Growing up, Vaibhav Bundhoo had a Friday routine. He would steal money from his father, skip school and head to the theatre to watch films all by himself. This, he explains, was his musical education – absorbing the interplay between the visuals and the sounds, analysing how the music worked.
All those hours in dark theatres have finally come good, as Bundhoo’s own music is creating a buzz. His score for web series Pitchers, for instance, has close to a million hits on YouTube, with plenty of appreciative feedback. His songs can be classified, loosely, as Bollywood-infused pop music drawing from rock and roll and funk, though he often heads into symphonic spaces as well. Of late, hip hop has featured in his work. Among his fans is Bollywood singer Udit Narayan, who describes him as a “talented young music director”.
Explained Bundhoo: “The space I’m trying to capture is similar to Pharrell [Williams], him being a producer who works with artists, sings and makes a variety of different music.”
Bundhoo is the creative director with web content creators The Viral Fever, but his primary role is that of resident music director. His scores have added life to several of the firm’s web productions, including Pitchers, Humorously Yours, Permanent Roommates and, most the recently, Yeh Meri Family (now streaming on Netflix). He has written the soundtracks for the shows as well the original songs.
He even sings some of the tunes – albeit in an unconventional style that seems twangy and disjointed on the surface. But it’s one that grows on listeners. “People used to hate my singing,” he said. “They didn’t understand where I’m from, who I am. They’d be like, ‘Accent kyun maar raha hai [why is he putting on an accent]?’ Now, slowly, they’re accepting my voice and I’ve tried to get better over time.”
Bundhoo’s family moved from India to Mauritius when he was two. Over the next 18 years, he was exposed to not only Indian music and film but also French and American works. Those influences crept into his music too.
In 2004, he had moved back to India, to study filmmaking at Rai University in Delhi. “It shut down while I was still in it!” he said with a laugh. As it turned out, two years into his three-year course, the university closed after a Supreme Court order. Bundhoo shot corporate films for a while, before making the shift to London in 2009 to be with his longtime girlfriend (who he later married). Given the global financial crisis at the time, there wasn’t much work for him in the United Kingdom.
Bundhoo did a range of odd jobs, including a stint as a paparazzo. “It’s a very humiliating job,” he said. “You stand in front of clubs, all day in the snow, waiting for people to come out and you take pictures of them.”
Four years later, he returned to India. Bundhoo was impressed by The Viral Fever’s work (after watching their sketch series Chai Sutta Chronicles). In 2013, he joined them as a cinematographer. Bundhoo started out as guest at a friend’s place but soon overstayed his welcome. After joining the company, he slept in their small office in Mumbai’s Aram Nagar for two full years.
The 34-year-old Bundhoo has no formal training in music or composition, and credits his skills to being raised in a creatively-inclined family. He taught himself how to play the guitar by ear. He picks up elements of composition and arrangement through obsessively watching films and understanding the sonic motifs at play. “You do need a vocabulary to be able to compose, but that vocabulary can be non-pedantic too,” he said. “I’ve learnt just by observing, listening, seeing, going, ‘Oh, that’s what they did there’.” He cites composer James Newton Howard as a particularly important influence in his more cinematic works.
He composes on the computer, using the software Logic Pro, playing the guitar himself and programming the other parts. The absence of a substantial budget for music at The Viral Fever – aside from the occasional song, such as Aisi Hai Hawa, which featured Narayan – means that Bundhoo rarely gets the chance to work with other musicians. However, an as-yet-unreleased score of his does feature a violin quartet playing parts he composed.
During his early years at The Viral Fever, Bundhoo divided time between cinematography and music, but over the past couple of years has focussed his energies entirely on music. Most of his earlier works are available in album format via the TVF Jukebox, which houses the music for the web series they’ve released. But he’s currently toying with the idea of rearranging those songs and packaging them as separate entities in the form of an album. His next goal: to dive into the world of live performance. “The songs are already famous, and I’ve always wanted to establish myself as a separate musical identity,” he said.
Bundhoo is grateful for the fact that he retains complete creative control. He works closely with directors, often entering the process at the scripting stage, and helps transpose the director’s vision into music by understanding their points of reference and ideas.
“The musical choices, the zone it’s in…fortunately, I’ve been able to do that all by myself,” he said. “No one else bothers me with that bit.” There’s a Kubrick-like work ethic at play here, where he’d much rather control all aspects of it himself, than have well-intentioned collaborators invariably diverging from his core vision. He’s forever searching for like-minded individuals to work with, but acknowledges how rare that can be. “I’d love to collaborate – making music with people is like finding soulmates,” he said. “But if that frequency doesn’t match...it’s hard finding people like that, and you have to spend time with them, get to know them.”
His focus remains on easy-listen pop music – often drawing from current musical trends – but perhaps presenting a style that isn’t as overtly familiar to listeners in India. “It’s been my mandate right from the start [like] a directive I’ve given to myself: I’ve wanted to make very catchy music, I’ve wanted to get people hooked.”