Veer-Zaara

Veer-Zaara for me was the realization of a dream that I could never believe would ever come true.

When my father, the late composer Madan Mohan, passed away in 1975, he was only 51 years old. A lot of music still to be created, a lot of tunes yet to be shared with the world, a lot yet to be achieved!

He was widely acknowledged as a great composer but big banners, films with big stars and popular awards always eluded him, and in fact this hurt him deeply.

As a young teenager, after his untimely demise, I found various spool tapes with some unused compositions in his voice. Some were alternate tunes he had made for a film, which remained unused, some were just tunes he had hummed and saved up to be used in the future. I heard and relished a few and kept the tapes away safely.

In the same year he was nominated for the Filmfare Award for "Mausam". And I prayed that at least he get this award posthumously. But he lost to "Kabhi Kabhie", a Yash Chopra film!

However, I continued to fantasize that one day his unused compositions would be used in a big film with a top director, and the top stars of the day, and with Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini dancing to them - that his songs would be on the top of the charts again, and that he would win a popular award for the first time.

But as the eldest son, I had to take the responsibility of the house and proceed for further studies. There was no time or opportunity to learn or dabble in music. But I could of course dream that sometime later these tunes would be used, maybe in a Yash Chopra film that would get him a posthumous award!

The tapes remained safely kept away, though, over the years, they were suffering damage and with technological developments, they would soon be obsolete.

I was busy with my jobs in Polydor and HMV, producing and managing albums for the top artistes of India as well as discovering new talent and somewhere my fantasy remained just that.

During my stint with HMV I had the good fortune of meeting Yashji and soon, as fate would have it, I was working with him.

We started a television company together and produced a program 'Meri Awaz Suno', a talent show for new playback singers.

While producing this show, I once again realized that my father was so respected even more than two decades later. All aspiring singers sang his old melodies, all judges on the show talked of his talent and 'if only' he had composed more!

This thought nudged me again from time to time.

In 2000, I became the CEO of Yash Raj Films, where 2-3 films a year were being produced. But I never allowed the thought of my father's tunes to enter my mind as I had a lot to achieve in my new assignment and needed a single focus. In these years I also discovered that there was an instinctive (though untrained and raw) composer in me, but I kept shutting him out!

In 2003, one day Yashji told me that after 6 years he had decided to direct another film, but a film that needed old world music that was away from the western influences that had crept into the scene today - music based on ethnic sounds, music that had a strong melody line with acoustic instruments - music like that of the 60s and 70s - music like that of Heer Ranjha and Laila Majnu.

Yashji further added that he had sittings with various composers of today, but was missing that old melodic charm, as each of them had synthesized their tunes to a large extent to suit the changing tastes of today's young listeners, who were now in the throes of a full-blown western culture influence - night clubs, grooves, and remixes.

He was in a dilemma!

Instinctively, I blurted that I had some old world melodies on tape, now not heard for 28 years, and would he like to hear them? He seemed excited at the idea and very surprised that I had never mentioned this before. His son, Aditya Chopra was scripting the new film. Adi was a man of today and needed commercially acceptable songs. There was no place for nostalgia and emotions here. Only Yashji and Adi knew what they needed. I didn't.

I was told to go and hear as many of the tapes I could, and to play some selected tunes to them.

I spent almost a month, going back at first to the 2-3 cassettes I originally had (thank God they were undamaged!) and in that itself I loved 3-4 songs that I knew would work even today. When Yashji and Adi heard them, they reacted very positively, but they still wanted to hear them on dummy tracks with 2-3 musicians, as they were very old recordings with feeble sound, often almost inaudible.

I got together a team of 3 musicians and we recorded 30 dummies - largely from the 3 cassettes and a few from the spools (it would take me months to hear all the spools, and I still had my responsibilities as CEO - so there was no time for all this except late nights and Sundays!). I personally wrote dummy lyrics to the tracks and got 3 young singers to sing them. The songs were now 'presentable' as we did a few arrangements on them - all instinctive and with the help of one of the musicians, R. S. Mani, with whom I had worked often before on miscellaneous albums I had produced.

