The insider-outsider debate has opened a Pandora’s box in the Hindi film industry, with many voices coming to the fore. Music producer AR Rahman and sound designer Resul Pookutty spoke about facing rejection in Bollywood post their Hollywood stint. Now, music producer and composer Ram Sampath, who has given music for films like Fukrey (2013) and Delhi Belly (2011), opens up about favouritism in the industry and how only a select few have the final say in a film’s final fate.
“Bollywood is essentially a bunch of clans and as a music composer, you end up working for one of them because they are the ones who get to make the movies. Unlike the West where there are studios, professional executives, a pipeline to launch trained talent and a pride in the systems that nurture future stars from all fields and reward the truly meritorious, here the shots are called by a few interconnected families with a few rare exceptions,” he says. Having composed music for memorable advertising campaigns and pop songs, Sampath felt the need to take a leap into Bollywood because “having a few successful Bollywood films under your belt makes life much more tenable as a professional.” He shifted gears with Khakee (2004), but was hounded by requests from producers to copy songs.
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“I cannot recall a single enjoyable experience of working with producers in Bollywood outside of Aamir Khan. Everyone else either has some horribly draconian contract that takes away all your rights before you have played a single note, or are constantly shopping for third party music behind your back, or have limited budgets and unlimited changes. To top it all, one has to deal with a lot of egotistical non-musical people talking rudely and with entitlement while evaluating creative work which becomes a soul and spirit destroying process,” he shares.
His wife, artiste Sona Mohapatra, recently tweeted about his plight, mentioning some films that became the final nail for Sampath. “I ended up paying the price for wanting to compose both the songs and the background score for the films but the demands are never-ending when you take up such projects. Getting a ‘Laila’ shoved down my throat in the last film I scored, Raees, despite the initial brief from the producers being to make a dance song like my own, ‘Aisa Jadoo Dala Re’ which was a super-hit, was a blow. Despite presenting many original dance tracks, no one could take a stand to choose one and despite three years of hard toil on that film, the only song to be promoted hugely in the airwaves was a ‘remake’,” he says.
He talks about the gaps in the demand-supply in the film industry, which he says nullify the scope of any kind of fairness. “Everyone is expected to be servile and ever available. While it is legally the filmmakers’ right to choose whomever they please, the sheer degree of arrogance, ineptitude and illiteracy in the top brass make the process especially frustrating. Most of the time is spent on pandering to the stars or paying attention to marketing and promotion rather than crafting the best possible film,” he says.
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Two decades of working under deadlines took its toll on Sampath, who developed physical and mental health problems. He says it is important to not succumb to false perceptions. “Mental health is a silent epidemic. I think it’s crucial that we allow the next generation some room to breathe because the pressure to succeed is unrealistically high. True innovators only develop in a culture that allows you to fail without shame,” he says. The composer, who started working at the age of 16 to support his family, has now found solace in various other activities. “With Sona’s help, I have been much more focussed on living a well-rounded life. I am not much of a gym person but my personal trainer Dev Ghosh has inspired me to embrace a Spartan lifestyle and it has done wonders for my health. I have also realised that as a creative person, I should not restrict myself only to music. I have always had a deep interest in literature, art and cinema, so I have started writing,” he says.
Sampath is now working on independent music projects with various collaborators. “The independent music scene is bursting with new talent and now is a good time to revive the music scene outside of Bollywood,” he signs off.
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