There are several reasons Hitesh Sonik should be more famous beyond inner circles in the filmi music duniya than he is. As a music producer, he is a large part of Vishal Bhardwaj's signature sound. In 2006 with Vishal as composer, skilfully combining art with commerce, he forged possibly the finest Bollywood CD of the millennium - Omkara.
This year, in a magical collaboration with composer Piyush Mishra and Rekha Bhardwaj, Hitesh produced Ranaji - a modern day mujra about a person with delusions of grandeur who is so vicious that he evokes several carefully calibrated references to 9/11.
And because Hitesh has also produced one of the most anticipated CDs of the year - Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey, I felt it was about time more people in my world knew about him. Hitesh was kind enough to stop by the Drift and answer some questions.
AspisDrift.com: Hi Hitesh, welcome to the Drift. People who program music aren’t as famous as their music composer brethren, so I just wanted to say this: you are among my heroes!
Hitesh: This is the most beautiful thing ever said to me about my job....big thanks! No, BIG THANKS!
AspisDrift.com: First question: I’m dying to hear more about the song Ranaji. It’s supposed to be a hoot, but it’s also very wistful and touching. And the references to 9/11 make it tricky to handle as a composition. How did the song come together?
Hitesh: I loved the song the first time I heard it. Which was way back in 2003, 2004. Much before Beedi and Namak happened and declared their kabzaa on the genre.
The script was in place and demanded two mujras. I'm not sure you've seen the film but its interesting and twisted in the Anurag Kashyap-ist idiom. So naturally, thereafter, something like this had to happen!
It was entirely Piyush Mishra's acute vision that led to it. We called it the political mujra. Since the lyrics and the tune both were written by him, there wasn't much conflict creatively. I loved it and just wanted to make sure the content and intent of the song wouldn't get lost in the arrangements...yet sound as contemporary as possible...keeping the film's Rajasthani backdrop in mind.
Getting the right voice was critical...and with Rekha Bhardwaj that was thankfully pretty much taken care of.
AspisDrift.com: Let’s talk about music production in general – what kind of guidelines do you normally get in Bollywood when working with a composer?
Hitesh: Well...is it hard to guess? Everybody wants a hit...and no matter what tempo or mood the song denotes, they just want to cater to everybody. There's no respect for a select audience...but then that's how most businesses function, don't they?
No complaints really...but a little space would allow us all to stretch our arms real wide open! Won't that feel good?
AspisDrift.com: Ok Hitesh, we all know very little about you. So I’d like to change that. But instead of asking you all kinds of boring stuff like your birth date, I’m going to ask you far more intrusive stuff.
At a party, you are most likely to drink...
AspisDrift.com: When you’re home, your CD changer is most likely playing...
Hitesh: Nothing mostly. Something classical maybe...Hindustani or Western...but nothing percussive! Strictly. Everything else I enjoy listening to in my car...
AspisDrift.com: The wildest thing you’ve ever done in a studio is...
Hitesh: Spilled a cup of tea on the mixing console... :( It was hot and mine! Had to go without tea the whole day...
AspisDrift.com: The musical instruments you can play is/are...
Hitesh: Guitar. A bit of keyboards...and can produce sounds out of a flute, tabla and tin cans ;)
AspisDrift.com: Your biggest regret in life, the one that got away is...
Hitesh: Let it!
AspisDrift.com: If (the upcoming) Kaminey was nominated for a Grammy and you were at the Awards ceremony, the first thing you’d do is to look for...
Hitesh: I can only answer this after I'm back from there :) Want to give you honest answers only you see.
AspisDrift.com: If someone walks up to you and asks, dude what does Namak Ishq Ka (from Omkara) really mean? You’d say...
Hitesh: You really asking??
AspisDrift.com: Hitesh, given the type of hit but arty music you’ve produced so far in your career, I have to ask you this question. If a director came up to you and said: Hitesh, I want you to produce the music for my next film Disco Dancer 2010 - would you say
(a) Thanks, but that’s not me!
(b) Heck yes! What took you guys so long to offer me one of these?
(c) Depends, what’s the pay like?
Hitesh: (b)! With absolute pleasure!
AspisDrift.com: Last question, I ask this of everyone on the Drift. Can you fold a fitted bed sheet?
Hitesh: Is this a trick question Aspi? I don't understand it...
Hitesh's Definitive Filmography
Four Brothers and a Funeral (2005) – Composer
Maachis (1996) – Music Assistant
Godmother (1999) – Music Assistant
Hu Tu Tu (1999) – Music Assistant
Maqbool (2003) – Music Producer
The Blue Umbrella (2005) – Music Producer
Omkara (2006) – Music Producer
Blood Brothers (2007) – Background Score
No Smoking (2007) - Music Producer and Background Score
Gulaal (2009) – Music Producer
Firaaq (2009) – Music Producer
Kaminey (2009) – Music Producer
Also: More about music production and the process in this interview with Clinton Cerejo