Raju Singh: Scores and More

Raju Singh is a rare music talent. Photo: Raju Singh Panesar

Raju Singh is the all-rounder in music. Genetics apart (his father, Charanjit Singh, was an eminent film and non-film musician), his wife, Sherley Singh, works for the IPRS (Indian Performing Right Society), that looks after royalties to music creators. Daughter Rachel Singh, an alumnus of the Berklee College of Music, Boston, is a gifted musician, while son Joshua is also into music. All the four are directors of Joshua Music, while their studio is known as Joshua Inc..

What’s more, Raju’s paternal side of the family was the first to manufacture and market musical instruments in Mumbai decades back.

That said, Raju has done it all: he has been a musician, a composer in cinema and of non-film albums and songs (including the landmark Tum Yaad Aaye with Alka Yagnik), done title-tracks and scores for over 75 serials and shows like Aahat, Chandrakanta, Boogie-Woogie and Just Mohabbat, dozens of ad jingles and also ‘film scores’ (called ‘background music’ in India) for around 200 films. Raju has also been one of the pioneers of the ‘remix’ genre. He is also doing web series now.

Raju Singh Panesar, to give his full name, has formally learnt tabla, harmonium and guitar and has worked with top names from Kalyanji-Anandji, R.D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal to Anu Malik, Anand-Milind and Viju Shah. He made his debut in film scores with (actor) Ranjeet’s 1990 production, Kaarnama, and first composed film songs in Paagalpan (2001).

Today, Raju is planning fresh projects. In a relaxed and freewheeling talk at his music room in his Juhu bungalow, he unwinds about past, present and future. Excerpts from an interview follow.

After an incredible body of work, what else are you doing now?

I am getting into spiritual music—there is a distinct charm in doing something that I have always wanted to do. There are no constraints or bindings here and I can do what I want. I will be also releasing my own songs that I have made over the years and also composing more tracks, so basically I am going back to more songs.

I would compartmentalize my work earlier into phases of making songs, scores and so on, but in the last decade, I found myself doing so many scores that songs took a backseat. Today, songs are more Westernized and there is a difference from when a song was about a memorable tune, good lyrics and so on. I want to bridge this gap.

Of course, my scores for films, TV shows and web series are going on. My newest is Khichdi 2, a sequel to the 2008 film Khichdi with characters from that iconic serial. During the pandemic, God has given everyone a situation to re-look into what they are doing and whether work has become mechanical and is in a rut, or whether one can do something new. Today, with the scene opening up online as well, there is so much of a crowd in music that there is hardly anyone who is experienced enough or has gone through the grind, like musicians of my time have. So their music is dry and does not last.

Today, the multiple-composer trend is another downer. There is no investment like that of a single composer in the design of songs in a film.

You are also involved in Artium. What exactly is that?

Artium is an online music academy. We have names like Chitra and Sonu Nigam for ‘Bollywood Singing’, Shubha Mudgal for Hindustani Classical and so on. I have designed the syllabus for learning the acoustic guitar and have trained teachers to teach students online.

You talk about film scores when you actually mean ‘Background Music’.

Yes, because the latter terminology is specific to Indian cinema and is actually incorrect. ‘Background music’, in its global connotation, is music that plays in the background—like in restaurants, malls and so on! Whereas ‘scoring’ is that which enhances what is happening in a film, or for that matter, in a TV serial or web series. With technology evolving in the last two decades, this is the perfect time to do what is known here as ‘BGM’ but worldwide as ‘Original Score’. The original score is the music of the film, while the songs, which dominate in India, can be called a part of the ‘soundtrack’.

My aim here is to use technology to enhance what the director needs. And music for any sequence can be done in so many new ways and we can use so many music genres. Yes, in India, our sensibility is a bit loud, as we want to underscore every emotion. But for me, the golden rule is also how to use silences, which if well-used form the peak part of sound!

Film scores also use riff of the same movie’s songs.

Yes, our films are musical. My first rule is that my work is for the film, and not to show off my skills. I try to design my score keeping in mind the style of the song composer, because, for example, an Anu Malik will be different from a Pritam. But now, with multiple music directors coming in, that becomes impossible! So I request the director to at least get all the diverse songs mixed by one person, so that I can follow a certain sound spectrum. The most important need here is to understand what your director wants, even when he is not good at expressing himself! There is a knack needed to understand what is in his mind.

When I watch a film, I see it as a film. It is necessary that I understand the movie, so I immediately tell the director honestly about what I feel. Because of this, I have lost films too!. But I would rather do that than just add one more film to my name. And every film can be done differently. Of course, the final call is the director’s.

The current mantra seems to be speed. Composers often grumble about having to supply songs in a hurry. Does this also happen with a score?

Luckily, we do get one to three months’ time per film. Like in the more than 25 scores I have done for Mukesh and Mahesh Bhatt, there was only one example—Aashiqui 2—wherein I had to rush as the release date was suddenly brought forward for strategic reasons! I suggested to (director) Mohit Suri that in this case, he should allow me to do the scoring first, and then tell me where any major changes were needed.

The versatile Raju Singh does everything in music from composing songs to scoring films. Photo: Raju Singh Panesar

Do you relate raags and specific instruments to emotions in a scene?

Of course! Music has to express and emote. In the climax of Life in a…Metro, there was this funny sequence where Irrfan Khan is riding a horse to reach the girl he loves, who is getting married. The music had to express what was bottled up within him but has exploded now! For Chandni Bar, I composed a theme for the film, not for a character. I recorded 25 variations of a raag in Indian classical style with Shubha Mudgal-ji and then sat down to see what worked. Raags are important, as are certain instruments, like the sarangi to express sadness. Electronics are important, but so are ‘live’ instruments for the human feel.

Today, the convention is to be subtle, but Indianness is in our blood.! So I try to strike a balance. We are going too much towards the West today. But their storytelling and emotional narration are different. We like to underline feelings, as I said earlier.

And yet, we must change, evolve and strike that midway path, so that the new generation should not move away. Look at someone like Anu Malik, who is always pushing himself and trying to see what he has not done yet. He has seen three or four generation of composers and has competed with them all!

What is the situation when you do TV?

TV is another ballgame, where I just get 48 hours. So unless it is a must, I use only electronics. There are some thumb rules I follow there to match the speed needed.

Something not commonly known about you is that you also train musicians.

(Smiles) Well, I have trained around 100 musicians in TV scoring, and I am so happy to say that 70-75 percent of the busy names today are trained by me. I take a commitment of a minimum three years of their working only with me. From the second year, I start giving them work. Most of them have worked longer than three years with me!

Another lesser-known fact: you conducted Masterclasses at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

My daughter, Rachel, was studying there and they came to know about me and my work. So they invited me to take a few masterclasses. I was nervous about whether the youngsters there would relate to them. But we had fun because I was sharing my experiences and we were all learning from each other! It was a great high for me because when I was young, I had asked for the school’s brochures but had never been able to afford the fees!







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