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Tolly rockers
After the success of Autograph, Anupam Roy is now working on his own music album

Who’s the newest singing sensation in Tollywood? Step forward Rupam Islam, lead singer of the Bengali rock group Fossils. The singer has recently won a National Award as the Best Male Playback singer for Suman Mukhopadhyay’s Bengali film Mahanagar@Kolkata. He’s also busy doing playback singing and composing for films like Ami Versus Tumi.

Says Islam: “The wave of change in Bengali films is inspiring. I am comfortable singing various genres of music in films, be it Indian classical, semi- classical, trance or rock-based songs.”

Another singer who’s struck a different chord is Bangalore-based Anupam Roy. The 28-year-old shot to fame with his chartbuster Amake Amar Moto Tha-akte Dao in Srijit Mukherjee’s recently released film Autograph. The song’s had 1.29 lakh YouTube hits since its release a month ago. Though comprehensive figures aren’t available yet, M. Biswas & Symphony music store says it’s sold 16,000 albums of the film so far.

Bengali film music is hitting a new high. Producers are putting aside larger sums than ever before — anywhere upto Rs 10 lakh, a large amount in Tollywood terms — and hiring new singers who are experimenting with all types of musical styles from classical to folk to Baul, jazz, opera and Western rock.

June Banerjee started off with ad jingles before she got her first break in the movies
Pix by Rashbehari Das

Says composer Jeet Gannguli: “It’s a golden time as directors are not only confident about experimenting with newer subjects but also with newer sounds and voices.” So composers like Gannguli, Debajyoti Mishra, Neel Dutt and Indradeep Dasgupta are putting together unique compositions and looking for new people to sing them.

One singer for whom it’s been a high decibel year is RJ-turned-singer Nilanjana Sarkar, 32, who grabbed a National Award for Best Female Playback for the track Bishh in Bappaditya Bandopadhyay’s film Housefull (2010). The award has propelled Sarkar into the limelight and she’s thrilled. “It has come at quite an early stage in my career. I was speechless when I got the news.”

Or look at Mumbai-based singer June Banerjee, now almost an old hand on the Bengali music scene. She got her first break in Bengali films with Chirodini Tumi Je Aamar for which the music was composed by Gannguli. Soon after that she signed films like Mon Mane Na, Challenge, Dujone, and Dui Prithibi. Up next are films like Mon Je Kore Uru Uru, Potadar Kirti, Chalo Potol Tuli and Le Paglu.

The results are clear in the sales figures. Chirodini Tumi Je Amar sold over 1 lakh copies. And Poran Jai Joliya Re sold 50,000 albums. Similarly, Mon Mane Na sold over 40,000 copies. Industry experts say that Bengali films are now expected to get 5 per cent of their earnings from their music alone.

Lead singer of Bangla band Fossils, Rupam Islam is also composing and singing for Bengali films
Pix by Rashbehari Das

Says Director Raj Chakraborty: “The Bengali film music package has become smarter and production quality has gone up. And young singers are giving a fresh lease of life to Bengali films by adapting to various musical styles.”

Look, for instance, at Islam, who’s been with Bangla rock band Fossils since 1999 and has a reputation for avant garde experimentation. His solo album Na-Hanyate was launched during Puja this year. But now his career is swinging to a lively new beat with a slew of playback offers for films like Shoa Chuattor, Jiyo Kaka, Fight 1:1, Ichhe, Ami Sudhu Cheyechhi Tomaay and Grohon.

The new singers are bringing all kinds of new styles with them. National Award winner Sarkar sang a jazz-influenced number Bishh. “Earlier, jazz and rap numbers in Bengali films were unheard of. But now composers feel such numbers fit into the storyline with ease,” says Sarkar, a trained jazz singer.

