Dhruv Ghanekar has been around for a long time on the Indian music scene – first with the band Chakraview and then composing jingles in the advertising world. Though he’s done film music before, Drona (Abhishek Bachchan , Priyanka Chopra) is his biggest release to date as a music director.
Facing his commercially biggest challenge yet, Dhruv delivered a deft, delicious CD that balances sonic complexity with minimalist arrangements. It’s a piece of work that really got me excited when I first heard it not so long ago.
I thought it would be really cool to have Dhruv stop by the Drift and tell us all about it.
Aspi: You have been at this since the age of 9 and you’ve been making music that really challenges mainstream Indian audiences to step out of their comfort zone. Bollywood requires composers to be more conservative. Are you in this to change the world or are you paying the bills?
Dhruv: About Bollywood requiring you to be conservative – I don’t think so. Given the kind of composers and musicians who are working, they are all young people. I can cite lots of names from Vishal-Shekhar, (Shankar-)Ehsaan-Loy, they bring a young aesthetic.
So there have been a lot of changes and the industry is evolving and people also want to hear new sounds. Everything that has worked in the last few years has worked because it’s been a different sound.
Actually a classic case that is current is Rock On!! The music is a huge rage. The idea of Bollywood [music] is very different from the way it used to sound.
My motivation for doing [Bollywood] is not so much the money. It’s just honestly to be heard by a wider audience. I’ve being doing music in different forms for films and advertising for a while now and there have been days when you land with some really hip stuff and it gets heard but people don’t really know who you are. Or it gets heard by a minority.
Aspi: How did you get involved with Drona? You’ve been doing jingles, you’ve been doing other music on the side. Suddenly this fairly large project comes along – how did you get pulled into it?
Dhruv: [Director] Goldie [Behl] has a television software company which produces content for television. He asked me to do a title track for a television show that he was doing. This was about two and a half years back. I did one and he asked me to another one and I kept doing them and I did about four or five. I was wondering why the hell was he bouncing my tracks and apparently he was just checking out my chops.
He called me finally and said he liked my work a lot and just wanted to see my range. He said he was going to be starting this new movie in a few months called Drona so would I be interested in it. I was a bit: yeah, ok. A lot of people say a lot of things in this town.
But sure enough, he called me up and said ‘Listen I’m ready to go and I want you to do this!’ When he narrated the story to me I was literally jumping out of my seat and wanted to get into the studio right then.
Aspi: Dhruv, tell us a little bit about each song on the CD?
Drona - Title Track (Dhruv Ghanekar)
Dhruv: I had finished a couple of songs for the film when Goldie came up to me and said he wanted a title track. Now 'Drona' is not an easy word to spin a song around. It’s kind of a tricky word you know.
So I took the approach of going into a more industrial, clubby type of feel for it. The first thing when composing that I was conscious of was that I had to incorporate that word in.
The way it happened was almost like a war cry. I played the song for Goldie. He really liked it. He played it for his friends. Everybody loved it the way it was. That’s basically how my voice ended up on that song.
Oop Cha (Sunidhi Chauhan)
Dhruv: Goldie has a really wonderful way of working with people. He gently points you in a direction without being specific about what he wants. He never gave me any specifics and I really liked this about Goldie. So you feel like a part of the process and this is really important.
The “hit” aspect of this song was kind of unsaid. Goldie said this would be an item song – let’s not kid ourselves. So I decided to take a hip hop approach. The words 'Oop Cha' were originally dummy words I used as a place holder – but Goldie really liked them. People have either loved it or hated it. But it’s playing in all the clubs right now so I’m not complaining!
After I finished composing, Sunidhi came in and slammed the song out of the park. It was the first time I’d worked with her and I was completely amazed.
Then I hit upon this idea of giving it a slightly grungy tribal vibe. So I had Sivamani come in. The only thing I told him was that it should visually match with what Goldie wanted - grungy, dirty, grimy, garage setting. So we added a lot of metallic sounds, like hubcaps. Siva added the second part of the song – he was very creative. So it kind of evolved.
It took forever to produce this song – about 10 days staggered over a period of time.
