From Iktara to Mandola

Musician Tapas Roy is Bollywood’s go-to guy for all string instruments

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: September 6, 2013 2:16 am

In 1967,when a young Paritosh Roy travelled from Faridpur to Calcutta,he had a dotara,little money and a big dream. He succeeded in turning his passion for the two-stringed Bengali folk instrument into his profession,and went on to become one of Bengal’s best dotara players and a folk composer. He also went from being an AIR regular to playing with the best in business such as Satyajit Ray and Gautam Ghose.

Roy’s legacy successfully passed on to his son Tapas,who from an early age,started accompanying his father to recording sessions. One such session was the recording of the music of Goopy Bagha Phire Elo,the third of Ray’s Goopy-Bagha series,where young Tapas played along the tunes of Ray.

“I didn’t even realise how big Satyajit Ray was,” he says,as he fiddles with a mandolin in a string-instrument workshop in Malad. In between recordings — in this case,the background score for the Akshay Kumar-starrer Boss and a recording session with Sachin-Jigar — it is here that Tapas drops by,to check the tonal maintenance of instruments.

What makes him special in the music circuit is his artistry over a vast range of instruments: from the indigenous dotara,iktara,khamokh,and tumbi,to foreign ones like mandolin,banjo,charango,rubab,saz,oud and mandola. Now,Tapas is a regular feature in the works of AR Rahman,Amit Trivedi and Ram Sampath among others.

He plays nearly 25 instruments. “A lot of local musicians and sound engineers suggested I try my luck in Mumbai. They said there was a lack of such musicians,” he says.

In an industry known for its miserly attitude towards musicians in favour of composers and singers,Tapas stands out with meaty showcases of his skills in Hindi film tracks. His mandolin solo formed the theme music of Jab Tak Hai Jaan composed by Rahman,while his rubab in Trivedi’s delectable Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana theme packed a stellar punch. More recent examples include the dotara in Ilahi from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani,or in Lootera’s Monta re. He is also present in the ensembles of Clinton Cerejo,Hitesh Sonik,Trivedi and Sampath in season three of Coke Studio@MTV.

There is some ambiguity as to how much a musician can contribute to the song. Is it the composer’s vision,or do musicians like Tapas bring in their imagination too? “Sometimes the composers have clarity about a particular tune in mind,like Amit in the Luv Shuv theme. While someone like Rahman would let you get into the mood and allow you to exercise your own creativity,” he says. Rahman and Trivedi,he adds,are particular about the credit of the musician.

Tapas’ mastery in the two-stringed mandolin and dotara,helped him play others. “I am not master of all. But my expertise over dotara,a fret-less instrument,helped me adapt other obscure ones like oud,” he explains.

His family background may have provided him a solid training,but it is Tapas’ adventurous attitude that has led him to such a spectacular repertoire of instruments. His various tours across International Folk Festivals in the mid-’90s with Bengal’s celebrated baul artist,Paban Das Baul,exposed him to rare instruments. “There was no YouTube then. In these festivals,I would discover unknown instruments by seeing and hearing them,” says Tapas.

Despite all the success and recogniton,Tapas doesn’t have composing ambitions. “I am very happy doing this. Maybe I’ll do something instrumental. I just want to play peacefully. Composing is a different ball game which I don’t want to get into,” says the 41-year old,who is married with a child.

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