An eccentric who often loses track of time, the prolific composer is infamous for tinkering away at his music till filmmakers ‘snatch’ the song away from him.
If you study music composer Pritam Chakraborty’s interviews over the years closely, a few patterns come to the fore. First, his honest admission of having a crazed style of working—the kind that can cause panic attacks if you’re a filmmaker or music producer.
And second, his repeated claims of adopting a saner work ethic soon. When we meet him a couple of days before the release of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, I ask for a quick progress report. “No no, nothing has changed. I’m still as disorganised,” he says with sincerity. “I’m not meeting the deadline on this one either. Sony is constantly calling me.
In his defence, he’s tried every trick in the book to mend his ways. “I really have,” he pleads. “I’ve read books on time management. I’ve called one of my friends who is an MBA and asked her to teach me the quarters of time management. I tried following it for five days but it just went for a toss after that,” he rues.
I’ve read books on time management. I’ve called one of my friends who is an MBA and asked her to teach me the quarters of time management. I tried following it for five days but it just went for a toss after that.
Even as he lists his misadventures with time management, there’s another one unfolding at his home as we speak. There’s a mini crowd that has gathered at the 7th floor of his Andheri apartment. The visitors—some of whom have been waiting for hours—ranging from journalists to musicians are spread across his two flats. At one at point, a journalist who has been waiting for a couple of hours walks out in exasperation. In the midst of this complete chaos, a hapless Pritam is carted around from one room to another by his manager, profusely apologising to his motley group of guests along the way.
Pritam is infamous for dodging interviews. He admits that it’s an exercise he seldom enjoys. “It’s this Bengali nature of mine—I can’t cut off easily. I’m talking to you now but after 10 minutes my manager will ask me to go to the next person. I can’t do that. Even when I’m composing, I keep working on a song over and over again till it is snatched away from me,” he explains.
I’m also indecisive. Any enemy of mine can give me two choices, leave me alone and have fun. I take ages to decide if I want to do a film.
Legend has it that Pritam changes his songs even after the final copy has been signed, sealed and delivered by the music label. During Life in a… Metro (2007), he achieved the rare feat of sending different versions of the same album to various parts of the country. He cracks up at the thought of that incident. “At that time CDs used to go in trucks. I changed the master at the last minute but Sony had already sent it to some places. I said, ‘Jo nikal gaya, woh jaane do. But what do I do with this upgraded version?’ So northeast got the old version and the rest got a different album.”
This wasn’t a one off case. It happened again as recently as 2013 with Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani – an album that boasted of chartbusters like “Badtameez Dil” and “Balam Pichkari”. “For that film I gave a master to T-Series and the next day I got a better one so I wanted to change it. They said no but I kept pleading. They finally agreed but were not able to change the New Zealand iTunes version which went live first because of the time difference. Now all the pirates got that master. So I tried to contact them to say, ‘Jo karna hai karo, but please use the new version.”
Ae Dil Hai Mushkil been written in the shortest time possible by Amitabh (Bhattacharya). I gave him the melody when we left from Andheri for Karan’s office in Khar. Till Lakshmi Industrial Estate he gave me gaalis because I had given him the melody at the last minute. And from there to the office he had written the entire song.
He narrates these anecdotes as one would the final chase of a pacy thriller. There’s an unmistakable excitement in his voice, but also an attempt to justify this madness. “Now take the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil title track. It’s been written in the shortest time possible by Amitabh (Bhattacharya). I gave him the melody when we left from Andheri for Karan’s office in Khar. Till Lakshmi Industrial Estate he gave me gaalis because I had given him the melody at the last minute. And from there to the office he had written the entire song,” he says, proving his point.
In the over 100 films that he’s composed for, there have been a couple of ugly run-ins with filmmakers. After all, not everyone can handle the stress that he brings along. But Pritam also brings the near certainty of a hit album which explains why from Imtiaz Ali’s Ring to Kabir Khan’s Tubelight – the biggest projects of 2017 have been entrusted to him. There are other films he may have to let go off because he’s already spread too thin. He adds that his inability to say no to the filmmaker upfront is another one of his flaws. “I’m also indecisive. Any enemy of mine can give me two choices, leave me alone and have fun. I take ages to decide if I want to do a film,” he says.
It’s been two years since Pritam took a break. If all goes well, he says he may take one at the end of 2017. His next big release is Aamir Khan’s Dangal and then the “monster” Jagga Jasoos which has been in the making for close to 3 years now. For once, he says he’s not the one responsible for the delay. “Anurag Basu and I are a match made in heaven. He’s like me only. He keeps changing the script,” he laughs.
Anurag Basu and I are a match made in heaven. He’s like me only. He keeps changing the script of Jagga Jasoos.
Unlike their last collaboration Barfi! where they got away with finalising the album at the last minute because the characters were deaf and mute, this one is a musical with all lip-sync songs. “I’m excited. But this fact is also giving me some tension,” he ends, with a glint in his eyes.
Lead image credts: Wayne D’Mello