'It's the disagreements that keep our machinery so well-oiled,' say Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy who complete 25 years in Bollywood
Their latest movie is Farhan Akhtar's Toofan; their upcoming projects include Prithviraj Chouhan, Bunty Aur Babli 2, Dhaakad, and Sam Manekshaw
The musical trio, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy complete 25 years in Bollywood, and their latest outing is Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Toofan that has been creating quite a buzz online. It isn’t just the powerful title track, even the soulful philosophical number Purvaiya and the upbeat number Star Hai Tu, by the music directors popularly known as SEL have been well-received.
This is the team’s fourth sports film after Soorma, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Panga. But SEL says, this film is quite different from the other three. “This is not a biopic. The sports part of it is very important but equally important is the emotional story of the person, so this had to be weaved into the music. It wasn’t just about fast beats or anthems. The songs have multiple levels to it,” says Shankar Mahadevan, adding, “For example, Purvaiya is such a philosophical song, it speaks about what life does to you. So Toofan is a deep album. With Rakeysh, there’s always depth and meaning underlying his narratives.”
Rakeysh’s movies are also known for their music. On all his previous work with the trio the director-composers combination has delivered some unique songs, and the composers give full credit to Rakeysh’s style of working. Ehsaan says, “The script was still under development when we were briefed first, so the music developed with the script. Rakeysh gave us a very open brief like he always does.” Loy corroborates when he says, “After having worked on so many films, we tend to understand each other more. The best thing is Rakeysh briefs you and gives the freedom to create. He doesn’t interfere and trusts our judgement. SEL say they are at their creative best when there is this kind of trust with their directors. Perhaps this is a reason why some of their best work has been with Farhan Akhtar and his production company Excel Entertainment. “There’s openness and trust factor from both our ends. Farhan also plays a bit of guitar, and is very active in terms of listening to music. We all share the same wavelength so it does help our process,” says Loy.
It’s been 25 years since the trio started composing music for films but it was their music for the 2001 movie Dil Chahta Hai that ushered in a new era in Bollywood with its pathbreaking compositions. In retrospect all three of them feel it’s been an interesting journey because they have stayed true to their sound and ideas.“We have tried to remain as natural as possible, and have let the music flow. When Loy plays jazz piano, it flows naturally the way it’s supposed to. If Ehsaan plays a riff, you know it has come out naturally. We have tried to remain true to our sound. At this time when we turn back and look at the body and spectrum of work we have done, we feel proud about it. We are the same people who have worked on Rock On, Taare Zameen Par, Galla Goodiyan, Kajra Re, Bandish Bandits, Kal Ho Na Ho and many others. We feel we have done something,”" enthuses Shankar.
There also have been episodes when there were rumours of the trio splitting up, but all three of them have been constants in each other’s professional lives. “It’s the disagreements and arguments that keep our machinery so well-oiled. In the sense that nobody is willing to settle for the second best. What we create has to be of a certain quality for which we will argue till somebody has got a point. It’s about creating the right and perfect song for the film,” says Ehsaan. Shankar adds further, “There are a lot of arguments, fights, and disagreements. Sometimes directors think we are falling apart and at times Ehsaan leaves the studio and goes, but it’s for the better of the song. Our core machinery, the soul of SEL is very well oiled.”
When asked about the highlights of their career, SEL say there are several high points but two stand out — when they composed for Dil Chahta Hai and how that changed the face of music in Bollywood, and winning the National Award for Kal Ho Na Ho. Going forward they are composing for Prithviraj Chouhan, Bunty Aur Babli 2, Dhaakad, Sam Manekshaw and a few other projects for OTT. Meanwhile, a documentary on Shankar titled Decoding Shankar by filmmaker Deepti Pillay Sivan won the Best Film Award in the Documentary section (Best Biographical) at the Toronto International Women Film Festival, 2021, and has been selected for the Santa Monica International Short Film Festival.
Toofan is streaming on Amazon Prime Video