Beatles to Donovan to Denver — Aami Ashbo Phirey duo Anjan and Neel Dutt talk healing music
Aami Ashbo Phirey (directed by Anjan Dutt) is about songs healing lives…
Anjan: I strongly believe it. When I started off as an actor, I was in a desperate situation, and music walked into my life and I made it happen. I was saved. I have seen how music has changed people’s lives. This film is about the listeners.
Neel: Music soothes and uplifts. It calms you, it gives you hope. The Beatles is therapeutic. Simon & Garfunkel is so peaceful. Songs like Kathy’s Song and Bridge Over Troubled Water are healing. The music of Joan Baez or Eric Clapton is beautiful. Also, John Denver, Don McLean and Billy Joel. Songs have given me hope in times of crisis.
Anjan: You just want to do good things in life when you listen to Simon & Garfunkel. Also, John Denver and Donovan. These three are all about healing music. Donovan’s music is so simple. I think I am like Donovan. I am not the best, I am the second best. All my life I think I have been Donovan and not Dylan. Both wore dark glasses though (smiles).
Dylan disturbs you, he doesn’t heal. Now, listen to Joan Baez singing Dylan. That can be healing. Listen to Baez’s (version of ) Farewell, Angelina. Donovan is just too good. Dylan has written so many songs, but one song by Donovan (Colours) or Cat Stevens or Don McLean’s Vincent is wow.
I couldn’t be Soumitra Chatterjee. Probably I tried to consciously justify the second best (smiles). When I heard Donovan, and that he was not being celebrated as much as Dylan, I felt hurt. Of course (Kabir) Suman wrote great songs, but my songs too represent a Calcutta... they talk about people leading sad lives but the songs celebrate their courage. Sadness touches me, not melodrama. Dylan unfortunately doesn’t make me feel that sadness. And a film also has to have that basic touch of sadness.
The characters in Aami Ashbo Phirey refuse to be sad... a couple are constantly bickering, a mother and daughter are constantly fighting, there’s an old woman who is dying... and then they listen to some songs, become sad and do something brilliant in their lives. That leads to happiness, and then they come to terms with life.
How would you sum up the film’s soundtrack?
Anjan: The melodies are simple and hummable. And good songwriting has to be simple, and yet has to have a slight twist.
Neel: A certain sophistication has to be there with the simplicity. And the songs have to be healing.
Anjan: Every song starts with the little things of life but reaches for the bigger issues.
This is Anjan and Neel’s first album in 11 years. What led to this 11-year gap?
Anjan: See, I brought in the marginalised Bengali into my songs. I brought my experiences into my music and films. After Ranjana Ami Aar Ashbona, I started making films that were slightly different from my earlier ones. The music, the city were not so much in focus. I was doing a different kind of cinema. The songs in those films were not my kind of songs. In films like Shesh Boley Kichhu Nei, Shaan had sung the songs. But they were not band songs. They were not entering my music area. Somewhere probably I lost my signature in terms of making films or producing albums. I didn’t do albums. I was concentrating on building new audiences. One film wasn’t working, and I was going back to Byomkesh. We were doing a lot of shows but we were not creating new songs. And then finally when I started thinking about doing new songs for an album in 2017, the idea for the film emerged. I came back to my old signature by coming back to music.
Neel, did you miss that collaboration?
Neel: Yeah… this collaboration started from The Bong Connection. The audience went to watch films like The Bong Connection or Chalo Let’s Go. That audience who had listened to Ranjana and Bela Bose are the audience of our films. They found something else in the milieu and dialogues. Madly Bangalee became a band album. And Ranjana… was the highpoint of that kind of music, where my musicality mixed with his. It peaked in Ranjana.... After Ranjana… we did interesting work, but it didn’t take proper shape.
Anjan: I was getting tired of making Byomkesh. I was missing my audience. My songs and my films are actually a part of my life. I am not writing a folk song which is about nature…. or laal mati, I like it, but that doesn’t inspire me. Rather my city inspires me. The crisis was that I was moving away from my signature, and I had to come back to it. I had to do films which are my forte.
Neel decodes the AAP songs
Shokal: There is this subdued subtlety in the drums and bass. It is the beginning of a new day, there is a journey. And I wanted a build-up.
Jaay phuriye: A reference would be Denver, but the mandolin takes it to a different level. I wanted to keep the warmth in the song. This song gives hope.
Cigarette: It has a Spanish vibe to it. And there’s a trademark Anjan Dutt feel to it. The bossa nova is very subdued. It has a playfulness.
Aami ashbo phirey: It means hope will come back. It’s a slow rock number that gradually takes off. A reference was Coldplay’s Trouble.
Lai la lai: This is the peppy, groovy, foot-tapping number.
Koto koto eka eka: It’s a ballad. Anjan Dutt wrote this song many years ago.
Monkharaper bikele: It was the last song I composed for the film. It has a slight Indian folk touch to it.