This was the most difficult and exciting three-month period. All through my career, I had been passing judgement on singers and composers as a powerful A&R person and album producer. And now my father and I were on test - my respected father was on test again, as it was important to hear if his melodies were relevant in today's times!

I remember the day Yashji and Adi heard the 30 dummy tracks. I was extremely nervous - not for myself, but for the fear of rejection of my father. Did I need to bring him to this possibility, and belittle him, now, 28 years after he was an acknowledged legend? And more so, as I was groping in the dark. I didn't know what they were looking for. I didn't know the background of the film at all!

I guess they liked what they heard - and told me they had found what they were looking for. In a few days, they had selected 10 out of the 30 songs and assigned them to situations they had in their screenplay!

I was overwhelmed. And I still had so many unheard tapes. But I was told that they had what they wanted.

Then came the biggest dilemma. Who would execute these recordings? We would have to get a big name composer and arranger to embellish the melodies with suitable arrangements for the film. This was something I had no experience in.

Various top composers names were suggested to me by some well-wishers. As I listed out the probables, Yashji and Adi informed me that they wanted the sounds and arrangements of the dummy tracks - and only I should recreate these melodies with the three-member team that made the tracks with me.

It was unbelievable! Such a big film's score, with the biggest producer and director of India and with the biggest star cast assembled in recent years - all on my slender shoulders!

R. S. Mani, originally a programmer and keyboard player, became the first time arranger of such a big musical! Two complete novices in this area - Mani and I. Completely unheard of!

I heard a few more tapes to get some more melodies as interludes in some of the songs. I found even better melodies than the ones selected but Yashji and Adi didn't want to hear anymore as their minds were made up. I used some of these as interludes. And while hearing these tapes, I could even hear myself as a two-year toddler, in my father's lap, making sounds, as he tried to compose 45 years ago. It was a very emotional journey.

The initial euphoria soon gave way to severe pangs of apprehension.

It was going to be a tightrope walk between the 'old world' and 'modern world!' My father's admirers and fans would crucify me if the sound was 'too modern!' The youngsters would never accept these songs if they felt they were 'old' melodies. It is not very exciting to a young kid of today if he is told that some of these compositions were 50 years old. He would just write off the idea and concept before giving it a chance.

At the same time, it had to sound modern and 'today', without taking away any of the essence of the tunes.

Yashji and Adi gave me complete freedom to make my own team. Apart from Mani, a wonderful team of Vikas Bhatwadekar, Victor Dantes and Padam Bhushan assisted me in the project and were a big support to me, as were Deepak Borkar and Vijay Jadhav, the original two musicians I worked with. We chose Studio One to do the recording, where Pramod, Vijay Dayal, and Pranaam did a splendid job as recordists.

The songs took a year to record. There were 9 songs in all. I had decided that most interludes in the songs would be other tunes of Madanji, as I wanted his stamp all over the score. For this I had to work even harder to select the right tune that would blend with the main tune in each case.

There was so much I wanted to do with each song, but I had to remember that this was not an album but a film score... We had to adapt to the requirement of each situation, to bring alive the songs as per the beautiful screenplay which traversed 22 years and two distinct cultures.

Working on the arrangements was very challenging indeed. While I wanted the Madan Mohan sound, I also had to deliver the Yash Chopra sound. And most of all a sound that would be acceptable today!

Most songs were situational. "Aisa Des Hai Mera" was Yashji's tribute to Punjab and I understood his desire to use old Punjabi folk songs as the three interludes, though I was concerned that these had earlier been used as film songs in the fifties. Even in the song "Main Yahaan Hoon" a full interlude was based on "laung gavacha" because the situation demanded it.

