Interviews ...

“Composers should work towards creating songs that have a long shelf life” – Sujeet Shetty – Planet Bollywood

When you speak to music composer, singer and lyricist Sujeet Shetty, the one thing you realize that he is somebody who is extremely passionate about his craft. He also has the kind of humility that is very rare today. Sujeet recently scored the soundtrack for the acclaimed Sony LIV series ‘Jehanabad – Of Love and War’ which had filmmaker Sudhir Mishra as its showrunner.

For the socio-political thriller set in a small town in Bihar, Sujeet composed nine original tracks. All the songs have been penned by Astha Jagiasi. Sujeet has put together the soundtrack with his musical partner Sumanta Das. From a song that talks about social revolution to a track that is steeped in romance, the album offers a lot of variety. In the past, Sujeet has worked as a composer, singer and lyricist on several Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu films. He has worked extensively in the non-film space as well.

In this interview, the multifaceted artist talks about the process of putting together the soundtrack of ‘Jehanabad – Of Love and War’, the importance of making music that stands the test of time, his journey as a musician, love for Sufi music, upcoming projects and more.

The ‘Jehanabad – Of Love and War’ album has a lot of variety. One of my favourite songs from the album is ‘Kahin Kuch Toota’, a delicate melody sung by Pratibha Singh Baghel. How was the process of putting together the soundtrack for the series?

We considered several factors like the milieu of the show and the kind of sound it should have. We had to work towards incorporating the dialect of the region in the songs as well. While staying true to the narrative, we had to be mindful of the commercial aspects as well. For ‘O Piya’, I composed the tune first and then, the lyrics were written by Astha Jagiasi. ‘Kahin Kuch Toota’, on the other hand, was written first. I mostly prefer having the lyrics ready first.

That is quite rare. Today, most composers prefer creating the tune first.

I like the challenge associated with creating a tune around words that have already been written. I also want the lyricist to have complete freedom to write a song that does justice to a particular situation in the script. Astha Jagiasi is a very talented lyricist. We have worked on multiple projects in the past. She has written all the songs for this album. I am a big critic of my own compositions. Unless I like something myself, I don’t present it to the producer or director. I composed 7-8 tunes for each of the situations. Rajeev (Barnwal) explained the story and the situation to me elaborately and that really helped. ‘Lal Salaam’ was the first song I composed for the series. Putting together the soundtrack for the series was a smooth and organic process.

The series was set in Bihar of the mid-2000s. What is the kind of research you had to do to create a soundtrack that would represent the time period the show is set in?

We did have to do a bit of research for this project. We created each song differently as per the demand of the situation. For instance, we used minimal instruments in ‘Lal Salaam’. We wanted it to have as many instruments as people in that village would have access to. We used harmonium, dholak, tabla and manjeera in the song. We tried to keep the music within the realms of the storyline and location.

Your association with Rajeev Barnwal, the writer and co-director of ‘Jehanabad – Of Love and War’ dates back to ‘Besharam’ (2013). He was the co-writer on the film and also wrote the lyrics for ‘Love Ki Ghanti’ which you lent your voice to.

That’s right! Rajeev has been one of my most favourite collaborators. We met while working on ‘Besharam’. After that, I composed songs for a few of the short films he made. Collaborating with him on ‘Jehanabad – Of Love and War’ was a very memorable experience.

How was it working with Lalit Pandit on ‘Besharam’?

It was wonderful! Jatin and Lalit have actually seen me grow. All of us used to live in the same building in Mumbai. We used to have many jam sessions together back in the day.

A lot of films and shows made for streaming platforms feature elaborate soundtracks. However, these are not promoted very well.

Composers should work towards creating songs that have a long shelf life. Every time I create a song, I wish that people remember it for years. The medium does not matter to me. Whether you are composing music for a film, series or advertising campaign, you have to do it sincerely. I agree with your statement that the songs made for OTT films and shows could be promoted better.

In an interview, you stated that you feel a strong connection with Sufi music. Can you elaborate on that?

Sufism is not just about getting connected to the Lord. It is also about getting connected to your inner self and understanding the true meaning of love. Where there is love, there is Sufism. It essentially means bringing yourself closer to the divinity within yourself.

Do you have formal training in music?

I was singing most of the time as a child. It came very naturally to me. I consider it to be God’s gift to me. Pandit Pratap Narayan ji, Jatin and Lalit’s father, taught me for some time. He would listen to my compositions and give his feedback. I made some effort to learn a few instruments like guitar and piano. I have always been open to the idea of learning new things. I have learned eight languages. All these things have helped me professionally.

I grew up in Mumbai, went to Bangalore to study engineering at the Bangalore Institute of Technology and came back to Mumbai to pursue a career in music. ‘Khwabon Mein’, a private album released by Sa Re Ga Ma, was one of my first projects as a composer. I have composed music for films made in different languages but I mostly operate from Mumbai. The music of the Kannada film ‘Jothegara’ (2010) became very popular and proved to be a turning point in my career.

Which are the projects you are working on at the moment?

I have a couple of projects lined up in Mumbai and in the Southern film industries. I will also be doing a lot of work in the independent space this year.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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