Rabindra Sangeet and the soulful songs of Bhupen Hazarika were an integral part of my growing up years. I remember waking up to ‘Ai akasha amar mukti’ (translation: I shall be liberated in the sky, in glorious luster) sung by my grandfather as he lovingly watered the plants in our garden. I have heard my father croon revolutionary songs like ‘Ora amader gaan gaite dei na, paul robson’ (translation: they don’t let us raise our voice, my brother Paul Robson). Hazarika’s ‘O Ganga boicho kano’ (translation: stretched on two shores where people live in crores, you hear their cries, still you are mum and oblivious. O the Ganges! Ganges, why do you flow in silence?) was my personal favourite. By the time I was 10, I had learned this song by heart and would consider it a feat achieved if ever my grandfather complimented me for singing it well.
I have been in love with regional music or song of the soil as my grandfather liked to call it for as long as I can remember. Only, today I find it difficult to sniff out the very soulful songs amidst the noise that surrounds us in the guise of commercial songs churned out by the movie industries in dozens.
Today’s commercial movie songs are plagued by sameness. It is this sameness that has rendered these songs boring. Except for some rare, hard to come by songs, most of them appear to be copy paste jobs with next to none change in lyrics, pitch, note and scale. There is nothing new. Nothing fresh.
Original compositions that often borrow generously from folk music step in here to add refreshment to boredom. These compositions are not conceived keeping in mind a particular movie or music video. But occasionally some of them make inroads into cinema given the enriching experience they provide to listeners. They are instrumental in attracting listeners and holding their attention, thereby generating enthusiasm for the movie among moviegoers.
A case in point could be Ritam Sen’s winning of the Filmfare East 2018 for penning down the song "Tomake Bujhina Priyo" (translation: I don’t understand you, dear). Interestingly the song was never meant to be a part of cinema.
“The song was written back in 2012-2013. There was really no commercial motive”, says Mr. Sen. The song was conceived by a group of youngsters who back then had no idea that it would go on to become such a big hit. Prasen Mukherjee added his music to the brilliantly penned words and together the team created a song which would eventually be picked up by Anindya Chatterjee for his Bengali movie Projapoti Biskut.
The song, viral on YouTube and social media went to win the Filmfare East in all major music categories like - Best Music Album, Best Lyrics and Best Playback Singer (Female). Needless to say, the song which created a strong buzz among cine lovers worked well for the movie’s business.
Movie makers, music directors have time and again infused the regional music flavour in the commercial movies. Regional music is beautiful because despite being significantly different from popular and more followed compositions of a period, they manage to make pan India listeners croon to the renditions.
Remember 'Nimbooda' from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and 'Bhumbro' from Mission Kashmir? The audience has always enjoyed such regional music influencing Bollywood songs. The fact that these songs went on to become such chartbusters are proof of the popularity of regional music. Their popularity is also reflected in the rave reviews of the music pundits.
We still dance to ‘Beedi Jalai Le’ from Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara. Wedding celebrations are incomplete without grooving to late Sri Devi’s 'Navrai Majhi' from English Vinglish. ‘Shubharambh’ from Kai Po Che, ‘Monta Re’ from – Lootera have stayed with us long after they first made their way to our hearts.
These songs celebrate life. They aptly describe myriad emotions like joys of being in love and the sorrow of separation; they capture the beauty of life and death, the ultimate truth. They are raw and throbbing with passion. The compositions are relatable because they carry in them the smell of the soil.
Mr". Sen feels “folk and original music are always more honest than the commercial cinema's requirement directed forced lyrics. And because such music is honest, they are more soul-stirring.”
To pen such songs is an art. To lend a voice to such beautiful compositions is an art too.
Where lies the beauty of these songs, one might wonder. For me, it is all about how these songs make me feel connected, nostalgic almost. It is because these songs are the lyrical representations of myriad Indian cultures woven together by soul touching notes.
Regional music upholds India's rich diversity in the most soulful manner. Each region has its own style and it is this style that acts as a differentiator. There are a plethora of songs for occasions such as weddings, engagements, and births and of planting and harvests. These are songs of hopes, melancholy, fears, and aspirations. They are real, they are raw. They help us reconnect with our inner self, the lost self, the self that was once fascinated by grandmother's tales and now feeds on nostalgia to relive forgotten times.
Unfortunately, however, there are budget constraints that hinder nurturing both regional music and original compositions. Sometimes there is not enough exposure. Not all brilliantly composed and sung songs manage to make their way to the YouTube. Even if they do, they fail to become internet sensations because they lack the sheen and gloss of music videos that concentrate less on music and more on the look of their featured models.
Mr. Sen is hopeful, believes “the scene is getting better with more YouTube channels, creating a platform for original music”.
Music transcends all boundaries. That is why regional music must live on because nothing glorifies India’s homogenous cultural identity like they do.
The showbiz industry must include more folk music in mainstream cinema. As music lovers, we would love nothing better.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)