How Pritam had to swallow bitter pills before ‘Barfi’

Today’s most saleable and ‘hit’ composer, Pritam aka Pritam Chakraborty is an amalgam of softness and humility. Content with where he has reached, and finally taking a much-deserved break with his family (wife, son and daughter) after a decade of hectic work and 110-plus films, he narrates his fascinating journey from Kolkata to Mumbai via Pune.

barfi

The Unfulfilled Dream

The young Pritam was a part of various bands, playing Bengali and rock music with the guitar as his instrument. His father, Prabodh Chakraborty, an insurance officer, would also teach light music on western instruments to young kids for a nominal fee, till an accident forced him to quit his job and concentrate on the meager earnings from his music school.

Nevertheless, when his only son Pritam (the composer has an elder sister) wanted to become a composer in Hindi films, he opposed the idea because of the uncertainties of that profession. Pritam, by then a geology graduate, went into his Masters in Science but soon got bored and quit after his first year in college.

Not willing to defy his father, he decided on the next best thing – Sound Engineering and Recording – as a profession, so that he could at least record songs. But this too did not happen as easily as it sounds.

“I was confused,” admits the composer. “I started looking up every possible ad in the newspaper for all kinds of courses across various disciplines. Entrance exams were held in Kolkata for many courses. On the same day,  besides other entrance exams, a Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune’s course for Sound Engineering was also scheduled. Till the last moment, I was in a dilemma which course to choose. As it happened, the bus that went to the FTII examination venue came first! So I boarded it (maybe I secretly wanted that).”

At home, Pritam assuaged his father’s doubts by telling him  that he was joining an ‘engineering course’. Which was technically not a lie, considering the course was sound engineering. “Till the middle of the second year of the 3-year course, my father supported me, but after that I became self-reliant as work began to come in!” he says.

Pritam soon began to assist the Music Head of FTII in his work and also composed songs for his friends in the institute who were making diploma films. A friend introduced him to someone from Mumbai and he began getting work in the world of ads and television. “I was also exposed to music from around the world when different musicians visited the institute,” he recalls.

After graduating, Pritam become busy with work helping more colleagues in their film projects. He struck up a friendship with filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, who also introduced him to several other filmmakers. Hirani was editing TV serials then, and would recommend Pritam for the music and title-tracks.

Partnership gone sour

Says Pritam, “I was living in a humble suburb, and in the same building lived Jeet (Gannguly), who was also struggling. We used to jam in our spare time and decided to come together for films, though I always did my ad films and serials solo.”

The first break came when Rajkumar Hirani introduced him to Sanjay Gadhvi who was making his debut with a small film named Tere Liye (2001). “Abbas Tyrewala was the writer and lyricist, and we were all newcomers. But the film did not work at the box-office. However, Gadhvi was soon signed by Yash Raj Films for Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai, and my song ‘Sharara’ became very popular.”

At that point of time, Jeet and Pritam could only get a small movie (their third film) starring Arya Babbar, ‘Mudda-The Issue’. “Jeet had taken ill, so when Hirani came and offered us Munna Bhai MBBS, we could not accept it,” recalls the composer. Soon after, over some misunderstanding, Jeet decided to split and the two partners went their separate ways.

“By this time, I knew that making music was what I  always wanted to do,” says Pritam, whose sound, due to his basic training, is usually immaculate unless he has to kowtow to the wishes of decision-makers.

The Big Break

Well-aware of their individual work, Yash and Aditya Chopra signed Sanjay Gadhvi and Pritam for ‘Dhoom’ in 2003, but Pritam’s first solo releases were two small films that went nowhere musically – ‘Funtoosh – Dudes In The 10th Century’ and ‘Agnipankh’.

However, the title-track of Dhoom in two versions – Hindi (by Sunidhi Chauhan) and English (by Tata Young) — broke geographic barriers becoming popular in pubs in the UK, USA and the Far East. The film became a blockbuster with some more hit numbers, and Pritam began his gradual but confident journey to the top.

The Youngest Godfather

Soft-spoken to the core, Pritam believes in encouraging new talents, probably a hereditary trait from his music-teacher father. Usually flooded with work for most of his 10-year stint, he needed a team of youngsters to assist him, write dummy lyrics, record and sing scratches and work with him on production and by default and design both. He thus emerged as a godfather to many.

“So many of my assistants are now doing fine in whatever field they have chosen. Ashiesh Singh is a lyricist and so is Mayur Puri; Sachin and Jigar are a team of composers. Amitabh Bhattacharya came here to turn singer and would sing for me, but is now a National Award-winning top lyricist. Arijit Singh, also my assistant, is the biggest thing in playback in the last five years,” says the composer with pride. There are some other names too who are working to make a mark.

Early on, Pritam decided to go the way of mass-friendly composers rather than acquiring a branding of someone who craved for awards. “If the basic tune I get is good, I try and improve it within its framework but never calculate to get something extraordinary,” he says, agreeing with a smile that, “Simple things are the most difficult to create,” and that he would rather have his songs sung by “everyone and for ever” than by a select group.

After all, when destiny takes a hand in shaping your dreams, it is the fulfillment of that dream that is more important. Making music for millions to listen and hum along is what Pritam wants the most. And awards are just the icing on the cake, which he thoroughly enjoyed when ‘Barfi’ swept all the awards in 2012!

About the author

Rajiv Vijayakar is a veteran film journalist based in Mumbai.