The Sound Of Sacred Games – In Conversation With Alokananda Dasgupta

Films & Frames had a chance to talk to Alokananda Dasgupta, a music composer. Her work can be found in films such as Fandry, Trapped and series such as Sacred Games & Leila. With just over a month since the release of the 2nd season of Sacred Games, I thought it would be nice to get her take on the show’s music. And also, I would like to learn a little bit about her and her music. So, let’s see what she had to say.

F&F: Hello ma’am I want to begin by asking you what music have you been listening to recently?

AD: Hmm my husband introduced me to this Mongolian band called The HU and that is what I’ve been tripping on lately.

F&F: Any Indian music?

AD: I can’t really think of anything new but I still listen to music from the 90s, 80s and especially the 60s.

F&F: Does the music from those eras have an influence on the score of Sacred Games?

AD: It definitely does but it is hard to pinpoint where you can see the influence of a particular piece of music. I think it’s a culmination of all the education that I’ve had in my life. I even studied classical piano and I could say that I’ve not used it in my orchestration. But somewhere it all comes together. All the music that I listen to and have learnt plays a part in my process. Inspiration is an ongoing process that keeps me creating. The day I stop getting inspired is when I won’t be making music.

F&F: With multiple directors on Sacred Games, do they tell you what kind of music they want or do they let you be?

AD: The biggest advantage for me is that I got inputs only from Vikramaditya Motwane. He was a director & showrunner in season 1 and the showrunner in season 2. This really helped me because I was getting inputs only from one person. He is very intelligent and sensitive when it comes to music and background score. Vikram is very specific about what he wants. He helps bring context to the music with regards to the narrative. I did get certain inputs but I was generally left to experiment.

F&F: And did you specifically try to differentiate between the different eras of the show?

AD: I wouldn’t say between the different eras, it was more down to the world that Sartaj and Gaitonde exist in. The world of Gaitonde is much more caricature-ish, there is more scope to invent and experiment with the score. Sartaj carries the story forward and he needed a score that was more rooted. Whereas, there was a way to be quirky with Gaitonde. I like to use version of the same theme to remind the audience of a previous scene. This is a common technique with the background score and that’s one area where I focused on.

F&F: In the beginning of your career you worked with Amit Trivedi, how was that experience?

AD: He is someone whose music I admire a lot. Having only studied Western Classical music, I didn’t see how I would fit into the cinematic world. And I felt that Indian cinema didn’t really have a history of background score apart from Satyajit Ray and certain Ilaiyaraja films. But when I saw Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar break through at the same time experimenting with new sounds, and they didn’t really care about the conventions. They did what they wanted to and that became popular. When I heard their work, it was something that I could identify with. Listening to Amit’s work in Aamir with songs such as Ha Raham, I identified with it. Working with him made me believe that I could belong here and that was great.

F&F: Ma’am is there any one film that you’ve worked on and feel that more people should see ?

AD: Well there is one called Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, it was made by my father (Buddhadev Dasgupta). Due to certain complications, it never saw the light of day. I think its an incredible piece of cinema and quite different from what my father generally makes. It’s a new-age, quirky dark comedy with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in it. I really wish it would get a release and I’m planning on putting a screening together in Mumbai.  I haven’t given up on it and hope to make people watch it.

F&F: I don’t want to ask the cliched question but is there a difference between the way people approach a male and female composer?

AD: These boundaries are not in my head and perhaps that’s due to the way I was raised. You have to be able to get the work done and that might require you to be bossy at some points. When I started out as with any industry, there were differences. I think due to the sheer number of men in the industry, here it stands out more . There is a bias against women that they do not know the technical side of things or the way the industry works. People had a problem in taking me seriously, but I never had a problem with that. There was a bias in the beginning but now not so much. There are always overtones and undertones that you come across. It is omnipresent but there are no patterns to the way it works. You just do what you need to do.

F&F: You’ve mentioned Garden State as being one of your favorite soundtracks, if you were to make a mix-tape, what songs would you include?

AD: Oh, this is something that I would love to do. Of course, it depends on the film but I’d have this one called Dynamite by Cliff Richard. I think its quite bizarre for the era it was made in. I would use Song to the Siren by Tim Buckley. I would use a lot of Massive Attack with songs like Karmacoma. And I would have this one from (Satyajit) Ray’s Sonar Kella where a Rajasthani woman sings a folk song. It is a beautiful song.

F&F: Is there any particular feature you look for in a script?

AD: I’m not excellent at visualizing but I can do it to an extent. So I should be able to visualize it and more than anything else, the story, treatment and even music has to be interesting. Also its very important as to who is offering me the script. I would look for people are sensible and sensitive.

F&F: Is there any music that you listened to recently which impacted you?

AD: I can’t really think of a film but there are some mind-blowing shows such as Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Fargo and True Detective.

F&F: And ma’am when you watch something, are you able to separate yourself from the composer and not analyze the music?

AD: Well, you have to do that but subconsciously I think there’s a part of me that looks at it from an analytical point of view.

F&F: AR Rahman put a tweet out where he congratulated you on the score of Sacred Games. What did you think of that and did you know anything about it?

AD: No I was actually sleeping and since I’m not very active on social media, I wasn’t aware of this. So, people like Neeraj Ghaywan, Kubbra Sait and some of the actors were trying to wake me up. And when I saw it, it felt really good and it was an honor for me. I’ve always looked up to his music and analyzed it so to get his appreciation meant a lot.

F&F: And would that only be the Hindi songs?

AD: I listened to all the songs that he did. My introduction was through the Tamil films and only then I got to hear the Hindi version of it. There are so many songs that I love of his such as Khili Chandni Hame from Indira. All such songs, I’ve heard both the versions. My sister had a lot of Tamil friends so I got introduced to it that way.

F&F: Is there any composer whose work you look forward to apart from AR Rahman and Amit Trivedi?

AD: Sneha Khanwalkar

F&F: You’ve mentioned The HU earlier, is there any other artist you would recommend to people?

AD: I would say Trent Reznor and also Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. In India, M.M. Kreem (Keeravani), I’ve always loved his sense of melody and its the same with Ajay-Atul as well.

F&F: What are the projects you are working on now ?

AD: I’m doing Sudhir Mishra’s A Serious Man and also Rome Rome Mein by Tannishtha Chatterjee.

F&F: And finally ma’am, what can you tell us about Season 3 of Sacred Games?

AD: It should happen but there hasn’t been any official confirmation yet to me.

Thank you ma’am it was great talking to you. And I hope that all of you that read till the end liked it.

Until next time, bye.

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