Sohail Sen has had almost a decade-long career as a composer, singer, and musician. His works consist of major chart-topping songs like Saiyyara, Jiya Re, Shaaitan ka Sala, and Bikhri Bikhri. His artistry has been the soundtrack of hit films like Ek Tha Tiger, Gunday, Housefull 4, What’s Your Rashee, and many more. His recognitions include nominations as Best Music Director and Album of the Year.
Music flows in his veins and that is how effortlessly he creates his music. Read his interview with Storiyaan to learn more about the versatile musician and his music.
Questions and answers
You come from a generation of musicians. Can we start by discussing the influence your father and grandfather have on you and your music today?
My grandfather Shri Shambhu Sen and my father, Sameer Sen, both renowned musicians, and music director, have shaped me as a musician and defined my aesthetics of music since childhood. My early training comes from a household immersed in music. Growing up, we would wake up listening to the beautiful music played and practiced in our home, and that has stayed with me. I have picked up the usage of traditional Indian instruments from my family and incorporate that into my music very generously today. I am known for that by my fans. For example, if you listen to the tune of my latest movie, Guns of Banaras, I have used many Indian instruments in the songs. I was so amidst such musical maestros I have naturally picked up and imbibed all the intricacies of good music and how it should sound like, what instruments should be used etc.
Your first major, Album, What's Your Rashee was released to acclaim by critics. You always wanted to work with Ashutosh Gowariker. Can you elaborate on your experience of working with him?
The experience was amazing, working with such a visionary director who gets into great detail and elaborate research with his films. His movies are always on a large scale, opulent, and detail-oriented. He likes things to be perfect in his movies, no matter how much time it takes. And so, “What’s your Rashee?” took us a very long time to complete. We did a very detailed study of all the sun signs, to begin with, and then the songs were created for each sun sign. There was one song for each of the 12 zodiac signs that Priyanka Chopra had portrayed. The album consists of thirteen songs, twelve songs for each zodiac sign, and one introductory song. We would make sure it sounded right and did a lot of experimentation with singers, and one song also has Ashutosh sir, singing in it himself. Ashu sir is the one who has encouraged me to sing right from those days at the beginning of my career, and he insisted I sing a lot of the songs myself after he heard me sing while presenting my work to him. He said that my voice suited Harman Baweja, the movie’s main actor, so I sang many songs in the movie. Later on, I also went on to work with him on his next film, “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se.” We recently met after so many years, a decade almost, and it was really a nostalgic meeting, and we spoke of all the good times we had during these movies. So it was a wonderful break for me indeed to work with him.
You assisted your father for about nine years to tune your skills. How was your experience working with him? Did you ever get into a creative conflict with him?
Assisting and working with my dad (Sameer Sen), my grandfather (Dilip Sen), and my uncle (Lalit Sen) has been a very good experience. I got to learn a lot during that period being in a studio and live environment, working with so many singers and musicians on a grand scale. I always take their opinion and advice when it comes to music. We don’t have any conflicts, and it’s just a matter of listening to their advice and suggestions and then understanding them to see how they would fit into my work. We have a good rapport, and I like to get their opinion on my work. They always have some good ideas.
The first two movies you worked on somehow managed not to make any sound. They have delayed releases and went unnoticed. Did it at any point discourage you? If it did, how did you bounce back?
Yes, they didn’t make the sound they should have due to certain issues back then, way back in 2008. But after that, I was fortunate as I immediately got my big break with Ashutosh Gowarikarji with “What’s your Rashee?” and its music has been appreciated a lot to this date. Soon after that, I had “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan, Ek Tha Tiger, Gunday, Housefull 4, to name a few. So the movies and projects have always been coming in, so far so good.
You once said, "I'm never completely satisfied with my work." Can you elaborate on that for us?
Ah yes!! Thank you for quoting me. I am never satisfied with my work, there is always room for improvement, and I will always find something to change or make it better right till the very end. The other team members involved in the project will approve the songs, but I continue to work on it just a bit more before I say I’m done. I really like my work to be a certain way and standard, and so I aim to live up to that. I have to be happy with each of my songs before I send it out to my fans.
What genre and artists do you listen to currently?
I have grown up listening to Madan Mohan Ji, Shankar Jaikishan Ji, R.D. Burman Ji, and Laxmikant Pyarelal Ji.
From west John Williams, Hanz Zimmer, Yanni, The Beatles, and many independent artists from Michael Jackson, Rihanna, Ed Sheeran to Adele.
I love listening to Ghazals from Mehdi Hassan Khan Sahab and Ghulam Ali Ji. The list is endless.
Your entry is the mark of a fourth-generation into this career. When your music history is so rich, it brings along a legacy. Having inherited these wonderful gifts, does it ever pressurize you or your works?
Yeah, in a way, you do get a bit pressurized in the beginning, but just a bit until you enter the industry. But then over the years it all changes. I have created my niche as an independent artist and a brand. The influence of my music history is a plus point, as your core musical strengths are so strong. Comparisons and pressure don’t exist in a creative person’s world. It would be unfair to work under pressure. My work comes naturally to me, and whatever I produce is never under pressure. But yeah, some pressure is good as it can unleash hidden musical talents for a musician perhaps to experiment in new trends.
Everyone has their highs and lows. What is your mantra beside music to cope up with the lows?
I am a pretty laid back person, and I enjoy time with my family and friends to unwind. Long drives in the rain are fun, and I like to experiment with a variety of food. I love to exercise at the gym, and that helps me to relax too. Watching movies is a fun activity too. I also enjoy electronic gadgets like radio-controlled gadgets, FPV quads, drones, etc. It’s a hobby that I enjoy and one that I need to get back to often. Currently, in lockdown, I have been playing a lot of Fortnite, and I just love it.
What comes first to you, the lyrics, or the melody?
Well, for me, it’s the melody that comes first to mind always. I am still figuring out tunes and rhythms. The lyrics writer usually writes lyrics.
You've created several songs to date. Are there some that strike a chord with you and remain very close to your heart? And why?
They are all close to my heart as I’ve created them all, be it from WYR or Mere Brother Ki Dulhan or Gunday or Ek Tha Tiger or Housefull 4. They are all special, be it Saiyara, or Jiya or Bikhri bikhri.
If you could give a golden line of suggestions to young musicians, what would it be?
Today the world is at your feet, put out your best there. Ride the wave of the internet and showcase your talent to the world. It’s a beautiful time filled with opportunities for budding new musicians. Use the power of the internet and social media. It’s the best tool an artist can have today.
If tomorrow, the world collapses and you can only pick one musical instrument to play for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
Well, the image of the sinking Titanic and the piano comes to mind with this kind of a question, so perhaps I’ll choose the keyboard and make beautiful tunes if the world collapses, God forbid.
Lastly, who inspires you, both: in music and life?
In music, a lot of great musicians around the world influence me. Michael Jackson has been an influence. Musicians like James Horner of Titanic is a great composer to look up to. A.R Rahman is an inspiration. So there are a lot of geniuses out there that one looks up to. Anyone who does exceptional work has a profound effect always. It’s the same in life. My father is an inspiration to me with his dedication to his work. People who seek quality over quantity are motivators.
Favorite Genre of Music: Romantic
Favorite Album you always listen to:
Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Dangerous
Last movie you watched:
Do little since I am a huge fan of Robert Downey, Jr.
Favorite snack while traveling:
Three things to take on a desert island:
Sunscreen, sunglasses, Water
Swimming trunks, phone, and headphones