullal and a new actor named Amit Gupta. For this film, Abhijeet sung for me after a long time. There is an energetic song by Daler Mehndi too. I have sung a song with Pratibha Singh Baghel. There is a beautiful romantic number sung by Shaan and Amruta Fadnavis. There are a few other projects that I am excited about. I hope to keep treating listeners with soulful melodies.