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A musical homecoming for Siddhartha Khosla

Siddhartha Khosla, Emmy-nominated composer on This Is Us and Only Murders in the Building, talks about Gulmohar, his first Indian film project

Siddhartha Khosla
Siddhartha Khosla

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California-based singer-composer-songwriter and Emmy nominee Siddhartha Khosla is is all set for his first Hindi film project. Khosla fronted the band Goldspot before scoring soundtracks for hit shows like This Is Us, Only Murders In The Building and films such as Your Place Or Mine. The family drama Gulmohar (Disney+ Hotstar), starring Sharmila Tagore and Manoj Bajpayee, is the first time he'll be composed for an Indian film. Edited excerpts from an interview:

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You have done so much work in Hollywood, especially on very mainstream American shows. How different was it to score something for a Hindi film?

I think the only difference is that it's in a different language, but the approach is the same. You're still scoring the emotional subtext of everything that's happening. You're still letting the performances breathe, especially when you have great performances like you do in Gulmohar. So for me, it's really no different. 

I treated it the same as any Hollywood project I worked on. The thing that was different was that in many ways it felt like coming full circle in my life story because as a kid I grew up singing old Hindi film songs. Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar—these artists taught me how to sing. That was a very special experience.

What was it like composing songs for a film?

Rahul Chittella, who co-wrote and directed the film, entrusted me to write the melodies for these songs. I didn't write the lyrics. I was responsible for the music and the melodies and it was so much fun. A lot of these types of songs, these melodies are part of my DNA in a way, so being able to apply that here felt really special. 

The biggest challenge, if anything, was maybe writing the Holi song, because that's the type of music I've never really written before. And the ghazal was so much fun because those types of melodies just aren't very natural to me, and then having somebody like Talat Aziz singing to it was very cool.

How different was the instrumentation you used for ‘Gulmohar’ compared to, say, ‘Only Murders’ or ‘This is Us’?

Well, ultimately every good piece of music, whether it's a song or a piece of score, is something that you can just sit at a piano and play, or sit with a little acoustic guitar and play. It's something very simple and organic. So, I began this process using piano, acoustic guitar, my voice—the things that I can play regularly and well. 

These melodies had hints of SD Burman or a RD Burman-esque feeling sometimes. Not that I am comparing myself to them, but it's just a feeling that they were invoking for me. That's the stuff that inspired me most as a  kid. Then I was like, imagine the Chennai Orchestra plays this melody and then a bansuri plays it or a shehnai plays it or a ghatam plays the beat, as opposed to a tabla. All the rest of it is just production around the theme. 

Also, knowing what the film was about and it being set in Delhi, you knew the music needed to feel grounded in India. I always like having everything feel organic. In a film like this, which is a family drama inside the home, you want the sounds to feel like they are emanating from the walls of that home. I think this is one of the reasons Rahul, who is a big fan of This Is Us, approached me to do the music—because he knew that I would take this route and it was consistent with what he wanted. 

When you feel like you're sort of in the lives of these people, then you have to be careful to not over-score stuff, because then in something that's already inherently emotional, if you try to do too much with the music, it becomes overwrought. So respecting those performances and that balance, is similar to what I had to do on This Is Us and here as well.

You said that the theme of ‘Only Murders…’ is a bit like your personality. Would you say that that's true about all the pieces you compose?

It’s almost impossible to not have a piece of your personality in the art you create. Even though this is not a solo project by any means. This is not Goldspot. This is for a director, a producer and a writer, and someone else's vision. Rahul approached me to do this film a couple of years before he filmed it and he said, I want to make this film, but I need you to be part of it early on, because what you do is going to compliment what I want to do. 

I'm an emotional person. I relate to a lot of things in this film too. No family is absent from drama and no family is easy. If your personal experiences make their way into the music, then stuff starts to collectively feel really authentic. I think this film sort of taps into things that I get affected by that will make me cry. So when I'm writing the music here, I'm writing the music for myself a little bit too. In that sense, it's very meta for me.

 What’s the future of Goldspot?

I'm going to make another album at some point. That is a goal. The television and film world occupies every ounce of my creative time. I love it as much as I love Goldspot. But at some point I have to make another album. I want to come back to India.

Would you be open to another Indian project?

Of course. I like anything that's moving and powerful and good and has great artistry behind it. I found that in Gulmohar. It's a beautiful film, authentic, really well-written, beautifully acted. Any piece of art that is this authentic and beautiful, I want to be a part of.

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