Caught in his calling

Caught in his calling

in conversation

Caught in his calling

Director Rensil D’Silva’s Ungli did not garner much attention at the box office, but the title and the promotional track of the film, Ungli Pe Nachalein, set the youngsters grooving. Its young composer, Aslam Keyi, has never looked back ever since. The music director is “grateful that I have received great feedback for the song and am happy that people have appreciated my music.”

Unlgi is Keyi’s second film. The music composer has previously scored  for War Chhod Na Yaar. Having just stepped into the film industry, he believes that competition is tough. “You have to give it your best shot, but that doesn’t worry me. There’s a lot of space for everyone, and all are doing well for themselves,” he maintains.

Keyi has trained under the legendary music director, the late O P Nayyar. “I called him babuji and we shared a father-son relationship between 1996 and 2007. When I came to Mumbai, I composed music for an album and made him listen to it. I have been his fan since my childhood. We exchanged a lot of philosophical thoughts and also jammed together during his free time,” informs Keyi.

The music composer says just being a composer in Bollywood does not help. “One has to be a talented lyricist too. Your harmonic arrangement and orchestration has to complement the lyrics. When director O P Nayyar composed Babuji Dhire Chalna, he made sure that the rhythm was important in the song, which is why it’s a hit even today. Music composers in the 50s and 60s like Madan Mohanji and R D Burman respected their music. They are copied even today,” the director asserts.

Bridge to the past

Keyi was born in Thalassery, a beautiful town situated in Kerala. “Music has been a part of my family from many years. My grandmother taught me the basic lessons of Carnatic music on the pedal organ, but due to financial difficulties, we had to sell it off. She couldn’t perform but  gave me all her knowledge.

My love for music continued. I learnt to play piano from nun Jesella, an old member of a church in a convent school. I also practised under Phillip sir later on. My friend taught me a few guitar lessons. Also, my uncle did not work, so I earned for the house by enlightening Kerala!” reveals Keyi.

It was later in college that Keyi formed one of his bands. “The rock band was called ‘Slick n Toxic’, and the other was a pure classical music band. That’s how my career in music began... as a keyboard player for the band. We then performed in Dubai studios. Since my education was purely classical, I was often confused musically because my friends performed rock. We sang for many social causes, including ‘save forests’,” he recalls.

The young composer has studied sound engineering and western music from London. On that subject, he says, “I have always felt it’s productive and good to have some knowledge. My first major project was a jingle for National Paints. Later, I worked as a programmer and scored background music with music directors Ismail Darbar, Pritam and Sanjoy Chowdhury. But, my first independent film was War Chhod Na Yaar, written and directed by Faraz Haider.”

Moving forward

Keyi believes that “western music is more open and modern. It has a wide reach of audience. Whereas Indian classical music does not have that reach. Most of the music has been retained by guru-shishya parampara and sadly, most of the gurus don’t share their complete knowledge with their students. Students often learn scales from books. Now there’s the internet. If you go to Turkey or Albania, you will realise they have a massive influence of western music.”

The music composer says that Bollywood’s melody is deteriorating with time. “It comes in phases because most of the composers don’t get enough time to work on a film. Sometimes we are given merely 15 to 20 days for music composition. Everything depends on the budget for the films,” he adds, a matter of fact.

Keyi is now busy with three projects, “One in Tamil, directed by Cherian sir, next is Anees Bazmee’s project, and two more untitled ones,” he discloses.