Bandagi – (Sunidhi Chauhan, Roop Kumar Rathod)
Dhruv: This was the last song we recorded for the movie. I was literally forcing Goldie to insert a romantic song in the movie. And after a lot of plugging finally Goldie relented. I immediately went into the studio and had the song within an hour. I finished producing it at two in the morning and called Goldie right away. I met him the next morning and played the song for him. He loved it.
I had sung the whole song at that point. I was quite keen on singing it, but Goldie was convinced that I shouldn’t sing this one and we should get a more seasoned singer. I was ok with that and I’m glad that I chose Roop for this because he’s done a fantastic job with this song.
Sunidhi brought such a cool energy to the studio, she totally got what I wanted so I invited her back again to sing a third song.
Nanhe Nanhe (Sadhana Sargam)
Dhruv: This song came out of a theme I had composed for the movie, in fact the very first theme from a lot I wrote for the movie. Everyone loved the theme so much that we thought it might be cool to make a song out of it.
Sadhnaji was actually my mother’s idea. Often I’ll go and play my songs for my mom and she has a really cool for sense for casting, which is really important. And the song had a kind of Lata feel to it for which Sadhna works really well.
Khushi (Shaan, Suzanne D’mello)
Dhruv: The thing with birthday songs is that the concept is so situational that it can go into this really cheesy state like (sings): ‘It’s my birthday, Happy Birthday!’ So I wanted to get far away from that.
I had just seen The Producers in London and I was blown away. There is something very interactive about doing a song in the big band jazz medium because it lends itself to telling a story. At the same time musically there is so much going on.
Shaan was an obvious choice because is young and has this Robbie Williams thing going on but he has an understanding of the Old World. I was very conscious about the fact that this was a big film and I didn’t want people to talk about whether Goldie made the right choice. So I was very nervous about this track.
Drona Redux (Sunidhi Chauhan)
Dhruv: This was a marketing call because we wanted to show a video where Priyanka would introduce Drona. That was the idea behind it. Sunidhi had just finished singing Oop Cha and she was an obvious choice for me because I felt she would hit it out of the park and she did that for me.
Aspi: Dhruv, have you seen Rock On yet? Your old band is given a tip of the hat in it and your ex-bandmate Suraj Jagan has quite a nifty role in it.
Dhruv: Farhan (Akhtar) is a friend and we used to hang out together back in the days because my bass player Anand and Farhan were school buddies. So he told me about the movie and asked if it would be ok to use the name in it.
Aspi: One question about Chakraview – I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that someone with your interests started a rock band. Was it about the chicks? Did you want to slowly morph into something bigger? Did your interests change while you were in it?
Dhruv: Chakraview wasn’t a rock band at all. It’s a funny story about Chakraview. I had borrowed a guitar effects processor from a very close friend of mine for rehearsal and I lost it on the way! So I basically had to pay this guy back about 30, 40 grand which would be like Rs. 10 lakhs today.
Just then we saw an ad in a page about this competition at IIT called MoodI where the winner would get 30 grand and there were other prizes as well. So if we won it we would pay my friend off and it would be a fun road trip.
We went there and basically won all the prizes. And then we felt ‘This is cool!’
But the only gigs we were getting were in lousy clubs so for one whole year we went and hit all the colleges and played all the competitions and won a lot of the prizes. And that’s how we became famous.
Our sound developed into this strange music with a lot of elements: World, Indian, Rock. But it kind of started by accident.
Aspi: Do you miss being in a band?
Dhruv: Well, I do play as much as I can. Blue Frog was born out of our frustration that there aren’t enough places a musician can go out and play on a fantastic stage. And fans don’t have a place to go to and watch cool acts from diverse genres.
Blue Frog is a label, a night club, a music production company and a fantastic recording studio. It’s doing really well. We’ve signed an incredible guitar player called Sanjay Divecha from LA who has moved to India now. We signed John McLaughlin for the India side of the deal. Ashu[tosh Pathak]’s independent project comes out in October. My solo album comes out in January.
Drona releases October 2, 2008