Ram Sampath: An Overdue Appraisal

Ram Sampath: An Overdue Appraisal

Earlier this week, multiple movie-related media sites carried the news about makers of Raees planning to release the movie's background score officially. Articles about the rare feat (not as rare as some articles tried to make it sound though) contained mentions of the director, his Sholay influence, lead actors etc. What they were all missing was the composer who created the score. It speaks volumes about the cavalier attitude that the media, and the film industry, have towards composers or deserving talent in general. And a man who has been at the receiving end of this for a large part of his musical career is Ram Sampath. The person behind such indipop hits as "Tanha Dil", "Loveology", "Mohabbat Kar Le Re" etc has landed perhaps five or six big ticket projects during his 15+ years in Bollywood. Raees, one of this year's most anticipated movies, happens to be the latest of them.

The shortlist below is an attempt to trace Sampath's career through some of his brilliant songs that I feel did not receive their due.

  • "Payyada" (Let's Talk)

After working for long in the ad industry and indipop scene, even starting a promising but short-lived rock band called Colourblind, Sampath made his Bollywood debut with this 2002 English language film by Ram Madhvani (who directed his second movie 14 years after that – Neerja). The soundtrack drew a lot of classical influence, featuring names like Pt. Channulal Mishra, but this Carnatic song adaptation was the best of the lot, for its hauntingly minimal arrangement and Aruna Sairam's splendid rendition. Years later Sampath would revisit this song with the same singer in his maiden appearance on Coke Studio at MTV.

  • Lori (Family)

Rajkumar Santoshi's attempt to replicate the success of Khakee from two years earlier did not yield the desired results, either with the movie or music. This lullaby sung by Sona Mohapatra was the sole exception though.  

  • Daav Laga (Aagey Se Right)

It wasn't until the song got used in the Windows 8 India launch spiel that people noticed this incredibly catchy song composed by Sampath in 2009.

  • Saigal Blues (Delhi Belly)

It is his association with Aamir Khan that started turning things around for Sampath eventually – a partnership that started with Peepli Live and went on for two more movies and a hugely popular TV show. When people talk of Delhi Belly's music they tend to talk about "DK Bose" and "Switty" and "Bedardi Raja" but to me "Saigal Blues" was the song of the album, in fact one of the best songs Sampath ever made. A retro melody rendered by lyricist Chetan Shashital in his spotless imitation of KL Saigal to the backdrop of an ambient blues rock-flavoured arrangement that the composer creates, the surreal piece kind of takes me back to the Ananda Shankar brand of fusion.

  • Muskaanein Jhoothi Hai (Talaash)

The song was overshadowed by the more popular "Jee Le Zara" and "Jiya Laage Na" but for no fault of its own. The song has a thematically dark, intriguing melody delivered excellently by Suman Sridhar while the composer backs her up with a fine jazz-based orchestration (note the amazing use of double bass).

  • Hogi Kranti (Bangistan)

A spoof of "Hum Honge Kaamyaab", this hilarious "terrorist anthem" by Puneet Krishna and Ram Sampath really deserved a bigger audience. It's a pity the movie bombed (ironic, given the title).

  • Behooda (Raman Raghav 2.0)

Composed along the lines of "Muskaanein", the grim song gained immensely from Varun Grover's smartly chosen words, and singing by Nayantara Bhatkal (another talented musician who should be getting a lot more songs). The combination made for a perfect "ode" to the movie's serial killing protagonist.

  • Sundari Komola (Coke Studio at MTV S03E02)

Ram Sampath's debut stint with the Indian version of the franchise was remarkable in more ways than one. Based on a central theme "Devi" (a celebration of various forms of feminine power, as per the man), the episode featured female musicians from diverse musical genres. In this particular case, Sampath picked up a song from Colourblind's only album, and gave it a swanky new makeover infusing Bengali folk elements.

At the time that I am finishing this article, just three songs from Raees have come out, and the only song that really impressed is a Ram Sampath original. I hope Sampath's freshly forged association with the next of the Khans, improves his mainstream creds further and brings him more movies; the man has much more to offer.

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