When we started this film project in mid of 2016, I shared a detailed making process of the initial stages of the score. If you haven’t read it yet, you can read the Stage 1 of the making of Angamaly Diaries Soundtrack here.
Mid of November, post the first schedule of the shoot, when the rough edit was ready, I flew down to Kochi to watch the first cut of the film.
The screening was set up in a small cozy villa in Angamaly that housed the core technical crew of the film.
With the living room lights blacked out and the projector beaming the El Capitan rock on the wall, I was ready to be stunned.
It would be the first time the core crew, scriptwriter Chemban and myself would be watching the film with Lijo. With editor Shameer getting a green signal from Lijo, the movie started.
The first few minutes into the movie, I knew Lijo had crafted another benchmark.
The storytelling, cinematography and the editing were genuinely unique and true to the land of Angamaly.
The movie, even though in it’s nascent stages, without any whistles and bells had the power to draw us all in.
The hair-raising moment was the interval where for the first time I heard one of my own score pieces.
It was one of the pieces I’d sent a few months back, and was used so damn efficiently and creatively.
Unlike any of Lijo’s films, this interval block will bring you to the edge of your seat and make you forget everything that happened until then.
Add to that the nail-biting finish to the film - where the cinematographer Girish Gangadharan and Lijo's technical genius will shine.
With mind-blown = 200x, we all jumped with joy for the sheer madness that Lijo was able to capture in its purest form.
I had a massive work cut out for me, to bring to life the simple and raw soundscape to take the narrative forward.
Lijo was to shoot some core sequences of the film, and one of them was a montage sequence.
The music piece had to be fun and mischievous yet simple.
With the film already reeling in my head, I recorded a melody and sent it over to my assistant Sreerag to arrange and program.
With a day’s turnaround, Sreerag perfectly emulated what I hummed, and produced a very lightly orchestrated montage piece.
When played, Lijo loved the track and asked for some iterations to suit the visual narrative.
After taking notes from Lijo for the score ideas, I headed back to Bangalore.
I carried the movie files that Shameer split into two, the first half and second half.
One of the first things I started work on was the Do Naina song and the montage music.
I reworked and rearranged the programmed tracks worked by Sreerag. I iterated it as per Lijo’s brief and once I was happy with the sound, I sent them over to Lijo.
Once that was through, Lijo suggested some more iterations to the songs and soundtrack pieces he liked from the stuff I’d shared earlier.
Some of them needed little tweaks against which visuals would have to be choreographed. I worked on them and fused particular background score pieces along with a few songs.
One of them was the song Ayalathe. Click the play button to watch the video.
A few days after sending the Do Naina track, Shameer synced it with a few visual blocks to see where it worked the most.
And both Lijo and I upvoted the one scene where the track emoted well.
During the LTM schedule, I managed to squeeze in a couple of days of scoring sessions with guitarist Siddarth Gautam.
I laid down my ideas for the score and recorded for various key sequences in the film.
These sessions was satisfying because of the pieces I could come up with and the way Siddarth belted them out on his acoustic and electric guitars.
There were over 40 core pieces in all, which I collated and synced to those movie files I got and sent them to Lijo and the editor.
The 2 files I sent Lijo using Dropbox
Once the final shoot was over, Shameer got to editing the film, making it tight and placing and sampling the score that I’d sent.
Lijo liked a few pieces and shuffled those through the movie where it blended the best way possible.
The climax shot
The icing on the cake was the climax shot or the end credits shot for the movie.Lijo shot this in Bahrain with just the lead Anthony.
A beauty of a shot, this just nailed the magnanimity of Angamaly Diaries. This ambience and setting got my head spinning with a ton of score ideas.
I tried a few score ideas and set the template for the score along with Sreerag.
I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the film that Lijo managed to shape with relentless passion and gutsy instinct.
Stage 4 : Kochi Scoring Sessions
With the LTM series wrapped up, I drove down with Sreerag to Kochi with my mobile studio setup on 26th December.
The score begins.
Once in Kochi, I holed up in the super cozy MyStudio.
From 27th December until 3rd Jan 2017, we worked towards completing the score and split into 7 Reels.
The film edit was now much tighter and cleaner than the first cut that I watched a month back.
My Studio Setup at My Studio, Kochi
Lijo had a brilliant idea for the score. He wanted it to be minimal and sparse.
Lijo wanted the score to be as real, and as raw as possible.
With this approach, the score got more challenging.Not only because of it’s experimental and minimal approach, but also because the score had to stay true to the roots of the script.
