Shivam Pathak never backed down despite rejections and when the going got tough, he got going. His perseverance paid off and he's now one of two composers for Sanjay Leela Bhansali production and Priyanka Chopra-starrer, Mary Kom. He has just two tracks in the album but has made the most of it. And he's quite proud of both Sukoon Mila and Salaam India.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I've not had a musical upbringing. I come from a small town called Lakhimpur in UP, which is close to the India-Nepal border. I came to Mumbai seven years ago. Not to make a career in music. At the time, I was here for a hardware and networking course. As soon as I had completed it and was looking for a job, a friend suggested I try my luck at music reality shows since I had a good voice. I gave the auditions for Indian Idol but was rejected in one of the earlier rounds. My room partner at the time Shahid Mallya suggested I go visit Suresh Wadkar and take him up as a guru. I stayed with him two or three years. If there's one thing I learnt there it was dedication and focus. You can't do anything there apart from learn music and focus. I practised with instruments, improved my skills over time and I think the idea of composing stuck there. Aur tab se mera struggle shuru hua.
So what did you enjoy more - singing or composing?
At the time, I had no iraada of composing then. I knew I wasn't up to the mark. My inspirations were Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson apart from our own A R Rahman and others. I've sung in Mod and in Satyagraha and have even done a significant aalaap in my own Salaam India. So yes, I enjoy playback singing more.
You've composed before this?
No. Mary Kom is my composing debut.
Tell us about Sukoon Mila.
I was ready with Sukoon Mila around a year and a half back. It is also director Omung Kumar's favourite track and Sanjay Sir and he decided to keep this in the movie and they even created a situation in the film for it. We've used minimal instruments in the track including an acoustic guitar and a proper snare. We've even used a saxophone live and it's been played beautifully by Rahat Sodhi.
Was Arijit Singh your first choice for the track?
He was. It was either him or me. But I'm glad it was him as I feel nobody could have replaced him. He was very busy at the time but I was stubborn that only he would do for the track. Sanjay had wanted me to sing. I said if Arijit is free, nothing like it. He made us wait two months. One night, he just called up and said, "Mood mein hoon, aa jao, record karte hain." We were done in three hours.
Sandeep Singh has written the lyrics to both of your tracks.
He is my childhood friend. We've studied together from the nursery to the sixth standard. So in that sense you can call us langoti yaars or chaddi buddies. For my tracks in Mary Kom, I got to choose the singers and lyricists without any interference.
What about Salaam India? We've heard you got to compose for Mary Kom after Sanjay heard the track.
You're right. I did get the movie because of that one song. But let me add both my songs are Bhansali saab's favourites. It felt awesome when I wrote it and sang it to him and he asked me who I'd like as the singer and that he'd get that person on board. I immediately said AR Rahman. But we both knew that wasn't possible as he doesn't sing for anyone but himself. So my next choices were the ones you hear on the track. Vishal Dadlani and Salim Merchant.
Wasn't Salim one of the judges in Indian Idol 5? The year you made it to the Top 5?
He was. And I sang the title song of Satyagraha for him. Directing him for Salaam India was interesting because he was my mentor. Even now, he helps me out musically when I ask him to. He has always been supportive. I got a chance to make them sing and I am happy about it.
Back to the song. What's so special about it?
Bhansali Sir made me sing it five times after he first heard it. I still remember his words. He said, "Baccha, I haven't heard such pure music." It has an Indian feel and we know how he loves Indian sounds Also, I've used the sarangi, taiko drums, electronic synth and flutes. It wasn't a struggle to convince Sanjay Sir in that sense, but it was a struggle to meet him.
Your favourite lines from the song?
It goes like this, "Tera ye watan kar kuch bhi jatan tu/ jaan bhi is pe luta de tu/ Darr ko dara ke ragon mein fateh ka josh jaga". It was this part that Vishal found difficult to sing in one take because it was such a tongue-twister. I told him to take his time and he did it perfectly. The song took around three hours to finish.
One doesn't exactly warm to Salaam India immmediately.
I agree, but I also feel that it's a grower.
Anything you'd like to tell struggling singers and composers?
I know it sounds filmi, lekin haar mat maano, mehnat karte raho. I don't call it struggle but a part of life. I struggle with myself to do better... at my own compositions. I even programme my own songs and the feel is something else.
I'm in talks for several projects but will let you know as soon as its confirmed [We hear he's working on Ashwni Dhir's next].
Any parting words?
To my peers, just enjoy your music. When you're time comes to shine, enjoy it. Work hard. The harder you work, the more of it you'll get. Don't discuss other people's work. Instead, concentrate on yourself.