Although Aparna Sen’s new movie, The Japanese Wife, does not have a music album, much went into the making of its background score. Since the film is a love story between a Bengali schoolteacher and his Japanese pen friend, Sen wanted a Japanese touch to the background.
To give the film authenticity, Sagar Desai, who’s composed for movies like Mixed Doubles, Straight and Quick Gun Murugun, and the upcoming Fatso, got a Japanese koto player on board. Koto is a Japanese musical instrument.
Says Desai, “Though we had budget limitations, it was vital for us to get a Japanese koto player on board for the film. Since we couldn’t find any authentic players of the instrument in India, I googled international koto players, and got a response from one, who was based out of Australia.”
After brief negotiations, the Japanese instrumentalist, Miyama, came down to Mumbai for a week, to record for the movie. “Traditionally, koto players are also trained in singing, because vocals are an essential accompaniment for the instrument,” Desai informs. “So Miyama has also sung a Japanese love poem in the background.”
Desai isn’t trained in Japanese music, so he had to put in some research to come up with the score. “The internet helped me understand typical notations,” Desai grins. “I came up with five-six scratches in two days, and Aparna liked them. The idea was to add Indian elements in the music, and do a fusion, since the movie is based in Bengal. So I recorded the koto and tabla together for the movie’s theme music.”
Working for the first time with a female director, Desai says he enjoyed every minute of the process. “Aparna Sen is very smart and very soft spoken, unlike most directors,” he says. “She knows exactly what she wants. I was floored by her sensitivity.”
Incidentally, this isn’t the only international sound that Desai has been dabbling in. The composer has recently finished work on a French movie, Voyage Without Return, for which he recorded a 35-piece orchestra in Hungary. “They wanted the Oscar-winning duo of Resul Pookutty and A R Rahman for the movie,” Desai smiles. “But Rahman couldn’t do it, so Resul recommended me to the producers, since we worked together on Mixed Doubles.”
The movie, which is based on terrorism, has mainly been shot in France, but some parts have been shot in Mumbai. “For those parts, I got Taufiq Qureshi on board,” Desai says. “He’s played some mind-blowing percussion on it!”
Desai’s also recorded two songs for an Indo-American feature film called Its All Been Arranged, which also has music by Vishal-Shekhar and Ram Sampath. But currently, the composer is busy working on his personal project called Tarang, where he’s got children to sing on a new sound.
“It’s a fusion of Hindustani classical and jazz,” he says. “It’s an experimental sound, and I’ve almost zeroed in on the children who’ll sing for it. It’ll still take some time to come out.”