Coming to the foreground
Raju Singh’s oeuvre over the years has included composing film songs, themes or title tracks for television serials and shows, jingles, singing ghazals, remixing albums, coaching contestants in music reality shows, scoring background music for almost 80 films, and even singing his own composition for a television serial under the supervision of Sonu Niigaam. He is, as they say, an all-rounder.
For Singh, everything is about perfection and excellence. His standards have remained high for over 15 years, thanks to his dedication.
Music is in his blood; he is the son of Charanjit Singh, a top-flight musician who worked with legends like Shankar-Jaikishan, S D Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. As he puts it, “An advantage I have had is that I have been a musician for many years in films.
We have seen the era when both songs and background scores were composed with acoustic instruments by Naushad, Kalyanji-Anandji, Ilaiyaraja and many more. My approach now is a blend of the old and the new.”
His work includes the hugely-appreciated album Tum Yaad Aaye, the signature tune for Indian television’s longest-running serial CID as well as Boogie-Woogie and Chandrakanta, songs for films like Raaz — The Mystery Continues and Khichdi — The Movie and background scores for all Mukesh Bhatt films since 2005, Chandni Bar, Page 3 and Ishq Vishk.
Today, Singh is being appreciated for his background score in the recent hit Jannat 2, apart from his great work on Dangerous Ishhq. He has started work on Raaz 3, and is mentor for the sixth season of Indian Idol, which has just taken off.
Every review of Jannat 2 has mentioned its background score. One critic has even written that the background score deserves a standing ovation. “I was ecstatic as this has never happened with anyone in recent times.
Even more fulfilling was the compliment from the legendary composer Vanraj Bhatiaji, who candidly told me, ‘Look Raju, I don’t call up anybody to just compliment them. But after watching Jannat 2, I just wanted to know who had done the background score!’ ”
Singh continues, “For me, it was a challenge, as I was composing themes for two male protagonists – Emraan Hashmi and Randeep Hooda — after a long time. And their relationship in the movie was unique. Theirs was a cat-and-mouse game.
I used what is known as the Honky-Tonky piano, which is a slightly de-tuned instrument used in music for cartoons, comedies and horror films. I joined that with an chhallewala dholak — a ring is worn on the finger to drum out the beat — and composed a riff that, depending on their relationship, could be made emotional or pathos-laden.”
Dangerous Ishhq may have tanked, but Singh calls it one of his more challenging assignments. “I could not use electronics in the treatment of a period film such as this, a project in which I had to invest a lot of thought.
This was a mysterious, haunting, incomplete love story and I had to thread together the romances of different eras and complete the melody as the love story reached a culmination. So out of every 10 pieces composed, nine were the same — it was intentional overuse. I used the first two words of Himesh Reshammiya’s song Naina re and blended it with the music created around a theme similar to that of the Hollywood movie Love Story.
How does he go about conceiving his background music score? “Though I am a guitarist, I compose on the piano. My experience in over 70 films has proved that usually my first spontaneous idea is the right one. I usually hum out what I have composed while playing it. Background scores will remain in a viewer’s psyche only when they are hum-worthy; unlike a song, there are no catchy lyrics to help out!”
Raaz 3 was also another challenge, Singh says. “Especially in a horror film, my experience is that it is first essential to crack the theme piece, which becomes the identity of the film. The gimmicky portions are optional but the theme piece has to be repeated in different forms as per the situation.”
How does Singh deal with any strange demands from filmmakers? Smiles Singh, “Over time, I have learnt to be a good salesman, who can also musically adapt to a filmmaker. And whenever I am repeated by a filmmaker, I feel that I must have done something right. It’s a win-win situation where the demands of creativity and filmmakers come together. Some filmmakers know exactly what they want, and others tell me what they have in mind and then tell me to give my own take on it.”
Background music, stresses Singh, is a very subjective take on “what to use, when to use and how much to use.” With certain filmmakers, like the Bhatts, Mohit Suri or Kunal Deshmukh, Singh is involved right from the production stage. Certain sequences are shot after music ideas have been discussed, prior to the shooting.
He is also back on Indian Idol 6 after a break of four seasons as a behind-the-scenes mentor. What exactly are his responsibilities?
“I am a mentor-music director for all contestants,” he replies. “Besides grooming them from the audition stage, I am one of the two musicians who help train the contestants according to their capacities in specific songs. Some of the contestants, for example, are good only at specific kinds of songs or genres, so we have to groom them in different genres.
As the rounds build up, we have to first select themes and then the songs that we have to make them sing on the show. Indian Idol’s approach has changed now — from looking at a complete package as a performer, which included persona and looks, we have realised that what will work is only pure singing talent. The goal now is to give at least one great playback singer to Hindi cinema.”