Macho gangsters prowling about in slow motion aren’t the only characters in Sanjay Gupta’s latest movie Mumbai Saga, which is out on Amazon Prime Video. The action drama’s unseen hero is Amar Mohile, the music composer whose steroid-charged background score is in nearly every scene.
The brief appears to have been to make the music match John Abraham’s punches as closely as possible. In this regard, the background score specialist certainly delivers.
Mohile has been providing alarm-bell scores for Hindi films since the early 2000s. Among his frequent collaborators are Ram Gopal Varma, Sanjay Gupta and Rohit Shetty. In the Sarkar and Singham series, Chennai Express, Simmba, Shootout at Wadala and Jazbaa, every twitch of the eyebrow or gnash of the teeth appears to have been accompanied by a 100-piece orchestra. Like his contemporary Julius Packiam, Mohile specialises in action dramas and has a recognisable sonic signature comprising stacked orchestras, heavy guitar riffs and blaring horns.
Mohile owes his rise to Ram Gopal Varma. Until the 2000s, Varma’s films about gangsters and ghouls had some measure of quietude. But following Sandeep Chowta’s seminal score for Satya (1998), Varma became obsessed with punctuating every scene with an exaggerated soundscape. The baton passed from Chowta to Mohile, and the decibel levels of the background music shot up.
Mohile’s best work with Varma is in Sarkar (2005). The ever-present and oh-so-ominous flute, strings, and percussion mesh perfectly with the fantastic Govinda Govinda song, composed by Bapi-Tutul. Mohile’s compositions for Varma’s action and horror movies found echoes in his later work in Ragini MMS 2 and 1920: Evil Returns.
Mohile’s scores for Varma’s films soon became formulaic. If you closed your eyes, your ears could not tell you whether you were in the underbelly or amidst the undead. Varma’s Nishabd stars Amitabh Bachchan as a contemplative protagonist who has feelings for a much younger woman. Mohile’s score makes the film sound like Bhoot or Company.
In the hands of a director with some appreciation for nuance, Mohile can be different. Sriram Raghavan’s Ek Hasina Thi has a more textured and psychologically involving score. Mohile’s title track for the crime thriller is an earworm. This, and Zindagi Nahi Nahi from Varma’s Naach, are two of Mohile’s best tunes.
Mohile has worked across genres, but he is at his loudest best in action movies. Rohit Shetty’s Singham and Simmba focus on superhuman protagonists, which allows for recognisable thematic music.
In Singham, the theme tune comes early in a scene in which Ajay Devgn’s titular hero is beating up the bad guys. It returns only in a pre-interval moment, when Singham has returned to beast mode. Mohile’s work in Shetty’s comedy Chennai Express similarly has an evocative theme track for the lead couple’s romance, proving that all is well so long as the melody works.