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Sound of (background) Music

Shoma A Chatterji, TWF, Bollywood Trade News Network
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Background music is important for creating a mood in a film. But often tardiness and casual treatment of this aspect mark this area, observes Shoma A Chatterji.

How many times have we heard the sound of a violin strumming the same sad tune for the death scene in every other film? Have we not wearied of percussion beats of varied degrees in a fight sequence? Or, the Shehnai announcing a marriage in the offing? The answer is the same lack of creativity and tendency to make a quick buck while the going is good without taking too much trouble So, theres this infinite music 'bank' of stocked background sound and music recordings that can be generously lifted, borrowed, plagiarized and used by music directors from film after film till the audience knows precisely when, why and which music will play in the background for a given sequence.

The soundtrack of a film has three elements the human voice, sound effects, music. There is an 'invisible' fourth element - 'silence.' Silence by itself means little. But when punctuated between dialogue, music and sound effects, it can create other extra-cinematic perceptions power, aesthetics, fear, suspense, mystery, and resistance. Silence in Hindi cinema has often been used also as a social critique.

Let us take examples of two landmark films standing at either end of the latter half of the 20th century. One is CHANDRALEKHA (1948) and the other is HUM AAPKE HAIN KAUN (1996.) CHANDRALEKHA has songs based on Carnatic, Hindustani classical as well as Latin American and Portuguese folk music, even Strausss Waltz, each distinct and standing on its own, with barely any background score to link moods and situations, but silence when there is no dialogue and no song. Long before fusion turned into fashion, early music composers had already attained mastery in it. The absolutely heady mixture does not have a single note that jars. In contrast, HUM AAPKE HAIN KAUN has not a single silent moment. There is a continuous wave of concert violins at one level, superimposed by classical bits of flute or sitar and even Hawaiian guitar such as in the scene that introduces the heroine.

With the advance in technology and the breakdown of the studio system, freelancing caught up with music composers as well, who, in a hurry to make money in an uncertain ambience, took up several assignments simultaneously thereby unwittingly compromising on their creativity. Somewhere along the way, some producers divided the responsibility of the musical score to two music directors instead of one- one for the song compositions and one for the background score. With too many assignments, music directors began to fall back on stock music recordings for the background score. The first film that hired the services of two different music directors was ANOKHI RAAT (1968) starring Sanjeev Kumar and Zaheera with Asit Sen directing the film. Music director Roshan composed the music for the songs while Salil Choudhury created the background score. Though the film did not do well commercially, both its songs and the background score were brilliant. One of the best examples today of this bifurcation of creative roles is seen in SAATHYA where Vishal Bharadwaj scored the music for the songs while Sandeep Chowta scored the background music.

Stock music apart, there are countless instances where the background scores for a particular scene in one film is lifted straight for the climax scene of another film. The background music for the fight scene between Dilip Kumar and Goga Kapoor in SHAKTI was repeated note for note in the climax scene of N. Chandra's TEZAAB. R D Burman scored the music for SHAKTI while Laxmikant-Pyarelal wrote the music for TEZAAB and no one turned a hair.

But look at Gulzar how he makes aesthetic and lyrical use of ambient sound in KITAAB. His imaginative use of 'looking' at sound from the point of view of a child is amazing the street magician playing on his dugdugi, the sound of hot jalebis being fried at a street corner as the two boys watch fascinated, the school song taking off from radio commercials, etc. He blends musical notes with sound metaphors such as the train song in this film. In KHUSHBOO, he (R D Burman's music) uses the sound of the lapping waters of a river as the background music for a boatman's song o maajhi re lip-synched by the hero, atop a boat with its sails aloft, fluttering in the breeze.

Today, new technology has made the hierarchy of sounds more complex and more exciting. Innovative sound designers like Vikram Joglekar and D Wood have experimented with sound. They have processed sound effects so as to bring them close to music without necessarily musicalising it. They have taken sound from real life and arranged them in a certain way to bring forth creation the director ordered.

A sound designer acts in a film through his sound design and choreography. Music is the actor that dictates the mood and emotion of a scene. It tells the audience whose point of view the director wishes to present and helps in subconsciously portraying the mindsets of the characters over the film. Background music helps in character-identification. Today, people are moving towards minimalist and realistic background scores. All background scores can be tailor-made and stock music and music banks are now obsolete. In Subhash Ghai's KHALNAYAK for instance, 200 musicians were appointed to play for just one track with the recording going on for two months. Today, just two to four people can handle the same music in a matter of two weeks.

Indian music is an old, unbroken tradition. It is said that the origins of this system go back to the Vedas. Numerous folklores and legends springing from different and diverse schools of Indian music underscore the importance of music in defining Indian culture, So, there is a rich stock already available for background scores. One has only to make imaginative use of it.


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