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In a room full of big fish like Amit Trivedi, Shantanu Moitra and Ehsaan-Loy, Hitesh Sonik doesn't have the spotlight trained on him. Hardly a household name, Sonik's limited public identity, if one can call it that, is being Mr Sunidhi Chauhan, better half of the famous Bollywood singer.
That may change now for two reasons. Sonik wisely spent the early years of his career working with and learning from one of the finest living music composers in the Indian film industry, Vishal Bhardwaj. After working as music producer and background scorer on Bhardwaj's Maqbool, Omkara, Kaminey, Ishqiya and 7 Khoon Maaf, he is now ready to break out on his own. He will make his debut as an independent music composer with the soonto-be released Akashwani and will also star in Coke Studio's upcoming second season.
From a man who was gently told as a child that he's not musically gifted to being chosen as one of the 12 producers for Coke Studio@MTV's second season, it has been a long and laborious journey, but one that Sonik wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Born into a family that was no stranger to Bollywood - his great uncle and uncle, Sonik-Omi, were music composers in the '60s- '70s - Sonik was introduced to music at a fairly young age. "We were what one could call a musical family, not in the classical sense, but in that my father and uncle used to compose music for movies, " says Sonik. "As a kid, I never showed any musical talent. My friends would laugh at me when I tried to sing but I could never understand why. My father taught my sisters and me the basics of music and while it was very easy for them I just couldn't get it. So he never really encouraged me to try harder. "
Even though he couldn't carry a tune, young Hitesh harboured the desire to learn the guitar and eventually persuaded his father to let him take lessons. "When I finished school, I was allowed to learn on the condition that I would practise daily. I wasn't gifted but I was sincere, " Sonik said. He still composes his song on the guitar and hopes to take out time to study at the Berklee College of Music one day. Pushed into a recording session soon after college, Sonik became one of the session players that music composers of the time needed to record music. "This was the time of Nadeem-Sharavan and Anand-Milind when live music was still being recorded, " he recalls.
It was at one such recording session that Sonik saw Bhardwaj at work and was floored by what he heard. "I'd never seen a music director at work and here was Vishal, being very hands-on. " Having not given much thought to composing before, meeting Bhardwaj and subsequently working for him was a big turning point in Sonik's life. And it's the tone and tenor of the Bhardwaj school that he has brought to Coke Studio as well. In a culture obsessed with making everything youth-oriented, Sonik's compositions are a welcome departure. "We have the freedom to create what we want but I think at the end of the day I would like my music to represent what India has to offer, " says Sonik.
One of the stellar tunes of this season will be the haunting Husna rendered beautifully by actor Piyush Mishra. Sonik has let the words work their magic, keeping orchestration to the minimum. The music peaks just when the emotions do.
"Husna is one song that has stayed with me for 15 years when I first heard Piyushji sing it at a mehfil in a friend's house, " recount the soft-spoken Sonik. Husna is about an exchange of letters between two star-crossed lovers - Jawed in Lucknow and Husna in Lahore. Interestingly, it is also Sonik's tribute to Coke Studio Pakistan, the more popular chapter of the show.
Another interesting singer that Sonik has roped in is veteran actor Raghubir Yadav, who dabbles in singing and composing as well. Yadav - who brought the song from Peepli [Live] Mehngai dayain to life - is a popular singer of jingles. "He's also an encyclopaedia on Indian folk music, " said Sonik. "And for Coke Studio he has sung a beautiful caravan song from Central India. "
The second season of Coke Studio@MTV kicks off on July 7
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