Subhash Ghai turns composer with 36 Farmhouse

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Subhash Ghai explains a point to flautist Naveen Kumar and arranger Meghdeep Bose. Photo: Subhash Ghai.

Subhash Ghai, best known as producer and director of blockbusters like Kalicharan, Hero, Karma, Ram Lakhan, Saudagar and Khal-Nayak as well as more cult movies like Karz, Taal and Iqbal, has already had a multi-faceted innings.

After training as actor at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), and starting with a small role in Rajshri Productions’ Taqdeer (1967), he played the lead and character roles in a few films before turning writer with several stories. Veteran producer N.N. Sippy heard his narration of Kalicharan (1976) and told him that he would make the film provided Ghai agreed to direct it himself, as his narration had impressed him. From here began his innings as writer-director, before he launched his banner. Mukta Arts (named after his wife).

He officially turned producer with Hero (1983), dabbled in singing with Meri Jung (1985) and even turned editor with Pardes (1997). Known for a cavalcade of hits in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s that earned him the title of “Showman”, he began as a lyricist for the title-song of Saira Banu’s chat show Duniya Ke Sitare in 1998 (with music by Jatin-Lalit) and also with the song Kabhi paa liya for Ghai’s own production Jogger’s Park (2003).

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Ghai has often said that he was intricately involved in the music of the films he directed (especially with fave composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal) and has now officially debuted as film composer with his soon-to-release production 36 Farmhouse, for which he has composed and written all three songs, two of which are out on a Zee Music album.

Newsindiatimes.com talked to the veteran all-rounder on a Sunday morning.

Q: Your two songs Mind your business by Hariharan and Mohabbat by Sonu Nigam, have the right mix of the melodious and the contemporary. What made you turn composer for 36 Farmhouse rather than any other film?

A: I am constantly exploring myself, discovering myself. I would be sitting almost idle at home throughout the lockdown and thought I should write poetry. I ended up writing some 64 poems. These poems gave me the satisfaction that I had done something creative that day! There was no bandish for them, no pressure and no competition, or even the commercial aspect that people should like them! When friends heard them, they said I should publish a compilation. I said, maybe, once I touch 100!

The government has frequently approached me to make videos on diverse things like the green revolution, the election commission, Skill India and other social issues and I would write the lyrics, compose them and direct the films. So when 36 Farmhouse was conceived from my story, I thought of the song situations and felt that they did not need a heavyweight professional composer. It made things easier as well as I would not have to sit with anybody on the songs. I wrote the apt lyrics and then composed, which is what I like to do, as the thought must come first.

Q: Have you learnt music formally?

A: No, but I have been involved extensively in my films’ songs and learnt so much from Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, A.R. Rahman and others. Through them, I have come to know some raags, like Pahadi, for example.

Q: The song Mind your business has major influences of the L-P tenor as well as Anand Bakshi, your favorite lyricist. The vocals, the cross-line (the bridge from the antara back to the mukhda) and instrumentation all have the flavors.

A: True. They are the universities from where I have learnt the art of writing and composing. The grammar will definitely come in. This song is filmed on Sanjay Mishra, who plays the father and a cook who turns greedy.

I had the great advantage of huge talents from my institute (Whistling Woods International) to come in as musicians, arrangers and programmers. I would interact with them on Zoom. When Meghdeep Bose, my arranger, and Abhishek Bonthu, my programmer, were fired with my tunes, we decided to go ahead professionally. Mohabbat comes during a crisis in the romance. The third song, Happy Birthday, is sung by two great talents from FTII, Vaishnavi Shriram and Vishesh Jain.

When the songs were arranged, I decided on almost every instrument. I called Naveen Kumar, for example, for the flute.

Q: Mohabbat has a haunting hook and is very catchy.

A: I like to think that it is inspired by the kind of songs Shankar-Jaikishan would make.

Q: Did you also decide on the singers?

A: I did. Meghdeep suggested a contemporary singer for Mind your business, but I told him that his singing had to satisfy me. He did sing very well, but it was not what I wanted. So I called my friend Hariharan, who has sung many lovely songs for me. Sonu Nigam recorded Mohabbat. Subhash Ghai, throughout his career, has never catered to the market, only to conviction.  I have introduced new singers (Anuradha Paudwal and Sukhwinder Singh among them) but taken whoever is the right artiste for a song.

Q: At the same time, given the kind of songs that run today, what about the prospects?

A: Today, songs are mostly guitar-based, and I am exploring, not promoting myself as a composer. What came out were the words and tunes that were right for the situation.

Q: Will you be doing more films, possibly a bigger one, after this and the success of your earlier videos?

A: I have no plan. I will go on discovering myself. I will write any song if given the situation or theme for a film, the stage or a show.

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