Madhubanti, Reya, Ishita and Suyasha with Neel at Dream Digital. Pictures: Bhubaneswarananda Halder Styling: Neha Panda
Director Mainak Bhaumik interviews composer Neel Dutt and the four fresh voices in his Friday film Aami Aar Amaar Girlfriends...
Mainak: Neel, after we finished Maach Mishti & More we decided to do a chick flick. I told you let’s think Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson... basically, my closet iPod filled with girl music. How did you approach the idea?
Neel: My iPod didn’t have Avril and Kelly! It was a challenge for me to get into this whole scenario of girl bands. I had heard Alison Krauss, Joan Baez... and obviously Dido. So I thought it would be fun to actually get into the groove and figure out how to relate them to the Bengali sensibility. We decided to get away from the sound of Maach Mishti & More and create an album with the girls.
Mainak: There had to be a fun element in the voices too...
Neel: ...And young. So we thought, instead of using singers who are known, why not audition and get new people to sing. We chose girls who could easily fit into the kind of music you were thinking of. Of them, one is into Indian classical music (Madhubanti), one into rock music (Suyasha), someone is singing jazz (Reya and Ishita)... but when I did the audition, I figured out there was something common in their likings. Madhubanti became Parno’s voice (Mannequin), Swastika’s was Suyasha (Kano hochche erom) and Reya is Raima’s (Ichche hoy tai). Ishita’s (Shomoy) is the only independent voice.
Mainak: Girls, tell me how did you fit into this kind of music and song?
Madhubanti: I have always learnt classical. I was into western music for the past eight-nine years. But I was familiar with Neel’s music. I try to follow music, classical or fusion. I want to do various kinds of music, I want to experiment. So when Neel asked me to audition, I was game.
Mainak: Suyasha, tell us about you and your rock-chick wardrobe!
Suyasha: Yeah, once we walked into a coffee shop and Mainak and I were wearing the same clothes! We looked like Siamese twins.
Mainak: We can be body doubles!
Suyasha: I’ve had no training in music. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but I have always been singing western music, so I have my band Ganesh Talkies. I sing, I write songs and sometimes I play the guitar. When Neel asked me to audition, I was taken aback because the kind of vocal texture I have you don’t really associate it with a Bengali movie. And as Neel said, the songs are very situational. I thought it was cool!
Mainak: We had a few problems with Suyasha initially. You’ve not been in a studio, so you were off the mic most of the time.
Suyasha: Oh yeah, that was a problem. But I slowly became okay.
Neel: As far as music is concerned in Bengali cinema now...
Suyasha: It’s very male-dominated.
Neel: Not just male-dominated. There’s a change that happened in the mid-90s but most of the music happening today is not getting anywhere. Any work of art should stand the test of time. In Girlfriends, the lyrics are very simple, they talk about the girls, their lives and emotions. The beach song (Kano je hochhe amon) is about three girls having a good time.
Mainak: It’s getting out of your zone.
Neel: Lyrically, I had to convey that the protagonists are waiting for something good to happen. That was a difficult process.
Mainak: You’ve worked with Ishita before...
Neel: Yes. But she hasn’t really sung in films before.
Mainak: Reya, coming from Indian classical music, how did you fit into the music of Girlfriends?
Reya: I am still learning classical music but western music has always interested me...
Mainak: So you are like a closet…
Reya: Exactly! This is my first playback and it’s a ‘yay’ feeling for me! The whole album is very dynamic.... I mainly listen to blues and jazz, sometimes pop... so it wasn’t a problem for me.
Neel: I was very worried about their diction.
Suyasha: Yes, like I can’t say Neel, I say Nil!
Neel: Yes. She worked hard on it. Mainak: See, one of the main reasons for making the film was that I wanted to create my own chick album in Bengali. Bengali metal bands end up becoming a ‘Bengali’ metal band. It’s not an album on its own. Here, the songs define the mood and feel of the girl world. When we say girl world, we are talking of the Calcutta girl world. The moment we say chick flick, we think New York or Sex and the City.
Neel: Yes, the songs may have blues and jazz but they had to be very Bengali.
Suyasha: The songs are very fresh.
Ishita: I had no idea what it was going to be like. When we were talking about singing for the film, we were talking about chick rock, chick music. I come from an Indian classical and jazz background, and what I have done in this film is very different because it’s a very R&B song (Shomoy). And that was very challenging.
Mainak: What’s your idea of a girl world? For me it’s dressing up in my room and nobody can see me!
Suyasha: So finally, Mainak you are out!
Madhubanti: Girl world is based on insecurities. A girl is basically an insecure person. I don’t have girlfriends!
Suyasha: I think it’s having fun with my girlfriends who are obviously my best friends forever. It’s about talking to them about everything. It can be something as petty as boys! It can also be something heavy-duty like politics and then just going out and shopping. My girl world is fun.
Madhubanti: It’s pink and bling?
Suyasha: It’s pajamas with oversized T-shirts.
Reya: And a lot of bitching. When it comes to bitching, girls rock!
Ishita: Bitching is therapeutic!
Ishita: A St. Xavier’s graduate, did MA in English from JU. Trained in Indian classical under Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty. Sings jazz with Carlton Kitto.
Reya: Mass com student at St. Xavier’s, trained in Indian classical music. Is a member of Trikon.
Suyasha: Studying history at JU. Sings and plays the guitar in Ganesh Talkies.
Madhubanti: Engineering graduate, now doing her masters at JU. Trained in Indian classical under Subhra Guha.