In a world replete with rhythmic atonality, Monty Sharma has re-validated the status of raga-based melodies in our Hindi cinema. After the stupendous background scores in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas and Black, this learned composer moves to the foreground with the songs in the director's Saawariya. The score re-introduces an entirely lost ethos to film music. The exuberant musician speaks to Subhash K Jha
Tell me about your journey from the background in Black to the foreground in Saawariya.
It's been a very fulfilling journey. Though there're no gimmicks and item songs in Saawariya, people seem to like my songs. The whole process of creating songs for Mr. Bhansali was very difficult but ultimately very satisfying. For three years I ate, slept and breathed the music of Saawariya. The day Mr. Bhansali finished making Black he said he wanted to hear me play my songs. For the next eight months we just had music sittings. I didn't even know what the script was. He kept giving me hypothetical situations and I kept coming up after schools. We recorded the first song ‘Yun Shabnami’ forSaawariya in October 2007. We kept adding to the sound of Saawariya piece by piece. Has Saawariya made you a better artiste?
The whole process of creating music for a perfectionist like Sanjay Leela Bhansali has taken its toll on my health. We would work fourteen years at a stretch. Do I fear the fall after the high in Saawariya? Not really. I've never feared the unknown. When I started the composing songs in Saawariya I was sure of two things. The music had to be very different from what's being heard these days, and also different from what's been heard in Mr Bhansali's cinema. My hard work and the director's inputs have paid off. But now I'm restless. I want to continue with a different sound each time.
You don't only recognize the ragas you also know how to read and write music. Over-qualified for the film industry?
I'm the legendary Pyarelal -ji's nephew and coincidentally he's making a comeback of sorts after many years with the arrangement in one of the songs in Om Shanti Om which releases on the same day as Saawariya. We need his experience to pull film music out of the doldrums. I don't think my knowledge of music makes me over-qualified. It's not about how much you know but how you apply that knowledge. My tunes are very simple. I don't burden my tunes with my knowledge.
There's a discernible element of Laxmikant-Pyarelal in your songs.
Of course. I grew up on the music of Laxmi-Pyare. They were two bodies one soul. They grew up together and worked together. That kind of bonding is not possible any more. I started by working with Laxmi-Pyare. All my basic knowledge of music came from them. Then I worked with Anu Malik, Nadeem-Shravan…I used to play the keyboards for them. Today I get lots of offers. But I prefer waiting for Saawariya to release. I even get offers from tv serials. I don't care about the size or nature of the medium. I want to do good honest work.
Which is more difficult, the background score or the songs?
In Saawariya it took me longer to do the songs. But even the background in Saawariya was a killer. After the background score in Black it was very important to me that I came up with an equally forceful background for Saawariya.
What next for you?
I am doing an international album. It'll have artistes from various parts of the world. I also have an offer to arrange a symphony in South Africa. I've been approached by Subhash Ghai and Sunny Deol. There're lots of big banners coming forward. But I don't want to go by banner. I want to create music where it has a proper place. Not too many films give that space for songs. And I don't want to reduce myself to making item songs.
Any unfinished desires about the music in Saawariya?
I've put my heart and soul in Saawariya. But after all the toil I still feel there's so much more I could've done. Sanjay Bhansali gave me so much freedom to create a sound that was unique and very traditional. He was open to my ideas all through. I've worked with him in three films…actually four films if you consider the fact that I arranged the songs in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.
What do you think of the competition?
I don't think about it. I like to do my own thing.