Usually, we hear of Indian musicians exploring Hollywood. Being a Hollywood music composer, what attracted you to India?
(Chuckles) Prakash Jha wanted an international sound for Gangaajal and someone suggested my name to him. He heard my music, liked my stuff, and invited me to India to work on the music. And I love India! Coming down here was a dream! You guys have some of the best musicians in the world. After working here, my whole environment opened up. It has even changed my approach to music.
How has it changed your music?
In India, I learnt how to blend the sound of Indian instruments into my music. So now, when I make a song, I don’t ‘add’ an Indian instrument to it, the Indian sound has become a part of my music. It’s blended in so well that people know my music is different, but it’s not an obvious difference. And it holds true vice versa too. I know how to blend western sounds into Indian music. That’s what I’ve done with my songs in Raajneeti.
Were you aware of Indian music before you started working here?
Oh yes! I had been studying them for years on my own. I’m a huge fan of people who were doing this kind of music in the West. Like Peter Gabriel – his music for The Last Temptation of the Christ was way beyond his time. I’m also a huge fan of the music of Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar and Ustad Sultan Khan. (Smiles) Prakash was surprised by the music I played him. It’s just that I’ve perfected the skill of blending the two worlds now.
Have people in the West ever found your music ‘too Indian’?
(Laughs) Funnily, they come to me now because they want this sound in their music. I’m able to give them a world music feel, and I’ve done the same for various commercials and TV series.
In Raajneeti, you recorded Dhan dhan dharti in three countries.
I record in the country where the musicians would best achieve what I want. So I composed the western part of my song in my studio in New York, the orchestral part in Prague, and the Indian parts in Mumbai. I’ve worked with three legends on this song – Gulzar, Shankar Mahadevan and Sonu Nigam. (Smiles) It was my first Bollywood song, so I was very excited to work with these people. And they were just masterful!
Were you nervous when recreating Vande mataram?
(Smiles) Prakash wanted me to incorporate just a little bit of the national song in the theme of the movie. It was first meant to be an orchestral instrumental, but it turned out well, and Prakash decided to turn it into a song. I was nervous, and at the same time, very aware that I was a non-Indian recreating the Indian national song. But we treated it very differently. The Vande mataram theme is only a small part of the song, but it’s an entirely new song with Gulzar’s brilliant Dhan dhan dharti lyrics. It’s a very powerful, heartfelt and patriotic song.
You got Lisbeth Scott to sing for Lahore. Why haven’t you used Hollywood singers in other Indian movies as well?
Because I don’t want the music to be too different. It can’t be too western or too ethnic, or you’ll lose your audience. I want Indian audiences to accept me, and (smiles) thankfully, it’s worked so far. But I did work with the music editor of Lord Of The Rings and Twilight, Tim Starnes, on Raajneeti. He was impressed with Raajneeti, and gave some wonderful inputs to the music. He approached it like a puzzle.
You haven’t done any commercial Bollywood movie so far.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s by choice. I enjoy doing romantic comedies, but I really enjoy composing dark music for dramas or thrillers better. You can be more creative with such music. The best thing about Lahore and Prakash’s films was that the music wasn’t there just for effect… The music had a definite purpose.
Have you picked up any Hindi?
(Laughs) Chhota chhota (Little-little). These guys here have played a lot of pranks on my Hindi, and have taught me all the abuses. Ajay Devgn played the most pranks. But I’m learning Hindi now.