We used the trademark Madanji violins and of course the sitar as much as possible - and largely used acoustic sounds. In fact some of the musicians played in a film song after a long gap, as electronics have taken over largely. Woodwinds, French horns, Mandolins, Santoor, Solo violin and of course the Indian flute all blended together in most songs. It was sometimes indeed emotional that some musicians who played had also been part of Madanji's recordings when he was alive.

We always had Madanji's portrait in the studio at the recordings and all musicians and singers would seek his blessings before we commenced the day's work.

Yashji was clear that only Lataji would sing the female songs and that thrilled me because all Madanji tunes were made only for Lataji and it would have been incomplete if she did not sing them. But at the same time it concerned me... It would be so challenging for her to sing for Madanji again after 30 years... she was keeping indifferent health and people could be unfair in passing judgment on her. But she found an inner strength to sing as only she can. A very emotional experience, and yet there was me, a complete novice, telling Lata Mangeshkar how to do a part of a song and she so willingly doing it! The singing legend of India who had sung for every composer in the last 60 years and who, with Madanji, created some immortal songs, was now indulging me! And only I knew what she was going through at the recordings, the tears in her eyes, would not escape me!

When I was mixing the album in London, I asked the young 20-year old assistant engineer how old he thought the female singer was. He said, 'maybe 22 or 23!' - was he shocked to hear that she was actually 75!

I worked by instincts throughout and Yashji and Adi supported me in all my decisions, including the choice of the male singers. Sonu, Udit, Roop and Gurdas Mann were just the obvious choices for the respective songs and all were so cooperative and eager to do their best!

My sister, Sangeeta, and my brother Sameer gave me the complete space to recreate our father's work and my wife, Anju and son, Akshay indeed stood by me as pillars of support in this very exciting but very difficult project.

Yashji also indulged me by allowing me to use two additional compositions that I loved but did not have situations in the film. We recorded these as bonus tracks for the CD.

Some sceptics had started alleging that these could not be my father's tunes and doubted the integrity of the project. That is when Yashji and I decided it would be worthwhile to feature his voice actually composing the tunes. So a separate CD was made - 'The Making of the Music', in which the original source was blended into the way each song finally emerged!

It's another matter that, maybe, I could have cheated the other way around and said these were my compositions. Who would even know, except my own conscience?

Indeed there were many difficult moments through the one year we worked on this project. While I was in the Studio, I was also the CEO with my mind in the office. Sometimes the pressure became difficult to handle and I wondered whether I was doing it right. At such moments I could hear my father say, "Main Yahaan Hoon, Yahaan Hoon", and my confidence would resurge.

When we saw the film while marking the background score, I realized that Yashji and Adi had outdone themselves. The background score had to do justice to the film. Once again, it was possible that Yashji would select a top composer to do the background score since I had no experience at all. But to my surprise, he entrusted the task to Mani and me again as he wanted the Madan Mohan stamp even on the background score.

The background score took a month of very concentrated effort. We created distinct themes for each major character, and once again most of these were other unused tunes of Madanji.

Indeed with Veer Zaara, every fantasy of mine came true in one stroke. Madanji's tunes formed the soundtrack of one of India's biggest and most successful films, created by India's most successful producer and director, Yash Chopra. The top stars of today, Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta, and Rani Mukherji, formed the cast of this film. And what a coincidence that Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini danced to his tunes again, and once again his songs were on the top of the charts for almost an entire year, and he finally won many popular awards - the IIFA award, the Bollywood Award and the Sangeet Award - all by popular audience votes.

The appreciation from music lovers was overwhelming. Yashji and Adi were very happy with the results. The music sales were stupendous. I personally witnessed foreigners humming the songs in Germany and France. I saw my father's name on billboards at Leicester Square and Broadway. When I hear little children sing "Jaanam Dekhlo", a tune composed 50 years ago, I indeed feel so moved but thrilled that a tune is timeless.

Indeed, when I look back, I thank God for making my dream come true, even if it took 30 years. And I realize that all the tribulations were worth it - because, Dad, all this was 'Tere Liye.'

- Sanjeev Kohli

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