Inside the Soundtrack of ‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshy’
Director Dibakar Banerjee roped in artists such as alt punk band BLEK, gypsy/psych rock act Peter Cat Recording Co. and electro-swing duo Madboy/Mink for the OST of his new film
Late at night, returning from a mixing session of his new film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, Mumbai-based director Dibakar Banerjee tells us that he’s actually trying to eliminate music from his films. Says Banerjee, “I’m trying to eliminate music from my films and at the same time, I’m really excited by the use of music in my film. Try and make sense of that.” We’ve heard this one before. Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma attempted to achieve the same goal a couple of years ago.
Except that Banerjee, who has directed critically-acclaimed films such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Shanghai and Love Sex aur Dhokha, has tapped into India’s alternative music scene for the soundtrack to Byomkesh Bakshy, a period film that follows the famed Bengali detective in Kolkata in the 1940s. Bakshi’s character was created by Bengali writer Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, whose stories appeared between 1932 and 1970. Says Banerjee of his treatment of the film, “We were treating the past as present. The kind of music that I listen to today was a way of etching out the mood of the film because I was doing a mix of what I am today and what life was like in Calcutta in 1943.” This certainly aligns itself with the idea of another literary film adaptation, 2013’s The Great Gatsby, whose soundtrack, helmed by rapper-producer Jay-Z, reimagined songs along with a few new tracks.
Early in 2014, Banerjee and his production team set out to find artists whose music would fit into the story of the film. After shortlisting about 200 songs from non-Bollywood artists across the country, the team began whittling the list down to a handful of songs and artists, which now includes Mumbai electro-swing duo Madboy/Mink [“Calcutta Kiss”], Delhi psychedelic rockers Peter Cat Recording Co. [“Jaanam”], nu-metallers Joint Family [“Life’s A Bitch”], Mumbai alt punk act BLEK [“Byomkesh In Love”], Bengaluru electronic music duo mode.AKA [“Chase in Chinatown”] and more. From the seven tracks on the OST, four tracks are remakes of previously written material – PCRC’s “Pariquel,” off their 2011 debut album Sinema, now has Hindi lyrics by frontman Suryakant Sawhney, BLEK’s 2012 song “Fog + Strobe” includes thumri vocals by playback singer Usri Banerjee, Madboy/Mink’s “Taste Your Kiss” includes verses in Hindi from vocalist Saba Azad and Joint Family’s “Life’s A Bitch,” stays more or less true to its original 2007 version from their album Hot Box. Says Banerjee, “I was thinking of a soundtrack that was background music, but slowly I realized that the background music for this film will have to be songs which stand on their own, which are not really dictated by what the film shows. They are dictated by their own emotion. They come into the film and give it a new dimension.”
Newer tracks include “Yang Guang Lives,” a dark theme for the antagonist from the film composed by Ashhar Farooqui [from Delhi electronic music group Teddy Boy Kill], drummer Sahil Mendiratta and guitarist Punit Bhatt, who are part of the group IJA [which translates into ‘mother’ in the language Kumaoni, Farooqui tells us]. This was one of the group’s first compositions, commissioned by Banerjee for the film, ever since they got together in August 2014. Says Farooqui, “It wasn’t so difficult to tap on the nerve of what he [Banerjee] wanted. He gave us a brief and it was pretty visual for us to work with.” IJA, who have just released more new material with four-track EP VitAmin Sex, says it was different compared to any other regular commercial music work. Says Farooqui, “Dibakar made it clear that he didn’t want to interfere.” Banerjee is full of praise for Farooqui and IJA, “It was amazing because that guy can conjure up sounds which hit your bones. Ashhar is a guy who is absolutely on the cutting edge of music.”
Even Madboy/Mink’s Imaad Shah and Saba Azad, along with PCRC and BLEK agree that Banerjee was never too stubborn like most Bollywood music directors, choosing suggestions over orders. Says BLEK frontman Rishi Bradoo, “Dibakar’s films have been fantastic, so I wasn’t as sceptical [about composing music for a Bollywood film] as I would have been if it was someone else.” The band sat down with Banerjee, who showed them scenes from the film that required a background score, which became “Byomkesh In Love.” Says Bradoo, “Dibakar was very clear that we don’t drift away from our sound. It’s still got a very gritty, synth-pop, modern sound to it.” Adds Madboy/Mink’s Imaad Shah, “It’s great to find a place where our sound can work.” Adds vocalist Saba Azad, “Bollywood has a big reach, so it’s a good medium for us.”
Just as BLEK added a thumri verse, Madboy/Mink roped in Shirish Malhotra on horns and clarinet to replace their sampled sections with live recordings. Shah says changing the title and the main chorus line from “Taste Your Kiss” to “Calcutta Kiss” was a bit jarring at first, “but it makes sense now.” PCRC vocalist-guitarist Suryakant Sawhney too says they didn’t change much apart from writing Hindi lyrics for “Jaanam,” but they did have to re-record the entire song since they’d lost their track data files. Says Sawhney, “It was easy transcribing the lyrics into Hindi for the song. We even recorded a few other parts for the score. We had clips Dibakar had sent us from the film and thought, ‘Let’s just turn it on and jam.’”
For mode.AKA, the thrill of being a part of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy arrived early when they learnt that the movie trailer, which received over two million views on YouTube, featured their music. Says mode.AKA bassist Sandeep Madhavan, “I was expecting a backlash from the Bollywood crowd, but it seems to be working. It’s a good time for all involved. I think it’s going to do wonders.” While BLEK says they’ll take up another song for a film if “it’s in line with what we’re doing as a band.” Madboy/Mink say they are already working on similar projects with other filmmakers, along with an upcoming EP. Banerjee, however, says the unpredictability of the project is what brought about a unique collection of songs – from the metal of “Life’s A Bitch” to the swing of “Calcutta Kiss.” Says Banerjee, “I don’t want to plan anything. Certain things come out when you’re getting into a place where you don’t know shit. But instead of falling back on copying something or doing the expected, you try and figure your way out of that. That only comes if you don’t plan too much.”
Listen to the soundtrack to Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! here