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Article Bengali

Noted Bengali singers and composers come together to promote Pujor Gaan

With several films being released during Durga Puja every year and the market for music albums practically finished off by digital platforms, non-film musicians are beginning to get to grips with the new realities.

Roushni Sarkar

A few illustrious names from Bengali music have been fighting to rejuvenate the legacy of Pujor Gaan, the original songs that were composed and released specially for Durga Puja every year.

While Bengali film music has acquired a near monopoly in the market in recent times, noted singers and composers like Lopamudra Mitra, Srikanto Acharya, Raghab Chatterjee, Monomoy Bhattacharya, Subhamita Banerjee, Timir Biswas and Ujjaini Mukherjee have taken up the responsibility of reviving the trend that once gave some of the most memorable songs in the careers of top vocalists like Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Arati Mukherjee, Kumar Sanu, Suman Kalyanpur and Sabita Chowdhury.

These songs were given equal importance as film songs in the era of music composers like Salil Chowdhury, RD Burman, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Sudhin Dasgupta and Nachiketa Ghosh. Listeners would eagerly wait to buy new albums at Puja every year. Thus, some artistes achieved greater popularity beyond their film careers. Like shopping, eating out and gathering with family and friends, Pujor Gaan was intrinsically linked with Durga Puja.

The trend was later carried forward by noted artistes like Mitra, Acharya, Rupankar Bagchi, Raghab Chatterjee, Subhamita Banerjee, Shampa Kundu and Sriradha Bandopadhyay who devoted their lives to music.

However, for the past three years or so, this trend has been overshadowed by the near monopoly enjoyed by film music in the market. To an extent, the emergence of digital platforms, which have killed the need to buy albums, is also to blame.

This is the age of singles and YouTube channels and listeners are now hardly aware of the original Bengali songs that are still released every year ahead of Puja. On the other hand, five to six Bengali films are released during Puja, on a single date. The release is preceded by intense promotional activity in which film songs are heavily publicized, drowing out the promotion of singers and composers releasing Pujor Gaan.

It took a while for some of the musicians to understand what was happening with regard to the growing onslaught of film music and the increasing acceptance of digital platforms. However, now they feel prepared to create their own platforms for original Bengali non-film songs with renewed zeal.

They have not only taken a step ahead by producing singles and albums on their YouTube channels, but they are also determined to provide platforms for the younger generation to carry their legacy forward.

Lopamudra Mitra said, “I am putting my best efforts to encourage our next generation to carry forward this legacy of Bengali modern music. I am quite emotional about this endeavour.”

Monomoy Bhattacharya applauded this novel initiative of Mitra to provide a platform for the younger generation. “Earlier, we could promote these songs as Pujor Gaan by selling albums," said the singer. "Now, the entire culture has turned cell-phone-centric; everybody listens to music on digital platforms.”

Bhattacharya felt that to provide a platform for those who do not get as many opportunities in films and to sustain original Bengali non-film music, there is a need for more live concerts and individual initiatives on social media.

Srikanto Acharya, one of the prime movers of these initiatives, is hopeful that their endeavours will achieve bigger scale in future. “I feel non-film songs are deliberately not promoted properly in the market of mainstream Bengali music," he said. "In every medium, Bengali non-film music has been brushed aside for the sake of promoting film music. Hence, it is a matter of putting up a collective fight to make new platforms.”

Acharya stressed repeatedly upon the need for "collective" effort. “We are all members of this fraternity," the singer and composer said. "There are senior and junior artistes, but for this initiative, we are all standing together. You will be able to listen to veteran artistes’ songs as well as fresh compositions by various bands."

Subhamita Banerjee, known for her renditions of 'Brishti Paye Paye' and 'Bol Mon Sukh Bol', feels it is important to host concerts to create anticipation for new Bengali songs as was done with Pujor Gaan in earlier times. “We, the artistes, who have always worked with new Bengali songs, want to create a demand for these songs amongst listeners and hence we have come together,” she said.

However, Banerjee has also felt the pull of the digital medium and is all set to launch her singles from her own YouTube channel. “Until this year, I was not eager for a digital release, but now we have to accept that music needs to be promoted through these social media platforms," she said. "It is important to adapt to changing times. In a few years, this may be the only way of spreading original Bengali songs. In fact, through these platforms songs can instantly have millions of listeners all over the world.”

Echoing Srikanto Acharya’s words, singer Timir Biswas, who is lead vocalist of the band Fakira and also a popular film singer, said, “A deliberate categorization of listeners has been created in the industry. I feel it is important for all of us to come together so that our audience can listen to all types of songs. Veteran artistes such as Srikanto Acharya or contemporary bands like Prithibi have been fighting to create this opportunity for a long time.”

Biswas is also of the firm belief that original Bengali songs can be carried forward through digital platforms, “I think we are yet to understand the digital market; the rest of the world is quite ahead of us," he admitted. "We are now in a period of extreme transition. We, or our seniors, have seen an array of mediums from vinyl records to cassettes, CDs, pen drives and now digital platforms. Therefore, I think we are having difficulty capturing this transition and hence we are unable to reach out with our creations as well.

"There is no scope for regret now," he continued. "We have to make use of the new technologies. Content is king now, which in a way makes our job easier, because we can reach an audience of millions instantly. On the other hand, there is a flood of content because everyone has the access.”