Songwriter, by choice

Songwriter, by choice

Rising tempo: Bengali songwriter Pravo Mukherjee speaks all things music and lyrics

Man of words Arko Pravo Mukherjee

He is a medical graduate from Kolkata, son of a doctor and professor father, and a professor mother. Arko Pravo Mukherjee’s only exposure to music in the house was Rabindra Sangeet, which his parents and grandmother also sang, and some old Hindi film music. He and his sister were trained in Rabindra Sangeet. At college level, he obstinately insisted on a guitar and learnt that from a tutor for six months.

“That is all the training I have!” he says. “I never learnt either Western or Indian classical. Most of my inspirations were from the West, and I was thus interested in being a songwriter.”

A ‘songwriter’ in Western terminology is someone who writes (as in Indian terminology) the words as well as the tune. “My approach was always as an independent artiste, and I sang too — in English and later Hindi. I did not dream that I would be able to do songs for Hindi films.”

Since Kolkata had limited exposure for a career in film music, and Hindi film music of the 90s and 80s fascinated him, the good doctor bought books to study Hindi and poetry as well.

“I read everything from Ghalib to Mir Taqi Mir, Majrooh, Sahir, Anand Bakshi and Sudarshan Faakir. If I came across words I did not understand, I asked my friends.”

One stumbling block, he admits with a smile, was grammar. “In my mother tongue Bengali, inanimate objects have no gender, but Hindi is like French and Spanish — everything has a gender. That is where I have made mistakes, even in my recorded songs, on a couple of occasions. Now, I sound them off to my good friends, lyricists Rashmi Virag and Manoj Muntashir, and they check the grammar in my thought.”

Stuck & after

So, when does he decide that a song needs a lyricist other than himself? “When I start writing the lyrics and get stuck!” he confesses. “Like my hit ‘Saathi re’ in Kapoor & Sons, in which I got stuck after half the song had been written. Whatever was coming to me was clichéd, so I brought in Manoj, and he totally changed the angle with his fresh perspective.”

Arko started out with most of the songs of Jism 2, but he would not like to do a full score unless it is up his street. “I will not be able to do all the songs in a template score with one happy song, one sad song, one party number, one duet and so on.”

And making songs is also collaborative within a movie. “After I made the song ‘Tere bin yaara’ for Rustom, I needed a meeting with the actor and the director,” he notes. “Director Neeraj Pandey said that he wanted the first song to be super-positive and super-happy. So we changed the words to ‘Tere sang yaara’ in the main version.”

Other aspects

As a composer, he has learnt the practical aspects on the job, like how to design a song.

“Unlike in college music where everything is organic and largely about rebellion, we have to be sensitive to all kinds of moods, as film music is a versatile art form in itself,” he says.

What about today’s trend of multiple composers for a film with each one specialising in one kind of song? Does it not restrict someone’s versatility? “There is also a plus to it,” he replies. “Bob Dylan, U2 or Lucky Ali — each one does the type of music that is natural to them.”

Having recently done ‘Nainon ne bandhi’ (Gold) and ‘Tere jaisa’ (Satyameva Jayate), and ‘Dariya’ (Baar Baar Dekho) in the past, Arko has a philosophical explanation for why songs are not memorable today. “It’s more of a social phenomenon,” he feels. “People’s attention span has reduced, and why music, people have less time for each other nowadays! Of course, it is a fact that we do not, or cannot, have the luxury of working on songs in a relaxed fashion.”

And that, he says, is also the reason why so many re-creations are happening. Arko too has been guilty of one — ‘Aaj phir tumse’ from Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s Dayavan in Hate Story 2. “It’s about minimising time and maximising revenue!” he smiles.

Coming up, besides a few songs in films, is an independent single abroad.

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