The music of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a lot like the film’s protagonist, Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) – irreverent, brimming with love for the movies and unabashedly over the top. A dramatic parting is underscored by a soulful ballad, a scene in which the heroine kicks ass is punctuated by Shankar-Jaikishan’s ‘Nakhrewali’, and a funk song has the equally funky lyrics: Ude ude, chalein chalein, Mowgli ko Sher Khan se bachane. The eight-song soundtrack covers jazz, rock-n-roll and even RnB.
“Normally when you look at a film’s score, it’s all in one family. Here, the score is kind of telling the story. We got to go a little crazy and have all kinds of sounds in the film. (Director) Vasan Bala and I wanted to have these moments that were very over-the-top, very filmy,” says composer Karan Kulkarni.
Releasing on March 21, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota follows Surya, who’s born with a medical condition that makes him impervious to pain. Raised on a diet of martial arts films, he decides to foray into vigilantism himself, after being cooped up at home for several years.
“When people hear ‘funk’, they think of ‘Uptown Funk’ because that’s what they’ve heard. But funk has been around since the 70s,” says Kulkarni
‘Rappan Rappi Rap’ reflects Surya’s pop culture obsession, with lyrics by Garima Obrah referencing the Nirma women (remember Hema, Rekha, Jaya and Sushma?), Pacman, Pokemon and Star Wars. “Surya’s been in isolation for so long that in his head, he’s still a kid. All these 90s references, karate films and retro stuff are what his world is about,” he says, calling the song his tribute to the funk genre. “When people hear ‘funk’, they think of ‘Uptown Funk’ because that’s what they’ve heard,” he says, “But funk has been around since the 70s.” The song features a punchy horn section, recorded at a studio in London, fused with the rhythms of 90s hiphop captured through Benny Dayal’s style of singing.
Snatches of ‘Rappan Rappi Rap’ are interwoven into ‘Shaolin Sky’, a training montage song on which Kulkarni raps about ninjas, the Yakuzas and the Wu-Tang Clan. His reference point, however, was something much closer home – AR Rahman’s ‘Magudi Magudi’. “The song sounds nothing like it, but that’s the good thing about (director) Vasan Bala. A lot of people would want your song to be very close to the reference. But as long as Vasan likes it, he’s cool.”
Their shared playlist, which served as inspiration for the soundtrack, included hits from the 70s and the 90s, early AR Rahman tunes, Prince, DJ Shadow, The Weeknd, Tower of Power and D’Angelo, he says. “We tried to pick out a lot of the cooler stuff from the 90s. You may not hear a lot of that in the music directly but there are one or two hints somewhere.” Kulkarni and Bala have known each other for eight years, having first got in touch after a mutual friend played the director one of Kulkarni’s early songs. They collaborated on the short horror film The Wet Bride and then on Peddlers, Bala’s unreleased 2012 film.
The Pune-born Kulkarni credits his interest in music to his family, who were constantly listening to vinyl records and cassettes of Simon and Garfunkel, Steve Miller Band, Queen and The Beatles. He began playing the guitar at 15 and decided to pursue music seriously after forming a band with some college friends. After getting his Bachelor’s degree in Music Production/Sound Design at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, he returned to Mumbai, assisting Amit Trivedi for a year and scoring advertisements.
“A lot of the composers in the 70s were inspired by disco and funk and rock-n-roll. The English bits in those songs were heavily accented and you had S. P. Balasubrahmanyam or someone else singing,” Kularni says of his inspiration for ‘Life Mein Fair Chance Kiska?’
Work on the scores of English Vinglish (2012), Aligarh (2016) and Tumhari Sulu (2017) followed. Tumhari Sulu director Suresh Triveni sings another of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’s songs, one Kulkarni describes as “a wild blend of rock-n-roll, South Indian percussion and old-school rock coming out of Bollywood”. The track, ‘Life Mein Fair Chance Kiska?’, explores the dichotomy between twins Jimmy and Mani, played by Gulshan Devaiah. To nail the sound, Kulkarni says he looked to the South for inspiration. He listened to a lot of Tamil music picturised on Kamal Haasan, who also gets a shoutout in the song. “There’s also a Rajkumar song called ‘If You Come Today’.” A lot of the composers in the 70s were inspired by disco and funk and rock-n-roll so I listened to them as well. The English bits in those songs were heavily accented and you had S. P. Balasubrahmanyam or someone else singing. Suresh Triveni does a good impression of those singers.”
Inspiration for a dreamy sequence in which Supri (Radhika Madan) dances alone in a park came from a very different place. The scene originally had Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ as temp music. “That’s a hard one to beat. It’s a classic, it’s a jazz standard, it’s a very famous song. The pressure was quite high,” says Kulkarni. The song that eventually made it to the scene was the languid ‘Dreamtime’, an English jazz song he composed. It features vocals by theatre actress Kamakshi Rai, who’s also sung ‘Tere Liye’, a romantic ballad that doubles up as the theme for Surya and Supri. The reference for that song was the pop duet ‘Little Do You Know’ by Alex and Sierra, which Kulkarni says he wanted to make a little more “soulful”. The result was an RnB track that riffs on the equation between the two characters.
The idea behind ‘Kitthon Da Tu Superstar’, an upbeat Punjabi number, was “generic Punjabi music made to sound old-school and funny”. The song is generously peppered with the tumbi – a staple of Bollywood Punjabi pop – but also the mandolin and the charango, all played by Tapas Roy. Kulkarni says the last-minute addition to the jukebox was composed just last week. Its instrumental version is the one that appears in the film, just before climactic fight sequence.
The final song in the soundtrack has the pluckiness and title of Kishore Kumar’s ‘Nakhrewaali’, but little else. “There’s a lot of remixes that happen now so the idea was never to make a remix or use anything from the original song, apart from the word ‘nakhrewali’ itself,” says Kulkarni. The original plays on the radio the first time we see Supri, a few minutes before the reprise kicks in. With its percussive elements, the tune is upbeat and hip, much like the feisty Supri.