Sibling composer duo Jatin-Lalit were responsible, along with AR Rahman, for reviving the fortunes of Hindi film music in the 1990s. The brothers composed for some of the biggest musical successes of that decade and the 2000s, including Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai¸ Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Hum Tum and Fanaa, before parting ways in 2006. Lalit Pandit, the younger of the brothers, looked back on the partnership, their experience of working with songwriters such as Majrooh Sultanpuri, and the changing role of the composer in contemporary Hindi cinema.
When you and your brother became composers in the early 1990s, Hindi film music was probably at its lowest. How do you look back at that phase?
It didn’t feel like there was going to be a major change because the kind of songs that were coming – from the likes of Laxmikant-Pyarelal or Bappi Lahiri – were for action films. They [LP] had already completed 30-35 years in the industry. This is a fine art, exhaustion had crept in. Songs had started to sound routine. And because the music that we create is film-based, we have to bear in mind the film’s requirement.
At that time, Mithun’s [Chakraborty] films were in great demand. Govinda also had a lot of releases. There were films being made where there wasn’t too much scope for melody. Directors were creating a trend where music wasn’t being given the importance that it deserved. So when we started, what we had in mind was to get the really good sound back.
Several older music composers took on work as it came. Did you plan to put quality over quantity in terms of the number of films that you signed?
In fact, very few people know this about Jatin-Lalit. But I would say that what the old composers were doing at that time was completely right. At that time when they worked, you could literally finish a song in five-six hours of recording because there was very little mixing to be done. There were technically many constraints. So you could do many films.
But things became different when we came in because we brought the multi-track system. We started recording in 24 tracks. The more the tracks, the more elaborate the mixing. When these senior composers were working, the singer would sing, it needed no balancing, you just recorded everything together and you were done with that song. It was possible to do hundreds of films at a time.
In our case, we were very careful. We would insist that a singer rehearse before singing in the studio, so all these things put a lot of pressure on time. We knew that because of this new multi-track system, we would be spending more time on making a song, which is the most important thing.
Every composer has a dream of wanting [to work with] all the directors, but we thought if we signed all the films, we would be doomed. It would adversely affect the film and the music. Eventually, that would harm us. So we decided we would do fewer films. That worked better for us because people remember us for our music. There is a quality tag attached to the Jatin-Lalit name.
How do you define a Jatin-Lalit song?
There is tremendous emphasis on the melody because a layman hums a song and then sings it. It’s not like he hums the orchestra. Orchestration is how you embellish a song, but the dulhan, the melody itself, must be attractive.
We also put a lot of emphasis on writing. We always worked with big writers. We worked with a few new writers, too, who were Jatin’s friends, but generally it was Majrooh Sultanpuri, Javed Akhtar and Anand Bakshi, whose work we were familiar with. There was great quality to their work. Right from the introduction to the end of the song, they would execute how the song sounds in totality.
A song will sound good only when you are clear in your mind about how the orchestration has to be done, what has to come where. In earlier songs, the guitar and the vibraphone used to play all through the song. We said, no, we will say play it here a certain number of times and then leave it. We paid great attention to the clarity of a song.
What made Majrooh Sultanpuri so special as a songwriter?
Majrooh sa’ab did not only write for us, but he was our guru. He taught us a lot.
I will tell you something about Majrooh sa’ab. My sister Sulakshana Pandit had worked with him a lot. When we were starting out, we didn’t know how to go about our work. She told us to connect with Majrooh sa’ab. Her literal words were, “He doesn’t have too much work and he has time on his hands.”
So Jatin and I went to meet him. He was very upset that nobody was giving him work any longer or enquiring after him. So why was it that we were approaching him? He was serious but in a playful way. We implored him to work with us. He melted. He knew our musical lineage, that we were from the Mewati gharana. He gave us tea. He could see that we had given him the respect that he deserved.
The very first film that he wrote for us, which was our first film too, was Yaara Dildaara (1991). Bin Tere Sanam is among the most remixed songs even today. A talented man remains talented no matter how much time goes by. He also wrote Tumhi Humaari Ho Manzil, another super hit song from that film. The film didn’t run at all, but the music is widely appreciated.
Majroohsa’ab was very happy and in a sense he became a part of our team from there. His guidance was crucial. He would tell us what to do, how to talk to producers, how to engage with directors. After that we did Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994) with him, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1992) too. The songs in both films were appreciated. We became a well-known combination.
We all believe that there has not been a better songwriter for Hindi films than [Anand] Bakshi sa’ab, but Majrooh sa’ab would embellish a song with style. He would write in such a way that it would become a scene for the director. And Majrooh sa’ab had a terrific sense of phonetics. He once told me that what I write is not difficult. But the sound that comes from my words for each song, that is the real challenge. Fortunately, in the little work that we have done with Majrooh sa’ab and Anand Bakshi sa’ab, some of their best work has been in our songs. When they wrote for us, their value once again appreciated. Majrooh sa’ab would say, “Now all the composers are chasing me. I can’t do so much work now.”
How did you and Jatin divide the music composing responsibilities?
