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Exclusive! Call My Agent: Bollywood show's music composer Pranaay loves to play with silences

Pranaay has composed the background score for the Netflix show starring Aahana Kamra, Ayush Mehra, Rajat Kapoor and Soni Razdan among others. The series is helmed by Shaad Ali. Pranaay has also worked on Baaghi film series, web series like Broken But Beautiful 2 and 3 and over 500 ads.

Akhila Damodaran
Nov 13, 2021
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Pranaay, composer of Call My Agent: Bollywood

Background music plays an important part in a film. It sets the overall tone of the film and takes the narrative ahead. It helps the audience connect to the characters and story of the film and enhances their overall movie experience. Hence, scoring music for a film or a series is a huge responsibility for a composer.  

In a candid chat with OTTplay, Pranaay who has recently composed background music for the Netflix show Call My Agent: Bollywood talks about the show, how accurately it portrays the industry, the need to hunt in Bollywood as said in the series and his process of music. Excerpts:

Your recent release has been the Call My Agent: Bollywood on Netflix, which talks about all that goes behind managing a celebrity, dealing with their projects and egos. How was the experience working on it?

It was a lot of fun. The visuals are so great and energetic. It shows how agents are always on their toes. So I had to make music that could reflect that. The characters are snappy and there's a lot of chaos behind the scenes. I collaborated with Shaad Ali for the first time and it was an enriching experience. He was clear about what he wanted.

What's your process of work? Did you get all episodes together or each episode of the series as and when it was edited?

The makers had edited all footage already when they called me. I could watch the entire series in one go. Usually, we get to see each episode as and when they are edited and many times, it wouldn't be the final cut. But Netflix had locked all the edits before sending them. I first watch the episodes and do not work on anything for a day or two. I sleep over it and don't even touch my keyboard. I explore the genre of music I'd like to apply. I follow my gut feeling and the instructions of the director and production house then. When they say foot-tapping and energetic, there are again many genres within them to explore.

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Call My Agent: Bollywood

Each scene demands different background music. For example, the opening scene of Call My Agent: Bollywood has an old feel to it and then it changes to upbeat as it starts showing the chaos behind the scene.

True. Scenes matter. Once you learn about the world the story and the characters are set in, seeing the sets of colours, costumes, etc, I get the idea to score for it. Hence, editing and cinematography are very important, so are the characters and setting of the story. The characters in Call My Agent is Bombay people - young and stylish. If a character is placed in an energetic environment in one scene, I use a certain kind of music and if the same character is sad, I use different music. But I always keep the world they are set in, in my mind. I cannot betray the characters or take them out of the setting. Else, it would look disoriented and the audience will not be able to connect with them.

And each character is different and have a different persona. So music should also be different for each character, isn't it?

Yes. It should give an idea of the individuality of a character. Each character has scenes and acts and they react differently in times of stress. So I had to give an individualistic tone even though they all belong to the same world. Their personalities had to be explored musically and so, it had to be tailormade.

Sound like a huge challenge to score for a series!

The challenge is the first episode of a series as it sets the tone. It is important to set the right tone for the series. For example, Narcos uses a lot of guitars and South American instruments which sets the tone for the entire series. I ensure that I am on the same page as the director and producer as they have been living with the project for much longer than I am. They have a certain style to be used in mind and I welcome their feedback. During the COVID times, it was not possible to meet the team and hence, it was challenging to discuss and understand what the project demands. Meeting in person is always better.

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Call My Agent: Bollywood

So how long did you take to complete the series Call My Agent: Bollywood?

From start to finish, it took me a month and a half. Each episode of the series is close to 50 minutes. The deadline was tight but I had requested the makers to allow me time and freedom to work on it. If you need a good dish, you need to give it proper time and energy. I would work on the series, pause it and then see how it sounds the next day.

The show has a dialogue in the first episode by Rajat Kapoor. He says Bollywood is a s**t place where you need to hunt or you get hunted. You have been in the industry for quite some time. So, have you had to hunt or were you hunted?

