Anupam Roy’s latest album, Adrishyo Nagordolar Trip, according to the singer himself, is all about illusion. In an exclusive interview with Aritra Basu, he discussed the nuances of the album and divulged the secret behind his ever-increasing popularity. Anupam says, “I chose my songs which dealt about this theme. I started working on this album last year. I wanted to work on songs which would help me musically explore uncovered territories. Deeply emotional, political and at the same time trippy.”
Aritra: My first question is, as compared to your fresh and raw perspective of 2010, when you started your musical journey with Autograph, how has your journey been to your present-day perspective on music and life?
Anupam: It started well; it was lovely. When we begin something there is always a lot of effervescence, bubbling joy, and enthusiasm. These last for some time. After a point, these fade out. Then, it’s a different way of sustenance and a different route altogether. When you are young and the audience is listening to your music for the first time, that is a different kind of magic. I am at a certain point in my career where I have to consistently think about what is next. Consequently, I always try to bring something new to the table. I am enjoying this phase and it has been smooth throughout except for the Covid period.
Aritra: As a singer/songwriter, you have often worked in both Bengali and Hindi music industries. From a comparative standpoint, how different is the experience?
Anupam: Working with Bengali songs has always been more comfortable for me because when I am composing a song in Bengali, I get to write the lyrics myself. It is not that I have not written songs in Hindi; I have a few. However, I am more comfortable writing songs in Bengali as it is my mother tongue and I am not that fluent in Hindi either. Since the two languages are different, there is a certain kind of enjoyment in working with Bengali songs and a different kind of fulfilment when working with Hindi songs.
Aritra: Kolkata has often been perceived as a city that lives in the past. While some people criticize this, others celebrate this very aspect. What is your opinion on this?
Anupam: Some people in Kolkata live in the past whereas other people live in the present. It’s a mixed bag. However, some people are working towards making Kolkata a better city and these people are certainly not living in the past. These are the people who would take Kolkata forward. For instance, the artists who are associated with this exhibition are working in and around the city, to retain its cultural relevance in the contemporary scenario.
During the Live Performance cum Exhibition at Kolkata Centre for Creativity (on 2nd April 2023), the curator of the art exhibition, Kounteya Sinha, mentioned that he does not believe that Kolkata ‘was’ the cultural capital of India, but it still is. It is with events like these which amalgamate several forms of art like music, charcoal painting, interactive installation art, and plaster, that we can create or reclaim the idea of Kolkata remaining the cultural capital of India.
Aritra: To what extent is a translation of your songs available/feasible? Would you like to recreate or translate the songs that you have already written for this album into other languages?
Anupam: There are no translations for the songs of the present album. I am not one of those artists who harp on the same project time and again. If I have created a song in Bengali (or any other language for that matter), I am not interested in translating or recreating that song in other languages like Hindi or English. I would rather try and focus on creating something new. However, if some other artists or musicians want to translate my work into other languages, then I would find nothing objectionable in that attempt.
Aritra: Now coming to your album Adrishyo Nagordolar Trip. Three songs from this album are already available on YouTube. The first of them is ‘Kemon achho Annie Hall?’. This song, dedicated to the life of Alvy Singer, reminded me of Anjan Dutt’s song ‘Mary Ann’. Would you say that there is a similarity between the two songs?
Anupam: I think the similarity between the two songs ends at the titular reference to a foreign individual. My song is inspired by the movie Annie Hall. I have been a huge fan of Woody Allen. When I seek inspiration, he is one of the people I look towards. I have watched most of his films more than once, and I have watched this particular film many a time. Last year, during a rewatch, I was able to uncover another layer of meaning and symbolism that lay embedded within the narrative. That led to the composition of the song. It sits perfectly with the theme of illusion in this album. In the life of Annie Hall, Alvy Singer is both present and absent in the capacity of her lover. Therefore, when this album was coming together, I thought it would be a perfect fit for the same.
Aritra: Another song which has already been released is ‘Awbawsh’. Compared to ‘Kemon achho Annie Hall?’, how is the pace of this song different and how does it fit with the idea of an illusion which is the overarching motif of this album?
Anupam: This song is comparatively slower in its beat than ‘Kemon achho Annie Hall?’. Since this song is about the idea of numbing one’s senses, the song itself is also slow and hypnotic. When our senses are compromised, it is easier to sustain an idea of illusion in our minds.
