Born into a talented family of musicians, Sohail Sen’s musical genes have not skipped any generation. He learnt classical music from his grandfather Shri Shambhu Sen. His father Sameer Sen and uncle Dilip Sen have already celebrated 25 years in Bollywood musical industry and bagged the 4th Generation Dada Saheb Phalke Award. The Sen Family have inherited the taste, tradition, trend and tunes from the Sen gharana. And as a fourth generation, Sohail has not taken his lineage for granted and worked his way up riding high on the success of tracks from films such as ‘What’s your Rashee’( 2009), ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’ (2011), ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ (2012) and ‘Gunday’ (2014). With ‘Housefull 3’ set to be released this week, he is to create more musical scores. Sen speaks exclusively to The Indian Weekly from Mumbai.
Coming from a family of musicians and in Bollywood, what has been your inspiration apart from your great lineage?
Apart from the fact that I come from a family that has been immersed in music for the past many generations, my only reason to continue with that path was my own love and passion for it. It’s very easy to assume that just because one is born into a family of musicians he/she will also continue within that field, but that is not true. That person should not only have the desire to excel in that field but also be ready to commit countless hours of hard work because your identity as an individual comes from your own merit. My biggest inspiration thus comes from my own wish to create an individuality for myself, where I’m associated to my ancestors but I’m also recognised for my accomplishments as a self-made musician.
When did you start composing – and what or who were your early passions and influences?
As a child I was very creative and the idea of innovating something of my own was very appealing to me. The process of composing grew from that and came very naturally. It was not something I intended to do but something that just happened, which is probably why my earliest encounters with composing came at a young age. Because I’ve grown up in a home in which I was constantly surrounded by various musical forms, genres, and styles my musical inspirations have also been derived from that. From Michael Jackson to Mehdi Hassan – I am an avid listener and admirer of all. Every artist I’ve come across and especially my dad (Sameer Sen) has played a role in my life so it’s difficult to credit one for influencing me.
You have been composer of some popular films such as ‘What’s Your Rashee’, ‘Mere Brother Ki Dulhan’, ‘Ek Tha Tiger’, ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’, ‘From Sydney With Love’, ‘Sirf’, ‘Gunday’etc what worked for these films?
No one knows what works and what doesn’t, if I knew the magical recipe to a perfect song I’d be the king of the world! But the truth is I don’t. There’s no technical aspect or measurement of what you put in or what you don’t when you’re composing. I never think while I am composing. I let it flow from the heart. Anything driven from the heart finds its own path and all of my past films came from that. Maybe that has been the reason as to why these films worked.
When you choose a song for a film, what kind of thought process goes into it?
YYou never choose a song for a film, the film chooses the song. Based on the script, the characters, and the situations leading up to the song I am able to set the mood and emotions for the composition. Once that is established the rest just comes from experiences. I have gone through or seen others go through similar situation where they study what the characters in the film are facing. That is how the lyrics are derived and the composition is developed.
What are currently your main compositional challenges?
Well, unlike a few years ago when there were just a few select composers in the film industry, the competition is much tougher today. There are so many easy platforms and protocols like the Internet, YouTube, reality shows for new composers to showcase their work and talent. So the biggest challenge for any composer is to be the best amongst so many aspiring composers.
My mantra is to really just keep creating good music consistently, give my best, and keep working hard. Having a positive attitude is important. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting noticed and being remembered for your tunes and work.
How has the Bollywood music scene evolved over the years? What are the influences shaping it?
Bollywood’s growth in terms of music has been tremendous. It has gone from focusing on Hindustani classical music to pop, rap, EDM, so on and so forth. Earlier they would record each and every sound live whereas today we have libraries full of sounds at the convenience of your fingertips. Technology has played a huge role in the advancement music production today and with it comes both pros and cons. World music is more available for all to listen to via the Internet and because of that listeners have become more knowledgeable and aware, thus resulting in different sounds being interconnected.
There seems to be some heavy experiments going on with music in Bollywood, so you have folk and fusion and so on. Is this a scene arising out of intense competition?
There’s no doubt that Bollywood is a highly competitive industry so to some degree I’m sure that a lot of experiments are done as a means to stand out from the regular crowd. However, I also feel that the child within the artist always thrives to create something new so it has to be a combination of both.
Folk, Sufi, hip hop, RnB, romantic, remixes – name the genre and you can find them in the current era of Bollywood music. But what do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
We only have a basic set of 12 notes in a scale and let me remind you after classical music (east and west) everything else that was born from that came from improvisation and creation, thus resulting in different genres of music. For me improvisation and compositions give me the opportunity to show the listener my interpretation of these 12 notes. If I can touch someone’s heart through my music I’ve fulfilled my duty.
Some critics say Bollywood is killing Indian music? What do you have to say to that?
Bollywood is an ever changing and growing wing of music. I’m not sure I would say that Bollywood has killed Indian music but it has evolved it. Change occurs with the change around us. The sound of music that was listened to earlier is still appreciated by many today but like I said change is inevitable, it will occur whether one likes it or not.
What are your projects at hand? What are you composing or directing?
My upcoming movies are ‘Houseful 3’, ‘Happy Bhaag Jayegi’, and my very own single which I am planning to release this year. Then, there is also another movie, untitled yet, produced by Ronnie Screwvala and directed by Anand Tiwari.
What is music to you? And what is good music?
At this point in my life I can say that music has become my life and that is said in the most literal way possible. From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep I’m working in my studio and that is my day to day schedule. However, from a not-so literal point of view music is my first love. No music is “good” or “bad” but music that relaxes me and connects my soul to the higher power is “good” for me.
If not a music director what would you been today?
A journalist (wink, wink..)