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Tapas Relia: With this film, I made music for me

Updated on: 28 August,2023 07:10 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sonia Lulla |

In taking ownership of the soundtrack of Goldfish, composer Tapas Relia says he could disconnect from commercial tropes and invest in characters

Tapas Relia: With this film, I made music for me

Tapas Relia, soundtrack composer of 'Goldfish'

Discussions on tricks to create numbers that can swiftly make their way to music playlists rarely form part of our conversation with Tapas Relia. For the composer—with projects like The Test Case, and City of Dreams in his kitty—it’s always about exploring characters with as much intricacy as the director does. In Deepti Naval and Kalki Koechlin’s Goldfish, Relia brings a bouquet of Hindustani classical numbers on the table for music aficionados to sample. In this interview, he discusses how the film benefited as the music juxtaposed the screenplay.

Edited excerpts of the interview.

What was your discussion with the makers on the soundtrack of Goldfish?
Pushan Kripalani, the director of the film, told me the story and said it wouldn’t have any music. They only wanted one thumri, which would be for Deepti Naval’s character, Sadhana. Sadhana had [recorded this song] live in her younger days, and this was the only requirement. He got Kausar [Munir] on board to write the lyrics. I composed a scratch, and got Madhubanti Bagchi, who I have always wanted to work, [to record it].

Naval and Koechlin in Goldfish
Naval and Koechlin in Goldfish

So, the discussion started with one song, but then, Pushan said that he had found the need to include more [musical] pieces, given that Sadhana is a music lover. She suffers from dementia, and her only connection with her past life is music. I said we could do some instrumental pieces. But Kausar had already sent about five songs, all of which I loved. So, I asked Pushan if I should compose on them. He loved the idea. 

Did you have access to the narrative to decipher the kind of songs you could subsequently create? 
All these songs were classical —basically, ones that justified what Sadhana would listen to. She would not listen to random music. Pushan concluded that because Sadhana is a music-lover, we did not need the songs to feature in defined sections. She could be listening to them [at any time] while she was at home. It is her house, where her rules apply.  She could be playing music while going about her day. The music could play in the background, whether a fight [takes place], or while she cooks or has tea. I liked that concept. So, at times, if the screenplay was in contrast with [the song], that was also alright. 

In fact, in one intense scene between Sadhana and Anna [Kalki Koechlin], you will see this juxtaposition. And that yields an entirely different cinematic effect. We also threw in this beauty—a song called Piya padh lena. The lyrics are reminiscent of 50s Bollywood. I got Pratibha Singh Baghel to sing it. We know she’s a tremendously talented singer, but her voice has a distinct character that I wanted to explore. So, this was a joyride for me, because I got so many [musicians] to collaborate with.  

Evidently, you’ve invested time in understanding the characters before designing the music. And this is something you may have done only because you had ownership of the entire score. How does your working process differ when you are only asked to do one song for a film project, like is often the case today? 
You’re absolutely right when you say that the market has changed. The requirements of producers and directors have also changed. Most of the films today are like Prime’s instant deliveries. Everything is about making money, and not for the love of cinema. More and more directors and producers are out shopping for music rather than commissioning it. They want stuff that is ready because they want commercial numbers that can help them make money.

In a project like this one, the purpose is to serve the performance, story, and screenplay. So, [the artistes] want to go through the entire process and [understand] the characters. I’ve had so many discussions with Pushan about what the characters are all about and what kind of music would Sadhana listen to. I have always worked on films that have given me complete ownership and I had gone through the scripting, and narration for each one before making the scratches. There is one part of our lives that is dedicated to making a decent amount of money. But, the second half, for me, is very important. The important part is validating my existence as a composer. For a film like Goldfish, I made music for myself.

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