Not many people are aware that Angaraag Mahanta aka Papon, one of the most recognizable voices in the country, is actually musical royalty. His late father, Khagen Mahanta, was a legend of Assamese music, commonly referred to as the ‘King of Bihu.’ However, ever since his breakout hit Jiyein Kyun from the film Dum Maaro Dum in 2011, Papon has successfully gone on to carve a niche of his own.
Apart from having lent his voice to some of the biggest films, he has also released several solo albums in Assamese and Hindi. His performances on Coke Studio and MTV Unplugged were highly lauded and have received millions of views online. He also travels with his band The East India Company playing an eclectic range of music all over the country.
At the TimeOut72 music festival in Goa, we caught up with the composer to talk about how he picks his projects, his thoughts on the current state of film music and his plans for composing for Bollywood:
Given the fact that your parents were celebrated musicians – especially your dad, who was called the King of Bihu music – how hard was it to step away from the limelight and find your own identity?
I went away from music in a way because of the same fact. My family was so big that there were always comparisons with my parents. I went away to do architecture. I went to Delhi where I actually found myself and then I took a U-turn towards music.
It took me a while to decide if I was actually good enough on my own or whether it was just because my parents are musicians. There was lot of consciousness and nervousness to come into this. Since it was a late step – I was not one of those prodigies, I took my time – that consciousness always stayed on. I don’t just do whatever comes my way. I’m very choosy. You won’t see much of my work. I believe in giving enough to anything that I do.
You’ve spoke in interviews about how you don’t look at music as film music or independent music. You said you only believe in good music and bad music. What do you look for before taking on a project?
Different styles to push me out of my comfort zone. To do meaningful, true music where my soul feels connected and I can justify what I’m getting into. Good quality of production, good lyrics, good projects, etc. Sensible, sensitive stuff. The balance just comes in. If you’re doing something with some truth, it reflects. If it is not for numbers, glamour, positioning or money, then things fall in place.
A lot has been spoken about how we’ve lost the essence of our music and how we’re aping the West too much. Where do you stand on this? What do you think about our current film music?
More and more the world is becoming smaller because of communication, internet and accessibility. We’re shrinking. We’re able to access music from everywhere. So no doubt there will be some influences and some overlaps with music from various parts of the world.
I think mixing of genre styles, Western or Eastern, doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t have an identity of your roots which gives character to who you are and where you come from.. If that’s not there, it’s not as interesting. It’s a better storytelling process if you have stories that people haven’t heard before. That’s when you stand out. If you just ape someone, it’ll be a carbon copy.
Time tells you. Things that stay back, stay forever. When we look back, they’re still evergreen. Anything done with honesty, love and that much of passion will stay.
We’ve seen folk musicians like Raghu Dixit composing for Hindi films. Do you ever plan on doing so?
I’ve already started on a Bollywood film. I’ve been waiting and I’ve been very patient. I have done things when they come to me. I don’t go after things. It’s like fishing, you have to wait till the fish comes to you. You can’t just go and muddle up the water.
So things have now come to me and as I speak I’m getting into composing for films. Obviously I’ll try to have a signature of mine in what I do. I won’t do what has been done already.
How different is it composing music for films?
When I do my own original music, it’s entirely my story. When I’m doing it for a film, it’s the director’s story. Someone else’s story that I’m helping to narrate. But you can become that story.
When you give me a story and I have to tell your story, I first have to become that story and absorb myself in it. And then I will interpret it your story with my medium which is music.
You’re seen as a coach on The Voice India Kids. Having seen so many young kids, do you think the future is in safe hands?
I have always been asked to do these kind of shows but I wasn’t sure about it. This was beautiful because it’s an international format. That’s why it’s so popular. The kids choose us – we’re coaches, not judges. It’s easier on the kids.
I’m bringing in spontaneity to the show, apparently. And I do what comes naturally at that moment. I’ve seen amazing talent. The young generation is sorted. Every next generation will be wiser than we are because they will get what we have and then more added on to it.