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Singing new tunes
(From top) Amit Chaudhuri with his classical music album; Deepak Rudra with a collection of his cassettes; Sunil Gangopadhyay and his album; Rupa Ganguly and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at the former’s album launch; Arjun Chakraborty and his album; Indrani Dutta and her musical release

Here's a quick quiz: what's common between actor Arjun Chakraborty, writer Sunil Gangopadhyay and educationist Pabitra Sarkar' Yes, they are all famous names in their own professions. But, there's another common factor that unites them: they all want to hit the high notes as singers and have cut record albums.

They aren't the only ones with high-volume musical ambitions. Look at actress Rupa Ganguly who displayed her musical virtuosity by releasing Onek Diyechho Naath, a compilation of Tagore songs recently. Or, look at TV anchor and actor Kharaj Mukherjee and actor Parambrata Chatterjee who're both releasing albums in about a month.

Says Ganguly, 'Music is in Bengal's blood.' Is that the reason why a host of personalities are rushing to the recording studios' The answer is that it's partly, but not entirely, the truth.

Take a look at Biswa Ray of Bhavna Records and Cassettes, a moving force in the musical world who has convinced a lot of talented amateurs, 'with a flair for Rabindrasangeet', to put their efforts on tape.

It is Ray who in the last six months coaxed Gangopadhyay and Sarkar to record songs and released Ganguly's album. Then, he persuaded others like UK-based Dr Anando Gupta to cut an album of Tagore songs. Says Ray, 'Most are good amateur singers and so training them wasn't difficult.'

Bhavna Records isn't the only company that's furiously hunting for new talent. There's also Prime Music that signed on actor Arjun Chakraborty and released his album of contemporary Bengali songs in January. The album, Mon Chai, isn't a bestseller but that hasn't deterred Debraj Dutta of Prime Music. Another recording company, Ananya Music, is releasing Andhar Periye by Chakraborty and Rabindrasangeet singer Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta in the near future.

One reason for the sudden surge of musical activity is the fact that the Visva-Bharati copyright has come to an end making it easier to release albums on Tagore's compositions. Earlier, anyone who wanted to release an album on Tagore's works had to take permission from Visva-Bharati. Now, there are no copyright issues and that's made a world of difference to the music scene. Says civil servant Deepak Rudra who's made a name for himself as a singer, 'Biswa Ray is codifying Tagore songs as well as introducing new talents.'

Ray has, in fact, turned to several singers like Srila Majumdar, Swapan Basu, Jojo, Rupankar and Shampa Kundu and persuaded them to cut albums on Tagore's works. In addition, he's made singer Kabir Suman recite Tagore's poetry and got newscaster Indrani Bhattacharya to sing.

But it's not only about Rabindrasangeet. Actress Indrani Dutta cut Keo Ashbey, her first album in 2002 with music by singer Arindam Ganguly. That was followed up in 2003 with Hello by T-series under Bappi Lahiri's music direction. Both had a favourable response and so she's recorded a third album, now in its post-production stage. Says Dutta, 'Circumstances have made me into a singer. But my acting skills have come in handy in expressing myself as a singer.'

Besides being an actor, Dutta is a qualified Kathak dancer. But she feels that an actress who can sing has a natural advantage. 'It is important to enthral your audience at concerts. That's how I started singing on stage and this led to the release of my first album.' Today, she runs Indrani Dutta Kala Niketan that conducts courses in singing, dancing and more.

So, how did they get their first break' Do they all have a formal background in music' Ganguly had a passion for music right from her childhood. 'Thanks to my uncle, I came into films. And now Bhavna Records has pushed me into singing.'

Ganguly cut her first album last year and is set to release the next one in three-four months time. 'Tagore's poetry is so strong and varied that there's a song to fit every situation,' she says.

Chakraborty decided to try his hand at music after getting 'completely disillusioned' with acting. 'Appreciation in acting is subjective,' he says, 'but in music there are obvious benchmarks such as a good voice and a sense of rhythm.'

As a child, Chakraborty was trained in music by his mother and music director Moloy Chakraborty, but he 'never took it seriously'. In fact, he released an album, Sriti-r Shishir Bindu in 1998, but says it died a natural death due to bad marketing.

There are others who trained as children and who returned to music in later life. Rudra, for instance, trained at Dakshini under Rabindrasangeet stalwarts like Debabrata Biswas, Konika Bandhopadhyay, Nilima Sen and Subinoy Roy. He took up singing again as therapy after he suffered a heart attack at the age of 46. In the last 11 years, Rudra has released two CDs and 10 cassettes, each a thematic collection of Tagore's compositions. His albums are said to be fairly strong sellers.

But when do they get the time to practise' Gangopadhyay was trained in music when working with the theatre group Harbola. 'Our director Kamal Kumar Majumdar would insist we learn singing and dancing along with acting. So, Jyotirendranath Maitra of IPTA taught us music as part of public performance. Besides, I learnt to play tabla, from where I developed a sense of rhythm,' he says.

Indrani Dutta is still training under Guru Hiranmoy Mitra, but writer Amit Chaudhuri developed his prowess under late Pt Govind Prasad Jaipurwale of Mumbai. Ganguly, on the other hand, has practised since childhood, while for Rudra it is an ongoing process of relaxation. With such strong bases, a series of systematic practise sessions before the recording is all that's required, says Ray.

Is it commercially viable for music stores to keep such albums' Among the newcomers, Music World sells about 25 albums by Ganguly in a month but Chakraborty hasn't sold that many yet. However, big stores like Music World and Planet M have copies of these albums on display as they 'need to have a good range at all times'.

The shops usually dump an album if it doesn't sell for six months according to Lalita Sinha, general manager, Music World. Again, they have to keep in mind that sales shoot up if a new artist is showcased on a television programme or does a public performance.

In recent years, technology has made it easier and cheaper for people to make albums. But are the amateurs adversely affecting the quality of music' Says Rudra, 'A lot of incompetent people have been trying to experiment after the copyright came to an end, but the grain will be separated from the chaff soon enough.'

Take a look at how Chaudhuri has fared over the years both as an Indian classical vocalist and as a writer of Indian English. 'I have two vocations and I give them equal commitment,' says Chaudhuri who has two cassettes by HMV to his credit besides a host of public performances in India and abroad. He adds, 'I wouldn't like to be judged as a celebrity who sings. The quality of light music is going down anyway, with or without celebrities. Recording companies are responsible for this to some extent. But those who are good will definitely make a mark.'

On a similar note, Ganguly says that the 'system has relaxed now, but that doesn't mean we are doing justice to it'.

Nevertheless, there are critics who say that amateur artistes buy airtime so that their videos are aired. So, these days, music is more about seeing than hearing.

However, Chakraborty is more positive about the future. He says, 'We are going through a new age where we are going beyond Lata, Kishore, Rafi and Asha. Maybe all will not come out successful, but whoever does will go a long way. So, let them stammer and stutter, but let them express themselves.'

Photographs by Rashbehari Das and Aranya Sen

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