Strumming Along: Farhan Akhtar
Given your unique position in both the Indian film industry and the music industry, why do you think that songs are so intrinsic to Indian films?
Songs have been a crucial and integral part of our popular culture for a long time. Even in our street theatre, lyrics and music have always played a crucial role. So naturally, when we imported the idea and the concept of films, our songs became an integral part of them, because it was already ingrained in the DNA of our mass entertainment outlets. I am actually proud of the fact that we have something very unique and distinct like Bollywood music. That is what makes our films so grand and so unique. It goes on to show that different cultures have different ways to tell a story.
The Indian music industry is finally beginning to experiment with forms and styles. From a global perspective, what would you say, where we stand today and where are we heading?
As far as Bollywood music is concerned, I will say that there was stagnation and a saturation. We as an industry were very caught up with the quest for club hits and dance numbers. Luckily, our producers, directors, and audiences realised that we are actually capable of a lot more, they realised that music can actually give a lot of meaning to a film, that it can be a separate character in itself. Look at Gully Boy and how the film made music the narrative while pushing the narrative through music. As for independent music, it never took off properly after the boom in the 1990s. The artists have been performing great on tours, but there still is a lot to be achieved. We have some great talent, but not the adequate
power and force to back them up. Maybe with the new mediums of distribution and the increasing demand for content will change that.
Echoes, your debut English album touches upon a number of pertinent issues. What would you say is the album about?
The album encompasses a number of things. It essentially is a collection of things that have had a deep impact on me in the last four or five years, be it something like violence against children, to things that are deeply personal and with which people will relate to, like failed relationships or the idea of loss. I have been performing for six or seven years now, and I have always felt that an artist has to share his evolution with people who appreciate his work, people with whom they connect. One can say that this album is about sharing who I am with people.
You had once said that someone asked you to clear your throat before you sing. Does the texture of your voice still entice such a response?
That has always been a funny reaction for me. I really cannot help it if someone does not like my voice. People will always complain about something or the other. The great thing about independent choices is that you can always stop listening to my music if you don’t like my voice.
Among the current crop of Indian singers and musicians, with whom you would like to collaborate with in future?
We have some really great musicians in India, and I would love to work with a number of them. There is Pentagram, with Vishal Dadlani fronting the band. Then there is Soulmate from Shillong, who has been doing really well. There is also When Chai Met Toast. I was deeply impressed by their song, Firefly.
Most of the songs that we have heard from the album have a sense of anxiety as if you are losing something important and cannot help it. Where does that anxiety stem from?
Yes, there definitely is an anxiety in the songs. They are about loss, rather than the idea of how to deal with loss. It focuses on the inability to process loss. Let me tell you a story. In the Peshawar attacks back in 2014, out of the 150 people who were killed, 132 of them were children. One of the children who died had a brother who bunked school on that fateful day. Imagine the trauma and the guilt that a child will have to go through, all his life. That is a strange place for a young mind to be in. People often speak of learning from the past and moving on. What do you do when you actually are unable to? These are the kind of things that I was focused on.
Do you think that as listeners, we are too ignorant to actually care about plagiarism, or are we doing something against musicians who plagiarise?
We do have the laws in place and they are being enforced stringently, now more than ever. But, the only thing listeners really care about is good music, that suits their preference. In such a scenario, the onus of being original, to not steal tunes and lyrics falls on the artist. They have to ensure that their output is unique.