It’s a no-brainer that they are brothers since they look alike. But beyond this simple similarity, the common thread that inseparably binds the two is their unswerving penchant for music. Manmeet and Harmeet Singh have quickly scaled the popularity charts with their effective dosage of music in Bollywood. Natives of the royal, historical city of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, these 30-something, hardworking siblings grabbed all options with both hands that life threw at them only to survive the struggle for music. Meet the Meet Bros in a special interview session with Score magazine, where they open up about their acting assignments, influence of Gwalior on music, old-school and contemporary styles, sea-change in musical production, about the Meet Bros label, separation with the long-time musical partner Anjjan, concept of multiple scorers over a single movie and a lot more to sneak a peek into….
You both started out as actors initially and then shifted gears to emerge as music composers? Why this sudden change in your trajectory?
Well, we have always wanted to be singers and musicians. For music has been our Holy Grail. After passing out college, we were meeting a lot of people and attempting to cut an album. But this is a lengthy process and takes a whole lot of time to materialise. Since we were also actors simultaneously and had done a lot of acting and theatre back in our school-college days, we tried our hand at histrionics too. It just worked out in our favour and we ended up bagging some big popular TV shows namely, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kkusum and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. Albeit we enjoyed facing the camera, our heart lay in music. But we finally managed to ink an album deal which came out successfully and prompted us to quit acting. See, we never regretted this decision and were overly happy with our choice.
How did music happen to your life?
We were struck by the lightening of music at a very early age. The exposure came to us when we were pretty young. Our mom was an avid listener of the yesteryears’ golden old songs. She would make sure to get a prized collection of all the ‘superhit song’ records. She had her own compilation, a treasure-trove of sorts. She would play that music all day long in our house. Subconsciously, we would keep hearing the numbers and knew them well enough to hum along. So that’s how music was instilled in us. It’s our root of origin.
As far as our memory could be rewound, we remember to be in the first standard when we had taken part in an inter-school kirtan competition and stood second over there. It was a very big achievement for us at that point of life. We continued to do the devotional genre, although we weren’t earnestly hooked onto it to approach it like a true professional. We just did it for the lark and casually started singing in school and performing on stage. We kind of went with the flow. In a way you may say that we are used to entertain people since childhood.
We made a song in school called ‘Jogi Singh Barnala Singh’ and it really got us famous right through our college years as well. That song is our debut single which became a huge hit and earned us our moniker ‘Meet Brothers’.
Looking in retrospect we guess, we were born to be who we are today. Music had walked into our lives much before we could realize that it would sweep us off our feet and is here to stay forever.
Which artiste/artistes’ musical works have really inspired you all through your journey?
Both of us have our own favourites like R.D .Burman. We feel, his music was different and he was much ahead of his times. Even today, we party to his songs. We shimmy and groove to his classic tempo and the peppy beats.
Then there is Jagjit Singhji, whose ghazal gayaki we think is unique and inimitable. Truly, there has never been a singer nor there will be one ever like him to emulate his style. He introduced ghazals to the whole country. With his demise, the semi-classical, melodious genre seems to die down. His vocal chords would lend a magical touch to influence the masses across generations. The appeal of his hypnotic renditions was never confined to an elite home or an aristocratic household. Even a layman on the street, the proletariat or a simple pan-seller at the roadside shop would be his die-hard patrons. Anybody will be eager to give an arm and a leg to reach his rich mehfils. He brought along a vast wealth of poetic gems and has left behind a formidable legacy to carry forth with care, dedication and nurture.
How did your formative years back in Gwalior influence you musically? Did the local folksy flavours or the regal classical strains help strengthen your basics in music?
It is said that if you eat leaves from the tamarind tree, planted by the great musical genius Mian Tansen in Gwalior, it would really boost you with some creative potion. Of course, we didn’t eat those leaves (smiles) but yes, our first tryst with music happened on the Gwalior soil while at school. It was when late eminent legendary vocalist Mahendra Kapoorsaab was in town for a stage show and he got to know about us. In the middle of his concert, he called us on stage from the audience gallery and we still remember having sung the ‘Chappa Chappa’ track then and there. The public function in Gwalior was such a blockbuster that the whole gathering in the stands started shouting “once more, once more”. That event had actually set the ball rolling for us to pursue music with our whole heart and soul ahead. Later on, we took to the stage innumerable times.