For eight days on the trot, we (Lijo, Sreerag and me) comfortably knocked off the score. And everything fell in place.
Our scoring sessions lasted as little as 6 hours a day and were super chilled out and relaxed.
That cup of goodness...
The Chest Thump
Sreerag and I completed the background score in entirety. And that's when I realised the power of Lijo's minimalist idea for the score.
And the reason for it was the power-packed performances from each of the 86 actors in the film.Every single person lived the character.
They soaked themselves in the script and narrative of the cinema.
It’s very rare you get to see such a blend working for a movie.
Angamaly Diaries can surely thump its chest loud, thanks to some insane performances, screenplay and direction.
During this time, in parallel, we recorded Harmonium for the score and the Ayalathe song.
Ace player Prakash Ulleri knocked off the harmonium sessions in 2 days.
He loved every bit to the core and played to each of our heart's content.The sound of 'the' harmonium deep rooted the soundscape for the score.It was also during this time that we were looking for an exciting sound for one of the core character theme.
One random day, while feasting on a delicious plum cake during a break, we found a showpiece Tanpura. It was trying to sprinkle some ancient vibes into the otherwise plain room.
Taking a prompt from Lijo, I struck the Tanpura strings. And when it screamed metal, I thought devil.
Right away I asked Sreerag to sample this detuned Tanpura. By plucking, striking and hammering with a stick, we could get some interesting sounds.
A few hours later we invented an instrument. "The Dunepura".
Looks almost like a Tanpura, isn't it? 😆
Sreerag played the Tanpura, recorded by Sai Prakash, the recording engineer at MyStudio.
The Dunepura oozed an eerie tone and a metallic vibrato.
It was waiting to befriend the 'like-minded' characters on screen. I collated all the samples only to chop, re-sample, tweak and process them.
A few minutes later, I created a few patterns to derive a very unusual sound. A very scary one!
At the end of the eighth day with the score almost over, the only thing pending was to record live instruments, both for songs and the score.
All the musicians we needed were busy with the new year gigs and recordings. Hence, we scheduled the live recordings in the second week of January 2017.
Stage 4 : Bangalore Scoring Sessions
On Jan 4th, I headed back to Bangalore, happy that the score is done, locked and finalised. But Lijo had other plans!
We're getting closer ...
Based on the feedback after a few private previews and screenings, Lijo decided to iterate the edit that’ll help the narrative move seamlessly forward.
So that meant re-syncing and rearranging the score to the updated edits.
The live sessions
Like always I entrusted Sreerag to execute the live musicians recording.
We had templates and specific pieces composed during the scoring stage. The live musicians had to better these templates.
Rajesh Chertala played the pan-flutes and brass.
Sandeep Mohan played the guitars and ukulele.
Sunil played the rhythms.
And Ben Sam Jones played the trumpet.
In a weeks time, these live sessions got completed.Some of the songs needed small iterations.
It was to suit Lijo’s idea for the soundtrack.
We had to work and rework on the sounding of certain brass and rhythm elements to weave the sonics together.
Both Rajesh and Sunil co-operated. They popped in and out of the studio to help us achieve the tone and tonality of the instruments. And they all fitted in beautifully in the songs.
With a lot of back and forth, Sreerag toiled hard. He got the syncing right for the score sequences that notched up the quality of the score.
The final changes
End of January Lijo dropped into Bangalore.We worked on the updated edit of the film and relooked at the score for any additions. This session lasted for a couple of days.
I love the new workspace of mine.
We also managed to get Shreekumar to sing the lyrics for the songs - Ayalathe and Do Naina in Malayalam.
With Shree recovering from a bad voice, we only sampled the lyrics for meter and diction.Thanks to Lijo's accurate guidance.
Shreekumar could get the intonations right, for every word penned by P.S.Rafeeque.
For those who don’t know Rafeeque, he wrote the lyrics for the much loved Solomon Shoshanna song from the Amen Soundtrack.
Stage 5 : The Exports
For sending the files for the final film mix and the soundtrack final mix, we lined up the exports.
We decided to do the final mix of the film at A.M.Studio, Chennai.
It's because of the engineer Kannan Ganpat's technical finesse. Kannan has previously worked on 2 of Lijo’s films - City of God and Amen.There is a super ease while working with him.
Like hot knife on butter, Kannan navigates through pressure and tough situations calmly. And that's what makes him one of the best final mix engineers in India today.
To get things started, we first sent the trailer exports to Kannan.
He worked alongside Renganaath Ravi for sound design. And both of them belted out a super sounding trailer.
