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Tagore with a Twist

Filmmaker Qaushiq Mukherjee and musician Neel Adhikari on celebrating and subverting Rabindra Sangeet in Tasher Desh

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: September 2, 2013 5:03 am

In 2011,soon after a rousing session of their three-piece “electro-punk-Bangla-rap” band Gandu Circus,Qaushiq Mukherjee,popularly known as Q,and Neel Adhikari were walking the streets of Poland discussing the idea of experimenting with Rabindra Sangeet. This chat eventually formed the basis of their next project,Tasher Desh (Land of Cards),a musical interpretation of the dance drama written by Rabindranath Tagore nearly 80 years ago. “We had to take the sound through various stages. As artistes,it was incredibly hard and life-changing at the same time,”says Adhikari,co-producer of the album.

The movie’s soundtrack has 18 songs,out of an original set of 25 written by Tagore for the play,and has been created in collaboration with a host of world musicians. From British-Tamil singer Susheela Raman,guitarist Sam Mills,Moong Conspiracy and Bangladeshi singer Anusheh Anadil to British electronica band Asian Dub Foundation,and award-winning French jazz trumpeter Erik Truffaz,all have worked in the film.

While two songs are already out as music videos,the soundtrack of the film will soon be available online. Although a Bengali film,it is backed by a number of Indian and international producers. It released across few cities in India on August 23.

There was a time when purists hardly allowed any experimentation with Rabindra Sangeet. That changed after the copyright of Vishwa Bharati expired in 2001. It has since appeared in popular Hindi films,international fusion albums,live acts and even Coke Studio. Yet,Tasher Desh is perhaps the most radical of all. “The whole idea was to subvert the rigidity associated with Rabindra Sangeet,” says Q.

As a filmmaker who regularly raps and occasionally sings,Q uses his understanding of music in his films. While his last film Gandu featured a pulsating rap-punk score in Bengali,the music of Tasher Desh is a mix and match of genres including the extensive use of Western and Indian folk,jazz and rock,fused with the post-modern flourishes of electronica and trip-hop.

While Tagore’s tender and poetic words remain untouched,the songs bear a contemporary avant-garde touch. “It is not a dream world. We breathe in the cafe air and we have gone digital. That has to reflect in the music,something that hasn’t been done with Rabindra Sangeet,” says Adhikari,who has been part of Kolkata-based bands Span,Five Little Indians and is currently with Neel and the Lightbulbs.

Q,who envisioned a contemporary global sound for the film,was particular about the artistes he wanted to work with. While Q and Adhikari knew some of the artists from before — they have worked with Raman,Mills and Moong Conspiracy — they also sought out artists like Truffaz. His cousin,UK-based Miti Adhikari has produced the album along with Neel.

“I look at Tasher Desh as an opera that will open in a Kolkata theatre,an art circus played by performers from across the world. I wanted to achieve that epic scale,not in terms of technology but in terms of the bigness of the idea that comes through these collaborations,” says Q.

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