One for the road

TRIALBLAZERS For Ranjon Ghoshal (left) and Abraham Mazumder (right) the concert is a tribute to the late Gautam Chattopadhyay.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.

An integral part of the early development of Bangla rock, Mohiner Ghoraguli was one of the first experiments in band culture in India, writes RAKESH MEHAR

Almost any talk of Mohiner Ghoraguli will involve titles such as "pioneers of Bangla rock", "fathers of rock music in India" and a host of other monikers that suggest that once, long ago, the band was a trailblazer. But, jokes Ranjon Ghoshal, a founder member of the band, the only thing such titles do is remind the band of how much time has passed since. "These titles make us look old, makes us feel ancient. No girls will even look at us," he jokes. Ghoshal is organising Levi's First Rock, a remembrance concert featuring some of the original band members and a host of other musicians, at Ambedkar Bhavan today.Still, there is no denying that Mohiner had a great influence on a host of bands in coming years, despite receiving hardly any recognition when they first began. Early in the '70s, when popular music in India rarely stretched beyond classical and film compositions, Mohiner delivered quite the musical punch with their Western instruments and styles that spanned from Baul music to jazz to Western classical compositions. "Three decades ago, film directors drew inspiration from classical music and some influences of rock 'n' roll, swing and so on were just making inroads. We have a lot of respect for R.D. Burman and Salil Chaudhry, but there just was no culture of a band," says Ghoshal. "We wanted to create a new sound." Adds Abraham Mazumder, pianist and violinist of the band: "So much of the music was oriented through movies. People always associate the music only with the heroes and heroines on the screen. We wanted to make the song for the song, to show the experiences we went through, not of some hero on the screen." And so the band came together in the '70s, under the leadership of Gautam Chattopadhyay (Moni da to the other band members), who was a vocal supporter of the Naxal movement, had been in jail and had had to leave Bengal for a few years. Despite Gautam's overt political leanings, says Ghoshal, the band made sure it stayed away from obvious political stances. "We were obviously Left leaning, and that somehow oozed through. And we weren't apologetic about our Left leanings. But we have moved with the times, and are now critical of failures of the Left. And through our music, we weren't being political, just being human." That previously rare mix of everyday angst, human concern and Western instrumentation, however, was not fashionable at the time, and consequently Mohiner failed to make much of a dent on the music scene in the '70s. "All of our first three vinyl records, which we produced ourselves by borrowing money from family, from Kabuliwallahs and so on, were totally rejected by the public. We may have forced people to buy about 300 copies of the first record," says Ghoshal. Disillusioned, the band broke up. However, the music remained in the underground, being sung at cafes and colleges and youth gatherings of all kinds, until it resurfaced in an explosive way in the '90s and there was a huge demand in Calcutta and from the Bengali diaspora to recreate the band. "We didn't know whether to laugh or cry. When we wanted to make our music, no one wanted to listen to us. Now, they are causing a brouhaha about it," says Ghoshal. Luckily for the band, all the parts for every musician were carefully written and preserved by Abraham. When the band came back together in the '90s, they released a series of albums, which featured songs from the band's early days, new songs and also songs by new bands, giving them a platform to showcase their talent.

Unexpected passing

However, the outfit was disbanded forever when Gautam passed away of an unexpected heart attack a few years ago. "He always contributed the maximum energy and we all tried to share in it," says Mazumder. "In a way we still look to him for inspiration." The concert at Ambedkar Bhavan, which will also feature bass guitarist and flautist Bula Chatterjee from the band's original line up, is a tribute to Gautam and a celebration of the other band members who have lived on, says Ghoshal. Levi's First Rock, featuring original band members of Mohiner Ghoraguli and other guest performers kicks off at 7 p.m. today at Ambedkar Bhavan. Tickets for the event are priced at Rs. 100, Rs. 200 and Rs. 300 and are available at K.C. Das, Levi's, Crossword, Landmark and Bangaliana. Contact 98450 45257 or 98454 00876 for details.