Classic progression

Anjali Jhangiani
Friday, 7 September 2018

Indian classical and fusion musician Niladri Kumar discusses how working on the music of Imtiaz Ali’s Laila Majnu was a way to expand his comfort zone

The fifth-generation sitar player, Niladri Kumar, is known for inventing the zitar, a combination of the sitar and the electric guitar, which he introduced in songs like Crazy Kiya Re (Dhoom 2), Bheegi Bheegi (Gangster), Alvida (Life in a Metro), and Chup Chup Ke (Bunty Aur Babul), among others, which went on to become smash hits.
But the artist has returned to his classical roots to create the music for Imitaz Ali’s latest love story Laila Majnu, which released this Friday.
“I have done five songs in this film. I still continue my usual performances on stage with sitar and zitar. My non-film album work continues as always. Hence composing music for films is not a step in another direction, rather it’s a step which was probably meant to be,” says Kumar. 

He recalls how he was approached by Imtiaz Ali to score for the film. “It was a natural instinct to say yes and then just live the journey for your sound to take some shape. Composing for film music can be both extremely fulfilling as well as extremely taxing. It is up to various factors, but mainly depends on the connection between the composer, director and producer. If that is in sync, then the process is exciting and even exhilarating in a way,” he says, adding, “You have to find a balance between the commercial sensibilities required for a palatable song and your own sensibilities as a composer. It is quite a tight rope to walk on, but I enjoy it when the story, scene or the narrative is challenging and you have to compose a melody which not just takes the narrative forward but also enhances the experience within it.”

He believes that composing the music for the film is the obvious step forward in his career, but it is not outside his comfort zone. “If you are in a comfort zone, it probably means you are saturated or it means it is the beginning of the end.

This applies to any form of music and to all musicians. So being able to expand on your comfort zone and being able to expand your horizon as a musician is the biggest blessing that you can get as a musician, and I have been fortunate enough to have got that opportunity,” he says. 

Kumar has worked with names like Arijit Singh, Mohit Chauhan, Atif Aslam, Shreya Ghoshal, Babul Supriyo, Javed Ali and Jonita Gandhi, for this project. “I am privileged to have singers of this stature agreeing to sing for me and I really wish in some next life of mine I am able to sing as well as them. Each one of them has their own unique style,” says he.
He shares that his main aim as the composer was to make sure that the songs emote the sentiments that are featured in the storyline. “If you just listen to the songs without watching it, you should still feel and visualise the same sentiment that is represented in the film. If this is true, then the songs have done the job they were meant to,” says Kumar.
The tracks have received positive reviews for their refreshing sound with a classical edge. “I have been extremely blessed and lucky. I am throughly honoured and humbled by the sentiments conveyed to me from the who’s who of the film industry, music practitioners and listeners. I need the love and blessings of all to keep the fire burning,” he says.
What will he be up to next? He answers, “As always, some plans are certain and some uncertain. But for plans to materialise, I keep seeking the blessings of all. I am currently working on an album, and film work is slated too. I’m looking forward to all of it!”

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