As siblings how would you guide or support each other while learning or listening to the musical creations?
Luckily, we have been brought up more like friends than just brothers under the same roof. Thankfully, our friend circle has always been common right from the start. So when that happens, you become more like bosom buddies than mere blood relations. Moreover, when you work together for years to make a career, you get even closer. It’s like ‘ek aur ek gyarah,’ as they say. In music and life both, we complement each other and our strengths lie in togetherness. It’s a fact of life that we were born to be together as brothers. And our destiny had as if plans in store for us to complete each other.
What significant changes have you noticed in musical production and composition over the years?
Music has undergone a drastic change in terms of sounds. It’s more electronic now. Earlier, it used be all analog. Everything was very live and tangible. People would record most of the songs by live instruments. But today, only four to five percent of the sounds and beats in the song is live, while the rest is all digital. These days, music is by and large available on the digital platforms and we are consuming that only. Even in terms of composition, there would be long verses earlier than in the current-day’s lyrics. They fell on the ears more melodiously and soothingly, because they were made with much effort, time and patience. People would tune in to the songs multiple times and the melody would penetrate their senses and linger on for long. But today’s supersonic age is tech-driven and is devoid of that relaxed leisure. People are always on the go, managing hectic schedules from pillar to post. We have fast food, fast relations, fast jobs etc. all over. People are used to these rapid changes every day. So music has to be served that way as well. The notes are much simpler and catchier now to harp on. It may not be that ornate with soulful strains, poise and depth but is highly rhythmic and pulsating to the core. People like it on the move.
Music is more of a visual experience now than just lending an ear to. Your take on this.
I absolutely agree with this statement. True that music in the present times is first seen and then heard. So it all comes through the vivid videos. It has become more of a visual delight to speak of. And if the song has a good melody and a foottapping beat to dwell on, it becomes a huge hit. So it rarely happens that a song is released without picturisation and today, people like to see and believe those visuals on screen. That’s how the word spreads and a song sustains. So it’s all very graphically dependent now. You would hardly come across a very good song, which is badly shot and yet, fares well publicly. So, both aspects should march hand in hand. In the past, old songs would be a blockbuster even if the hero and the heroine were seen seated inside a room. But things have drastically changed now. Today, a blockbuster song rides upon a lot of extra elements, required to be chipped in to propel its success.
Many old school critics despise dance numbers and racy tracks. But your discography shows some runaway hits in these genres. So what do you have to say?
Music you know, is a very personal matter. Say for example, if you create a song and you or anybody else starts listening to it, it immediately becomes yours or the other person’s inherited property. At least, the feeling comes across like that. But music is independent, free of all bounds. It is not like you live in a rented house and start believing that it’s your own area or premises. However, the irony is that in music, you actually tend to start internalising your favourite song and think it to be your own. You attach a sense of belonging to it. When somebody is playing it, you’re like ‘wow I love it.’ You take pride in it.
When it comes to the old school critics, I presume that they have been brought up with a very different kind of music to listen to. Obviously it’s very human for them to unable to accept or understand our kind of music or more precisely, today’s brand of compositions. What you grow up being catered with, becomes an inbuilt habit or your staple diet for life. However, the new generation is different; they live life on a fast lane. Whether it’s a job, food, or relationships, it’s all very speedy now. By that logic, music too follows suit. It ought to be for-the-moment, swift, vibrant with a tempo and prompt on demand.
In the past, people would seldom battle the stress. Today, there are too many distractions. Earlier, most people would finish off their jobs at 6 o’clock in the evening and go home. Now work from home concepts and late nights are keeping every professional 24×7 busy. So there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the mind and body because of the daily chores with their backbreaking deadlines to meet and deal with. As a result, the listeners reasonably need something to go easy on the ears. They want songs to lift up their mood with feel-good factors that bring a smile upon their faces. So this music is for the next-gen and the new world.
