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Bon jour, Bollywood

Bollywood suddenly seems to be the toast of France. With hours to go for a concert of Hindi film songs at GD Birla Sabhagar by Pascal Heni, touring the country with his repertoire, a compatriot of his is spending his time at a studio in Selimpur, headphones on.

If Heni is here to show his craft to the land of its origin, Ollivier Leroy is involved in a project that aims to showcase Bollywood music back in France. “I am here to prepare for Tombees de la nuit and Vieilles Charrues, two of the biggest musical festivals in Europe, where my group Olli and the Bollywood Orchestra will perform,” says the curly-haired singer.

He has quite a task on hand, as top acts like REM, Simple Minds, The Cure and James Brown have taken the stage at these festivals. The Frenchman who sings in Hindi with a heavy accent will take a number of musicians from the city to play with him at the concerts across Britanny, in France.

“I am also on the lookout for a female voice, as most of my chosen songs are duets,” he says, raising his voice over a mandolin playing an interlude in Har kisi ko nahin milta… from Feroz Khan’s Jaanbaaz, one of Leroy’s favourite chansons de Bollywood.

Leroy also plans to bring out a CD containing seven film songs and eight of his own compositions in Hindi. “I have been singing Hindi songs in all major cities of Britanny, as well as neighbouring Spain and Italy. The response has been wonderful. There are few Indians in France and it is all Europeans and Americans who do the dancing and clapping in the audience,” he says.

If Satyajit Ray was well-known for a long time, in recent times, films like Lagaan, Devdas and Dil Se have found success “back home”. Songs of the film are available at major music stores across France. “It is the grand spectacle and the aesthetic style of the Bollywood world that appeals to us,” he explains animatedly, in a mix of busy French and broken English.

So, Leroy’s “spectacle” will take in as much of the visual as the audio. “There will be six giant screens on stage, showing video clips of the films. It will be a discovery of Bollywood for the spectators.”

Indian music entered the Frenchman’s life about 15 years ago, much before he did his masters from University of Rennes II. While the introduction was by American tabla and sarod player Bob Cook, Kakoli Sengupta, wife of Paris-based designer Sambit, gave him lessons in bhajans. A French student of Ustad Faizuddin Dagar taught him nuances of dhrupad and inspired him to meet the master vocalist first in a workshop in Holland and then for regular training in Mumbai.

“I am taking classes in Hindi from my lyricist,” he says, adding that his latest single, Teri Meri Dosti, containing an original composition, was well-received in the French market.

But it was his friendship with Calcutta boy Saurabh Basu, pursuing a degree at his university, that opened up the world of film music and brought him down to the city. “I am not here to compete with the great singers here. And the songs need an Occidental adaptation to win popularity with the audience in Europe.” So Leroy will go back with the tracks recorded here to the studios in Rennes, experimenting with electronic rhythm and acoustic mix, before Olli and the Bollywood Orchestra takes the stage in Brittany.

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