Ram Sings the Saigal Blues

New Delhi

If you think it is impossible to have a Punjabi song without the pulse of the dhol or the high-pitched call of the tumbi, listen to Ambarsariya, a song from Fukrey. Its sauntering strings and joyful accordion strains turn the typical Punjabi sound on its head. And yet, it has the unmistakable stamp of a Punjabi song. "I was tired of that old sound. Those Delhi kids (of Fukrey, a buddy flick set in the city) listen to music from Punjab as much as they listen to sounds from Birmingham. It had to represent who they are. So I decided to try something different," says music composer Ram Sampath of the song that was a last-minute addition to the movie's soundtrack.

Sampath's small oeuvre is marked by innovation, and his track record so far has been of an outsider who will not bend to the industry's whims. If he convinced Aamir Khan to accept 10 tracks for a single-song film (Delhi Belly), in 2008, he sued producers Rajesh and Rakesh Roshan for plagiarism. "I also married Sona (Mohapatra), who is five feet and ten inches tall," says 36-year-old Sampath, who is not exactly a towering figure, with a laugh. (He met the singer during a music show. Their first date had them singing to each other the whole night.)

Sampath's music can't be canned in neat little boxes of folk or contemporary. Delhi Belly was a wisecracking, witty soundtrack for a romp of a film. While the punk-rock track Bhaag DK Bose became a youth anthem for its naughty lyrics, the other songs showed his command over a slew of genres. (Saigal Blues sung by Chetan Shashital in the nasal style of KL Saigal was part-spoof, part-tribute to the sentimental love songs of old Bollywood.) For Talaash, he composed the background music and the contemplative Jee le zara, and is now a regular in Aamir Khan projects. But it is also true that nine out of 10 times, he is asked to compose only two or three songs in a film. "I get a three-song script and then I have to work to make it a six-song or an eight-song script," he says ruefully, when we meet him at his ninth floor apartment in Bandra.

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