I do regret the fact that our elderly lot or the senior critics don’t much get to hear their choice of music. But we have many erstwhile geniuses like Naushadsaab, Ravi, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Khayyamsaab, Kalyanji-Anandji, RD Burman, et al to woo their tastes and preferences, who swear by the retro era. Enough music has been created for the aged audiences to enjoy and take a walk down their memory lane.
On the flip side, the current-day critics must also accept the contemporary idiom and learn that the times they are changing. It is in a constant flux. See, it’s the rule of the universe that man’s likes and dislikes alter from decade to decade. Music is who we are. It bears an authentic reflection of the socio-political-economic culture we represent. It is a correct identity, so it cannot be different. If the millennials and the Gen-Z progeny like their music in a certain way, so be it.
How did you guys professionally foray into the mainstream Bollywood music?
Oh, this goes back a long time. Actually, when we were working at an FM radio station in our hometown Gwalior, we used to have a lot of free time in hand while programming the shows. Hence, we started making songs. In fact, it was our first-time stint with the songmaking routine in life. We realized that we can actually make music. Right from our colleagues to everybody else at our workstation would appreciate our songs and would ask us to lend them in films. So when we finally moved to Mumbai, we just met a few good people who had genuinely showed a keen interest in our songs. We perhaps had enough confidence in what we had created at that point of time. And after garnering appreciation from whoever we had played our songs to, it made us somewhat feel that we are on the right path. We could never ever imagine that our songs like ‘Babydoll’ and ‘Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan’ would be lapped up so widely across the board and that our music would go this far. ‘Do Dooni Char’ and ‘Isi Life Mein’ were our first movies as music directors. It was our maiden break and both the flicks I remember, had happened to release together. So our journey somehow kicked off with these two features.
How did you vibe with actress Sonakshi Sinha in the ‘Aaj mood ishqholic hai’ song? How is she as a singer?
We had an awesome time making that song and putting it on record with Sonakshi. She is very humble and a very nice human being. She is extremely passionate about music and singing. She is fun on the mike and the number came naturally to her. We didn’t have to do too many takes with her because she is very effortless. We specifically made the song in her comfort space because we understood her voice and how she likes to sing.
We had a great time with her coordinating over the song, because she had zero attitude about being ‘The Sonakshi Sinha’. Normally, people of high stature throw their weight around others and are full of star tantrums. That’s the hallmark of a true great artiste you see. She was very down to earth. It was like recording any other artiste behind the studio. We would love to do more work as in songs with her. Her voice texture is different and she can easily become a female rapper, if she wishes.
Do you subscribe to the present-day trend of actors doing their own playback? Which actor do you think has done most justice to his/her assigned song?
We are delighted with the fact that actors are taking a shine to singing. Why not! We are nobody to judge or decide who can sing and who can’t. If actors are lending their vocals with good responses in return, then that’s certainly wonderful.
It is open to the people’s court and the verdict tilts towards actors making a difference over the microphone. For there are numerous people who are embracing this idea which is discernibly on a rising graph. Fact is, we are a nation of billion people, so we can’t restrict anyone from taking the plunge into something hatke. There are a lot of people who like the way Alia Bhatt sings or love the way Salmanbhai has sung our Hangover track inKick. Also actor Riteish Deshmukh did a Marathi song with us. People hero worship the stars and actors, who they consider their idols. So if they are liking this quality of their favourite performance artistes, what’s the harm!
Many singers have taken to acting and they have been applauded for their performance skills. Singers like Himesh Reshammiya and Honey Singh have been accepted when they took to acting. See, this is a period of multitasking. Therefore anyone at free will may explore the varied options at his/her disposal. Today all are hell-bent to step out of their cosy shell and prove their mettle to the world. I mean who would have fancied Salman Khan’s Hangover to gain so much popularity everywhere, albeit the actor has superbly done full justice to the song. It did turn out really well.
