Mithoon, he of the hugely popular, slow-paced and weepy ballads, is composing all the songs and background score for the upcoming Shamshera, Karan Malhotra’s Ranbir Kapoor-starrer about 19th-century dacoits.

This is a surprising and welcome career high for Mithoon, since the movie is unlike anything he has worked on. “Shamshera is my first period film,” the 35-year-old composer told “All I can say right now is that Karan Malhotra has taken my life by storm.” He is also composing the soundtrack for Allah Ke Banday (2010) director Faruk Kabir’s Khuda Hafiz.

The kind of success Mithoon has had on the strength of composing singles is phenomenal. At 21, Mithoon (born Mithun Sharma) shot to fame with his first film, Bas Ek Pal, in 2006. The soundtrack included Pritam and Vivek Philip as composers. Mithoon’s title track and Tere Bin became chartbusters, as did his Aankhen Teri and Javeda Zindagi (from Anwar, in which Mithoon was one of two composers) in 2007.

Just as suddenly as he had arrived, Mithoon took a three-year break from Bollywood. Upon returning, he dropped one of the biggest Hindi film hits of the 2010s: Tum Hi Ho from Aashiqui 2 (2013). A series of successful love songs followed, making Mithoon Bollywood’s leading romantic composer. He has repeated his success in this genre in 2020 with Chal Ghar Chalein, sung by Arijit Singh for Mohit Suri’s February 7 release Malang. Excerpts from an interview.

How do you find new ways to compose for a romantic situation?
There are different ways you can experience love. In a long-distance relationship, what you miss is touch, so that’s what the song will be about. What makes one love song different from another is the core thought. Tum Hi Ho is saying something different from Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage Hum.

That’s why I want narration from directors, not because I am arrogant, but I am looking for the right seed of the song. During narration, a director might say something in passing from which the song can emerge. So for Malang, what defines the two characters is their wanderlust. But when they find each other, they want to go home. That’s Chal Ghar Chalein.

Chal Ghar Chalein, Malang (2020).

You also write the lyrics for your tunes. What control does that give you in your compositions?
When I write lyrics, I am working from an honest, impulsive place. I only react to the situation. I have been blessed to spend time with some great poets like Sayeed Quadri saab, Amitabh Verma, and Manoj Muntashir.

I started writing lyrics from Murder 2, actually. It was the song Ae Khuda, which was a deeply personal, spiritual experience, as that year I had become enamoured by the persona of Christ and the Bible. The main character had also drifted from god and then returned to him. That became the catalyst for my thoughts.

How do you accommodate the practical need of sticking to a brief while writing lyrics or making tunes?
The director is always important to me, not just as the ultimate authority on a film, but also because he’s the main storyteller. I often write for characters I don’t relate to, but that’s my job – to enhance the storytelling. I have no way of knowing the film and its characters the way a director knows them.

So for Kabir Singh, I’d written, “Tere saath ho jayenge khatam, tujhe kitna chahne lage hum.” I became concerned somewhere that khatam was too strong and volatile a word for such a pleasant, soft tune, but Sandeep Reddy assured me that for Kabir, love is a life-and-death matter and so the lyrics are fine.

As long as the suggestions are creative, I listen to them. I don’t entertain any kind of corporate interference. I don’t believe in trends and marketing strategies. Considering the records my songs have broken, I don’t think my connect with the listener can be challenged.

Aankhen Teri (unplugged) by Mithoon.

You are the grandson of Ram Prasad Sharma, the son of music arranger Naresh Sharma and nephew of Pyarelal Sharma (Laxmikant-Pyarelal). You had back-to-back hits right at the start of your career. Have you had it easy?
I did not have a struggle in that sense, but what I had was more of a creative struggle. My father always told me that he could teach me how to make my music, but I would have to find my own opinion or message. Without having anything to say through your music, you cannot make the world a better place.

Tere Bin, Javeda Zindagi, these songs I composed when I was 19. So the struggle was experiencing those emotions at that age, putting myself in imaginary situations. A composer’s job has a lot to do with imagination.

Think about it – you are creating something out of nothing. You travel through unknown routes in your head to reach a tune. We are grateful for the singers who come and render our tunes, but people should make an effort to understand the paths and alleys we tread to bring those melodies out in the first place.

You don’t do reality shows. You don’t do many live shows either. You have earlier said that you have strong opinions on things. For example, on receiving criticism for the music of ‘Aggar’ (2007), you vanished for three years.
My opinions come out of my life experience. We all breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, but what makes us worth living is that we can add something intellectually and emotionally to the world, that we can learn from our mistakes and get better.

But ‘Aggar’ isn’t even that bad an album.
Right, but it wasn’t a case of me being unhappy with the product, but the technique with which I made the soundtrack.

I became successful at a very young age. I thought I’d figured how to make a hit – which chord or which groove will work. The Aggar soundtrack had a lack of honesty. Knowledge had taken over my honesty, and I took a break to go back to what my father had said, which is that your music should have your own voice.

My job is not just making a good tune but having an original voice in it. So I returned advances for many films and spent time gathering myself as a musician.

Woh Ajnabee, The Train (2007).

Was making a career out of singles rather than complete soundtracks a conscious decision?
No. I simply responded to what was asked of me. When Onir came to me with Bas Ek Pal, Pritam and Vivek Philip had already done their bits, and I was asked to do two songs. Likewise for Kabir Singh. For Shamshera, Karan was very clear that he wants me to do the entire OST.

This is nothing I choose or insist on. I only respond to the director’s belief in me.

Why did the trend of multi-composer albums shoot up?
I honestly have no idea.

Five of your songs you recommend to our readers?
Yeh Kasoor from Jism 2, Tere Naal Ishqa from Shivaay, O Saathi from Shab, Hum Na Rahein from Creature 3D, and Kuch Dard Mujhe from my non-film album Tuhi Meri Rab Ki Tarah Hai.

O Saathi, Shab (2017).