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Fine tuning

It’s been a great year for Bonnie Chakraborty, the one-time lead singer of Bangla band Krosswinds. He’s moved to Mumbai to make it big in the world of entertainment and almost immediately his song Azeem--shaan in Jodhaa Akbar became a scorching hit. Now, he’s making more music for the masses and has sung a peppy song for Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra’s Dilli 6, slated for audio release in late August.

You can’t keep a good singer quiet so he’ll also be hitting the high notes in another movie Dev.D that’s scheduled for a November release and that will be followed by more melodies in a UTV production Conditions Apply.

Bonnie is one of the Bangla battalion who are making their voices heard in Bollywood and the Hindi music industry. So you have Fossils frontman Rupam Islam who has belted out the chartbuster Jannat jahan in the Emraan Hashmi-starrer Jannat. Then, there’s Faruk Mahfuj Anam — popularly called James — who’s Nagar Baul’s man at the mike and who has already made a name for himself with superhits like Alvida in Life In A…Metro and Bheegi Bheegi in Gangster.

These new stars are familiar faces on the Calcutta music circuit. They are the frontmen of Bangla bands that have rocked audiences at the hottest venues in the city. All three have dipped their toes in the Mumbai entertainment waters and are ready for more.

Rupam, in fact, made his mark on his first attempt as a playback singer for Jannat. His song Jannat jahan was such a phenomenal success that he was asked to turn out a Bengali version in double quick time. Then, in a first of sorts, the Bengali version of the song was played in the movie when it screened in Bengal. “I had to catch the Hindi song in Bangalore,” says Rupam, laughing. If that wasn’t enough, the Bengali song has also been made into a video with Rupam which will be screened soon on TV.

James has made an even more unlikely debut on the Hindi screen. He owes his new Hindi film career partly to Pritam Chakraborty, the music director from Bengal who is making waves in Bollywood. “Both Anurag [Basu] and Pritam had heard my songs. They contacted me before Gangster,” he says.

The singer didn’t speak the language and had to learn the pronunciation and the words by heart. Says James: “Anurag and Pritam used to write out the songs in Bengali and used to show me the pronunciation,” he says.

Music director Pritam is, in fact, the man behind the scenes responsible for taking the Bengali band singers to Bollywood and the Hindi music industry. “You won’t get that kind of voice quality in regular Hindi singers,” says Pritam, who has worked with both James and Rupam. “The kind of rock culture which exists in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bengal is absent in the rest of India. You might find English bands, but regional rock bands are non-existent,” he adds.

Pritam reckons that Rupam sounds like Steve Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith, while James mixes rock with bhatiali which gives him a different identity. “If I need voices like Sonu Nigaam, Shan or KK, I will take them.” He’s planning to work with Rupam and James again.

Nevertheless, each of the three singers has different ideas and ambitions for the future. Bonnie, for instance, had shifted base to Chennai because he was “sick and tired” of the Calcutta music scene. “I believe that English rock music will not sell in India and rather than aping others, we should do something closer to our soil,” he says.

He hit lucky, oddly enough, while freelancing for the Tamil film industry when he got in touch with musical wizard A. R. Rahman who was looking for Baul music for the movie The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey. “Javed Akhtar was interested in what I had to offer. Then the song Rasiya happened,” says Bonnie, who had previously done the background score for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero. He also sang the Tamil and Telugu versions of the song Yammo yammo from Guru, in which Rahman was the music director.

Bonnie is now ready to grab opportunity as it comes. He also wants to compose music for films. Says Bonnie: “Unless you are versatile and cons-tantly improve yourself, you can’t stand out in Bollywood.”

The others have been more reluctant to move out of Bengal where they have strong roots. Rupam rejected offers to do Hindi playbacks twice. “What happened with me was strange,” he laughs. “Pritam wanted me to be a part of the Metro band and sing in the movie. But for that I would have had to shift to Mumbai which was not possible because of my commitments towards Fossils,” he says. Next came an offer to sing in the Hindi remake of the Bengali hit Hasnuhana. But that didn’t work out either.

But Rupam is looking at Hindi music seriously. He’s currently working on a Hindi solo album in which he wants to experiment with funk rock, heavy metal and ballad rock with a touch of melody. He’s also singing for six Bengali movies including Piyalir Password, Ichhe and Sabdhan Pancha Aschhe. Besides, he’s also recording for the next Fossils album which he hopes to release by the year end. But he has no plans to shift to Mumbai. “I have a lot left to do here,” he says.

For James it has been an equally circuitous path to Bollywood. The song that introduced the Bangladeshi singing sensation to Hindi films was the memorable Bheegi bheegi from Gangster, the Hindi remake of Prithbi, the hit from ’70s Bengali band Mohiner Ghoraguli. That was followed by Alvida from Life In A…Metro and Chal Chaley from Woh Lamhe and James, who is fondly called the nagar baul (city bard) has not had to look back since. James has also started work on a new album in Hindi. “It will include my selected hit songs in Hindi and some new songs,” he says.

Other Bengali musical stars could be headed to the bright city lights on the west coast. Pritam is looking at Siddhartha Ray — Sidhu, the lead singer of Cactus — and Lakkhichhara’s lead singer Subhojit Mukherjee. Sidhu would clearly be willing. “It would be interesting and exciting,” he says.

Sidhu had earlier done Tujhe mein dhoonta phiru — the title track of the Anurag Basu directed serial Love Story. He also has plans to get into Hindi music, and the band has a couple of Hindi numbers ready which they hope to turn into an album.

These musicians have just begun their journey in Bollywood. It’s a safe bet you’ll soon be hearing more from them.

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