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“I am of course happy that Bala has gained such popularity, as that was certainly the intention at the time of its creation” – Sohail Sen

Sohail Sen, the son of the music composer Sameer Sen from the popular Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen duo, is on cloud nine as all the songs composed by him in ‘Housefull 4’ have been greatly appreciated. The humble singer and music composer who made his debut in ‘Sirf’ (2008) has been churning out a variety of tunes for different projects and have already worked with top production houses and directors in those 11 years in the industry. In this interview, he talks about the preparation for ‘Housefull 4’, his reactions to the success of his songs and trends in the industry.

“Ek Chumma” and “Shaitan Ka Saala” are already huge hits in their own ways. Did you expect the reception to be like this?
To start with, people had been waiting for ‘Housefull 4’ with such anticipation, given the star cast and previous success stories of the sequel. Once the songs were released, the internet was literally getting choked with millions of views of the songs and uploads of the “Bala” song challenge on social media. Did I expect a reception like this? Yes and no, because the surprises never cease. I love my songs of course, I mean I was happy with the way they were turning out during the time I was composing them, and so I expected everyone to feel the same about it and to get a pretty decent reception, but the ways in which the songs are being received out there in the world is just amazing and that’s what really thrills me. People from all over, celebrities from the film fraternity, from the cricket world are dancing and posting the #balachallenge on Instagram, on Tik Tok and seriously I love the way in which this is managing to unite people this holiday season, make them do something fun for themselves and feel upbeat about the whole thing. Everyday there are new reviews and reactions that come my way, the fact that the songs have gone viral, the outpouring of love and appreciation for the songs from fans, all of this continuously manages to surprise me and make me feel good about the popularity of the songs.

Your father has been credited as the rhythm arranger for the songs you have composed. How did he help to shape the songs in a better way?
As you know, my father has 50 years of experience in the Bollywood music industry. He has a wealth of knowledge on music and composing songs. His feedback is very valuable and he is quick to analyze things and provide input to do some fine-tuning or changes to my songs. I usually incorporate his suggestions, his ideas when we sit down to discuss my songs. He provides a lot of valuable inputs on the songs as a whole, so that it all flows seamlessly in an orchestrated manner. His understanding of music really helps to put all the various bits and pieces together in creating the end result. So we work really fine as a team. He is the Grand Master here and has an eye for detail that only comes after working for years and years in the field of music.

You also have released a “Shaitan Ka Saala” video filmed on you with some dancers. Whose idea was it?
(Laughs) That was my marketing team’s idea, as from the beginning of this year and for sometime now, they wanted me to interact more with my fans and give them a first hand view of how I and my team actually do things, and showcase a bit of my live work. That always feels real and is like truly a blessing in disguise to connect at that level. It’s fun and fulfilling at the same time for me. It’s like a bit of a stress-buster too, to do these fun clips before I get back to my other projects.

Were you mentally prepared for such a masala soundtrack?
Yes, I certainly was mentally prepared to do this kind of a film, or so I choose to think!! I look at it in a different way. We always begin thinking we are prepared until the drama begins to unfold slowly. It’s a big blockbuster film, of great grandeur, of a large star cast and production house, everything in it is on a grand scale. And so the music also has to match the grandiose of the movie. And that is the challenge. To be able to do justice to a project like that. To create something that will go down in history. To create something memorable. You learn on the sets, you learn on the job, and you improvise. You go in with one mindset and you come out with a different one. You have to rack your brains and work hard no matter how mentally prepared you are. Because you want to give in your best. You grow as a musician. Mentally, creatively, you flow and grow with the project. You break some of the stereotyped ideas that you may come in with. You have to think unconventionally, out of the box. And that’s all you have to be prepared for. To unlearn, learn and then create.

Anu Malik once said that Sajid Nadiadwala is his favourite producer. You mentioned in an earlier interview that he knows your father since a long time ago. Is he also your favourite producer? Who sat down with you in the music sittings?
Yes, Sajid Nadiadwala sir definitely is very close to my dad and me, and have known him from a very long time. He is the only guiding force behind the music of ‘Housefull 4’ and he was the one who used to sit in the music sittings while I was creating it and without him, this wouldn’t have been possible and of course, he is one of my favourite producers.

