Amit Trivedi, The Modest Maestro

Amit Trivedi, winner of the National Film Award for Best Music Direction in 2009 and arguably one of the finest Indian music directors of recent times, talks unpretentiously to Devjani Bodepudi  about his love of music, his work and his accomplishments in the music business.

So Amit basically you are a superstar now…

*laughs loudly*

No, I am deadly serious…

I don’t consider it like that, but if you say so.

So what was your introduction to music when you were a child? How did you get into the whole composing music mode?

Actually what happened was, since I was a child, the environment in our house was such that every morning I used to wake up to either Marathi or Gujarati sugam sangeet or folk music. My dad and mom used to play a lot of that, lot of that. And it was through AM’s, radio or cassettes’ – we used to have cassettes’ then, there were no CD’s… so I used to wake up at 6 in the morning, go to school and I used to wake up through this music, especially lot of bhajans and bhakti geet from Marathi and Gujarati languages. So my conditioning has been a lot of folk and this kind of music.

Starting out with the band ‘Om’ in your college days and now you are a super successful music director/composer… describe this journey for us. How did you go from playing in a band to becoming a music director/composer?

The band happened around 2003-04 actually. We were a bunch of friends who were musicians – so we have one who played the kanjira, one guitar player, myself on keys, so we decided lets make a band, lets jam up and see what happens. So we jammed together and we came up with good stuff. We called ourselves a fusion band because the sound was like that. So that happened. And then for a few years I did a lot of advertising work, I jumped into that. After that I met Anurag Kashyap through a common friend – Shilpa Rao. And then things started rolling.

So obviously we are going back to Anurag Kashyap. So Dev D saw tremendous success, you won a lot of accolades. How did you bag that opportunity? Was it through your jingle/ad work?

As I said I met him through a common friend – Shilpa Rao, the singer. She introduced me to him, and he heard my music and he liked it and he was excited. So that is how it happened.

How did you manage to bring Kashyap’s vision alive with your music?

He had actually briefed me when I had met him for the first time. The very first time he had mentioned Dev D, and he explained to me, kind of gave me the brief of what he was doing…Devdas – we have all been aware of that character since Dilip Kumar had done it once, and then Shahrukh Khan had done it. So I was aware of the character, what kind of person Devdas was. And this was a modern take – today’s take on what Devdas was.  So I did my work then and created the music accordingly.

You won the National Award for your very first film. Did that make you feel that yes, I have arrived?

No…I mean it made me feel good. It felt especially nice that the government had recognized me. It was one of the greatest feelings that one can get. It is one of the most respectable and prestigious awards that one can get. So it was a great feeling – my parents were proud, my dad was happy and I took him along to the event also, and he is too much into politics and he got to meet the President and all the other dignitaries, so that was a happy moment for me. But having arrived … no I still have to make it large and am yet to make it big. I am still working towards that, still trying… I think there is still time.

You mentioned in a previous interview somewhere that you prefer working with writers/directors. What is the reason behind this? Is it easier to understand the vision for the film when it is written by the director?

Yes, very-very easy. They are the ones who give birth to that inception. They are writing it, they have ideated the whole thing…and they are the one person who will bring that theory to practicality. So that one point communication is very easy and good to deal with. And I think they make better films, they make great films actually. I wont say better films – but they make fantastic films – those who write and direct their own films.

From the rocking and eccentric music of Dev D to the soulful tracks of Lootera, what would you say is your style of music? Do you sort of have a favourite style of music? Or what do you enjoy more?

To say that will be very difficult. Because all of them are my babies and each one of them is very special to me. Work is special to me, and I give so much time and headspace to each and every track, to each piece of music that I create. So it is difficult to put a favourite down, because it is actually not fair.

But, what would you say is your preferred style? Would you say you do have a preferred style of working?

This is something that is very difficult to answer. Out of all the films that I have done till now, they have been varied because they have demanded different stuff from me, which means I had to dwell into different territories, where I would normally not go. So accepting that challenge and delivering is what I have achieved up till now. But what style of music has come out, I don’t know, because it is very varied. It is a very … what is the term… jack-of-all-trades.

