If ‘Papa Kehte Hain’ became a common song for the college union back in the 1990s, ‘Koi Kahe’ became the anthem of an entire generation in the 2000s. This is how SEL became the voice of the youth. The techno trance music enticed the minds of the youngsters, who felt a tremendous urge to break free and express themselves animatedly.

Initially, SEL weren’t satisfied with the song and kept changing it before settling on one final version. Farhan spread the word that in the song ‘Koi Kahe’, Saif Ali Khan had sung his part when it was actually sung by Shaan. He was initially supposed to sing Akshaye Khanna’s part, but later the director found that Shaan’s voice fits better with Saif. Shaan considered the film to be a landmark in his career, as the film’s soundtrack broke his jinx of having only sung for movies that did not perform well at the box office.

While speaking of the recording of the songs, Farhan recalled a break he had taken and gone to his business partner Ritesh’s farmhouse in Lonavala. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy went along and together they planned to compose the tunes of the films while staying there for a week or so. Though the plan was for a longer stay, they finished composing the tunes in just four days. They spent time chatting and discussing food, and amid everything, they would often retire into their rooms and start writing or playing the tune.

It was a pleasure trip with a gang of like-minded people. They were in such a fun mood that even before the tune took final shape, all of them started cheering one another and moved on to the next song. Interestingly, all the tunes were composed in that light-hearted and cheerful way.

The composition process for the songs had started a few days earlier, when all three of them were busy with Instant Karma, the first fusion band of India. Together with their friend Farhad Wadia, they used to work in Power Productions (Farhad’s studio). Farhan would sometimes drop by with his plans, and Shankar would compose the basic tunes.

It was a very small room where musicians used to get cramped with their instruments. Yet, they would jovially compose tunes. These tunes would get recorded in an audio cassette but quite naturally, Farhan didn’t realize the immense recall value those tunes would have later. They were looking for a tune to be used for the title track. But what SEL composed sounded conversational to Farhan, and he decided to use the tune for the romance theme for Aamir and Preity.

Koi Kahe, Dil Chahta Hai (2001).

In Lonavala, when they got together to finally compose tunes for the film, Farhan played it to Javed who was to write lyrics having that conversational flair. The plan to write a title song went a-begging till they went to sleep that night. The next morning, Farhan woke up much later than the two early birds, Shankar and Javed. He was greeted by them with a large grin on their faces. Farhan understood that the two restless souls had finally hit upon the idea for the title song and must have finished it.

However, they played a different tune altogether and that became the tune of the romantic number ‘Jaane Kyon’. The bass line of the earlier tune, composed for that romantic situation, kept haunting Shankar. He placed the words of the title in that tune and found the syllables were fitting to a T on those three notes on the bass. Thus, the tune meant for the romantic song became the title song. Farhan recollected, ‘It was just amazing. That was magic and there is just no other word for it.’

The picturization of three cheerful lads in fancy shades, riding a convertible Merc, racing with the train and playing pranks with one another, gels so well with the playful voice of Shankar. Shankar wanted the song to be lip-synced by at least one of the actors. This idea was dismissed by Farhan and instead, he brilliantly captured the three of them driving on the highway with a freewheeling spirit as the hook line played in the background. It does cast a terrific spell.

What makes the song stand out is the use of the rock guitar. In the brilliant second interlude, Ehsaan plays a differently patterned solo, heard only in the songs of rock bands. The song became an all-time ode to road trips.

Dil Chahta Hai title track (2001).

‘Dil Chahta Hai’, the title song, established SEL as a brand of vocal harmony. One of the main reasons for those beautiful harmonies was the vocal arrangement that SEL did with Clinton Cerejo. Their way of using the chorus to refine and embellish the texture of a song lends an exceptional and distinctive edge to the SEL repository.

They had a group of five singers. While some of them sang in a melody, other voices were layered on top of that. These elements are complex but haunting and hitherto unknown in film songs. The musical bridges, in between the antaras of the songs, get a different texture with stacks of vocal harmony.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy used some of the most talented voices, inspired by the happenings in the Western musical scene. They thrived in the jingle-making industry, where producers were into experimental stuff. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s prolonged stint in the jingle-making industry got them acquainted with many who became a part of their music production in Bollywood films as well.

Ehsaan and Loy called up one such singer, Caralisa Monteiro, whom they knew very closely from their jingle-making days. She got an interesting brief when SEL were recording ‘Jaane Kyon’. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy didn’t even play the melody for her and just explained what was expected of her. When Loy gave her the brief, he wanted a spontaneous response.

The result was a great vocal motif interspersed in the main lyrics of the song, which brings a global feel to the song. The lyrics may sound like ‘abracadabra’, but the vocal harmony brings in a unique texture to the soundscape of the song.

This technique of not using any words in vocal singing is called ‘glossolalia’, where the singers utter words or speech-like sounds that fit in phonetically to the background. Caralisa had created a language of her own. When she finished singing, Loy gave an appreciative laugh, as that was exactly what they were looking for. That brief part lifted the song and made it global.

Jaane Kyon, Dil Chahta Hai (2001).

The popular duo, Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik, are potentially the most prominent link between the sound of the ’90s and that of the 2000s. In ‘Jaane Kyon’, Aamir Khan had suggested SEL to use Udit’s voice for him. While the song made a new age sound with an Australian instrument called didgeridoo, which had not been heard before in Hindi films, the interlude incorporated a strange and striking African chorus. Javed Akhtar’s predilection for using anaphora, consecutive sentences starting with the same words, came in handy to bring in the flavour of an old, Hindi conversational song.

‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahan’ took shape from a Celtic tune that the trio and Farhan were listening to in the in-car stereo while going to Lonavala. There have been instances where modern-day films paid tribute to yesteryear filmmaking through a song sequence. This song surely tops the list in that category.

The picturization of two lovers munching popcorn in a cinema hall and imagining themselves in the days of black-and-white films, along with the music, is a sheer delight to watch. The music had to be retro in its appeal to take one back to that groove where heroines would be gaping at the moon, singing and dancing on the shining cloudlets, with their satin sarees shimmering in the backlight.

The song spans over a long time: from club music in monochrome, to the imitation of the Titanic pose while standing at the edge of a cliff. The innovation comes in when instead of going desi in its instrumentation, SEL source elements from Scottish folksy tunes.

Woh Ladki Hai Kahan, Dil Chahta Hai (2001).

In the song, a guitar solo leads the way in old bluegrass mode. Then a lot of acoustic music comes in for small but significant passages, with a bagpiper phrase coming in the background where the dancers flutter their arms like birds flapping their wings. The rhythmic guitar riff keeps moving while fiddle, flute, piano and offbeat clapping wait to come in. The song sounds like old-fashioned Welsh country music. However, it also brings out the authentic high-energy, party atmosphere where along with Saif Ali Khan and Sonali Kulkarni other young lovers in the movie hall also had the pleasure of replicating the antics of their celluloid icons.

Excerpted with permission from Musical Maverick – The Authorized Biography of Shankar Mahadevan, Ashis Ghatak, Rupa Publications.