After the trailer was done, reel by reel Sreerag sent Kannan the exports of the film’s background score.
What is exports or stems ?
Exports or stems are all the layers of music that go into making the soundtrack.
So we collate all of them reel wise as single .wav files and send them for the final mix of the film and soundtrack. Some of the reels have over 80 or 90 track exports that are sent for a mix.
For songs, these exports will be max upto 50 tracks.
A typical Cubase Session
Stage 6 : The soundtrack
The song in the trailer got an excellent response.
And now, the onus was on me to deliver the soundtrack soon.
The soundtrack was unique, right from day one.
With Lijo’s idea to include folk songs thriving in Angamaly, the soundtrack would sound a cut above the rest.
A pioneer in deep-rooted folk songs is Angamaly Francis or as they lovingly call Pranchi ettan. He is undoubtedly the superhero of the soundtrack of Angamaly Diaries.
Give him a Hi Five when you meet him in a toddy shop in Angamaly
Shankar Sharma recorded Angamaly Francis in a small studio in Chalakudy.
And the sessions were co-ordinated and arranged by Lijo’s favourite cousin Anson Antony.
The chorus singers in Francis’s ensemble were Febin Paulose and Joy Chirakal. And they added to the rustiness we needed in the songs.
Small is good...
One of my favorites of Francis' rendition is Theeyame.
With the voice recordings set, I had to design the rhythm and brass section. The idea was to make it groovy and suit the film’s narrative.
Both musicians Rajesh and Sunil were critical to getting the sound we wanted for the songs. Ironically, this was the easy part.
The tough part was yet to come. Recording Shreekumar.
Recovering from a bad vocal health, getting Shreekumar to sing was quite a task. And this, without hampering his texture and tonal quality.
Sreerag and I had a few recording sessions with the 'never-give-up' Shreekumar. And he delighted us with his pristine rendition, the version you'll hear on the soundtrack.
We're just getting started
How Preeti became a part of the soundtrack
I was almost wrapping up the soundtrack lineup.
And I got an idea to do a fresh set of lyrics for Do Naina. This had to be a new version than the one that came in the trailer.
I asked my sister Preeti to write lyrics for the Do Naina song, that was until now a gibberish version. I asked her to write, so that we could include it in the soundtrack as a full lyrics version. She took a few hours to write the song and sent it over with a rough recording of the same, to get Lijo’s double thumbs up. He also suggested that we record Preeti for the Hindi version.
And then just like that, in the last week before the release of the soundtrack, Preeti becomes a part of Angamaly Diaries Soundtrack.
And Preeti, like Shreekumar, had a tough time getting the singing right for the Do Naina song.
The song was like a heart song. Almost like a mumble. It is something you do when you’re alone. It's like singing subconsciously by the window or during a moment of silence.
And it was a tough song to crack for both of them. After a lot of unlearning, both Preeti and Shreekumar have put in their soul for the Do Naina song.
So apart from the three folk songs and the song Ayalathe in the soundtrack, there are a whopping five versions of Do Naina. How cool is that?
The 5 versions of a song, a first for a soundtrack
I chose Hari Shankar to mix the album. I’d worked with him for a few mixing projects, a notable one being Anurag Karrikkin Vellam.
I gave him a simple brief - “… the album should sound just as the tagline of Angamaly Diaries - ‘Katta Local’ (Fully Local)".
To better that comment I told him, “...the soundtrack should sound like a locally produced album. Like a sound from a small studio in Angamaly".
And as I write this, Hari just sent me the final mix of the soundtrack. With a few iterations, he has been able to crack the sound the soundtrack needed.
Stage 7 : The final mixing
This is where the final mixing happens.
So Lijo, Renga and Kannan reviewed and worked on the first cut of the film score, foley, sound fx and dialogue.
When the elements were almost ready for the final review and mix, I flew down to Chennai.
Reel by reel we went through the iterations and corrections to tighten up any loose ends.
With last minute nagging and pulling and pushing, in the end, we all were euphoric.
Our guess is Kannan is the happiest guy...
My attempt through my works for films is to give you’ll an experience.
Working with Lijo is always about breaking the ordinary.
Experimenting with the craziest and weirdest ideas to bring to life the magic of cinema. Being associated with Lijo for all his projects is a matter of immense pride for me.
My team and I are happy that we could deliver what Lijo needed for both the songs and soundtrack.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much.By the way, I'm two coffees down.
The film Angamaly Diaries releases on 3rd March 2017.
And we’re looking forward to hearing from you.
Do share your feedback about this making process, the film, and the songs by commenting below.
Would love to hear from you.