Bickram Ghosh’s journey from concerts to composing

“For me, it is fun to compose a film song in the morning and perform a classical concert in the evening,” says Bickram Ghosh. Not many people know about the many creative pursuits of this tabla exponent, who recently won the best composer award at the Montreal Independent Film Festival for the Bengali film Abhijatrik. Meanwhile, Ishq, his indie album in collaboration with singer Hariharan, has evoked good response on social media.

Bickram says he discovered that he could compose when he was working on ‘Rhythmscape’ with his band of the same name. The album was not just about rhythm, it had melody too. It was followed by many popular albums and set the tone for the film composition offers that began to come to him from people who had heard his albums. He started with Shatabdir Galpo followed by Iti Shrikanto. In fact, impressed by ‘Rhythmscape’, Rajkumar Hirani had wanted him to score the music for Munnabhai MBBS back in the 2000s, but that didn’t work out as he was touring with Pt. Ravi Shankar then as his tabla accompanist.

In a long interview, the musician speaks about why he chose to take his experiments with sound beyond the classical realm. Edited excerpts.

What inspired you to score the music for Abhijatrik?

Abhijatrik or Wanderlust of Apu is a sequel to the Apu Trilogy. This is a very ambitious and beautiful film by Shubhrajit Mitra and is based on the concluding part of Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay’s novel Aparajito. The score is purely classical with a little folk influence. It is being screened at film festivals before a formal release. For the Montreal jury, an eclectic mix of European and American experts, to choose it for best score means I must be doing something right. It gives my work validation.

From the film ‘Abhijatrik’

From the film ‘Abhijatrik’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Is your music influenced by Satyajit Ray and Pt. Ravi Shankar?

When I am doing Abhijatrik, I have to be influenced by Panditji and Ray because this is the continuation of the same story. So it is expected that I follow the same musical format. There are other films such as Bosu Poribar (2019), where I have used Ray’s minimalist approach. I am also hugely influenced by R.D. Burman and his detailed arrangements with live musicians, instead of programming with electronic devices. I too have live musicians for my compositions. It gives soul to my music. And I have a very good arranger in Shayan Ganguly, who gives a modern touch to the sound with the help of electronic devices. This live arrangement of music has set a trend because I do not use stock music even for the background score.

With singer Hariharan

With singer Hariharan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ishq is doing well. What made you think of it?

The pandemic triggered the idea for this album on the moods of love. We were not doing much work, so I requested Hariharan ji to sing the songs and he agreed. I sent him the compositions and he sang and sent them back. Within a month we did six songs. Later, I did the arrangements with live musicians as usual — without using VST (virtually simulated tones of the keyboard). This live orchestra can be well replicated by the programming sounds. And that is how we used sitar, sarod, santoor, tabla, mridangam, etc.

The songs are melodious and hummable. I make it a point to keep my songs simple so that even a layman can sing them. All six songs have different moods and a fresh sound. After the audio recording we also did a lavish video under Arindam Seal’s direction, giving each song an interesting narrative. They were all shot in Kolkata. For example, in ‘Dil hawai hai,’ I take Hariji on a tour of Kolkata. There is a beautiful woman in it, who is actually a metaphor for the city. Similarly, the Radha video shows the life of a gangster and how people give up life for love.

You are a percussionist, who works with rhythmic permutations. Working with melody is a different ball game. How did you embark on this journey?

I belong to the Shankar Ghosh school of tabla where modulation with bayan plays a very important role. Tabla is not just an instrument for counting beats, it also expresses melody. Maybe not in notes but in the modulation of melody.

My father taught me to make my tabla playing aesthetically pleasing. And I adopt the same approach for composing. I don’t see any bifurcation in my melody and rhythm thoughts. Besides, I heard a lot of Patiala gharana music from my mother and her Ustad.

In school, I used to participate in Western music events. I have had a lot of influences. It’s a nice khichdi. In the last 20 years, I have done 39 feature films, jingles, albums, etc. It’s a huge body of work from any standard. I have composed for 10 Hindi feature films as well. Of late, it has been very prolific.

How do you accommodate yourself to compose both classical and popular music?

I am not from the headspace of only the classical artiste. I was always watching films, listening to the music of different genres. I am a huge fan of Pancham da. I listen to foreign composers, Hard Rock, Metal... I have a wide range. My father often pulled me up for this, but he also gave me a long rope, as long as I did my daily riyaaz.

Besides, I was trying to understand the software, the way recordings are done. In 2004, I set up a studio in my house. Having your own studio gives you a lot of advantage. I don’t have any training in composing, I learnt it on the fly. I tried to understand how the arrangements are done, how the sounds are produced — all the technical aspects intrigued me. I was mentally ready to compose long back. And the success of my albums in the alternative music space gave me a lot of confidence.

The writer is a music critic and musicologist.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 6:00:43 PM |

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