So you are still dabbling in different sorts of styles and are still experimenting..

Experimenting, yeah. Trying to do justice to what job is being given to me at that particular time. I am trying to do justice to it. That’s it.

It’s making music at the end of the day, right?

You said it!

Often new singers are given a chance to sing your compositions – is this a conscious decision – to search and launch new talent?

No, no it is not conscious at all. Most of the time what has happened is when I am thinking of or approaching a track, simultaneously I am meeting singers as well. So it has happened many a time that I have worked on a track and I have recently met a singer and then immediately I do my mathematics that this guy or this girl might suit this particular track… let me try it. It is a trial and error. Most of the time it has worked – the trial and error has worked… so that’s how new singers have come in.

So basically it is just finding the right voice for your track, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a new singer.

Yes absolutely correct… you said it again!

You are one of the few music directors in Bollywood who compose both the album and the background score… is that due to the fact that you prefer control over the entire sound of the film?

Yes I love it…I love scoring those. It is again challenging and dealing with it from a scene to scene basis. It is amazing to note a situation and give it music. It is a beautiful feeling. Whether it is a dark subject, or romantic, or a comedy, to communicate through music is beautiful.

That’s great. So in 2013 was a year when you worked on quite a few films, and you had Queen this year – how do you choose which projects to be a part of?

Of course I choose the films… but these films have chosen me. Vikram (Vikramaditya Motwane) has been my friend, so have Anurag (Anurga Kashyap), Vikas (Vikah Bahl)…so whatever films they do, I am with them. So the question doesn’t arise of saying no, or choosing a film.

I suppose that has worked out really well for both sides.

Yes, it has worked out really well for both sides. Luckily, it has worked out really well. They are fantastic filmmakers, they are visionaries…I mean Anurag, Vikram, they are geniuses… absolute brilliant filmmakers. So I love teaming up with them, or when I get the chance to make music for them.

It seems like a match made in heaven basically.

Yes, yes soul mates.

People have been hailing you as the next Rahman – silent and media-shy but brilliant: does it feel good to be compared to a legend like him or is that too much pressure to deliver?

There are two sides to it. Of course I fell great, he is huge and I have followed his music for the last 22 years. And I am a crazy, huge fan and being compared to him, being named as the next him is … I have no words. I am very overwhelmed by it. It is beautiful. But on the other hand, yes, it is too much pressure. I feel like all eyes are on me now, what I do…I have to be on my toes all the time. You have to keep delivering and I don’t know one flop, or one bad year and what will people think. So all sorts of stupid things come into my brains… but it is part and parcel. It is a beautiful feeling but at the same time, it is not fair.

What have your influences been as a musician? What kind of music do you like to listen to? I mean you did answer that briefly during the first question but …

As far as film music is concerned, Hans Zimmer, Rahman, and John Williams… they are the best in the business, best in the world…they know how to deal with cinema musically. It is fantastic the way they do it. So I have learned a lot from them. Like I said, to communicate different moods, different emotions through music, the way they do it, I don’t think anyone else can do it. It is beautiful the way they do it.

You will be performing at the NH7 Weekender in Calcutta…how is it performing for a live audience? Is it something that you enjoy more than working in the studio?

No, I am a studio person, very much a studio person. I like being in my shell, in my cocoon, create music there… it is my core love, first love. Of course I am getting used to this whole live thing and I am enjoying it. It is beautiful to connect with the audience; it is a one on one with the audiences, your fans who are shouting and singing your songs with you, that is another feeling all together. I can’t explain it. Say the entire 10,000 crowd, or the whole stadium is singing my song…they are singing my song in unison. So that is like… I don’t know what to say. It is a surreal feeling, a very surreal thing.

It sounds like you are developing a love for that as well though obviously you are more comfortable in your studio.


Thank you Amit. That’s all I have for the moment, thank you for taking the time out and I hope we can work together sometime in the future.

Sure. It was great talking to you Devjani.

“Speak English!' said the Eaglet. 'I don't know the meaning of half those long words, and I don't believe you do either!” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.. Devjani believes in simplicity and just telling it how it is.

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