Good question (laughs). There is no formula to success in Bollywood. There are no set rules. It is an unorganised industry. You do not need certain qualifications or a blueprint to do something here. When you enter the industry, you do need to respect it. If you respect it, the industry will respect you back. One gets hunted if he does not play smart. A film is a collaborative effort and is consumed by a mass. It's a huge responsibility and you need to be really good to make a mark in the industry.

How accurately does the show portray Bollywood?

It does portray the industry quite accurately. The makers have gone all out in portraying the industry. It shows the insecurities of an actor and the chaos. We do not have salaried 9 to 5 jobs. Even Amitabh Bachchan sir had once said he feels insecure and no matter what he does, every time a project is completed, he too thinks what's next. The show portrays the issues faced by actors and how agents guide them in their careers. Agents know the reality of the industry and they hear rejections from the directors first.

Silences are also important while scoring background music. So how do you place them?

That's a good question. Audiences are generally not used to silences but back-to-back music. With OTT platforms, makers are not worried about Friday opening figures and are open to risks and play with silences. Silence is a beautiful element to use. When you have background music running and it suddenly stops, the scene creates a bigger impact. Say, when two people are fighting passive-aggressively or at odd with each other and the music stops all of a sudden, it leads to a powerful impact. It shows that the two characters are uncomfortable with each other. You do not need music always to fill in the gaps, neither do you need dialogues. I love the fact that directors with OTT projects are willing to take risks. They in fact have suggested certain places where I could mute the sound.

You have worked on films too like Raaz 2 and Baaghi films. How different is it to work on an OTT project?

When it comes to theatrical releases, the word 'commercial cinema' always rings the bell. And it is fair as lots of money and effort have gone into making it. Unlike OTT where there is no pressure of creating box office records, a movie's fate is decided over the opening weekend. Hence, content should be created according to the medium. For a film like Baaghi, I did a song 'Get Ready to Fight Reloaded'. The entry of Tiger Shroff had to look powerful and so it had to be something catchy, which creates curiosity among people. At the same time, music has to complement the larger-than-life visuals. A theatre experience is different from watching a film on OTT. There, you watch it with your friends and family and others while on OTT, you can watch a show at your convenient time.

You have worked on ads, films and web series. Which one do you find most challenging and which takes the most time to work on?

I love all mediums. I am not being modest. Each of them is challenging and I love that challenge. Each medium has a certain palette of sounds. You use certain sounds in ads that you cannot use in films or series. Ads are quicker since the duration is short and you get quick responses. After ads, I would say songs are easier to work on. I complete a song in less than a week's time. Scoring for a film or a web series takes longer. It takes over a month when five to seven people are working on it.

The web series you have worked on are of different genres and use different music. So background music depends heavily on the genre of the content too?

Yes. The Netflix show Upstarts is about entrepreneurs and students in Bangalore working on their startups. The characters are set in a world of information and technology and they do not listen to commercial music but prefer indie and rock. So I used the acoustic rock to give an indie vibe. Broken But Beautiful, on the other hand, is a love story and about heartbreaks. So I used Indian melody with flute and sarod while Call My Agent: Bollywood had jazz and others.

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Pranaay

Have you always been interested in music?

I come from a non-musical family but I have enjoyed listening to music since my childhood. But I tried my hands on it when I was in college and my friends and I formed a band. I later realised I could get paid to do something that I love. So I learned classical music and gained knowledge in the field. I was all prepared before I stepped into the industry.

So, was your family supportive of your decision?

What do you think? My father was not fine with it initially. He was being very protective as he too believes you need to hunt or you get hunted in this industry. My sister and mother believed in me and supported me. When I got a cheque after doing Raaz 2 and showed it to my dad, that's when he realised that I could make a living out of it.

What's been your inspiration?

Everyone has a gift and I believe God has given me the gift of music. So, it's my responsibility to share my talent so that the audience can enjoy and experience music. And I hope it improves their lives a little and brings a smile to their faces.

What are your upcoming projects?

I have two feature films and I am working on the web series Never Kiss Your Girlfriend Season 2 starring Nakuul Mehta. I am also working on my independent music.

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