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By Hip-hop and Reggae to Baul and Bhatiali, Bengali films are trying out new sounds with new singers MOHUA DAS
  • Published 5.07.08
A moment from Love

The music makers

Finally, the tunes they are a changin’ in Tollywood. New-age riffs ranging from reggae, hip-hop and alt-rock interlaced with Tagore, baul and classical strains are bringing about a slow-but-steady revolution in the way the industry sounds. t2 tunes into this new sound of music...

The one to sound the opening chime of change was Subrata Sen back in 2002 when he signed on Bangla band Cactus to lend a non-mainstream grunge sound to Nil Nirjane. “What I wanted was a rock sound that had never been used in a Bengali film. It was meant to appeal to the youth,” says Sen.

From then on, the Tollywood sound has gradually combined global with local — Kranti and Aamra to The Bong Connection, Chalo Let’s Go... and Khela.

Bickram Ghosh

Bringing an “international feel” to the table is Bickram ‘percussion’ Ghosh. “Since I’m not a professional composer I’m not under any pressure to follow a particular trend like other Tolly music directors,” shrugs Bickram. If Raj Basu’s suspense thriller Piyalir Password has music which is “psychological and atmospheric” meant to appeal to the urban youth, Riingo’s Neel Rajar Deshe, targeted at a larger mass base, is more “rhythm-driven”, explains Bickram.

Neel Dutt

A cool combo of orchestra and synthesiser forms the basis of Neel Dutt’s sound board. “I like to use a lot of new-age samples, blend in acoustic guitar and unplugged music and then give it an Indian drift,” explains Neel, who mixed bhatiali with lounge music for Majhi re in Bong Connection. “For Kaushik Ganguly’s Brake Fail I’ve done a Hindi-Bengali number combining baul, qawwali and bhangra,” reveals Anjan Dutt’s son.

Neel, who has helped create a whole new sound for his father’s films Bong Connection, Chalo Let’s Go... and BBD is determined to break away from Tollywood’s bad Bollywood hangover. “The regular commercial films in Bengali are clutching on to the Bollywood 80s’ sound. There’s so much more one can do today,” stresses Neel.

Raja and Sanjoy

Bringing a different sound sensibility to the recording studio are Raja Narayan Deb and Sanjoy Das, who have scored the music for Rituparno Ghosh’s Dosar, The Last Lear, Khela and Shob Charitra Kalponik. Influenced by western classical and West Asian strains, their favourite instruments vary from the cello, violin and piano to duduk (a woodwind instrument), bazouki and banjo (both plucked string instruments).

The storyboard decides Raja-Sanjoy’s soundscape. “Dosar demanded a minimalist approach, so we had a solo voice, solo bagpipe and solo guitar. Khela’s music is young and vibrant so we’ve used a lot of guitar distortions and drums,” reveals Raja. What about going mainstream? “We don’t mind giving it a shot but we’d go for new-age, catchy melodies that aren’t easily forgotten,” muses Raja.

Prabuddha Banerjee

Not-easily-forgotten defines the musical influences on Prabuddha Via Darjeeling Banerjee: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. “Plenty of steel string guitar, blues harp and Turkish oud is what you’ll find in my compositions. They bring a lot of life to the music and step out of the synthesised and sequenced programming that Tollywood thrives on,” explains Prabuddha, who has experimented with jazz flute, techno rhythms and even baul in Via Darjeeling.

The voices

What’s a song without the singer? In a bid to connect with a growing urban audience, both filmmakers and music directors are turning to The Voices. They range from popular Bangla bands to the likes of Nachiketa, Srikanta Acharya and Rupankar who come with a fan base. “I’ve used Chandrabindoo in Brake Fail and Rupam (frontman of Fossils) in Chalo Let’s Go.... We need good male playback singers. The freshness we have among those singing rock is missing in the mainstream,” feels Neel.


New styles and instruments apart, filmmakers are looking for fresh voices to influence and expand Bengali movie music. “Since many local singers have not been used in mainstream playback they add an off-beat flavour to the music,” adds director Kaushik Ganguly.

While Bickram finds it “unfair and unnecessary” to use Bollywood singers for Bengali cinema, Raja believes in instinctively picking the most suitable voice. “We used Anwesha of Chhote Ustaad and Upal of Chandrabindoo to sing a duet in Khela. We also got ex-Cactus singer Pota, who’s never done a playback, to sing,” says Raja.

The listener

The audio-visual audience today is far more open to change, giving music-makers and filmmakers the licence to experiment. And experiment with Tagore, no less. “I’ve received great feedback from even elders who have liked Pagla hawa (Bong Connection). With film-goers and listeners being so open today I’m being adventurous,” smiles Neel. Melody, he feels, holds the key to acceptance and appreciation. The fact that Pagla hawa was so hummable and peppy meant that it was played at nightclubs. It also rocked on radio channels that otherwise rarely ventured beyond Bollywood or Bangla bands.


The FM & ipod generation can soon dictate musical trends in Tollywood provided more films are made with them in mind. Kaushik Ganguly, for one, plans to take the radio route by airing the songs from Brake Fail for at least a month before its release.

Filmmakers now feel the need for quality sound, good music and songs to remember. “If the visuals and sounds are interesting, chances are that I’ll have a repeat audience, which can make my film a hit,” believes Riingo. “I chose Jeet (Ganguly) for Love because I needed a mix of creativity and mainstream commercial sound.” Jeet uses Spanish and Italian hummings in the background of Love and ex-Orient Express singer Dibyendu belts out a smartly-laid-out title track.

Bending the cliched boundaries is the call of the hour. Jaideep Banerjee, programming head of Friends FM, puts the winds of change in perspective: “Requests for evergreen Bengali film melodies outscore requests for new Bengali film music by a large margin. There was a dearth of quality music from Tollywood for many years, but I think that will change now.”

Which is your all-time-favourite Bengali film song? Tell