Is any single in the works?
Yes, singles are definitely on the cards. We are planning singles with singers like Kanika Kapoor, Deep Money, Mika Singh and a few other well-known artistes. But these things fall in place when an appropriate time comes. Singles is the future of music, no doubt. And it is something that was long-awaited and we just need to glide with the tide.
Any album on the anvil?
To tell you frankly, there is very little or no market for albums anymore. It’s more about singles now. Album is not in the trend at present. Nobody wants to listen to a complete, full-fledged album these days due to dearth of adequate time and a short-lived public memory. The retentive power has decreased to a great degree. People are more interested in seeing one big video and a song. It piques their urge and curiosity to wait for the next one. You can either churn out four singles in a row or put them out in a CD together. It doesn’t really make much of a difference quantity wise.
Tell us something about your forthcoming Bollywood scores?
We have already done one movie with Tiger Shroff in which Kanika Kapoor has sung a song. Our whole team has been revived once again with this film called Munna Michael. You will hear it as soon as it releases. There are many projects in the pipeline but we would like to talk about only those that are nearly on the verge of seeing the daylight. In Bollywood, you are either contract-bound by a project or not sure until it matures and you get to sign on the dotted line as things keeping shifting very fast. You can’t take far-fetched ideas for granted over here. And honestly, we don’t believe in divulging the details unless something concrete pans out.
What about collaborations with any national/international performers?
Yes, we have been busy doing so much music-direction that we haven’t got ample time to collaborate with the reputed foreign artistes. Post Justin Bieber’s concert in Mumbai last month, it kind of dawned upon us that there is an enormous potential for collaborations and tie-ups between Indian and international artistes. We have been doing a thorough market research on this and are putting out feelers into the intended direction. So the development work is already in process. Hopefully, you should shortly hear about something along these lines.
Your trio with music director Anjjan Bhattacharya broke after 13 long years of successful joint-ventures. Any specific reasons for parting ways with him?
Anjjan is still a brother. It is very rare that you opt for separate routes and yet remain on good terms. We bade goodbye to him on a healthy note with sheer positivism. We remember having joined hands together in 2010 and ever since, forged a strong bond. Our first movie as music directors was Do Dooni Char and then we split in 2015. So it’s been five long years of musical partnership and a beautiful journey together.
Anjjan is a very sweet guy. And he had his solid ground to move on as a soloist. Everyone wants his own entity, characteristic traits and individuality to come through his music because each has his own style. And Anjjan was no different on this score. We totally respected his decision in the way like your own sibling comes and tells us you that he wishes to have his own business and leave behind his mark on it. We don’t think anybody should have a problem with this or even attempt to spark unnecessary controversies surrounding it. We did let him go but not before a happy farewell and a bear hug. We promised to be always there for him and vice-versa. And that’s how it has been.
Are you guys still in touch with him on a personal plane and intend to once again synergize with him over musical endeavor in the near future?
We are still in connect with each other. We party hard together and have loads of fun. We definitely want to work together again because when we were previously coordinating, we had made a lot of quality songs. Our track-record evidently shows that. We are like brothers and there is a strong link between all of us in the quartet. For instance, Anjjan, Kumar the lyricist and us, Meet Bros.
Did you undergo any technical tutelage in music? Is it necessary for every musical aspirant?
No, we didn’t learn anything formally as such. Professionally, we would assimilate all the subtle nuances on the field itself. You see, our life is totally driven by passion with which I perceive, you can absorb almost anything on the earth. During our preparatory time, say 20 years ago, when we were seriously shaping up as future music scorers to translate our dreams into reality, there were hardly any good music schools available or proper career counsellings to guide us all the way. We were clueless about our forthcoming pursuits. And choosing music was not a lucrative job avenue for us then.
