Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy Make Their Web Series Debut
The composer trio guarantee that the soundtrack of ‘Bandish Bandits’ will blow your mind with its generous dose of thumri, bandish, pop and fusion
There’s clearly time for firsts even when you’re Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, amongst the most veteran, versatile composing names in the film music industry. Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa are particularly jovial during the course of a video chat about the music they’ve created for Bandish Bandits, the new series by Amazon Prime whose soundtrack released on July 27th.
“Even after 25 years of being in the industry, if something really excites us, it has to be something new. Something that’s not done before,” Mahadevan says. After all, Bandish Bandits – a story about India’s classical music tradition shaking hands and falling in love with the contemporary pop side of things – is their first ever-digital series project. Mendonsa adds, “When I look at a digital medium, it opens up and you have so many avenues of telling different stories. It doesn’t always have to be a so-called ‘film,’ you know? It can be a documentary, it can be a 10-minute clip, and it’s beautiful.”
Shankar-Ehsan-Loy have arguably defined (and then redefined) the sound of India cinema in the last two decades with music for films like Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Rock On!! (2008), Wake Up Sid (2009) and many more films. Bandish Bandits was exciting in that not only was the story heavily steeped in music, but Amazon Prime’s reach mattered too. Noorani says, “The thing that I find very exciting about this entire project is that it’s going out to the world. Now, the thing is that the West has only known [the late sitar legend] Ravi Shankar, which is fabulous, because he was a pioneer and maestro in what he was doing. But this will give also give all these countries a different look completely at what happens in India, in terms of the music and in terms of what exists in the country. So that is super exciting for me.”
In this conversation, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy take us through the soundtrack for Bandish Bandits. Excerpts:
Was it just a matter of time before you composed for a digital series? Does the medium not matter so much in 2020, but rather the story dictates whether you say yes or no?
Ehsaan Noorani: It’s definitely exciting because this is a web series that is about music itself, not just musical like a lot of Bollywood things. It’s about families and traditions of Indian classical with people wanting to break away into things which are modern and the kind of stress that they face from people who are very traditional in the complete outlook towards music.
When we heard the script, it was something that we jumped at. It involved a lot of classical music and Shankar with his knowledge would really kill it in terms of the input that he can offer. And then there is the entire contemporary side. So that’s when the entire combination comes to look into the thing and see that we can step on both sides of the line and create something really different.
Loy Mendonsa: Adding to what Ehsaan says… normally a film would be around two hours, plus or minus, but this being a series is much longer. So you also have to be able to sustain the story with the music and everything. So that’s difficult because a lot of times, you have to be able to see the entire route. That’s the trickiest part of it.
Shankar Mahadevan: For musicians, when we get a project like this, it’s like a kid in a candy store.
Suddenly you get a chance to do a bandish, then you get a chance to do a thumri, then you get a chance to do a pop or a fusion thing where a classical riff comes in, like “Sajan Bin.” There is a bhajan, you’re doing some tarana. The last thing where we did something similar to this was Katyar Kaljat Ghusali, which is a Marathi film . This is even bigger than that, because of the types of folk music. The whole backdrop is Rajasthan. So Rajasthani folk is there throughout. For a musician who wants to experiment and do different genres of music, I think this is this is an ideal project. So we were very excited.
But it was a big challenge. To begin, you really don’t know where to start, right? Like, ‘Oh my god, where do I begin?’ [all three laugh] They have narrated the entire 10 episodes to you. You’re like, ‘Oh hell, what to start with what?’ So many people are singing so many different things. But one thing leads to the other. Eventually it was amazing.
Mendonsa: The other side of it is that a lot of the music is part of the narrative and it’s not a piece of background music, the air of the film or whatever you want to call it.
Mahadevan: In a feature film, we use an aalap when you know somebody is dead or something. Over here, this aalap… he [Radhe, played by Ritwik Bhowmik] is actually singing over there. It has to be pre-recorded, and then the guy shoots it. And then if there’s some lip sync problem then we have to correct it.
The series seems to concern itself about tradition and modernity and even the whole Indian folk-fusion culture, amongst other things. You have often worked on projects whose narrative has some of these thematic elements. What did you want to do differently for Bandish Bandits?
Noorani: Here, you’re getting into the mindset of people who are trying to create their music. When you watch the series, you’ll see how these guys actually get around creating that music, when you’re actually sitting and programming something and then there’s this guy jamming something on top of it.
You see the whole organic birth of a song, of the so-called word, which we hate to use called fusion. But you see the merging of styles of music in a very organic, real way, and it’s been very well researched. Amritpal [Singh Bindra, producer] and Anand [Tiwari, director] have really done their research well as a result of which it’s very wholesome to see.
Mendonsa: ‘Fusion’ has a very lab connotation [laughs] as opposed to combination.
Mahadevan: We got some interesting singers and collaborated with some lyricists that gave it a very interesting and nice spectrum. It was a fun project. I mean, where do you get a chance to feature Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty for a hardcore commercial web series? We’ll never get a chance. You try telling that to a regular director, “Arrey yaar nahi yaar. Mera picture commercial picture hai” [laughs].
Additionally, as a musician trio who’ve always furthered different blends of styles, I wanted your thoughts on how perhaps Bandish Bandits and others do their bit to change traditional/conservative perceptions of music in India. What do you think about this?
Noorani: For the youth, it [the show] will be an education in terms of how enriched the culture of this country is and how they should be very proud of it and not be snobbish towards what is your basic culture. It is something that I feel as least a musician, everyone should learn a bit of classical music. It is very important. You create music in this country and that’s your base. It gives you so much more of an advantage.
Mahadevan: Ehsaan was talking about point of view of the youth, that they can get exposed to classical music and that’s one side. But I’d like to talk also from the other side, from the purists. Just because you’re 75-80 years old, and you’re a purist, that doesn’t mean that what you speak is right, you know what I mean?
That’s one thing that you learn from this show. If a person says that you have to listen to only classical music and nothing else, that’s not right. You can learn from every form of music and adapt it to anything. If you keep your mind open and expand your horizons, you can learn from everything, from anybody, even if it’s a young person, old person… it doesn’t matter.
For a project like this, I see you’ve got singers such as Mame Khan, Jonita Gandhi, Armaan Malik and Shivam. What can you tell me about specific songs that were really fun to make for Bandish Bandits?
Mahadevan: There’s the song ‘Sajan Bin,’ where you can see two distinct styles. There’s this bubblegum pop kind of thing, where the lyrics are very young and very amateur and very ‘Khaana kya khaya?’ And then comes immense depth and darbari Kanada that then gets infused with a very minor pentatonic kind of regular pop. There’s a beautiful romantic song called ‘Chedkhaniyaan’ which is sung by Shivam [Mahadevan]. And, you know Pratibha [Singh Baghel], who’s done Umrao Jaan. This one (‘Sajan Bin’) is also sung by Shivam and Jonita Gandhi. Then there is Armaan Malik, who has sung another romantic song; Javed Ali has sung a thumri.
Ajoy da has sung a classical bandish and a thumri and you know, there are young classical singers who have come and they’re going to blow your mind when you hear what they have sung. I guarantee you that. I have not heard this kind of singing in any project anywhere in the history of Indian cinema. Mohammed Aman and Farid Hasan [on ‘Garaj Garaj Jugalbandi’] — they have done the jugalbandi and it’s crazy.
Noorani: When I heard that I got goosebumps. It’s like hearing John McLaughlin singing [all laugh]. It’s like really dangerous, I would say! So there’s a lot of really good stuff on this album.
Mendonsa: The talent is amazing.
Stream the soundtrack on Spotify below: