90s throwback with "Mujhe Neend Na Aaye"

Cover of “Mujhe Neend Na Aaye“ from the movie Dil (starring Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit), originally sung by Udit Narayan and Anuradha Paudwal, and composed by Anand-Milind. 
Music and video performed and produced by Gaurav Venkateswar.

One month ago, I came across an old VHS recording of my 9-year-old self, playing the Hindi song, “Mujhe Neend Na Aye” on the keyboard and was immediately inspired to make a modern cover track. Once again, I found myself in the throngs of 90’s Bollywood music, a musical landscape I have soft spot for.

“Mujhe neend na aaye” in Hindi translates to “I can’t sleep”. The song tells the story of a couple smitten, and exceedingly restless in adoration of each other. In a state of constant day-dreaming, they are sleep deprived, and lost in love.

In my creative process I visualize scenes for music. The main lyrics are, “I can’t sleep. I don’t have peace. I don’t know where I lost my heart. Someone please go and look for it!” As the track was coming together, I pictured many scenes for this to play out for my character. In one dramatic moment, he’s on top of a mountain lit by the full moon, belting out his song in sheer unrest. In another moment, he’s floating in a colorful nebula searching for his lost heart. He enters absurd realms of reality which I capture by incorporating farcical selfie filters.

Musically, the original song debuts with orchestral strings, a clear western import, before flowing into a 4-beat Indian folk rhythm, accompanied by the swinging twang of a mandolin. The tune is in a pentatonic scale common to South Asian folk music. It beautifully blends South Asian melodic and rhythmic structures and timbres with western harmonies and orchestration into a romantic ballad, a kind of fusion that is bespoke to Indian cinema. (You can hear the original film song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrZcR4GzWq8)

My version shifts the song into a digital age, composed with electronic synths, vocoder effects, and rhythmic programming. Still, I kept my singing undeniably Indian, inspired by my classical training, placing hints of Indian melodic improvisation at certain moments in the song. Singing to the electronic vibe, I naturally felt a shift from the romantic to the intoxicated. 

On the video production side, I played around with chroma key compositing (green screens), color correction, multiple channel blending modes, digital lighting effects, abstract backdrops, 3D animated multi-lingual text (thanks to numerous YouTube videos by gurus of Adobe After Effects and Premiere). 

This composition is reflective of all of the things I’ve learned over the past two years by experimenting with audio-visual pieces. I hope you enjoy it. (If you watch through the end you’ll get to see a glimpse of 9-year-old Gaurav 👦🏽).

Gaurav Venkateswar