Jasleen Royal can't stop humming. "When I went to the doctor the other day for a routine check-up, she asked me what I was humming. I didn't realise I was doing it until then. But even when I meet actors, songs from their hit movies pop into my head and I can't stop humming. I hummed songs from Zakhm when I met Ajay Devgn. When I met Rani Mukerji while working on Hichki, I was humming songs from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai," she says.
The 26-year-old indie musician has every reason to be jubilant. The spotlight has been on her since 2009, when she made it to the semi finals of the reality television series India's Got Talent. Since then, she's worked steadily, racking up accolades and cementing her position as a bankable composer, with work on 10 Bollywood films to her credit. You probably recognise her from earworms such as Nachne De Saare from Baar Baar Dekho, Din Shagna Da from Phillauri and Preet from Khoobsurat.
Since Jasleen's foray into the industry in 2014, Hichki marks her first outing as a solo composer. Here she tells us about how she landed the opportunity and what advice she'd give upcoming musicians.
In an age when multiple composers are approached for a film, how did you pitch a solo album for Hichki?
The first solo album I composed was for Haraamkhor. But that just had one song, so this is my first big album. Just kidding.
I was standing on the stairs of the Yash Raj Studio after having checked the film mixes for Baar Baar Dekho, which is when you test how the score will sound in theatres. Someone walked up to me and said, "Oh, you're a big star now?" I couldn't place the person immediately, but after a while I realised it was [producer] Maneesh Sharma. We went to a coffee shop where we had a 10-minute-long meeting. He asked me about my favourite albums, what music I like. He didn't ask me for my bank of songs or about my work. We just spoke about music. During the meeting, he said I should come to the Yash Raj office and bring my guitar with me. I went there 10 days later, I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity.
I told him I wanted to do a solo album and he was alright with it because Yash Raj anyway doesn't do multi-composer albums.
Is the process for composing an entire album vastly different from doing one or two songs? Do you have to be more involved in the movie?
We started with three songs, and then it went up to seven. The entire process took me a year. I composed the music for what is now the song Teri Dastaan on set itself, after watching the scene. Hichki is the kind of movie in which every song works well with the scene – there is no wedding song or anything like that. Now Maneesh has become a really good friend. After all, we've been working together for a year and it was such an intense experience.
You're a self-taught musician. At any point did you ever feel this was a shortcoming?
It has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I don't know when to stop. I hear something and if I don't like it, I say so. Maneesh always tells me that I'm arrogant. I asked him how I can be arrogant if I'm self-taught. Those things don't go together. But, if something doesn't work for me, it doesn't. If it doesn't feel right, it doesn't.
There are some musicians who hear a brief and immediately get a sense of what the song is going to be like. I'm not like that. I always think, "Yeah let's try this, or let's try that." I'm always open to experimenting. As for cons, it takes me a really long time to complete a project.
You got discovered at a reality show when you were just 18. We all know how hard it is to break into Bollywood and how very few women have turned composers. What do you think set you apart and what is your advice to young musicians/singers waiting for a foot in the door?
I was very stubborn. I sang Phir Dehkiye from the closing credits of Rock On for the semi finals of India's Got Talent. Everyone was telling me to sing a more popular song, they said no one would have heard of this song, but I sang what felt right. Even if there is a gathering of just 10 people, I won't take out my guitar and sing a popular crowd-pleasing song. I'll sing what I love. I can't emote, I can't sing if the song doesn't feel right. If people want to sing big hits, that's fine. But they should feel what they are singing. That is my advice to young musicians.
What projects are you currently working on?
I'm working on the music for [Sunny Deol-directed] Pal Pal Dil Ke Pas and [Aishwarya Rai Bachchan-starrer] Gulab Jamun.