It has been more than a decade since composers Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor have been scoring music for Hindi films. They live in two different countries and yet, work together as a duo. They have worked on films like ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’, ‘Ship of Theseus’, ‘Udta Punjab’, ‘Newton’ and ‘Sonchiriya’ in the past and have also done the background score for web shows like ‘Ghoul’ and ‘Paatal Lok’. Recently, they saw a lot of appreciation coming their way for the score they put together the Vidya Balan starrer ‘Sherni’.
In this interview, Naren and Benedict talk about their journey as composers in Hindi cinema, memorable projects, the growing important of and awareness around background score in Hindi films, doing a variety of experiments with sound, collaborating with Varun Grover, scoring the music for a commercial Bollywood film and more.
Naren, Anurag Kashyap asked you to score the music for ‘That Girl In Yellow Boots’. You asked Benedict to join you and that’s how both you started making music together.
Benedict: Yes, I had a music and teaching residency in Mumbai at the Monumental Music Foundation. I was working there for a while. A colleague of mine, who also happened to be a friend of Naren, introduced me to him. We realized we had a lot in common. We started talking about music and discussed the possibility of collaborating with each other. I did some improvised music for one of the CSR companies that Naren was working with. Naren was offered ‘That Girl In Yellow Boots’ by Anurag and I joined him on that film.
One of the most interesting projects both of you had worked together on was the Aamir Bashir directed feature length film ‘Harud’. The film is marked by several scenes where there is a lot of silence. Many composers have stated in the past that many a times silence plays an important role in taking the narrative of a film forward.
Naren: Yes! With ‘Harud’, using silence extensively was a very deliberate decision. There is some music right at the end of the film. There was a discussion while working on the project that whether silence would help the audience interpret the story better. Having a lot of music would have robbed the film of a few crucial elements including the final sense of catharsis.
Naren, you have specialized in playing the guitar. Benedict, you have learnt to play the viola and the violin. Both of you have background of western music. If you are offered a period film which requires Indian classical music, how would you approach it?
Benedict: We would approach it the same way we approach any other project. Every project has different cultural or geographical routes. As composers, you figure that out as you work on the project. That’s part of the excitement of working on something new.
Naren: I feel the research part of a project is really interesting. Having the chance to do as much as possible beforehand or learning a new form of music is an enriching process. We would love to work on a project that requires raga-based compositions. It is also great to collaborate with musicians on projects. You could collaborate with people who know that world. The chance to learn something new is very exciting.
You are known to experiment extensively with instruments and sounds. Which is the craziest experiment you have done till date?
Benedict: Doing these things have always been normal for us. We have done thing like filling cooking pots with water and creating different tonal variations with them. We have opened up the insides of a piano, tied wool and thread around the strings of a piano. We have managed to sample different kind of sounds because of these experiments.
Naren: It is always fun to create a new instrument or a fresh sound. We had a lot of fun manipulating a lot of things electronically. We did that with ‘Sherni’. There are ways in which you can spectrally take the sonic signature of a lite and put it onto a ting instrument. You get a weird hybrid sound out of it.
For the longest time, we had seen labels releasing CDs of background scores in the West. That did not happen in India for a very long time. Now, things are changing and we see labels or production houses putting up the background score of their films on streaming platforms.
Naren: I think the term ‘background score’ is used only in India. I guess the fact that the music is in only in the background means something (laughs). I hope releasing scores of films becomes the norm. People should get the chance to hear the music outside of the film as well.
Apart from doing background scores, you have also composed songs. There was ‘Karmaari Duniya’ in ‘That Girl In Yellow Boots’, ‘Udi’ in ‘Gurgaon’ and ‘Panchhi Ud Gaya’ in ‘Newton’. Do you plan to compose more songs in the future?
Naren: Definitely! That’s something Benedict and I are working on.
Varun Grover has written most of the songs composed by you. How has been the experience of working with him?
Naren: It’s been great! The song that Varun wrote in ‘That Girl In Yellow Boots’ was the first song he had written for a film. It was great to have the chance of collaborating with him then. Whenever we have worked with him, it’s been a breezy process. We are really proud of all the songs we have done with Varun. Sometimes, he writes the lines first and there have been occasions when we have given him the melody first.
Benedict: Our collaborations with Varun have always been very special. He is a naturally-gifted writer.
You have mostly done offbeat films and shows. Would you like to score for an out-and-out commercial Bollywood film someday?
Benedict: Of course!
Naren: Yes, if a filmmaker is making a film and he feels we could bring anything of value, then we would be more than happy to work on it. Working on a film of that nature would be a challenging and enjoyable process.
Any favourite score from the recent past?
Bendict: I loved the Sacred Games score.
Naren: Yes, I loved it too. Alokananda’s (Dasgupta) work has always been very good.
Which has been your most fulfilling project till date?
Naren: I find it really difficult to pick one. It is really hard to separate one project from another.
Benedict: Every project that we have worked on has been special. You take something from every project.
You guys have done a lot of work in this OTT. Do something different?
Naren: One of the best things about these shows is that they reach out to a very wide and diverse audience. Since it’s a series, it has a certain scale. These projects allow a great degree of artistic freedom too.
Despite living in two countries, both of you have managed it very well so far. Have you faced any challenge because of this working arrangement?
Benedict: You always face challenges when you are working apart. When we were working on ‘That Girl In Yellow Boots’, we used to mail each other music pieces. This working arrangement has led to a very interesting creative breeding ground.
Both of you had been working on a non-film album for some time. What’s the status on it?
It’s a personal project and has been in the works for a while. We hope to finish and release it soon. We have scored for three web shows which shall come out soon.