A lot of Bollywood celebrities are grooving on to your song “Shaitan Ka Saala”. Where do you see this song going in the future and what are your reactions?
I see this song going places, it’s pretty cornerstone, now as I look back at it, like not only India but overseas too. And it’s all based on the reactions that I have seen so far. So I am just predicting the future based on facts. In the future, I guess I can see it being played in clubs, parties, and weddings perhaps, colleges, music festivals, dance competitions, and any other event that calls for such dynamic energy and fun. I am of course happy that the song has gained such popularity, as that was certainly the intention at the time of its creation.

The music of ‘Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi’ (2018) did not receive a lot of praise, as the movie did not do well at the box office. What are your feelings?
Yes, one wishes that all pieces of our work receive ample praise all the time. But at times things don’t go the way we want them to. I would say that as a music composer I put in my best making the music for ‘Happy Phirr Bhag Jayegi’ like any other film of mine. I was happy with the viewership that it received, and seriously have no complaints. My die-hard fans swear by its songs and are proud to have them in their personal repertoire. They are the ones who really liked the choice of singers for the movie and mention it regularly. The box office is not the only determiner of success albeit the fact that it does play a very important role. I just did what I had to and sort of learnt from the experience. I don’t fret too much about it.

All music is not going to please everyone. That’s not only true with me, but with a variety of singers and actors all around the world. Take Eminem and Sylvester Stallone for instance and their career records, they both have a lot of fans as well as critics. It’s all part of the game. One size doesn’t fit all. But that’s okay. I don’t get discouraged in any way. There will be haters and trolls along the way. I just keep this in mind, accept it and that gets the pressure off of me. At the end of the day, my aim is to make music that I hope people will enjoy and by and far this has certainly been the case. I enjoy sharing a part of me in the form of my music, I make sure I give my best and the rest I leave to the Almighty.

The “Bhoot Song” is recreated by Farhad Samji and Sandeep Shirodkar. Do you feel the song is in synch with the songs you have churned out?
Yes, I do feel that the “Bhoot Raja” song is very much in synch with my songs. They all have the same vibes and feel, and connect well with each other. The songs in the entire soundtrack gel well with each other, I mean we have worked as a team and the songs had to be aligned with the storyline, with the events, be it an exaggerated exorcism or pure comedy or a dance number. You have to pay attention to the lyrics too. The lyrics of each song tell a story in themselves, and that is also the connecting thread in the songs. It’s been a conscious effort throughout by the entire team to make sure that the various songs, choice of singers, they all are in synch and together enhance the storyline. Farhad Samji and Sandeep Shirodkar have really recreated a highly entertaining song with “Bhoot Raja Bahar Aaja”, and hats off to them for adding all the comic elements and references to the remake of the song.

On which basis was Sukhwinder Singh chosen to sing “Chammo”? How many takes were needed to get the song right?
Sukhwinder Singh is such a versatile singer that he just seemed the right choice for the “Chammo” song which required a spirited and powerful singer. The song has a traditional feel to it, set in the 1419s, the sets are huge with lot of stunts and lovely dance moves. Sukhwinder Singh has a record to make his fans dance with his voice and he imparts a certain rustic quality to his songs, exactly what “Chammo” required. I dubbed Sukhi ji at my studio and he is one of the those singers who doesn’t require takes!

I was surprised when I had seen you composed the song “Baby Mera” from ‘#Yaaram’ (2019), picturized on Natasha Stankovic. Are you ready to compose steamy item numbers for any project? How did this song happen?
It was Kumaar paaji’s ‘lyricist’ idea to make me do the song and why not. I mean if I get projects that require me to create the so-called item numbers or steamy numbers, then all I can think of is why not. These songs have always been part and parcel of Bollywood movies, right from the era of when Helen ji danced in the ’60s and ’70s and surely they are popular and they require equal talent and work in terms of composing and innovation.

