Exclusive: Namit Das on inheriting music, composing for Mira Nair's A Suitable Boy and plans for his next EP
NAMIT DAS is known for being a versatile actor and was most recently seen in web-series Aarya and Mafia. However, he also happens to be a musician. He grew up in a household where mornings were reserved for riyaaz. His father Chandan Das is a prominent ghazal singer, hence it is no wonder that Das was always inclined towards music. But, life had other plans. He started pursuing theatre and got so consumed by acting that music took a backseat. It wasn’t until the last decade that he went back to the art form that he has inherited. However, since then, he has formed a band, released an EP titled Din Gaye, hosted online sessions during the lockdown and made his debut as composer with Mira Nair’s screen adaptation of A Suitable Boy. In a chat with INDULGE, the 36-year-old singer-actor looks back at his musical journey. Excerpts:
Q: You happened to rediscover yourself as a musician in the last decade. How did it happen?
I started discovering my interest in music quite slowly. It all happened because of a play I composed in 2011 — Stories in a Song. Since then, I have been pursuing music along with acting. My association with Anurag Shankar (composer) has shaped my outlook when it comes to music. We formed a band in 2014 and also released an EP, Din Gaye, which received good response in the indie circuit. I have again started learning music from my dad and learning the piano as well. So, whatever time I have after the acting schedule, it goes to music.
Q: How did you come on board to compose music for A Suitable Boy?
I had worked with Mira Nair in Monsoon Wedding Musical. But, this time around she had called me to compose music and not for a role. She wasn’t sure of the part she wanted to cast me in. So, she told me that the series needed some tunes and felt that I would be able to compose it. That was the beginning and end of it. I recorded three songs for A Suitable Boy and sang these songs as well. Two of them were traditional numbers and the lyrics for them were already written. My mother came to the rescue for the third one when I was struggling with writing the lyrics myself.
Q: They say the worst thing to happen to an artist is having too much time in hand. Did music help you stay afloat during this lockdown?
Totally, it really helped me keep sane. Music is such a beautiful art form. To quote some lines from Ravi Shankar’s autobiography, ‘Sound is god. Only in sound does everything exists — our universe, our history. And if you listen closely, then it becomes music.’ It is very important for me to practice music just to be more aligned with myself.
Q: What are some of your early memories of music?
I come from a musical family. My maternal grandfather, although I never met him since he passed away very early, was from the Jaipur Gharana and was a great musician. Although he was only in the Delhi radio circuit, he was quite respected. I feel proud that in one way or another I am a part of that legacy. And, while my father does not come from a musical family, he is a professional musician. Whenever there is a child born in our house, the eldest performer in the family, goes and whispers the note ‘Sa’ in the child’s ear. That is the earliest memory that I would have in my subconscious. What I consciously remember is waking up to my father’s riyaaz.
Q: So, when was it that you decided to be a musician?
Ever since I remember, I wanted to be a classical musician — a classical khayal singer, to be precise. But sometimes life has different and better plans. Today, I am quite happy that I pursued acting and music came to me in a different way. When I started dabbling in theatre, several of my family members made fun of me. They wanted me to participate in a music reality show instead. However, I am a patient person and never wanted things quickly in life. I was willing to wait and see how things take shape. For me, the process and journey are important and that’s why I took the longer route. Otherwise, I know I would have become a part of a crowd. Interestingly, it was theatre that brought back music in my life.
Q: What are you working on next?
My band and I are hosting virtual music sessions on Instagram and Facebook where we are putting together covers of retro Bollywood numbers. All of us live in different places — Vancouver in Canada, Ahmedabad, Mumbai. So we have decided to call the project From Vasai to Vancouver. Once the lockdown ends, we will be working on our next album. It’s going to be about poems from the ’70s and ’80s and a lot of the compositions are by my grandfather. We have not yet finalised a title for the album. But for now, we are calling it Rivayat.