Nikhil Paul George, who has roots in Kerala, talks about his music career and his songs in Barfi!

Barfi! has created magic on screen with its story, cast and heart-warming music by Pritam. And somebody who is really happy with the way things have panned out is Nikhil Paul George, who has crooned two songs in the movie – ‘Main kya karoon…’, a soft solo number, and ‘Aashiyan…’, a duet with Shreya Ghosal. Born to Malayali parents settled in Nagpur, Nikhil stays in London, where he works “incorporating music production, composition and arrangement.” Nikhil shares his musical journey with MetroPlus in an email interview.

His Malayali connection

My parents are Malayalis (his father is from Kottayam and mother from Thiruvananthapuram), so I guess I’m Malayali by association! I don’t really speak Malayalam, though I’ve had my share of lessons on rolling my tongue for ‘pazham’ and ‘mazha’ (the ‘y’s and the ‘z’s still don’t add up in my head). I last came to Kerala three years ago. I actually grew up in Nagpur. But then I’m not proficient in Marathi either! After my graduation (in computer science from Nagpur University) I moved to London to study composition at the Royal College of Music and am now based in London. I have a sister who lives in Mumbai with her husband and children.

On his musical background

My family is very musical, so I had many influences from the music they used to make when I was growing up. I started with learning the Western classical guitar, mostly teaching myself and appearing for examinations conducted in India by Trinity College of Music. After completing a diploma, I taught at the Bangalore School of Music before leaving for London.

I was able to study music in London because of a scholarship from the J.N. Tata foundation. I also won a Take-off Grant from the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation to continue my studies here. I was also in a rock band, a church choir and an acapella group. Church music in general has had a big influence on me.

In London

I work as a freelance musician. I also work for a church on Sundays which gives me an opportunity to serve the local community through music and other programmes.

On Barfi!

I was introduced to Pritam through a common friend. I’ve worked with him as vocal recording engineer, vocal arranger, programmer, conductor and backing vocal performer and have played various instruments as well for his compositions in Dum Maaro Dum (‘Te amo…’), Bodyguard (‘I love you…’), Mausam (‘Rabba mein toh…’), Players (‘Kyun duriyan…’), Ferrari Ki Sawari (‘Rusys Theme’ and ‘Life yeh mausambi si…’) and Cocktail (‘Daaru desi…’). My upcoming works with him include Race 2 [in which Nikhil has tried his hand at writing lyrics too!] and Dhoom 3.

As a singer

I started working on the music arrangement for Barfi! in October last year and singing just happened. I’m not really a singer and I don’t like calling myself one, my voice somehow suited the feel of what director Anurag Basu was going for. Pritam, who has a fantastic sense of what works and what doesn’t, was spot on with his lovely compositions for the film. The music team he put together for this film was fantastic. He knew how to get the best out of me too, something I’ll always be grateful for. Apart from singing, I also worked on the arrangement of the songs and the background score. A lot of the instruments and the orchestra you hear in the score was recorded and produced by me here in London.

It really takes courage to go against the grain, I have so much admiration for Anurag for conceiving and leading this beautiful film. I’m not sure I’ll get an opportunity to work on a film like this again, one which justifies the style of music that you hear on the soundtrack.

So this might well be the first and the last time that you’ll hear from me as a singer!