The cacophonous world of hindi film music has a new smooth obsession. Five years and 20-odd films on, Amit Trivedi is no longer just the guy Anurag Kashyap gave a break to—he is fast becoming a trendsetter. Some have dubbed him the next big thing; a few call him a “killer musician”; and there are those that even hail him as the heir-apparent to AR Rahman, the man who has redefined film music since the ’90s.
Comparisons, albeit premature, are inevitable. Like Rahman, the 34-year-old Trivedi is reserved; a man of few words but many memorable tunes. And much like the maestro, he stays up odd hours at his garage-studio in Mumbai to make his music. Unlike Rahman, though, he is shy to a fault declining Forbes India’s interview request multiple times. “He is extremely media shy, as you know,” his wife, Kruti, said over the phone. “I’ll try to convince him though.”
Trivedi is nearly absent from the media scene, only making an appearance during music launches where the film’s lead actors, almost unfailingly, happen to be the cynosure of all eyes. He is hardly visible at film award functions and, until last year, his presence in the live music circuit was very limited too. A self-proclaimed “studio man”, Trivedi is heard the loudest when he hits the high notes of a song with his raw earthy voice that some call “imperfect” while others find “magical”.
“He’s a reluctant singer. He will record his tunes in his own voice and then have someone else sing it in the film. I tell him not to do that because he has a magical voice,” says filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane for whom Trivedi scored music in Udaan (2010) and Lootera (2013).
Music and film historian Pavan Jha has a contrarian take on Trivedi’s voice: “His voice is strong and the texture is rustic but he hasn’t matured as a singer yet.”
While opinions may be fragmented when it comes to singer Trivedi, there is unanimous adulation for the music composer. His experimental sounds, free-flowing use of Indian folk instruments, sometimes on a distinctly Western base of rock and electronica, have created an all-new ecosystem for film music. He has introduced a plethora of new singers who have successfully broken the mould of honey-coated voices that have found favour until now.
“Amit is deeply rooted and innovative. His music ethic is superb… there is no clutter in his sounds. It takes a lot of courage and conviction to create such music in the age of noise pollution,” says lyricist-and-singer Swanand Kirkire who wrote for Trivedi’s tunes in the musically-acclaimed Kai Po Che! (2013). He also sang Trivedi’s beautiful baul-based composition Monta Re in Motwane’s Lootera.
“Amit grasps mood very well and sometimes fixes a scene with his melody. For him the setting of the film is most important. Monta Re was a simple song so apt for the situation,” says Motwane. “Also, the way he has introduced folk music in Bollywood is incredible.”
While Monta Re was influenced by Bengali folk, Shubhaarambh in Kai Po Che! used garba tunes from Gujarat and Navrai Majhi from English Vinglish was inspired by a popular Maharashtrian wedding song. “He has a signature but he adapts himself to every culture quite effortlessly,” says Kirkire.
One of the other distinguishing features of Trivedi’s music is the abundant use of Hindustani classical instruments such as sitar, esraj and sarangi as well as those from the folk genre like iktara and dholak. Kirkire says, “He introduces an instrument and utilises it to the fullest. It is not for ornamentation. It is a character in the song yet the use remains so subtle.”
Trivedi seems to have struck the right chords in the industry but he has had to wait for it.
He began composing music at the age of 20. Ad jingles, background scores for plays and television shows, a one-off orchestra here and a local gig (with college band Om) there—he just about managed to remain on the fringes. His uneventful career chugged along with the occasional music label signing him for non-film albums.
The tide turned in 2008 when friend and playback singer Shilpa Rao suggested his name to Anurag Kashyap who was on the lookout for fresh sounds for Dev D—his uber-cool take on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s much-adapted novel Devdas. Trivedi dished out a wide range of tunes—from grunge, rock and jazz to brass band, hip hop and folk—that stunned producer Vikas Bahl and director Kashyap who went on to turn the film into a musical.
“Amit was brilliant in Dev D. We hadn’t heard anything like this before,” Kashyap told Forbes India a year ago. “There were 18 tracks in the film, each one different from the other.”
(This story appears in the 27 December, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)