Latin American music has been one of the major influences for Dibyendu Mukherjee
Pix by Rana Bose

On a different note, Islam composed five songs in Mahanagar@Kolkata in which he blended electronica with rock. For instance, in Eei to Ami 1 he has used electronica to bring out the robotic existence in modern cities and lively rock music to highlight the spirit to live. And in Eei to Ami 2 he has used a ballad style. Says Islam: “The scope in Bengali film music is limitless today.” In Dui Prithibi, Gannguli felt a rock-like treatment was required so he roped in newcomer Timir Biswas, 28, from Asansol. “He fit the bill, especially since he has his own rock band,” says Gannguli.

In fact the singers are proud of their ability to produce the type of music that’s required — like Banerjee who’s open to singing anything from Bangla rap to jazz-based numbers. Some of these singers have also made their mark in the Hindi film industry having worked with the biggest names in Mumbai. Banerjee, for instance, has worked with the likes of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Ranjit Barot and Niladri Kumar. She got her Tollywood break with Chirodini Tumi Je Aamar.

Then, there’s Dibyendu Mukherjee, who’s sung in Hindi films like Bhram, Victory, Laga Chunari Mein Daag, Ugly Aur Pagli, Pankh and Morning Walk. He made his Tollywood debut in Riingo Banerjee’s Love, released in 2008. Mukherjee is hoping to make a mark in the Bengali film industry now. He says: “Right now, my priority is to establish my style of singing so that listeners can sit up and take note of my voice.”

Nilanjana Sarkar bagged a National Award this year for best female playback in Bappaditya Bandopadhyay’s Housefull

Similarly, Mumbai-based Monali Thakur, who was a contestant in Indian Idol 2, first established a foothold in Bollywood with films like Race, Golmaal Returns, Billu, Badmash Company, and Anjaana Anjaani. Her first Bengali film was Love. Since then, there’s been no looking back for this bubbly singer who’s lent her voice to successful Bengali films like Dujone, Le Chakka and Dui Prithibi. “I feel lucky to be part of the Bengali music industry at a time when music is looking up like never before,” she says.

Of course, it’s still tough to make a living just by doing Bengali playback. Some singers like Thakur have sung in other regional languages too like Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Nepali. Others either sing in Bollywood or have alternative careers. So Roy, an engineer, has a day job with Texas Instruments in Bangalore, and Islam is doing gigs with Fossils. Timir Biswas is the lead singer and keyboardist for Music Street and is also putting together an album, slated for release next year.

Some are even hoping to make a debut onscreen. Mukherjee, for instance, is awaiting the release of his Bengali film Nandini, which will release in January. He also recently acted in an English musical, In Further Soil, an Indo-US collaboration to mark Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary. He was also a vocalist in the Calcutta-based band Orient Express between 2003 and 2007.

Monali Thakur has also been singing in Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Nepali films

Roy, who is now working on an album, has also been active in the Bangalore theatre scene and has done three plays at the Ranga Shankara theatre space. He loves penning songs and has his own blog Alternative Bangla Print. But now offers are pouring in for Bengali movies. He says: “Apart from writing my lyrics, which is my forte, I am now concentrating on playback.

Sarkar too says she juggles two parallel careers with ease — she’s a singer by day and a radio jockey by night. Before her film career took off, she sang for several Bengali serials and ads. Says Sarkar: “I want to continue with both music and jockeying because both have different challenges.”

Meanwhile, it’s not easy in the industry either. Competition is hotting up. Gannguli says that he gets scores of CDs from new singers everyday and he makes it a point “to listen to their CDs every Sunday”. All the youngsters are, therefore, discovering that they have to hone their skills to stay in the reckoning.

Mukherjee has started taking classical music lessons. And Sarkar has taken lessons in Bengali adhunik gaan. Says composer Debajyoti Mishra: “My advice to all these young singers is that they should be thorough in their musical knowledge and listen to the greats like Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Hemanta Mukherjee along with contemporary singers.”

What about the future? It’s hard to predict which of these singers will get to the top and stay there. But it’s safe to say that thanks to these new voices, the Bengali film industry will keep the audience dancing to its beat.

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