Jatin is older than me by nine years. He plays the piano, the guitar very well. He also sings very well. He has a talent for writing. When I was learning music, I studied orchestration. I know the same musical instruments as my brother. We both learned music from the same guru, from Pyarelalji’s [the composer] father. We learnt to sing from our father, Pandit Pratap Narayan.
Every technical aspect, including orchestration, was my department. Sometimes I would make a song and sometimes he [Jatin] would compose a song. At times, I would give the entire music for a song. Jatin had more confidence in my balancing and orchestration. He would leave that to me completely.
Also, the younger directors would usually interact with me. And the older directors would interact with Jatin. I had fewer songs in the films by the older directors, but the younger directors easily aligned with me.
How has the composer’s role changed? Has it diminished?
I might sound a little cliched, but I think the composer’s presence has gone down drastically. The digitisation of music has diminished the respectability of the music director. A composer and a musician are two distinct entities. A composer thinks about a song, how it is to be picturised, the situation where it is must come, and many other nuances. A musician only puts together a song. The system today puts emphasis on digitisation, which has led to a situation where everyone who was a musician has become a composer.
If you go from here to Yash Raj [Studio], you will get 500 composers along the way. And each of these 500 composers is looking for work. It’s the law of supply and demand.
Is there a positive aspect to this digitisation of music?
The positive impact is that you may be a composer, I may be a composer. We are now both working on the same machine. So the sound advantage is there for all. The quality will remain the same. It is the concept, therefore, that matters. There are 50 ways of doing a song. Like Munni Badnaam Huyee is a concept. It sounds a certain way because of the concept.
There is tremendous clarity nowadays. It’s not like you are going to spend more money on your song and I am going to spend less money. That thing is gone. It’s the same thing that we are going to do, but now the key question is, how are we going to do it?
Has the classical base on which most of the earlier Hindi film songs were composed gone out totally in modern, contemporary film compositions? Are our songs now wholly sounding like Western imports?
This is correct. The music that has been widely appreciated is that which has been liked by audiences in the Indian hinterland. I have no problem if someone makes a Western song, but bring in one beautiful Indian thing so that it becomes a perfect mix. If you make the whole thing Western, it might work for some time, but then it won’t have the same longevity.
In any case in our country, if you go some distance, you enter a new state. The music changes. The language undergoes a change, diction changes. So if you forget the inherent strength of this musical diversity, then it will be difficult.
Another thing is that directors are creating situations where everything is loud and crass. Yet, even today, if you give a slow romantic song, it works. In fact, it gets more recognition because the audience has been deprived of such songs. Now you hardly have such songs.
Have you noticed any other song situations that are no longer found in Hindi cinema?
Many situations have come to an end. Javed Akhtar sa’ab told me that earlier, in the older film songs, the sad numbers used to become popular. Like in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, we had given Rooth Ke Humse Kabhi. The song had so much pathos. Now such situations no longer exist. You will struggle to tell me a truly memorable sad song from the last 15 years.
Even the cabaret song has become extinct. There are item numbers now. Also, you just don’t have female songs any more. Female playback singers complain that they get only a line or two to sing in a duet now. Another disappointing aspect is that the lip-sync song no longer exists. Songs now play in the background. When there is no lip-sync [on screen], a song does not catch on. The audience does not connect with a song that is playing in the background.
Further, sometimes there is dialogue in the midst of these background songs. And then they will play just one antara [verse] of the song. So how does the song reach you?
Is there an under-appreciated Jatin-Lalit soundtrack that you thought would do well but didn’t?
Frankly, I always had an instinctive feeling when we composed a good song. And invariably the song would go on to become very popular.
But we have many films for which we have given very good music, but those films didn’t do well at all. For instance, there was an HMV film Bada Din (1998). The film had the song Suno Zara Suno Zara. Javed sa’ab had written the songs.
One of our other films, which I count as one of my favourites, was Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya (2000). We had given very good music, but the film didn’t do well at all and the music went unnoticed. Yet another film was Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan (1999), directed by Mahesh Bhatt. One of my most favourite songs ever Mera Chaand Mujhe Aaya Hai Nazar is in that film. The song was written by Qateel Shifai.
The learning is that when you give very good music for a small film, you get more appreciation and more people acknowledge the film. On the other hand, if you give good music for a very big film that has a big star, people take the music for granted. And if you mess up the big film, you will be blamed for the film not doing well.
Jatin and you split at the peak of your fame and career, just after the tremendous success of Fanaa (2006). Any regrets?
Of course, there is great regret. And there should be because we never faced a low in our career. We might be the only duo who quit at the peak. And with Fanaa, you will see the correct combination of good melodies and songs that are very well produced.
We were doing Fanaa and we had decided midway itself that we would split after the film was made. Adi [Aditya Chopra, the producer] knew we were going to split. He was upset and he spoke to both of us. He was worried about whether we would be able to deliver Fanaa, but I promised him that Fanaa being the last music of Jatin-Lalit, I would personally want to see it right up there. I would see to it that Fanaa’s music would be the music of the year. And when I finished the final mix, we were both walking from the recording to his office. He candidly asked me, do you think this music will work. I told him this music has come from the heart and it will reach everybody’s hearts.