Heard Music

Doing Right by Retro // The Soundscape of Guns and Gulaabs

Guns & Gulaabs is the perfect modern ode to the 90s pulp fiction massy movies – both Hollywood and Bollywood. Director duo Raj & DK take many liberties with the musical direction and the storytelling, with delightfully asymmetrical characters and a setting brimming with potential – thus beginning a game of slapstick cat-and-mouse, secrets and jealousy that keeps you on your toes, constantly guessing. The retro Bollywood nostalgia truly seeps through the screen, thanks in no small part to the truly innovative execution of the directors’ vision by music supervisor Alick Sethi, and composer Aman Pant.

The entire series rides high on the reigning sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s with tracks by Shailendra Singh, RD Burman, and more, along with Western artists like Foreigner and Bryan Adams. To top it all off, they bring back the voice that defined the decade in Hindi cinema – Kumar Sanu – for a beautiful guest track Do Raazi. It quickly becomes clear that the music in “Guns and Gulaabs” goes beyond mere background accompaniment; it serves as a storytelling device in its own right. The retro soundscape not only sets the mood but also provides insights into the cultural and social context of the era. The music becomes a character in itself, driving the plot forward and adding depth to the storytelling. Music supervisor Alick Sethi was adamant on licensing the most recognisable and iconic songs from the 90’s, as opposed to filling up the spaces with original songs. “You’re asking a bit too much of the audience by asking them to believe that a song they’ve never heard before was a famous song at the time – you’re showing something that’s not too authentic. So why not just use a famous song? It has the right lyrics and moreover the audience knows the lyrics so that’s an automatic hook, even beyond the nostalgic value.”

The retro music in “Guns and Gulaabs” has struck a chord with audiences worldwide, with viewers praising the series for its nostalgic soundtrack, and many expressing how the music has transported them back to their youth. As audiences continue to embrace the nostalgia and charm of the bygone eras, we can expect to see more shows and films paying homage to the golden age of music. When asked for his thoughts on the comeback of Retro music, Alick insists that it’s nothing new – people have always loved nostalgia and the feeling of youthful charm. 

We also spoke with the show’s composer and official 90’s kid Aman Pant about what goes into crafting a retro sound in today’s day and age – “There’s no special process of composing Retro music, it’s just music – being composed the same way music is composed now. I didn’t want to replicate it, because I didn’t want it to sound copied – it’s my expression of 80’s music, of RD Burman’s music (who’s work I love) and others in that era. So I simply dove into researching, and re-living the compositions and scores of that era, and let the music flow through me accordingly. I’m very fortunate that I got the opportunity to take a time machine ride straight back to that era – I felt like I was a composer in those days itself! I didn’t feel any pressures nor any challenges, I truly enjoyed just creating this music.’

One step back, and two steps forward sums up Alick Sethi’s current relationship with music supervision. Coming from 2 decades of sync and supervision in London’s commercial industry to knocking it out of the park with his first long-form, creative production, Alick has come a long way back to his passion and his roots. He attributes at least part of his research skills now to tracking down and bidding for records in poorly lit, nightclub-esque basements in his teens; and his professional tenacity and patience to the importance music holds in his life, proactively making it work despite it not being his initial choice. And as for his two steps forward, we’ll soon see his name listed alongside director Mozez Singh and composer Matt Lange in the upcoming Honey Singh biopic! More power and big cheers from one music supervisor to another.

This show is available for viewing on Netflix