x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

First non-Indian to write Bollywood soundtrack

A music composer in the UAE has been selected to produce the soundtrack for a Bollywood film.

Born in 1975, he was exposed to classic Indian and Italian films from an early age.
Born in 1975, he was exposed to classic Indian and Italian films from an early age.

DUBAI // You may not have heard of the Dubai composer Vladimir Persan, but you have probably heard some of the music he has written - in planes, trains and film festivals.

Fly to the UAE by Emirates Airline or Qatar Airways and it is Mr Persan's music that greets you on board. Journey up the Burj Khalifa or take the Dubai Metro and it is his compositions that accompany you.

The opening theme of the Dubai International Film Festival is another of his works.

Having spread his music across the city, Mr Persan has set his sights on the subcontinent, becoming the first non-Indian to compose the soundtrack to a Bollywood film.

Due to arrive in cinemas next month, Sadda Adda ("Mad House") is a drama with touches of comedy, says the composer.

Following the lives of six young men all living under the same roof, it is not your typical Bollywood film.

The movie is also a first for the Dubai production company Rajtaru Videosonic, with which Mr Persan collaborated on the project. Managed by Shane Vessaokar, Sadda Adda is the team's first full-length feature.

His selection for the film was simple, says Mr Persan, who spent 10 years studying at the Hajibeyov Baku Academy of Music in Azerbaijan.

"I have worked for the production company in charge of the film on several other projects, and that's how it happened," he says. "They told me I would be the first international composer to enter Bollywood … and it was a little bit of a surprise."

Mr Vessaokar explains: "Vlad has been with us for a pretty long time and … when we thought of a movie we straight away took Vlad on to it."

Bringing someone to the team who had no experience in Bollywood has made it unique, he adds.

"It was nice to have a foreign feel to the whole Bollywood flick and Vlad's music is pretty lovely. He has music that adds to a visual and his scores in the past have really touched us a lot.

"We love it [the Sadda Adda soundtrack]. It's a completely different feel and one I don't think Bollywood has ever heard. This is the start of a different genre of music [in Bollywood] when it comes to background scores.

"Vlad is into different orchestral moods and plays with a lot of different instruments so we let him loose to go ahead with whatever he liked."

Cellos, acoustic guitars and beat-boxing have been incorporated into the soundtrack. "It's very strange," says Mr Persan, who took slightly more than a month to complete the work. He works from a studio at his Mirdif home, controlling every stage of the process, from production down to playing the instruments himself.

Despite having to research Bollywood before taking on the project, the Azerbaijani-born musician, who emigrated to Dubai more than a decade ago, has had years to prepare.

Born in 1975, he was exposed to classic Indian and Italian films from an early age. His mother, a former professional musician, introduced him to the arts when he was young and enrolled him in a music school that was part of the Azerbaijan State Conservatory when he was six.

It was a combination of his mother's passion for music and his father's skill as an engineer that propelled the composer into his chosen career, Mr Persan adds.

Studying as a pianist, the young composer eventually moved to a local guitar academy due to a lack of resources at the school, completing his education at breakneck speed.

"It was supposed to be five years but I passed it in one. I knew all the theories and was already quite advanced at playing the guitar," Mr Persan says. "I needed a diploma so that I could teach."

A member of amateur rock bands as a teenager, the composer was employed by a state department that organised concerts when he was 15. It was invaluable experience.

"This was how I got my experience, playing here and there," says Mr Persan, who experimented with styles including rock and jazz.

"I was always playing in bands where the members were maybe 25 years older than me. I was learning a lot from those great musicians."

His career began to take off after he started working as a music arranger in Baku. His success eventually led him to Dubai, where he lives with his wife and young daughter.

And the future is looking bright, says Richie Birkett, the managing director and first composer at the audio design company Creative Force in Dubai. He worked with Mr Persan in the 1990s.

"He's going to do well," says Mr Birkett. "I've told him for years he should be working in Hollywood. At least he got one of the 'woods'."

zalhassani@thenational.ae