Monday, January 20, 2014

How Sohail Sen blended 70s and contemporary to make the blockbuster songs for Gunday

The title track of the director Ali Abbas Zaffar's upcoming movie Gunday starts its journey with a Blue Grass riff, then a Rap, then roots rock before settling into what sounds like a devotional chant. It takes you by surprise and against all odds, sounds really good. To pull something like this off requires creativity and craziness in equal measure. The man responsible for the blockbuster songs of Gunday is Sohail Sen.

Sohail has been a music director since 2008 and has composed terrific songs as a standalone director for five movies in five years. By all standards, his career has wound up slowly. But what a wind its been! His epic set of songs for 2009's Ashutosh Gowarikar's What's Your Rashee mirrored the challenging nuances of Priyanka Chopra's thirteen roles in the movie. Teaming up with Gowarikar again for the Chittagong Uprising biopic Khelein Hum Jee Jan Sey (2010) Sohail crafted songs of delicacy and patriotism - including the gorgeous, kinetic title track where he used students from Suresh Wadkar's singing academy. Both movies fared poorly at box office and that's always tough for the music director because your songs get limited exposure.

2011's Mere Brother Ki Dulhan changed that downward trend. Working with Ali Abbas Zaffar on his directorial debut, Sohail produced five crackerjack songs including the rock anthem Dhunki (Neha Bhasin), the soulful Isq Risk (Rahat Fateh Ali Khan) and my personal favorite Choomantar (Benny Dayal, Aditi Singh Sharma). Mere Brother Ki Dulhan - which starred Imran Khan and Katrina Kaif - was a huge hit and marked Sohail's arrival as an A-list music director.

Sohail's next big hit soundtrack was for Kabir Khan's spy-crossed lovers action movie Ek Tha Tiger. That movie had Salman Khan, set all kinds of records and earned Sohail his second hit platform.

So what are the songs for Gunday like? The movie is set in 1970s Kolkata. Ali Abbas, who has a great personal equation with Sohail, asked for the songs to be set in that era but have a contemporary feel. He wanted the songs to have attitude in the melody and singing. "I always work according to directors vision as he is the captain of the ship and knows what is best for the film. But at times [directors] do give me freedom to experiment" says Sohail.

It took a while to get the songs right - almost a year. Especially the cabaret Asalaam-e-Ishqum, which Sohail tells me took the longest time to compose. For that and the wink-wink Tune Maari Entriyaan, Ali had the inspired idea to bring in Bappi Lahiri (who Sohail refers to endearingly as "Bappi Uncle"). No one bring the nuances of the 70s to songs like the great Bappi Lahiri! (Just listen to those two awesome lines Bappi sings to kick off Asalaam-e-Ishqum about 23 seconds into the song)

All through the CD, Sohail maintains a certain level of muscular grittiness. You can hear it very obviously on the rousing Jashn-e-Ishqa, styled with classic rock guitar riffs. But you'll also hear it on the simmering Jiya (one of Sohail's favorites) which is built around the winning vocal burr of Arijit Singh. Sohail always uses interesting new singers. Shahid Mallya (who sang the awesome Kukkad from Student of the Year) gets a chance to showcase his soulful vocals on the crushing heartbreak ballad Saaiyaan.

Working with new singers is part of the plan to not get pegged with a certain style, says Sohail. "I take it as a compliment for a composer [to sound different on each CD]. It's always important to explore different genres, styles and sounds so it's a conscious effort from my side not to sound the same and may be that's the reason I work with new singers all the time."

With his career flying high right now, how does Sohail keep this kind of momentum going? "Hard work" he says. On Tune Maari Entriyaan, there is a line that goes: "Peechhe meri aashiqon ki, poori poori countriyan". That's going to happen to you soon, Sohail. Get ready!

Gunday opens in theaters on February 24th
Sohail connects with his fans on Facebook at


Mind Rush said...

All hail Sohail! Awesome music!
Fantastic write up too!

Unknown said...

tune mari entriyaan is my favorite song as well
thanks for sharing this info

Mind Rush said...

Dear Drift, we miss you! Wishing you many happy returns on the anniversary of your blog!