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The Bengali beat

Music director Shantanu Moitra is reviving an old tradition. He is following in the footsteps of old-time greats like R.D. Burman and Salil Chowdhury, making music in both Bollywood and Tollywood — and laughing all the way to the bank.

In recent times, Moitra’s won accolades for his compositions in 3 Idiots, the Aamir Khan film (which has broken all sales records in 2009-2010). Moitra has also scored a huge success with the music for Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s award-winning film Antaheen. Moitra’s first venture in Tollywood as music director saw the album topping the charts for 11 months and spelt success for the record company, Saregama. “It’s the freshness and the lyricism of Moitra’s music which has impressed even non-Bengali audiences. We’ve sold more than 20,000 CDs already,” says S.F. Karim, chief manager (content), Saregama.

Change frequencies and tune in to Shaan (Shantanu Mukherjee) who’s now singing for Partho Ghosh’s Bengali film Rehmat Ali, starring Mithun Chakraborty and Rituparna Sengupta. The film will release by mid-2010. Shaan wowed audiences in Anjan Dutt’s Bong Connection and he feels that it’s the right time to work in Tollywood.

The result is that Shaan has done commercial Bengali films like Challenge Nibi na Saala and Jackpot. He says: “For the last 10 years, Bengali film music was a copy of Hindi film music and there was no interesting work for us. But films like Bong Connection, Cross Connection and Chalo Let’s Go have ushered in a change. Filmmakers like Anjan Dutt, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Sudeshna Roy, Riingo Banerjee have also made it possible.”

Shaan has also worked with music director Neel Dutt who experimented with formats in Bong Connection (2006). Says Dutt: “In Majhi re…sung by Shaan, I combined electronica and bhatiali and I think it worked perfectly.”

Moitra and Shaan aren’t the only ones who’ve made it to Tollywood. Mumbai-based Shreya Ghoshal sang along with Shaan in Antaheen and she won a national award for the number Jao Pakhi from the movie.

She’s now singing for Riingo Banerjee’s latest film, Jodi Ekdin, in which Joy Sarkar has worked as the music director. “I’m doing three songs in this film — a romantic duet, a Westernised solo and a folk number,” says Ghoshal. The film releases in March.

Shreya Ghoshal has just finished recording for Riingo Banerjee’s Jodi Ekdin

Then, there’s veteran music director Bappi Lahiri who, in the distant past, turned out the foot-stomping I am a Disco Dancer for Mithun Chakraborty. Now, he’s working in another Bengali movie Rehmat Ali starring Mithun Chakraborty and Rituparna Sengupta, which releases by mid-2010. “Mithunda and me are a hit jodi,” he says with a smile.

Antaheen’s success (it translated into national awards for lyricists Anindya and Chandril) has egged on Moitra to try his hand at more Bengali films, but he is going to pick and choose his scripts. “I think Antaheen’s music did so well because it was spontaneous and composed without a storyline. It was as satisfying as 3 Idiots,” says Moitra.

Moitra is looking at Chowdhury’s third feature film and he is also busy with Shyam Benegal’s latest film, Well Done Abba. He’s working with singers like Raghab Chattopadhyay, Rupankar and Shreya Ghoshal for this film.

Sukhwinder Singh has sung the title track for Rohin Banerjee’s Kolkata — The Metro Life. Pic by Anindya Shankar Ray

The winds of change have also propelled one of Bollywood’s top singers, Sukhwinder Singh (from Chaiya Chaiya to Jai Ho to Kaminey) to sing the title track in an upcoming film, Kolkata — the Metro Life. Music director Babul Bose has got Singh to do a high-energy track for a film directed by Rohin Banerjee. Singh also wants to work for director Rituparno Ghosh. “I simply loved the experience,” he says.

With so much happening in the music scenario, a handful of Calcutta-based musicians is also faring well. Calcutta boy Jeet Ganguly has scored a huge hit with the music of Chirodini Tumi Je Amar, which has sold over 50,000 CDs. Says Karim: “Musicians like Rupam Islam and Neel Dutt are making a difference to Bengali film music too. But if the best of Bollywood is here, it’s better for the record companies.”

If there’s one deterrent for all these artistes, it is the minuscule budget of Tollywood films, compared to Bollywood. While Shaan claims that he charges less than half his fees for Bengali films, Shreya hopes that standards will improve. She says: “There’s a new generation of directors who are making good multiplex cinema so, the films should earn more revenue and pay us better.”That's a bright hope for the future.

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