The soundtrack composed by Nitin Sawhney for the hit Andy Serkis- directed film that just launched across the world; Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, is the result of being a British Asian composer, he tells us.
The Asian Voice was invited to interview Nitin Sawhney and the other stars on the actual Red Carpet at the glitzy Mayfair Curzon Premiere of Mowgli last week, when he appeared alongside Naomi Harris and director-actor Andy Serkis.
Andy Serkis is best known for his unique performance capture roles such as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and also now runs his own production company and motion capture workshop, The Imaginarium Studios, which he used for Mowgli. The movie has just launched in the UK.
Nitin Sawhney has a long pedigree. The Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award- winner is a world-class producer, songwriter, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, orchestral composer and cultural pioneer, and has 20 studio albums to his name.
He was asked by Andy Serkis to compose the score to create an Indian setting for the film, which is based on the original Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. The result is a rich, gripping soundtrack with original songs, reflecting an exciting and thoughtful film which presents the dilemma of Mowgli, brilliantly played by Rohan Chand, who is caught between the two worlds of humans and animals.
The thing he is proudest of, says Nitin, is the haunting theme he wrote for Mowgli. “It took me a couple of years to get to a theme I really liked. We had a few different versions. I spent a lot of time with Andy trying to capture that, even walking through the jungle in South Africa at one point.” Some of the scenes were shot among one of the biggest Indian communities outside India, in Durban.
Nitin feels for Mowgli in having two worlds to straddle. He knows that situation, familiar to so many second generation British Indians. “I was caught between two worlds at school. I get the search for identity for those from immigrant backgrounds. From my point of view as a British Asian, I was trying to find a mixture of my heritage and my context. So the score has a big western orchestra in there but I also brought in great Indian classical players like Ashwin Srinvasan, the Bansuri, or bamboo flute player.”
Nitin Sawhney is acclaimed for his signature fusion music; it is the hallmark of his career.
“I have made a lot of studio albums since the nineties; I have been doing this in different contexts like club music. This is something I know a lot about; it felt like coming home; using a language that was familiar to me that I could present to the world.”
Composers work in different ways on their films, but Nitin Sawhney and Andy Serkis have been friends for years and since the film took four years to make, Nitin had time to work organically. Mr Serkis told us that Nitin was his first choice and go- to person to give the film twenty-first century cultural authenticity.
So how did Nitin Sawhney evolve his film score?
“I spent time initially with the storyboards, then we built it from there. Gradually I would get more and more of the cuts. I had a lot of conversations with Andy, a lot of time spent thinking about the characterization; the psychology not only of the characters but also the narrative and how it develops through the story.
The Mowgli theme occurs in lyrical ways throughout the film and was catching the ear even as it played on the Red Carpet while Nitin Sawhney spoke to the Asian Voice.
The film score has been highlighted by critics as one of the many outstanding aspects of the film. Mowgli is no sugar- coated Disney- style cutesie project; it will appeal to British Asians as the colonial character, the white hunter, is not shown in a particularly favourable light and meets a surprising destiny.
So what comes next for Nitin? He has lots on the go, but smiles as tells us;
“I am creating a new national anthem for Sky Arts with the National Youth Orchestra and a big choir. It will be performed at the Barbican. It is satirical; based around BREXIT. I have been going to Manchester, Glasgow, up and down the country, asking people about their feelings.”
Nitin is a talented, exciting man of our times; he brings a fascinating dimension to whatever project he works on.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is on Netflix and in select cinemas now.
It took me a couple of years to get to a Mowgli theme I really liked