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Ram Sampath – Interview

He made his debut Bollywood album earlier this year, for the film Luv Ka The End. Now, Ram Sampath is set to become a household name, as he has composed the music for the much-awaited film Delhi Belly starring Imran Khan in the lead role. Kavya Rajagopalan from Thamarai.com found out more about this talented musician:
 
On your website, you define yourself as a "musical schizophrenic". What do you mean by this?
It means that I’m constantly flitting between genres. My interest lies in the intersection between genres. 
 
You initially started off in a rock band before you began composing. What was it about composing that drew you away from your band? 
Firstly, it was really hard funding a band all by myself. I would do advertising gigs and then pour all my money down this bottomless pit that was my band. More importantly, my perspective towards music changed quite radically during those years. I felt a strong connection towards Indian roots music like Folk, Qawwali, Thumri, Nirguni, Baul & was drawn towards that. By now, the band was history! 
 
You were involved in judging a show for rock bands on MTV. What was that experience like?
It was bitter-sweet. The musicians were very good, but we completely compromised them by restricting them to covers of film songs. There were some really good ‘Desi Rock’ musicians who were capable of a lot more but were short changed. I hope not to repeat the experience.
 
How would you say the independent music scene in India compares to the Bollywood music scene?
It’s non-existent. It’s been systematically killed by myopic record companies and greedy artists. Hopefully, the emerging Desi Rock scene will stick to their guns & find the fan base they deserve. Bands like Indian Ocean are pioneers in that sense.  
 
Where does your interest in music stem from and how long has music been a part of your life?
I’ve been composing songs from the age of 10. My dad still has some of those demos! I grew up in a household full of music. My mom was into classic Bollywood music & Bhajans. My dad was into Carnatic, Ghazals & Rock music. I heard a lot of music as a kid.
 
You also say on your website that you received some "rude awakenings about what music’s supposed to do". Did these events knock your confidence?
Not really, they were ephipanies that lit the way for me. I realised that I didn’t want to make music that I didn’t believe in. I realised that ‘Neeyat’ (hard to translate, but it’s something close to ‘intent’) is everything. One must aspire to make Soul music in every genre. 
 
How did you get involved with Delhi Belly?
I was recommended by the director of the movie, Abhinay Deo,  with whom I have collaborated on over 200 commercials – many of them award winning ones. Aamir was gracious enough to request Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy – who were originally signed for the film – to make way for me, and they were kind enough to oblige. 
 
Aamir Khan has gone on record to say that you are a star that has been born – what do you make of this?
It’s an honour to be acknowledged by an artist like him. For me, it beats winning a Grammy. As a producer, he’s a composer’s dream as he trusts you completely. That makes you work fearlessly. 
 
The track Bhaak DK Bose has been the most talked-about song from the Delhi Belly soundtrack. Did you expect it to become such a hit in such a short space of time?
It’s fair to say we were expecting a response, but not the kind of overwhelming response we’ve received! I’m totally blown away by just how much it’s connected with people. 
 
You yourself provided the vocals for this song. How do you like being behind the mic?
I sang a scratch vocal, as I normally do, to help the singer learn the melody, but when Kiran Rao heard it, she got up and exclaimed, "Don’t touch the vocal! It’s perfect!". I was really unsure as I’m not fond of hearing my own voice. I made about four other singers sing it as well, but the natural ease & raw power wasn’t there. Then, I re-sang the song a couple of times and this time, Aamir was convinced too, and he forbade me from recording any more singers! That’s really how my voice stayed.  
 
How did the idea of using DK Bose arise? Why did you settle on a rock theme for the song?
‘Bhaag DK Bose’ is a song made for the underdog, to represent the trials and harsh realities of our lives today. All of us have been DK Bose at one time or another. It’s a song I composed based on a line written by Akshat Verma, the writer of Delhi Belly. The song’s lyrics were then written by Amitabh Bhattacharya. I set the song in the punk genre as I wanted to have it to have a raw energy. There’s also Baul influences in the song, which become evident in the music pieces & string interludes.  
 
Did you worry about how people would respond to the track, or even, whether it would get past the censor board?
No. I have tremendous faith in the Censor board. If they can allow a 5 year old kid to dance to "Sheila Ki Jawani" on a reality dance show, they definitely wouldn’t have an issue with DK Bose, which is a proper name! The censor board doesn’t have double standards.
 
Jaa Chudail and Nakkaddwaley Disco have also been well-loved by the public. Which of the songs from Delhi Belly is your personal favourite, and why?
That’s a tough one! I’ll pass on this one. I’m proud of all the songs on the soundtrack. It’s one of those rare Bollywood soundtracks that’s packed with goodness! All killer no filler! 
 
What kind of music do you listen to, and which artists/genres of music inspire you?
I’ve been listening to a lot of folk, roots, blues, punk & funk music in preparation for Delhi Belly.
 
Which artists would you most like to work with?
I have no wish list at all. I’m very happy working with new singers & musicians. It’s how music goes forward.
 
Which composer/producer in the world of music, in India and worldwide, inspires you?
My current favourite international composer/ producer/ singer is Manu Chao. 
 
What do you feel you can bring to the music industry that isn’t already there? What do you want to achieve with your music?
Honesty & tenacity. I want my music to remind people of the glorious conundrum that is life.
 
You can keep up-to-date with what Ram is up to by following him on Twitter. Delhi Belly will be hitting theatres worldwide on July 1st 2011 – not long to go!
  
© Thamarai.com 2011