When finally the craft took us into its fold and we started getting work, climbing the steps of a music school or enrolling for a course was way too late in the day for us. But we stuck to our guns and had very quickly imbibed what was required of us. We opened up our own studio and have realised that the best way to learn is via practical experiences. However in today’s time, the scenario has visibly become very competitive. So it definitely pays off if you are well equipped with some form of training or the other. This is because there is no excuse for errors and one must stand a step ahead of others to lead the charge. It’s good that people are starting early these days and so most come ready to face the volatile nature of this industry’s ways. Thus, there will be less wastage of time if one enter the sector as a young fresher as the early bird catches the worm.
Can you trace back your acting days, facing the camera under the arc lights for action? What projects did you take up then?
Harmeet: Yes, we do miss those acting days when we recall and why not! After all, we both started as actors because music was really tough to make inroads into during that time. Youtube was yet to explode and boom humongously all over. Scope was frustratingly limited and only a handful few players, say 10 companies dabbled in the music game to plead for a coveted break. On top of that, the front-running labels were extremely picky about who they wanted to introduce and promote in the market. So in the interim period, we utilised the off-time and channelized our resources into acting. We did TV serials like Kkusum, Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kyun Hota Hai Pyarrr in which talented actor Amit Sadh and myself were launched together. While Manmeet did both the high TRP-rakers Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kkusum, I was cast in a Punjabi film with Girish Malik. I also did an array of ad commercials to mint some money and earn exposure. The overall experience was a lot fun.
Ahead, we also aspire to do a movie which is based on music and have a written script in our kitty. We would love to lock it when we have the right producers by our side.
What prompted you to settle for the sobriquet Meet Bros from Harmeet and Manmeet Singh? Was it always like this since the inception of your career?
The brand Meet Bros was accidentally established in 1999 inside our college canteen. We were deciding on the course of our career and suddenly figured out that many less-talented below average people are drawing mileage from the musical arena. We thought to ourselves that if they can sing and become such big stars then we can do it too. We zeroed in on about 16 names and selected this particular one from options like ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Bhangra Brothers’ and ‘Meet Brothers’. Our parents too pitched in their bit to help us out with the list of names. We kind of zoomed in on Meet Bros. via voting and it suits us to the tee as both our names have ‘Meet’ in them.
Did you expect to win a Filmfare Award for Roy’s music, given that all songs were chart toppers in that year (2015)?
We always felt that Roy was the best music of the year but there are factors that determine whether you are going to bag a Filmfare award or not. Bigger stars, big-ticket flicks and fatter revenues often play an influential role in dispensing the awards to a particular section. People get mesmerized by the aura of a movie and its ensemble starcast. It’s not the audience fault alone because psychologically, a star being associated with a song does give it a vital boost and ensure a bumper opening. Thanks to social media and trolling, that the reality is out in the open. People are now lending a fair judgment and are being less partial while voting the nominees from the categories. Although we knew we had given more than 100 percent in the tunes, we were not expecting an award per se. We were super extremely happy with the recognition and had expressed gratitude to each person behind the songs. It was as if our wish was granted even before we prayed for it. Hailing from a sleepy small town and achieving a milestone in your chosen profession is never a piece of cake at all. We just hope the world transforms into a better place with the power of music.
Do you find the concept of multiple tunesmiths toying with the same movie comfortable? Or does it hinder one’s creative space and individual sensibilities?
Multiple tunesmiths aboard a single project are working wonders. It kind of commenced with us with the movie Boss. (A.R.) Rahman sir’s song was there and ours too. Even some other music directors pitched in with their scores. We think this is a great concept as it churns out a colorful album with different flavors and aromas. We also love the idea that our name gets affixed with different brands. I think it’s a far better proposition if your name flashes out in 10 different films, instead of you doing 10 songs in only two films. Instead of a couple of banners and two posters, the number burgeons to a dozen diverse ventures. The work-base also amps up as you get to contact different directors, producers, stars and technicians. This is truly satisfying for us. You see, right balance is the key to life and variety on one’s graph adds more spice and dimensions to it. If this was hampering the composers’ creative liberties, then they wouldn’t be really hogging for it. The trend is definitely working and the proof lies in the concept’s prosperity.
This cover story was featured in the July 2017 issue: http://bit.ly/2uyrnIE