A Humming Heart spoke to Arfaaz and Anurag, the music director duo of the refreshingly brilliant indie movie, Sulemani Keeda. The Sulemani Keeda music album was on number 7 of our Top Ten Bollywood Music Albums of 2014 list and it is no secret, we absolutely love the album. We couldn’t have been more excited when Arfaaz and Anurag agreed to do an interview with us. There was talk of their time on Sulemani Keeda and other indie movies, their independent projects, the conception of the duo, the future of the duo, their influences and their insights on the current Bollywood scene. Read more to get into the head of an independent musician in this country which is commercialised to the core, to say the least.
-You guys have been working together ever since the conception of the popular band Slow Down Clown. Success is definitely not new to you. What has the journey been like from co-band members to a music director duo?
Arfaaz: Our journey from musicians in a band to music directors has been very organic actually. Both, Anurag and I relocated from Bangalore to Mumbai to be able to forge careers in music production and so it was something that we were mentally prepared for. Slow Down Clown happened very serendipitously and none of us imagined at the time that we would play any major part in the band apart from playing on the initial recordings. Anurag and I realised from working in the band together that we share a very interesting and spontaneous vibe when it comes down to writing musical parts, or arrangements. It’s like a shared gift that we have and our ideas seem to flow seamlessly when we sit down to write or just jam. I think both of us have a penchant for arrangement. Even when we jam without any plans, we somehow manage to form arrangements on the fly. Even though we both have worked individually as music producers, we knew we could get together to work on some larger projects and maybe even Bollywood. Our first few projects together involved working on an album of contemporary rearrangements of popular Bengali folk songs called Urban Grooves – Bengal; as well as music for a couple of video games and advertisements. Around that time, I was approached by Chaitanya Hegde of Tulsea Pictures with the offer to work on Sulemani Keeda and I took it straight to Anurag as I knew that this would be our first big opportunity to crack a full length motion picture. We were required to create all background scores, ambient soundscapes as well as proper songs for the film and the work load was huge and the budgets minimal. We took it on and had a great time working and learning as we worked. The whole process took about a year and a half of regular work and during this time we were offered a couple more feature films to work on. All the while, work on Sulemani Keeda and the Slow Down Clown album continued. We were up to our ears in work and while there were many frustrations and roadblocks along the way, I think we really enjoyed the whole process.
Anurag: In all fairness, the journey has only just begun. As Arfaaz mentioned, working on SDC gave us the positive thought of working together in other projects and we plan to keep the spark alive instead of concluding on ‘music director duo’ or bollywood. Pushing the envelope is what it is about isnt it?
-What was it like when you were first approached to give music to a feature film? Tell us the story.
Arfaaz: It’s been something we’ve both been wanting to do ever since we came to Mumbai and so this was a great break when we were offered the film to score. But it wasn’t like we would’ve taken up anything at that point just because we wanted to score for films. Sulemani Keeda was just a good all round film and it cracked us up even when we were shown the rough cuts of the film before any work had officially begun. We knew that it was a good film and the cast and crew were all brilliant. Amit has written some incredible dialogues which are so sticky that we even use some of them in our everyday banter. And working with him was also fantastic because he always gave us very clear and precise briefs and yet gave us immense freedom to do our thing. So the whole process of working on the film, although time consuming and at times frustrating, was extremely satisfying and holistic. Even when we ran into some problems and misunderstandings along the way, there was always a great sense of respect for every single person working on the film which saw us through difficult times. Our ideas were always encouraged and allowed to grow. We couldn’t have asked for a better platform to begin our film music careers.
Anurag: Apart from that, the process was unique, which I’m sure it will be for every individual and project. In this case, we were given three situations to score for(we were still being auditioned) without knowing the connection between them and we went into it just giving it what we were feeling. We did not expect anything but fortunately for us, Mr. Masurkar was on the same page.
-You already know we love the Sulemani Keeda, with the feature in our top ten list. Besides that, you have composed music for two other movies, namely, ‘Charlie Ke Chakkar Mein’ and ‘Rise of The Zombie’. What has the experience been like?
Arfaaz: We were offered Charlie Ke Chakkar Mein and Rise of the Zombie some time during the middle of our work on Sulemani Keeda. I think some producers from the scene heard about us working on this indie film and so they roped us in to work on their own indie films. From those films, Luke Kenny’s Rise of The Zombie was the only one that managed to get released in early 2013. We arranged and produced four songs on the 13 track soundtrack of the film. No background scores. It was a lot of fun working on those four songs though. It brought out a little of our ‘hard rock’ roots and Luke was also extremely awesome to work with and super clear with his briefs and what exactly he wants. Charlie Ke Chakkar Mein required us to handle only background scores as the film did not have any songs as such. However that film ran into some production trouble and nobody knows when or if it will be released. We completed the entire score though. So out of the three films we have worked on as music directors, two have seen the light of day. The experience was different every time because every director works differently but it’s been great to learn and grow from these experiences and human interactions. More than music I think it’s about learning to deal with people and managing time and resources as efficiently as possible. I’ve also learned how to be patient get my point across without being rude or condescending with people who don’t really know the intricacies of music but have an idea of what they want to achieve. And musically, it’s been extremely satisfying to see first hand, the kind of difference a few musical notes can make to the delivery of dialogues or the impact of a scene in a film.
Anurag: Very different films. Different roles of composers, producers and BG score composers for each of them. Massive learning overall to say the least!
