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Ram Gopal Varma Blogs
The Psychological aspect of BackGround Music


ram gopal Varma

I was always fascinated with Background Music. I saw the film “ALIEN” 17 times in Vijayawada, Urvashi theatre, out of which at least 3 of the shows I just shut my eyes so that the visual won’t disturb my concentration on the music. I used to take in a tape-recorder in a bag to record the music of “Enter the Dragon” as those days soundtrack CDs were not available.Music for me is the most mysterious of all the Art forms. The primary difference between Music and the other Arts is that the other arts create a physical object for us to perceive whereas Music just works on our emotional complexities.

Background Music cannot tell a story and it also cannot convey a specific existential phenomenon such as a very violent act happening. But what it does is that it can direct you to perceive a scene’s emotional content in a certain very specific way.

For instance in the college fight sequence in “SHIVA” Ilayaraja used a very pathos inducing string section and when I asked him why he said, “They have come here to study and they are fighting. So I just felt sad for them.” Now if you hear the piece he composed for that in isolation you will never think it would be from a fight sequence and it’s also not that any viewer would consciously understand Ilayaraja’s intent but in cinema it’s the overall effect one is looking for rather than getting into the specific details of what is creating what unless you are an aspiring filmmaker in which case it’s obviously your necessity to study that.

Also careless use of background score can be a very dangerous tool in driving a viewer’s expectations into a very wrong direction other than what is intended by the director. A case in point was when “COMPANY” was released lot of Distributors called me and said people love the 1st half and were fully disappointed with the 2nd half as they expected fight sequences and violent action. I wondered why they expected action when I didn’t indicate that at all anywhere in my promos etc. It took me a while to figure out that the culprit could be the background score in the interval scene. When Chandu is warning Mallik “Tu aur tere company KHALLAS” the entire build up of the treatment of the scene through music was to build up their emotions through use of very highly aggressive orchestral raise culminating in the interval card which thereby planted in the audience’s mind that the battle lines are drawn and now it’s only going to be battles.

So throughout the interval they would have been eagerly awaiting some highly aggressive fights to take place which didn’t happen. On the other hand if I treated the entire interval sequence with a pathos inducing sad flute making the audience feel sad that Chandu and Mallik are parting with each other they would not have expected action.

Background music can either enhance the existing emotion visually seen in the scene or it can highlight the emotion of one specific character in the scene as per his emotional response to a given happening or it can be used to direct the viewers mind to respond to the scenes content in a certain very specific way other than seemingly what is happening and also sometimes it can be used to make a damn big deal about something which in reality amounts to nothing.

A case in point is when Rashid comes to meet Sarkar. Except for the information that he is a member of Naik gang and he wants to get some goods offloaded at a beach which under no stretch of imagination can be a big deal nothing else is really told. But the accompanying music was designed to make it look like a momentous event.

Background music also can programme a heightened sense of induced sadness, joy or whatever other emotion required in the audience’s mind of what a character is feeling much more than what an actor is capable of showing in their performance in real time.

A case in point of this is in “RANGEELA” when after Urmila gets a call from Jackie informing her of her casting the high pitched scream of “rangeela re” accompanying her run towards Aamir is what which has been designed to give the audience an adrenalin rush of joyous emotion which Urmila’s character would be feeling at that time.

For all my interest in analyzing music I could never ever really understand what it is that about music which makes us experience an emotion. Conceptual integrations of a physical form require a constant effort to understand and they many times can also result both in error and failure. But the process of music integration is automatic and effortless.

Unless one is an animal or a child or an unimaginative idiot one’s reaction, response and sensitivity to music will carry a sense of total certainty of one’s emotional planes. It very surely involves one’s values and also one’s deepest sense of oneself.

Many people feel that the way I use Background Music in my films is too dramatic and too in the face. But the point is that it’s me.

Note: Thanks to Ram Gopal Varma for giving us special permission to republish his blogs in (visit to visit Ram Gopal Varma's blog)

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