One part of Amit Trivedi still curses himself for it. But like Aamir himself, the music director will not do more than one film at a time.
It’s been just a week since Amit Trivedi won a National Award for the music direction of DevD. It was technically the first film he directed music for, though it wasn’t the first to release. That was Rajkumar Gupta’s Aamir. Instead of enjoying his moment of glory, Amit is working till 4 am on his current assignment, which is again a Gupta film—the forthcoming No one Killed Jessica. He won’t be composing songs for at least a month or two. He is tied up with the background score.
Usually, Bollywood flicks have one music director for songs and another for background scores; Amit does both. He even reads the script and interprets it musically instead of depending on situations narrated by the director. But such all-round effort comes with a price: in Amit’s case, severe acidity and perhaps forgetfulness. When I go over to his house from his music studio, he has forgotten that he has an interview scheduled and is in deep sleep. His wife has to wake him up. His living room is typically Bombayish, small and multi-purpose. There is a treadmill next to the showcase, with shelves full of naked, bald figurines given as awards. A tabletop is crowded with bouquets, presumably sent to commemorate the National Award. The barest bouquet, with red roses and carnations, is from one AR Rahman. The card reads ‘Congrats, love ARR’. Receiving this bouquet didn’t just make Amit’s day, “It’s made my career!” he says. “I can chill for a few months now, because it validates my journey so far.” Amit was 13 years old when AR Rahman debuted as a music director with Roja. ARR has inspired him ever since.
Almost everyone in the business finds Amit Trivedi’s work fresh and distinct. Vikramaditya Motwane, co-writer of DevD and director of Udaan—films that Amit worked on—even sees him as the next Rahman. “He’s a man whose music I would blindly buy and wonder where he’s taking me now,” says Motwane.
Gupta describes him as a composer who reads scripts. “When I gave him the script of Aamir, I was taken aback by his musical interpretation,” he says. Amit isn’t much of a reader, though. “I take a long time to read a few pages, sometimes even sleeping over it,” he says. For him, Aamir was about a guy stuck in a terrible situation. “His parents are kidnapped, and he’s asked to go to shitty places and do things he doesn’t want to. He’s stuck, he can’t do what he wants… for him, all doors are shut. The villain is hitting him with a whip, he’s the tiger in a cage. So for the theme song of Aamir, a track called Haara, I used a whip sound, and doors being shut. I wanted a very psychedelic, experimental rock sound.”
For DevD, Amit worked with the archetypal Devdas story. But he also fit in his understanding of the film’s director Anurag Kashyap. For Amit, Anurag is both a genius and mad guy; someone who changed the script around to fit the songs in, and used them in a way that no one’s seen before in Hindi films. “I figured Dev wouldn’t be drowning himself in madira (booze),” says Amit. “He would be having shots and tripping.” He composed Saali Khushi as a gloomy psychedelic track because Dev is dejected and hallucinating. After the film came out, most people thought Amit must be a junkie himself. But Amit doesn’t have that luxury. He doesn’t even drink because of the acidity caused by long, hungry hours of work. “I can’t have a drink or smoke, I would die if I had a joint,” he says.
Amit is 31 and has been on the Indian music scene for almost a decade. He began as a member of the band Om, and then moved on to compose jingles for advertising and pop albums. All through his career, his youthful look has gotten him into trouble. “Clients and directors would lose confidence in me because I looked like a normal bachcha. I was forced to keep a stubble to look older.”
The creative act, he says, is God’s gift to him, and half the joy lies in expressing it. “If I create a superb track, I don’t sit down and say ‘Nice’. I jump with joy, I clap, I dance; I do everything.” The joys are momentary, but the stress is a perpetual cloud in Bollywood. “The pressure is too much,” he says. To counter it, he does yoga but no amount of asanas have helped him reconcile with his decision to turn Aamir Khan down when the superstar approached him to do the music for his home production and wife’s directorial debut Dhobi Ghat. “I work on only one project at a time. Dil pe patthar rakh ke (with a stony-heart) I had to say no. I just didn’t have the time… Even when I came out of the meeting, I asked myself, ‘Did you just refuse Aamir Khan?’ I had two voices arguing in my head for days. Ultimately, I knew that it would be better to refuse than do a hurried, bad job.”
Vikramaditya Motwane insists that you can’t look at the magic of Amit Trivedi’s music in isolation. “Amitabh Bhattacharya is equally responsible for it,” he says, referring to the lyricist for most films Amit has worked on. The man left Lucknow a decade ago to become a playback singer in Bombay, and the two are old friends. Amitabh had even penned lyrics for Amit’s band Om as a hobby. When DevD was offered to Amit, it was natural for him to ask Amitabh to write the lyrics, but he was afraid to project himself as a lyricist because it would affect his singing aspirations.
“The Bollywood mindset is such that if you do something, you can only do that. Although musicians like Vishal Bharadwaj and Himesh Reshammiya have broken that stereotype, it still holds true.” So Amitabh wrote under various pen names for his friend. He has written all the songs for DevD. He wrote Emosanal Atyachar in just 45 minutes at a Café Coffee Day outlet at Bombay’s Lokhandwala Circle. Along with Amit, he even sang the song for Anurag Kashyap’s ears. “Anurag loved it so much he insisted we sing the final one too. We had someone like Altaf Raja in mind. Imagine my plight—I was getting a launch pad as a singer, but the song was Emosanal Atyachar. I refused to even use my pet name Dimpu as a pseudonym. We created two fictional characters Bandmaster Rangeela and Raseela and put them up as the singers.”
The truth came out on national television a few months ago, when they were on a show to promote Udaan. After the song became a sensational hit, no one wanted the singers anymore, everyone wanted the lyricist. “Amitabh still curses me,” says Amit. “He says ‘Kaminey (rascal) because of you I became a writer instead of a singer’.”
Amitabh wasn’t surprised when he heard Amit had won the National Award. “I expected Amit to get it because of the change he has brought in Hindi film music. In a way, it’s recognition for all of us, because we are part of his body of work.”
Bollywood now has an expanding fraternity of filmmakers who want to be unconventional, yet popular. Amit finds himself gravitating to them. “They are open to exploration,” he says.
Whether they foster a new musical movement or remain a fringe club depends on which way mass listenership goes. Amit Trivedi is keen to play a leading role. But for the moment, Amit has a call to make. He must thank ARR. He must finally speak to his idol.