Sanjay Leela Bhansali wept after listening to Tadap Tadap Ke, heard the song nine times: Ismail Darbar

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s musical efforts have been as extravagant and larger-than-life as his luxuriously painted canvases. The filmmaker, who also doubled up as a music composer with his film Guzaarish, always had a penchant for folk tunes and ballads, classical western music and opera. A filmmaker for whom songs are an intrinsic part of storytelling — not for him the ‘special numbers’ and songs playing in the background — SLB is the antithesis to the current school of thought that believes music can be an afterthought.

As Sanjay Leela Bhansali celebrates his birthday today, we speak to his frequent collaborator Ismail Darbar to understand the notes of their relationship and how earworms like “Tadap Tadap Ke” were made. He also sheds light on the fact why they haven’t collaborated since Devdas in 2002.

Excerpts from the interview:

SLB has a great ear for music

One of the best things about Sanjay is that he listens to a lot of world music. I am a musician, I have played violin all my life and my family was into music, but even I had never heard so much music in my life. He would listen to Pancham Da, pure classical, symphony, opera, he would listen to all kinds of music and he understood it. He opened up these windows for me to understand music better. He would discuss all this music with me and slowly I got into it.  Sanjay has a good ear for music. Composers have to do a lot of ‘tigdam baazi’ (manipulation) at times to sell their music or to bring it closer to the filmmaker’s idea. I never even had to do it with Sanjay.

Our tuning got better with time

There were times if Sanjay had to say something, I would know from his eyes. We didn’t need to communicate with words, our tuning got better with every song we made. He is also ‘bade gussewala’ (extremely short tempered) and moody. But we had an understanding, when it came to music we were completely honest with each other. We would keep all our differences aside, churn out the best, it was a process of self realisation, we gave it all we had in us, we never massaged each other’s egos.

Tried searching for SLB in every filmmaker

God has given me birth to make music, so I want to be true to my music. So when people started telling what to make so it can sell, I decided to take a back seat and wait it out. I was looking for Sanjay in every filmmaker. I wanted them to reciprocate to my music the way he did, give me feedback the way he did. But you can’t find a Sanjay Leela Bhansali everywhere. The biggest self proclaimed ‘music moguls’ in our country today won’t be a ‘surila insaan’ (music lover) like Sanjay.

I stopped enjoying the process of making music

At one point, I stopped enjoying the process of making music. I started craving to work with someone who understands my music. I kept feeling how my music needed his vision. No filmmaker understood my music like he did, ‘iss baat se meri aatma ko bohot takleef hoti thi (it hurt me the most)’. My work stopped making me happy. Sanjay never hid anything from me. He has showed me all his music and that he made without me, he has taken me through Gangubai Kathiawadi’s music too. He is never insecure about his work, he never broke ties with me. We embarked upon a unique journey with Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and he has maintained that relationship.

I must have broken that relationship a hundred times, but he never gave up on me. He has given me all the love and respect and ‘maine kabhi usse beimaani nahi ki’ (I have never broken his trust). God knows, every time I gave him feedback, I was honest with him. There have been times when we have fought, and gone without speaking with each other for four- six months, but that’s it, then we get back to being normal. That’s a constant since the past 25 years.

I have seen Sanjay live through my songs, he would hear each song multiple times, hundreds of times and then picturised it. ‘Kitni mehnat karta tha, aur karvata tha, woh harr ek gaane pe (he used to put in so much effort to shoot his songs)’. He would sit and discuss every details of the song with me, he would tell me the mood, how he is going to direct it, he would make me imagine every situation that would be in a song.

Favourite song from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

When I was struggling, I used to go for auditions. I would play what I had to and then at the end I would play my favourite song, which is now the title track of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. I would tell them that I’ve played what they wanted to hear, now I wanted them to listen to my favourite song. No one got it, no one understood this song, they would call it long and tiring, slow and sloppy.


Nobody was taking that song, but I refused to change even one note of it. And one fine day, ‘ittefaq se’ (accidently), I had my first meeting with Sanjay. So, I did what I always did. I made him hear what he wanted to and in the last I made him hear my favourite song. He made me sing the song thrice. That was it, for the first time I found someone who wanted to hear my favourite song more than once.

After that meeting I waited for six months, made Sanjay listen to more songs, but Sanjay never finalised me. I was getting tired struggling, really, I had become desperate.

Then one day, I called Sanjay up to tell him that I wanted him to hear this one particular song, and he asked me why I was sounding so sad. So I rode my Kinetic (scooter), reached his office and made him hear ‘Tadap Tadap’ in KK’s voice, I only had the first antra ready, but I wanted him to hear it. You won’t believe it, but that day, Sanjay heard that song nine times. I didn’t realise what was happening until I saw him weeping. It was like a comedy scene, he was crying and I was happy. I had found someone who loved my song so much, that day, after listening to this song finally signed me as the music director for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.


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