When Pritam Chakraborty announced a sabbatical on his Facebook profile on August 8 after the release of Jab Harry Met Sejal, the 46-year-old Hindi film composer’s fanbase began to grieve all over the internet.

Working on the 29 songs of Jagga Jasoos and the 13-song album Jab Harry Met Sejal had left the hit machine stressed and sleep-deprived. “Will see you in a year or year and a half with some new films,” he had written. But he was misinterpreted, Pritam told Scroll.in. What he meant was that he had decided long ago that he wouldn’t be signing any film till the release of Jab Harry Met Sejal or Jagga Jasoos, whichever released later. “I said that I will take a very short break that can be 15 days, a month or two months, and whichever film I sign will come out after one year or a year and a half later, not before that.”

Where once he used to work on 18 films at a time, Pritam now chooses his projects efficiently. In 2017, he had three releases, Tubelight, Jagga Jasoos and Jab Harry Met Sejal. The year before that, he had four, two of which (Dangal and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) had many chart-busters. How does he choose films now? “Is the script musical?” or “Does the basic premise have scope for music?”

But often, the script may not have the scope for a lot of songs but is too good to ignore. For example, Dangal. Sometimes, Pritam does a film because it’s being made by a friend, such as Kabir Khan’s Tubelight, even though he knew that he wouldn’t be able to make “Salman Khan type music” that would make his fans happy.

Selfie Le Le Re, Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015).

However, Pritam has also rejected projects because of lack of time, such as Advait Chandan’s October release Secret Superstar. “When he [Chandan] narrated the film, I was crying as the script was just brilliant, but I genuinely didn’t have any time,” Pritam said. “I said no and I was very sad about it.” He highly approves of his replacement, Amit Trivedi, and the film’s lyricist Kausar Munir. “I feel Amit will be able to do justice and Kausar is the mother of a daughter. It’s an amazing combination,” he said. Secret Superstar stars Zaira Wasim as a young girl who battles familial pressures to succeed in her quest to become a singer.

Critics and audiences alike were not kind to Pritam’s last release, Jab Harry Met Sejal, but its soundtrack received acclaim. A new batch of songs (Ghar, Parinda, Yaadon Mein), which were not promoted before the film’s release, charmed listeners for their quaint and sombre nature when compared to the market-friendly, bombastic sound of the lead singles. When it comes to a Pritam soundtrack, under-promoted songs often become a rage after the film’s release: Dangals Naina, Barfi!s Kyon, and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewanis Illahi.

Alizeh, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016).

While these songs maybe some of Pritam’s personal favourites (he holds Alizeh from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil close to his heart), their lack of promotion do not affect him. “They are not promoted as they should be but this is a decision taken by the music company,” Pritam said, “I remember a lot of Life in a… Metro, Jab We Met and Cocktails songs that were not promoted before the release but somehow they caught on later. That’s the game we have to give into.”

In fact, Pritam believes that his favourite song from his albums is most likely to not get promoted.

When asked about Arijit Singh, the voice of some of his best compositions till date, he attributes the singer’s success to his “perfect thinking mind”. But he agrees that Singh gets trapped into singing mediocre songs often, and that he is overused. Mumbai’s directors and producers think otherwise. They argue that even Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar were omnipresent in music albums in their time, Pritam said.

Ullu Ka Pattha, Jagga Jasoos (2017).

That Pritam works till the last minute on his soundtracks is not news anymore. Does that create delays in the production of the complete soundtrack, resulting in a bunch of songs gaining traction after the release? Not exactly, according to Pritam.

“I don’t delay beyond the record company’s deadline,” he said, “I always follow the deadline. My pattern is that I give a mastered copy on the deadline, and then I replace it, I keep upgrading it.”

For instance, the first batch of cassettes and CDs of Life in a… Metro released in east India were mastered differently from the second batch distributed in north and west India.

“You won’t understand the difference so much, but the improvement in mixing and mastering affect you on a subconscious level,” Pritam said. He cited Butterfly from Jab Harry Met Sejal as an example. The version used in the film has been mastered with a tumbi track, which is absent in the final copy available online on digital streaming platforms.

Pritam has been doing last-minute tweaks from the beginning of his career. If a particular song captured his interest, he kept working on it till it satisfied him. The orchestration of Love Aaj Kals Chor Bazaari was such that while shooting, it was a dholak-duff type track, but the final version was a hip-hop dance number. Likewise, he increased the tempo of Zara Zara Touch Me from Race by three to four times after shooting had been completed. (“I don’t know how Muhammad bhai, the editor matched the lip sync.”) He did the same with Dhoom’s title track.

Dhoom Machale, Dhoom (2004).

But Pritam believes that most people cannot distinguish between two differently mastered copies of a song. Three factors make a song a hit, according to him: the lyrics, the singing and the composition. The rest (mastering, orchestration, tempo change, mixing) decide how quickly a song will be a hit.

Elaborating on his working process, Pritam said that he always has multiple ideas for a single song, and extensive back-and-forth conversations with the director and his team results in multiple mixes until he zeroes in on a single version. But he wishes to be like his frequent collaborator, lyricist and singer Amitabh Bhattacharya. “He generally works alone, picks up one direction on a germ level, and keeps working at it with all the effort and attention,” Pritam said.

The composer is now passing on all the skills and tricks that he has learned over two decades to the young composers and producers of his project JAM8. The ensemble composed Raeess Zaalima and almost the entire soundtrack of Raabta alongside Pritam. “I had planned something like JAM8 back in 2009 but everybody kept asking me, ‘Why are you creating your own competition?’,” he said, “No one looked at it positively.”

Pritam’s original idea was to be a music manager for JAM8, whose various members would create original soundtracks for films like in Hollywood. JAM8 finally materialised in 2015, and today, “it is functioning damn well”.

Pritam hopes that it will take a year for JAM8 to make its presence felt in the industry. “Frankly, I want JAM8 to be an autonomous system,” he said. “I want to put all my heart, soul and thoughts into it, but it should be self-dependent. It should create its own formulas, and if it does well and runs by itself, I will very proud of it.”

Raabta, Agent Vinod (2012).