Musical trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy ready for Bollywood in the Capital gig

They will put up one of their famously power-packed performances at the Bollywood in the Capital concert at du Forum on August 13.

From left, Loy Mendonsa, Shankar Mahadevan and Ehsaan Noorani. Courtesy Flash Entertainment
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When a software engineer from Mumbai, a student from the Musicians’ Institute in Los Angeles, and a music teacher from Delhi came together to form Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, the Hindi music scene took a refreshing turn.

The trio, who have worked on ad jingles and television theme songs in addition to Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu cinema, have been the music directors of Bollywood films such as Dil Dhadakne Do, 2 States, Kal Ho Naa Ho and Dil Chahta Hai. They will now put up one of their famously power-packed performances at the Bollywood in the Capital concert at du Forum on August 13.

Ehsaan Noorani speaks to me in the midst of recording for a chocolate commercial in Mumbai. A slow, deliberate speaker, his voice is huskier than I expect. He is also refreshingly candid.

“We have performed once in Abu Dhabi many years ago, but I don’t remember the concert or the city at all,” says the guitarist. “But I believe it has changed, transformed to become more cosmopolitan. So we’re looking forward to the Bollywood in the Capital concert. After all, it’s always great to have a ready-made fan base.”

There’s more candour where that came from when I ask him what songs concert-goers might expect. “We rarely decide our performance line-up in advance. Often, it only happens pre-show. And even then, we may switch the order depending on the audience reaction and mood.”

With more than 300 songs that date back to 1997, chances are that the mood will remain upbeat all the way.

The group's next big project, Farhan Akhtar's Rock On!! 2 is the sequel to 2008's Rock On!!. However, the music is being kept hush-hush for now. Will the songs be part of that mix, I wonder, but Noorani's not telling, but says the soundtrack is unlike the one in the original film.

"It's very different from Rock On!!, and it's lovely to have [actress] Shraddha Kapoor in the mix because she's a very good singer and brings a different angle to the music."

Rock On!! 2 marks the 10th film that Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are working on with multifaceted actor and filmmaker Akhtar, will also perform at the Abu Dhabi concert a day before, on August 12. The four have collaborated on films such as Dil Chahta Hai, Lakshya, Karthik Calling Karthik, Don and Rock On!! in the past.

“Farhan is a good singer and guitarist, and also a curious person – when he’s in the studio with us, he’s always asking questions. We’ve been friends for many years now, and we have a lot of fun when we work together,” says Noorani.

Twenty years is also a long time to be part of a group of three, especially given each man’s varied background: Shankar Mahadevan is a trained Hindustani and Carnatic classical singer, Loy Mendonsa is trained in Western classical music and plays piano, bass guitar, harmonica and trumpet, while Noorani was part of rock bands Pegasus and Crosswinds and trained under guitarist Bismarck Rodrigues. The trio performed blues, jazz, rock and pop before making it big in Bollywood.

“Because the three of us are musicians in our own right, it’s the unpredictability of the soundtrack that makes us strong and successful as a team. We don’t have a set style. Each album turns out differently, which keeps it fresh – for us and our listeners,” says Noorani.

It is this freshness that has seen the group win nearly 30 Indian awards over the years, as well as the National Award for Kal Ho Naa Ho.

“It’s always nice to be recognised, but we don’t make or change our music with the intention of winning at award functions, nor do we let fame go to our heads – the coffee tastes the same the next day,” says Noorani, adding: “We consider the National Awards to be very prestigious, while the rest of the awards are fun to attend.”

That said, the trio admits that most of their success stems from Bollywood, which has often been called a “necessary evil” for up-and-coming musicians who need a platform.

“I would attribute the majority of my commercial success and fame to the reach that Bollywood has across the world,” admits Noorani. “However, it can get a little frustrating when things like the hefty fees some actors command takes away from the music budget. Also, many people rate the success or failure of a film’s soundtrack based on its box-office results.”

“Music is a creative piece of work that should be given its due beyond the film itself,” he adds emphatically.

The trio also frequently perform at charity events and concerts organised by NGOs, the most recent being a show for Khilo – Education of the Girl Child, in Mumbai in March, and one for the Shakti Foundation in Chennai, in February.

“We believe one has to give back to society in some way,” says Noorani. “It’s not all about reaping and keeping the rewards for yourself. Success has to be inclusive, and a lot of that inclusion has to happen with and for people who are not as fortunate. And what better medium for spreading a good message than music?”