Shantanu Moitra sets to tune Gulzar’s ode to Tagore

Shantanu Moitra on giving music to Gulzar’s translation of Rabindranath Tagore and how his work is imbued with elements of Rabindra Sangeet


Shantanu Moitra says he followed the grammar of Rabindra Sangeet to get closest to what Tagore would’ve created.
Shantanu Moitra says he followed the grammar of Rabindra Sangeet to get closest to what Tagore would’ve created.

Ever since the Visva-Bharati’s copyright of works of Rabindranath Tagore expired in 2001, the songs of Tagore, collectively known as Rabindra Sangeet, has lent itself to various forms of experimentations: from playful fusion (Bong Connection, Bikram Ghosh’s Tagore Lounge) to electric subversions(Q’s Tasher Desh).

That’s why, perhaps, Shantanu Moitra’s interpretation in Parineeta (2005) holds a special place. It retains the austerity of the traditional Rabindra Sangeet even as it becomes a song of its own. In what is one of Moitra’s early, and most successful film works, the nursery-rhyme like central melody of Fuley Fuley gives way to Sonu Nigam’s devastating cry echoing over the piano in Suna Mann Kaa Aangan.

In his new non-film album called Gulzar in Conversation with Tagore, Moitra has now gone a step forward in the same direction. Instead of translating or expanding on a Tagore composition, he has set to tune Gulzar’s translated work of Tagore’s poems in the spirit of Rabindra Sangeet.

“I followed an interesting technique. I’d think how I would compose his poems if Tagore had asked me to. I’d imagine him sitting in my room,” he says over phone after the launch of the album in Mumbai.

It is a twin project to Baaghbaan and Nindiya Chor: Gulzar translations of Tagore’s collections of poems such as Chitra, Kshanika, Sonar Tari and Shishu that came out earlier this year. Gulzar’s admiration for Tagore and his desire to promote his work in other languages is well known. When the two met five years ago, Moitra got on board and recorded the first song of the album. These are new songs with poems Tagore didn’t set to music. But each of the seven songs, like a guest appearance, feature the tune of a popular Rabindra Sangeet in the interlude or prelude. For instance Bujh Gaya Tha Kyun Diya (Alo Amar Alo) or Main Ghoomta Hoon(Praan Chaaye). They are sung by Shreya Ghoshal and Shaan.

Moitra says he followed the grammar of Rabindra Sangeet to get closest to what Tagore would’ve created—the most important of them being the emphasis of lyrics over melody. What is striking though is that it doesn’t sound very different from Moitra’s other work. Bujh Gaya Tha Kyun reminds one of Tu (Bobby Jasoos) (2014) and there are unmistakable similarities between Dono Behne and Kya Khayal Hai (The Dewarists Season 1). Unlike most composers who get defensive when pointed at similarities, Moitra comes up with the possible reason: his obsession with a rhythmic pattern in Hindustani classical music that’s also considered to be an important element of Rabindra Sangeet: the saat matra.

“I had first discovered the saat matra in Piya Tose Naina Lage Re and since then it has been a recurring motif in my music. I just love the sensuality in the movement. And it is quite possible that some of my songs sound quite similar,” says the composer of 3 Idiots(2009), Lage Raho Munna Bhai(2006) and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi(2003).

You can listen to the album here

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