‘Housefull 4’ is a reincarnation comedy set on a grand scale. How difficult, exciting and interesting was it to produce music for such a theme?
All my movies actually have the same effect on me, I mean when it comes to composing music for them. They cause me to research, hibernate, work hard, experiment, lose it (laughs) and still continue. Late night sessions, heated and excited discussions, super interest in the novelty of the project and a burning desire to do good. But as I tend to work on few projects at a time, that prevents me from any burnout and gives me enough time to experiment, fewer deadlines work wonders for artists like me. So even if it may seem difficult, there is always the exciting factor to balance it all out.

Your father, part of the Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen duo, has already composed for Akshay Kumar for a string of movies such as ‘Yeh Dillagi’ (1994), ‘Tu Chor Main Sipahi’ (1996), ‘Aflatoon’ (1997) and ‘Zulmi’ (1999). What do you think of the music of those films under the baton of Dilip Sen-Sameer Sen? Do you have any favourite songs? How does it feel to take over and compose for such a superstar such as Akshay Kumar in this golden period for him?
That was a different era, a golden era of songs, so to speak. The songs were different, melodious (not that today’s are not), technology was different from today’s, the singers were fewer and unique and brands and styles of the music director were well known. They have withstood the test of time, have become popular even with today’s generation and are here to stay. They really encapsulate and capture the essence of all that is Indian music, perhaps devoid of global influences. There are many songs I love from their movies, so to pick one would be difficult.

Yes, composing for superstar Akshay Kumar, a superstar for whom your dad has also composed in the past is fantabulous. I mean growing up, you see all these songs that your dad composes, and then you see the stars for whom they have been composed, and then boom!!! There comes a day when history repeats itself and you are asked to compose songs for the same superstars. It’s awesome. You feel proud, happy and it’s all worth it. The legacy continues. And when I have some time, I do sit down to marvel at these coincidences.

Today’s music is so fast-paced that a lot of interludes are clearly neglected. How much emphasis do you place on composing real interludes?
Well, being the old soul that I am, from the old-school of music and the perfectionist when it comes to music, I continue to give the required emphasis to compose real interludes. I haven’t reached the stage of taking shortcuts, yet. Jokes apart, I don’t think I will change. I really haven’t thought much about that. But who knows, time will tell and the need for making changes arises, as this is a fast paced, highly evolving industry. One has to keep up with the changes and do what is necessary and trending.

There are a lot of new kids on the block who have been noticed recently and who delivered one hit here and there. Who has recently caught your attention and why?
There are many and everyone is doing so great stuff, so to name just few won’t be right at my part.

Were you hurt when Ashutosh Gowariker did not repeat you again for his future projects, especially ‘Panipat’, as you gave him some of your best tunes in ‘What’s Your Raashee? (2009)’ and ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’ (2010)?
First of all, thank you for the lovely compliment. Appreciate it. Secondly, hurt is a very strong sentiment and I choose not to be hurt but rather look at the bright side of things. I mean I am happy to have compose two films with Ashutosh sir, and surely it’s been an honour to share my work with him, and am super thankful to him for the opportunities that he gave me. We really had a good time working together when we did, but I guess there comes a time when one needs to explore and experiment not because we don’t like some one or something, but just because there is so much talent in our industry. It’s good for everyone to experiment, variety is good and that makes people grow and evolve. Perhaps in the future we will work together again, who knows. Good work, good tunes surely have their own benefits and people remember them and it’s not like they have gone underground or been forgotten.

YouTube hits seem to be the real indication of success these days. What are your thoughts?
Oh yeah. It’s like the watering hole of the internet, everyone flocks to YouTube, it’s like the most popular platform for sharing your work, your videos and if the number of views of a video can break the internet, then it must indicate the popularity of that video. YouTube has great tools to analyse who is watching your videos, from what part of the world exactly and you get all the information that you could possibly need. It boosts your morale when you see the figures climb, almost like the stock market and it sheds light on the number of times, the amount of time people spend watching the videos. It’s a pretty good indicator of success.

Now that the music of ‘Housefull 4’ has been appreciated all over, are you expecting more offers to start pouring? What projects have you already signed?
Yes, hopefully. Fingers crossed and prayers in place. I am working on some really exciting projects but it’s too early to talk about them.

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