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Shantanu Moitra’s Journey to the End of the Earth

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Shantanu Moitra’s Journey to the End of the Earth

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The last few years haven’t been kind to Hindi film composers. There has been a discernible shift in the quality of music as well as the way it’s made. Foremost among them is the practice of having multiple composers for one film — a call taken for commercial rather than creative reasons, often from music companies and producers. Most composers have a fundamental problem with the practice. As a result, they have either been forced to embrace the change, or find other avenues to express themselves — in 2020, composers like Amit Trivedi, Vishal Bhardwaj and Salim-Sulaiman launched their own labels under which they published non-film music.

Moitra’s trip in the Himalayas was almost a knee-jerk reaction to his disillusionment with the situation. “I was running away from music,” he said. He had just done Raju Hirani’s PK, in which he shared album credits with Ajay-Atul and Ankit Tiwari. The fact that someone could deliver a huge hit like 3 Idiots in his last collaboration with the director, with whom he has had a successful working history (Lage Raho…), and still not be trusted with composing for the entire movie was a sign of where Hindi film music was headed. Moitra wasn’t a part of Hirani’s last film, Sanju (2018).

When it comes to film work, Moitra has shifted his focus to background scores. With songs increasingly losing their narrative importance in our cinema, it’s one area where composers still get to use their imagination and craft without commercial pressures. Moitra talks about a scene from Pink (2016), in which the Amitabh Bachchan character sits quietly, thinking. Tapping into a memory of his grandfather sitting quietly at their Lucknow home where he grew up, Moitra used the sound of a clock ticking. Even though there was no clock in the frame, it’s a trick that worked because it came from a place of personal truth. (A couple of years later, when Moitra saw a similar effect being used in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk to denote a grenade going off, he says he felt validated). Moitra has had a particularly fruitful, long-term association with director and producer Shoojit Sircar, who produced Pink and is one of his closest collaborators; Sircar’s last film, Sardar Udham (2021), is completely songless, featuring sombre, melancholy mood pieces by Moitra.

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