Anupam Roy performed the three songs which have already been released on public platforms at the beginning of his live performance. The third song he performed, ‘Bichar’, was about the non-existent justice system in our country and the world.
Aritra: The song ‘Bichar’ is the one that struck a chord with me. I found its tune to be highly catchy and relatable. There is a narrative voice at the beginning and in the middle of the song (as available on YouTube). Why is such a technique applied to this particular song?
Anupam: The inspiration behind this song is a couple of short stories by Mahashweta Devi. While reading those stories, I understood how the idea of justice being an all-prevalent and omniscient power in a country like India is an illusion in itself. The installation art available in the exhibition associated with this album also shows an idea of this imbalance in the weighing scale. I wanted to give a justification of why this song was composed and included in this album; that is why I kept the narrations intact in the publicly available version of this song.
Anupam Roy shared a paraphrased version of the narrations available for the song during the live performance as well, just before he began singing this song. Souvik Das (ceramic artist) mentioned how the idea behind this imbalanced weighing scales adeptly represents the askew justice system in our country.
Aritra: There is another installation art which features a tree full of rejected pages from Tagore’s Gitabitan. what is the significance of this piece?
Anupam: I believe the artists themselves are better equipped to speak on their art. They interpreted my songs in their own ways. I had written a song called ‘Guhamanober gaan’, and the artist interpreted this in their way.
The artist behind this particular piece, Oiendrila Ray Kapur, mentioned that her interpretation rested on the hypothetical question of what would have happened if someone were to reject Tagore’s Gitabitan (Figure 2). According to her, “A tree is a complex neural network like the human body that ultimately leads to the human brain. What if words were like leaves – mortal and limited. For me, this installation shows pages of Tagore’s Gitabitan hanging from a mango tree – torn and rejected. What if these words found no takers, then? What if at that time, the commercial was more important than heart? Wouldn’t we have lost one of the world’s most iconic texts to anonymity?”
Another song that has not been released yet is ‘Modhyobityo Trap’, which is about the idea of security and its associated illusion. As members of the so-called middle class of this society, we believe we have ‘played it safe’ for enough days to sustain in this life. Anupam wants to point out how this is a trap, and we have been led into an understanding that allows us to stay exactly where we are, and not question the society or the system that we are currently inhabiting.
Aritra: When two or more forms of art are intermingled together in an exhibition like this, do you not think that it pushes a certain kind of people to visit the exhibition and then listen to your songs, or would you say that there is no hard and fast requirement for one to understand or appreciate the exhibition to listen to your songs that are associated with the art pieces available in the exhibition?
Anupam: It is not for me to decide who will come to this exhibition and who will not. This exhibition is my gift to Kolkata, as it is happening at the very heart of the city. My only responsibility was to make this exhibition happen and keep it free for the people who are visiting here. Once they come to this exhibition, if they are interested or intrigued by the exhibition, they might be willing to go back home and then listen to the songs of this album that I have put out already or will put out in the future.
Aritra: Your popularity as a musician has scaled new heights in the last decade or so. What would you say is the secret behind the same?
Anupam: My career is barely longer than a decade. However, I must say that the world has been exceptionally kind to me. The songs that I have created have struck a chord with the listeners, and they have found them relatable at some level or the other.
Aritra: With the increase in popularity of platforms like YouTube or other music streaming platforms, has the concert-going audience been impacted in any way?
Anupam: I don’t think so. I have witnessed extremely enthusiastic and large crowds at my concerts. I believe that irrespective of the increasing impact of streaming platforms, the experience of a live concert cannot be replaced.
Aritra: Finally, I would like to ask, by when can we expect the remaining songs of this album to be made public?
Anupam: In about a month or so, the remaining songs which have not been released will be made public.
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Aritra Basu is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Centre for Distance and Online Education, Rabindra Bharati University. He completed his MPhil from the Department of English, University of Delhi. He has published in journals of Jadavpur University, The University of Calcutta, The University of North Bengal, and Scottish Church College along with publications in journals like Muse India and Asian Quarterly. He has presented papers at conferences organised by the University of Birmingham, Johns Hopkins University, University of Nevada, Lancaster University and several others. He is also a creative writer and a slam poet, and he enjoys public speaking.