The score to the fore

On the note

Aloknanada Dasgupta

If you’ve binge-watched Netflix’s Sacred Games like most of us, you’ve probably been taken in by its sounds as much as its visuals. The background score of the series has garnered as much praise as the content of the series. And the person behind this is Alokananda Dasgupta, along with A R Rahman. 

In tune

Sacred Games is the first-ever Netflix original from India and that got her really interested in the project among other things, says Alokanada. “I’m an ardent fan of web series. I remember when I watched Breaking Bad, I thought to myself that this is the best thing I’ve ever watched — on any medium. I didn’t know what to do once it got over. That’s how much it consumes you. So, when I got a chance to work on a similar medium, with the best of directors and writers, I was really excited.”

Alokananda never thought of herself as a music composer in India. “When you work on the technical side of a film, you think of the film as a whole and that’s what I did.” She uses the term ‘technical’ rather grudgingly because she believes that scoring is as much a part of the creative process as anything else.

Of course, Alokananda has composed songs for the series, too, and can never decide which one of the two is closer to her heart. “I love both. Composing music for a song is easier in the sense that once you crack the code, you follow that rhythm. Scoring, on the other hand, is all-consuming because you watch the same scene again and again until you’re familiar with every frame. If you like what you’re watching, nothing like it.”

Scoring also calls for a lot of restraint, she informs. “That is difficult because as an amateur, you really want to show off your skills. There were times when I’ve had to insert a blank drone instead of a carefully composed piece,” she says.

Alokananda says that working on a series that has eight one-hour-long episodes is like working on three films. “The first couple of episodes were luxurious because I had almost two months. I was trying to find my zone with it. The rest of the episodes were completed in the next two months. It got better because the plot and all its layers hit the right note with me.”

She also shares an interesting anecdote about the opening track. “It’s so unromantic to talk about it because it’s just random words strung together. It’s something I was humming at home. I tweaked it, and recorded it before playing it for Vikram, and he liked it. But once we had to record it in the studio, I didn’t know how to direct someone to sing something that had no melody or language! But it all worked out,” she says, admitting that it’s her usual modus operandi. “For me, melody is paramount. I often add ‘senseless’ lyrics to a tune just to make it fit,” she says with a laugh adding that her lyricist sister Rajeshwari (who has also worked on the show) is least amused by it.

Bollywood calling

Daughter of Bengali filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Alokananda grew up listening to everything from Beatles to Begum Akhtar. Exposure to anything popular came at a later stage in college. Alokananda studied music theory and composition from York University in Toronto and has earlier worked on films such as Trapped, BA Pass, Fandry etc. Interestingly, she never thought she was cut out for Bollywood — until she heard Amit Trivedi’s work a few years ago when she was still in Toronto and decided to come assist him.

“I think Amit Trivedi’s music brought a new wave in the industry and struck a perfect balance between appealing to the masses and pursuing a more experimental route. I knew I didn’t want to just compose sonatas like I was doing in Toronto or work on an item number here. Amit’s music was just the perfect comfort zone between the two extremes,” she adds.

 Of course, there was Rahman, but “he was larger than life.” So when the maestro tweeted, congratulating her, it was understandably a big moment for Alokananda. “I’m someone who is very self-critical and self-loathing. Rahman’s message was a huge validation. It tells me I’m doing something right,” she says.

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