It is popular perception in indie music circles, that Bollywood music caters to an audience that would rather not care about the music they are listening to. This audience, it is believed, is happy with unimaginative sounds, shady lyrics and done to death beats. With the wholehearted welcome that independent artists have received from this audience, these generalisations about them have been proved wrong. Time and again, it has been proven that they don’t need their music to be dumbed down for it to appeal to the masses. After all this time, Bollywood has finally begun to pay heed to the demands of the audience and scoring their movies with greater care.
The latest in a string of indie music success stories are electronic music duo OAFF and Savera, who have scored and produced tracks for the OTT release Gehraaiyaan, that has been ruling the Bollywood conversation for the last month. Since we’re not a movie review platform, we’ll not go into the details of the movie, but we will mention the praise that the music has gotten from every faction of the audience. From mainstream listeners to niche tastemakers, Gehraiyaan’s music has been appreciated for its coherence with the storyline and contribution to the ‘vibe’ of a modern age story of toxic love.
OAFF aka Kabeer Kathpalia and Savera have been collaborators since their school days. In fact, the duo has had quite an experience within the music industry, before reaching the proverbial Bollywood mark. Kabeer’s formative years were spent in a household where music an integral part of day-to-day activities. He was exposed to Ravi Shankar, Philip Glass, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jazz and even Western Classical music by way of his parents and grandparents. Like most of us, he started a band in school where he first played guitar. What started out as a submission to a fad, became a serious passion with deep dives into music theory. Kabeer is one of the earlier crop of producers who learnt the craft on GarageBand. Once he got the hang of that, there was no looking back. After college, he shifted to Bombay and started making music for ads to make ends meet, but also to grow and to learn. Together with Savera, he found tremendous success in the ad world, learning valuable lessons about communicating the message within a short period of 30 seconds and making connections with directors and artists that would help him creatively expand his horizons.
After this long, scenic route of their own carving, that they have taken to break into Bollywood, they are still reeling from what has been dubbed as ‘making it in Bollywood’. On being asked about this milestone success, one thing that comes through ample is the gratitude that they have for being in the right place at the right time but also for their hardworking reaping rewards. He says, “I think that definitely we feel grateful that we got this opportunity to work on this. Milestone or not, it’s not for me to say, people have been saying kind things about it”
Critically speaking, Gehraiyaan managed to captured the attention of the audience because it aptly fills a lacuna that has largely been ignored by mainstream and indie artists – easy to listen to music that is upbeat without being vulgar. For the large part, the movie was going for a vibe which the music by OAFF and Savera just clicked with. OAFF calls it ‘Neo-Classical’ music with generous use of pianos and synths to create a world where organic sounds meet with melodic pads.
The concept of elaborately planned background scores and using music to advance the story is relatively new to Bollywood, gaining prominence in the last two decades or so. With the growing penetration of OTT in the Indian market, directors are able to find a larger field to experiment which is perhaps leading to new opportunities for producers to enter into the haloed halls of Bollywood music. Ankur Tewari, who consulted as a music supervisor for Gehraiyaan, are also instrumental is making it inclusive towards new talent. Apart from music by OAFF and Savera, Gehraiyaan also features tracks from other independent electronic music artists like Okedo, CHRMS and Sickflip. Even for OAFF the next foray into OTT is a track (Durr, where he has collaborated with Kamakshi Khanna) that he’s licensed to Netflix’s The Fame Game. He is quick to point out that licensing for OTT is a huge opportunity for upcoming producers now and it is important to get your music out there for it to be picked up.
Reading OAFF and Savera’s story, one can’t help but dream to have their music playing in houses across the country. If you think that one needs fancy gear and lavish setups to achieve that, OAFF is here to quash that misconception. He shares freely that most of the music for Gehraiyaan was made in the box (on a laptop) with a few synths here and there. Before Gehraiyaan, he used to make music at his home setup, in the box and with one hardware synth (KORG Minilogue) that he used once in a while. He says, “It is about learning how to use those things and being creative with it and making it your own. So I’m not too fussy about the instruments that we have, as long as there’s a good space, an inspiring space to work with and to record vocals. Otherwise, it’s all inside the computer with things that we use and like experimenting with sounds”. He stresses on the importance of constraints for creativity to be shaped into creation.
He also stresses it is important to get the ideas out quickly and get into the flow. Once the ideas are out, they can be built on based on what the end goal of the music being made is. For instance, for the Gehraiyaan background score, they hired a studio in Mumbai and worked out of it for 2 months, which involved a lot of back and forth with Shakun Batra and the team based on the edit of the movie. The ideas were there, they just needed to give them direction based on where the story was going. To cap it all, OAFF has wise words for upcoming producers.
“Don’t ever feel like you don’t have enough setup. If you have your basic things, and you know how to use them you can do a lot. There are already lots of plugins which you can get for free and mess around with and create great music. I think music depends as much on your tools, as much as just your understanding and construction.
Second advice would be that, for me to reach here, I remember every song that I did, I was very specific about how I wanted to release it, I will try and invest as much of my own money that I could that I made from advertising or making music or other things into my music. And I would try and make music that I was happy with trying to get mixed and mastered from the best people so that it sounds to make the point where I’m constantly investing in myself, whatever I could. And so I think the moral of that story is that you need to have faith in yourself. You have got to be your biggest cheerleaders”
It is heartening to hear how grounded OAFF is and how much he has learnt from his journey. Within independent circles, we often see the narrative of community support and while that is indispensable, it is important to remember that no-one is likely to support you if you don’t have faith in yourself. With such a firm footing and soulful music for Gehraiyaan, we can’t wait to see what OAFF and Savera bring us in the future!