"I have observed that Indian Raga is being distorted by many over-enthusiastic music composers. A few of them picked up few notes and announced - this is based on Raga so and so. Notes are not the Raga, it is a different entity"
One prominent characteristic of Hindustani Classical Music is its visual quality. A few notes of Raga can effortlessly create a visual image depicting a particular time or mood. For example- Raga Lalit creates a picture of dawn.
In contrast, Meghamallar invariably creates a visual of rain. The famous Ragamala painting series is the best example of how the painters realised the visual quality of sound, visualised the notes of ragas, and established the relationship between sound and visuals.
Indian film music keeps in proximity to Indian Raga while composing melodious songs. Music directors mainly used the songs for mythological or historical stories because classical music easily creates a periodic or ancient feel.
Few music directors have used Raga-based pieces in the modern context as well. But only a few music directors thought about the visual quality of Indian classical music and used them in the background score. Soumya Rit is one such music director.
Soumya Rit is an upcoming music director who has composed the music for Arjun Dutt's debut film Abyokto.
In the credit title of the film, the makers have mentioned the names of the ragas they have used for the background score.
Abyokto tells a complex story of human relationship crisis and conflicts that is set on an urban landscape. The sound design works of a film dominate the latest trend of the background score.
Speaking to Utpal Datta, Soumya Rit explains how he found a common meeting point for the classical sound and modern urban visual.
Utpal Datta: I have observed that the sound design dominates the background score rather than a musical composition. You have discarded this trending design and started working with the traditional method, paying more attention to the piece of music to enhance the scenes' visual and aesthetic qualities. Why did you choose to focus on Indian Classical Music to compose the music pieces for Abyokto?
Soumya Rit: The plot of the film is somewhat different. The house where the principal character lives is not contemporary. It looks like an old zamindar bari. The location is old Kolkata.
This old building, the environment is the apparent primary look of the film. I was pretty sure that I would use only one instrument for the main components from the very beginning. I used the only Sarod for the background score till the climax of the film, and it was at 79th minutes of the film. I also used Pakhawaj, a few Rabindra sangeets on some occasions.
Arjun Dutt, the director of Abyokta told me that 'I will shoot the film during monsoon, I will show monsoon and I need Mallhar'.
To which I replied, "Mlhar is fine, but it does not go with the pain, isolation, loneliness, and suffering of Sakshi, the protagonist.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan used this Malhar raga in Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar to express the loneliness of the Zamindar. I told Arjuna that of course, I will use Malhar, but I will use Miyan-ki-Malhar as this Raga will create the effect of sadness and loneliness of the character. The Sarod will follow the story of the protagonist, Sathi, the sound of Sarod will push the story forward. Sathi's son comes to Kolkata and Sarod follows his journey, the sound changes its character along with the incidents he faces, sometimes I used Madhya laya, sometimes Tarana, and so on.
Utpal Datta: Why did you select the Sarod as the principal instrument?
Soumya Rit: Because I believe Sarod is such an instrument with which you can bring out all kinds of emotions. Besides, Sarod is my favourite instrument too.
Utpal Datta: This might be one reason?
Soumya Rit: One more thing, I am always fond of string instruments,
Utpal Datta: Let me ask the same question once again, why Sarod? You love Sarod, that is immaterial in the film's context. Crucial is whether or not the sound will sync with it?.
Soumya Rit: It was one of the late afternoons of the 90s when I listened to Sarod for the first time. There was nobody at home then. Sarod resonated that empty house beautifully.
There are many instruments in Indian classical music, but Sarod is one such instrument that creates an immensely deep impression on the minds of the audience. I have observed in theatre that the sound of Sarod can immediately transform the mood of a situation.
Utpal Datta: I have seen the names of the ragas mentioned in the credit title of the film. I have noticed that for the first time. So many Ustad and Pandits had been composing music from movies, but probably no one had ever thought of mentioning the names of the ragas used in the film. How this idea of mentioning the names of the ragas came to your mind?
Soumya Rit: I have observed that Indian Raga is being distorted by many over-enthusiastic music composers. A few of them picked up few notes and announced - this is based on Raga so and so. Notes are not the Raga, it is a different entity.
Arjun and I decided to mention the ragas in the credit title as a piece of information and as a document that we have used these seven ragas in the film's background score.
Utpal Datta: You have used Meghamallar raga for a rain scene towards the concluding part of the film. The entire mood of the scene was damp like a rainy day, and the application of that Raga in the background score perfectly enhance the visual of the scene.
Soumya Rit: The entire theme of Abyokto is based on Miya Ki Malhar. This Raga was apt to the loneliness of the protagonist. I believe that one film should have a central theme of music and various compositions based on the same theme music will be applied to the various moods or requirements of the film.
Utpal Datta: In the rain sequence of the film, you have added one more instrument.
Soumya Rit: From that point where Indra's father (Sathi's husband) tells Adil Hussain's character that the relationship of both the males is known to all, at that point I used notes on Grand Piano and then I went for Piano. The piano was in the background and Sarod made the counter-strike. It was a blending of Piano and Sarod- blending Indian with western. And when Anubhab returns from Adil Hussain's place knowing everything, there was a complete piano signature, and after that, we returned to the Miyan-Ki-Malhar theme, and it continued to the end of the film.
Apart from Sarod and Piano, I used Sarangi and Esraj to create a different gaze of the sound. I have used Pakhwaj too. At the end titles, I used symphony orchestrations trumps, cello, violin etc and Sarod was in the lead. It was a complete western composition.
Utpal Datta: What was the primary single point agenda to build up the aesthetics of the music composition of Abyokto?
Soumya Rit: I tried to use one single instrument and one Indian Raga to route the entire film and to carry out the journey of Sathi. I wanted to create different moods with the same instrument, and I think Sarod made this magic and it worked for me.
Utpal Datta: Indian classical music follows some form of rigidity, and film music needs to break from rigidity. What type of challenges did you face in composing music keeping the authenticity of ragas in creating music for a framed situation?
Soumya Rit: It is easy to maintain authenticity if you are well versed with the composition of the Raga and if you keep that, then only the essence of the Raga will come out. If you can use Mallar properly, then only the rain will come out.
Utpal Datta: If you get an opportunity to recompose or edit the music, what changes will you make?
Soumya Rit: The only change I will like to make is to take out some dialogue backing music, I will love to make some scenes blank.