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Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy: It’s on us to make a song that sounds good as it is

Having created six of the 17 songs that form the backbone of The Archies musical, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy say they felt they could “smell sponge cake in the room”, when they watched the final edit. “It’s such a sweet film,” they promise, as they discuss recording with Suhana Khan, and working with Javed Akhtar. 

Edited excerpts of the interview.

There’s always something special about the music you’ll make for a Zoya Akhtar-film. Why is that so?
Ehsaan: [We are given] the freedom to create. She never blocks an idea and says, ‘No, let’s try something else.’ Her attitude is respectful to the creative person. 
Shankar: There are certain directors whose presence in the studio [enables] the music to flow easily. There may be parts of the music that we use or don’t use, or mould at a later stage. For example, the song Va va vroom came out to be as it is because he [Ehsaan] randomly played one line, and we decided to record it. Only later did we recall we had this recording. It was a founder’s ball, and we realised this would fit the scene because it has an element of rock. So, when music flows easily, it feels fresh to the listener. 

Many cast members, like Dot, are also singers. Suhana has also lent her voice to a song. Did you’ll sit with them to discuss the music? 
Shankar: For Suhana’s part, we wanted someone who had the required voice, age, and innocence. The singers we recorded sounded too professional. When she sang it, we said, this is it. She was nervous but practiced a lot.
Ehsaan: The song that she sang has a conversational quality. Another song has been sung by Kelly Dlima. These young singers are all unheard of. They’ve been singing in the studio, but now they’ll get this excellent break. 
Shankar: There is one song that is completely picturised on skates. The kids had to learn skating for it. 
Ehsaan: There’s another that has been rendered by Arijit [Singh]. People will be surprised when they hear it. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard from Arijit. He was also thrilled with it.
When creating music for the web, where it’s easier for someone to hit fast-forward when a song plays, do you believe the emphasis on the visuals of the song has increased in a bid to lure the viewer to watch it?
Shankar: I would agree that that it is valid. But, 80 per cent of the music that is consumed in the country is non-visual. It is consumed on streaming platforms, where you aren’t seeing it. So, the perception that Bollywood is the only thing [that matters in the music industry] is not true. Bollywood is a small part of the whole game. Monetarily it’s a big part. But there’s a lot happening otherwise. We did a web series called Bandish Bandits. [We’ve been told that] people skipped the talkie portions to hear the music.
Loy: Our job is to write a great song. What is done with the visuals is on the director. But, we have to create a song that sounds amazing even without the visuals. 
Shankar: You know, Senorita [Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara] was not supposed to be a song. It was a situation in which they were meant to jam with some Spanish musicians, and leave. When we created that [motif] we realised it was an amazing song. So, visuals were created for it, thereafter. That was also the case with Havan kund in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. It was supposed to be a scene in the hostel. But Prasoon [Joshi] ji wrote a big paragraph, and that led to the making of a full song. 

Since the songs are conversational, did you’ll spend more time with Javed Akhtar?
Shankar: We always do. I remember, when we were sitting with Javed saab for this film, he would tell us, ‘I have to [not consider] 80 per cent of the words in my vocabulary, because these kids are Anglo-Indians.’ Sometimes, Farhan [Akhtar] and I would playfully argue about some lyrics, and he’d say, ‘With your vocabulary, all I can do is send a telegram’. The kids in the film have limited vocabulary. So, he couldn’t write intricate poetry. He had to write simple words that still conveyed the message—whether that message was about politics or [love]. It had to be musical and the rhymes needed to fit the tune. Only he could have done this.

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