Given the convention of writing a film song to a given tune, legendary lyricist Kaifi Azmi likened it to first digging a grave and then looking for a corpse to fit in it. By that token, what Anupam Roy has achieved is nothing short of upending the entire process. Here is someone who has almost single-handedly managed not only to bring about a resurgence in Bengali film music but has done that with songs that were never written or composed for films in the first place. Filmmakers have time and again picked up songs from his private albums and created a situation or a character in which to fit the song.
"I always wanted to be an independent singer-composer-songwriter," says Roy. "Films took me by surprise. None of my friends and acquaintances can imagine that I work in films. In the era and milieu I grew up, you became a doctor or engineer. You know how in Bengali you always said about people entering cinema, 'Cinema-ye nemechhe' – you descend in cinema." But for Roy, it has been anything but a descent.
After university, I moved to Bangalore as a circuit design engineer with Texas Instruments, making voltage regulators. I was missing home, missing Bangla, so I started reading a lot, poetry, novels. That helped me hone my writing skills. I also met people who were aware of and dealing in alternative Bangla literature. We used to have regular addas at the home of Ranjan Ghoshal, the lyricist of Moheener Ghoraguli. It was there that I met Srijit-da first. One day in passing he mentioned that he would use my songs in his films – we were all nonplussed, what was the man saying? Subsequently, he left Bangalore to assist Anjan Dutt and Aparna Sen while I remained stuck with my job, desperately trying to return to Kolkata where there were no jobs to be had.
Meanwhile, I had begun recording a song or two here and there for an album – amateurish efforts where I just sang and strummed the guitar. I had no idea how one recorded songs for albums. I kept making the rounds of music companies in Kolkata, who paid no heed at all. It was at this point that Srijit-da said he wanted to use two of my songs for the film he was making, Autograph. I personally did not have a high opinion of film music – for almost twenty years from the 1990s, Bengali film music had been in the dumps. What I had been exposed to was Kabir Suman, Chandrabindu, Bhoomi, independent, non-film music.
I was still in Bangalore, recording an album with Dwight Pattison of Krosswindz, when news started to trickle in during the pujos that the music of Autograph had clicked big time. And the song that had taken a whole generation by storm was 'Amake amaar moton'. The song originated from a relationship, but not quite, sort of virtual, online, one-way love. It was a song dedicated to someone you cannot forget, who does not leave your headspace. Srijit-da called me, asking me to send him a demo of the song. He said he would use the song, but never mentioned if I was going to sing it. I did a rough recording at a friend's place and sent it to him. That scratch version ended up being used in the film. I had no idea about the film, its story, the situation.
I am proud of 'Boshonto eshe gechhe' which I had composed in 2011-12. This version is quite unlike the one used in Chotushkone. The original song is full of political irony. It's about 'India shining' not happening, people selling a false spring. At the same time, there was an element of love since my wife, Piya, and I met in spring. So, I included some of those moments – like walking down Cornfield Road in Kolkata with her, which I poetically translated to 'Hethe chhilam bhutta [cornfield] maather pathey'.
Though Srijit-da loved the song, it did not quite fit the situation he had in the film. Determined to include it, he asked me to keep the structure and the hook line intact while reworking it to the demands of the situation. "Give me a dated, old-world version of the song," is what Srijit-da told me. That's how I wrote the song that Lagnajita sings in the film … it's almost Rabindrik in its feel – an old-school love song. Her unique voice and the way the song is shot made it special. Srijit-da included my original version in the film's end credits.
I am proud of 'Boshonto eshe gechhe' which I had composed in 2011-12. This version is quite unlike the one used in Chotushkone. The original song is full of political irony. It's about 'India shining' not happening, people selling a false spring.
In 'Kaalbaishakhi', there's a bit that comes in the middle, it kept playing in my head. I knew it was not the beginning, neither was it the chorus. I remember I was on the move all day and wanted to go back home so that I had the mind space needed to give a body to the tune. Standing on my balcony, I visualized myself back at high school, cycling to my tuitions and on the way passing a house … waiting for a glimpse of someone at the balcony, who turns away. Meanwhile, clouds have gathered around me … it's the month of April, when we have kaalbaishakhis. I begin to ride furiously lest I get stuck in the rain. That shaped the chorus 'Kal kal kaalbaishakhi aashuk'. Then I imagine: Is the girl calling me back? Should I wait, risking the thunderstorm, or should I go on? And from that dichotomy emerges the line 'Kaalbaishakhi aashuk, amaar jibane aaj e boishakhi aashuk'.
'Ish Debashish' is a song about midlife crisis, albeit an urban, existential one. When one is young, one is open to experiences. With age we tend to close ourselves off, there's a repugnance towards anything new – we tend to see the world through nostalgia-tinted glasses where the past is all rosy; we become slaves to old, dead habits. The song germinated from a discussion with a couple of my seniors. One of them said, "Do you remember, there used to be this song during our time." That set me thinking, whose time is it now then? Are we dead, ghosts?
Pink Floyd's 'Comfortably numb' has a similar arc – with age, boredom we become comfortably numb. I called this the 'Debashish attitude', given that 'ish' gelled well with 'Debashish'. Here's a man who will not let go of the past, not try out a new dish since he has always had chilly chicken. He might have loved some sports at one point in life, now he does not want to even watch it on the TV because it reminds him of his unrealized goals. He will go to a restaurant with his family on weekends, post pictures on Facebook, Instagram, with a happy face. But that's fake. Deep inside, he is missing something. And that's where the song was born.
Prakton offered me two very different experiences in its two songs, 'Kolkata', which, for a change, I wrote specifically for the film, and 'Tumi jaake bhalobasho', which won the National Award. Shibu-da (Shiboprosad Mukherjee) asked for a song on Kolkata. I had only one song – and a rather sad one at that. But he wanted a happy one, something that would complement his love story. Everything I composed, he kept saying, "No, simplify it, I need a simple tune." On my way back home one day, it so happened that I was stuck at the Anwar Shah traffic signal, when the first strains of the song hit me. But like my car, it stuck there, I could make no progress even as my car made its way through the traffic. I was in the lift when the next bit came to me and the word 'Kolkata' fit in perfectly. The song gave me a huge sense of accomplishment – I was able to deliver to a given situation.
'Tumi jaake bhalobasho' was of course an original composition, independent of the film. I knew the film's story and I had a sad song which I played for Shibu-da. He immediately said that he was looking for something exactly like that. I had to change a few lines for the film version, sung by Iman Chakraborty.
'Tumi jaake bhalobasho' was of course an original composition, independent of the film. I knew the film's story and I had a sad song which I played for Shibu-da. He immediately said that he was looking for something exactly like that. I had to change a few lines for the film version, sung by Iman Chakraborty. There was this line, 'Choter opor chot kheye shey bishon surreal' – somehow the word 'surreal' did not connect with the film. So I changed it 'Buker bhetor phootche jayno, maachher kankor lal / eto norom … sari-r shuto bunchhe jayno shei laal-er konkal'.
These apart, there are serendipities involved in the way some of my other personal favourites have made it to films. Take, for example, 'Amaar dukho gulo' in Drishtikone. Initially, it was Shibu-da who wanted it for a film … he was looking for a sad song, but then it didn't quite fit his situation. A few days later, Kaushik-da (Kaushik Ganguly) listened to it and took to it immediately.