-What is in store for the Arfaaz-Anurag duo after the release of the impending movie releases?
Arfaaz: Well we’re hoping that the buzz around Sulemani Keeda helps get the word out about us in the film industry and that we get a few more offers because of this. Nothing concrete has been offered to us as yet but we are hopeful that will change soon. Aside from this we both have enough independent projects to keep us busy but we’d really like to start working on another full length feature. Let’s see how it goes. They say the industry is fickle and that good work doesn’t count for very much but we’d like to let everyone out there know that we’re around and we’re not in any hurry. We just want to be known for doing great quality work that is not just technically sound but is also melodically rich and at the same time easily accessible to the audiences. I think we accomplished that with Sulemani Keeda and we’re quite proud of it.
Anurag: As I mentioned, the duo is not limited to just bollywood or feature films. We have collaborated on different ideas in the past and we still continue to do so. Even currently, if one of us is working on an ad or a film or a project that might require the skill or mind of the other we always call in, whether it is an ‘Arfaaz-Anurag’ project or not. This just keeps the ideas flowing and hopefully we will be producing stuff that will change the existing landscape of music and art. Not just in the country, but globally.
-You are working close to the Bollywood industry. It must have been quite a shift from the independent music scene. How do you manage?
Arfaaz: As far as I see it, most of the films we’ve worked on are pretty much independent films and so it’s never been like working in some major hyped up industry that is so different from the indie music scene. It’s kinda been like working on indie projects, with these small indie films. The only shift that happened was a mental shift or a change in mindset. The indie scene hates everything that is commercial because it is commercial. I remember hating anything commercial as a young musician but then I grew up. If I had to make a living off music I couldn’t continue to look at the big bad Bollywood world as the enemy. Vishal Dadlani is someone I admire greatly in the scene who also shifted from the indie scene to the Bollywood scene and he retains both sides of it brilliantly. So it was a shift in philosophy for me to start working on film music. I’ve had some of my peers from the indie scene continue to snigger and jibe but it doesn’t bother me.
Anurag: I think we have been lucky to have gotten to work for clients who are generally understanding, clear and most importantly aware of their roles in the process. We have to wait and see how we cope with more mainstream producers/directors. I think being a duo helps that way to handle different people with different temperaments and ways because you feel like you are in it as a team. A lot of time I might ask Arfaaz to deal with someone if I dont have the mindspace to do more than making music and vice versa. So yeah, being a duo really helps working on bigger projects with lot of people and ideas involved.
-I think your music can be best described as ‘fresh’. There are so many varying elements in the “Sulemani Keeda” soundtrack. What are your influences?
Arfaaz: Both of us have varied influences. While Anurag listens to more acoustic and live band format music, I listen more to electronic music and so the resultant sound is what you may describe as fresh. That said, some of the music/artists that have played a formative role in my life as a composer are the The Beatles, Michael Jackson, The Police, AR Rahman and Lucky Ali. I draw inspiration and melodic ideas from them constantly. I guess you could call me a hooks and melody person. So when Anurag and I came together to compose music for SK, the resultant sound was a result of our independent and strikingly different musical tastes coming together to amalgamate in a unique way.
Anurag: I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. One important thing that me and Arfaaz share is that we are not closed to any kind of music just because of a genre tag or what people might say about it. I think this is something that people in India do and need to stop doing as we are no more an amateur industry. We both like music that makes a connection and makes the listener feel something. Too many influences to name and naming a few will make me feel idiotic later when I remember the others. Lot of blues/rock/funk, Indian classical/folk, and even classic Bollywood.
-Tell us more about your independent projects Caesar’s Palace and Fuzzy Logic.
Arfaaz: Fuzzy Logic is my solo electronic music project. I have been producing independent singles and EP’s as Fuzzy Logic since 2010. While it was never meant to be a live project, this year has seen Fuzzy Logic get out of the studios and hit the road pretty frequently. I released two EP’s and two music videos in 2014 followed by a few tours across the country and so it’s been a good year for Fuzzy Logic. The music is a bit hard to describe as it’s sort of my own personal playground and I like to change and evolve my sound with each release. Expect varied styles of electronic music from brooding downtempo to groovy bass and house music.
Anurag:Caesar’s Palace is currently on a hiatus owing to logistic difficulties. But I am very excited about my other new projects. ‘Namit Das + Anurag Shanker’ is my collaboration with singer/composer/actor Namit Das which is a truly new sound of contemporary India. We have released an EP in 2014 and have started playing gigs with a stellar band. ‘Bombay Acoustic People’ is my acoustic guitar duo with Sankarshan Kini and we create organic, original instrumentals that evoke people s minds and souls. Lastly, ‘Last Remaining Light’ is my new intense alt/rock band which is going to be putting out their debut this year.
-Rapid Fire (Arfaaz):
(i) Favourite music directors- AR Rahman
(ii) Favourite indie bands- Skrat, Indigo Children, Nicholson
(iii) Favourite singers- Michael Jackson, Steven Tyler, Robert Plant, Chris Cornell, Thom Yorke, James Blake
-Rapid Fire (Anurag):
(i) Favourite music directors- Vishal Bharadwaj, AR Rahman, Pritam(selective)
(ii) Favourite indie bands- Advaita, Adam and the Fish Eyed Poets, Skrat, Mad Orange Firweorks, Neel and the lightbulbs