From Iktara to Mandola

Musician Tapas Roy is Bollywood’s champion of string instruments

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: September 6, 2013 12:41 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 indigenous Bengali folk instrument into his profession,and went on to become one of Bengal’s best dotara players and a folk composer. His son Tapas,had started learning from him. In 1990,during the recording of Goopy Bagha Phire Elo,(third part of Satyajit Ray’s Goopy-Bagha trilogy) the legacy had passed on,where a young Tapas played along Ray’s tunes.

“I didn’t even realise how big Ray was at that time,” says the 41-year-old,as he fiddles with a mandolin during a workshop in Mumbai’s suburban Malad. In between recordings — in this case,the background score for the Akshay Kumar starrer Boss and a late-night recording session with composer duo Sachin-Jigar — it is here that Tapas drops by,to check on his instruments.

What has made him special in the industry’s music circuit is his artistry over a vast range of instruments that are a rarity — from the indigenous dotara,iktara,khamokh,and tumbi,to foreign ones such as the mandolin,banjo,charango,rabab,saz,oud and mandola. Currently,Tapas is a regular feature in the works of Bollywood composers such as AR Rahman,Amit Trivedi,Pritam and Ram Sampath.

“A lot of local musicians and sound engineers suggested I try my luck in Bombay. They said there was a lack of such musicians. I was playing instruments that most people didn’t have,” he says.

In an industry known for its miserly attitude towards musicians,and in favour of composers and singers,Tapas has been able to stand out with meaty showcase of skills in recent Hindi film tracks. His mandolin solo formed the theme music of Jab Tak Hai Jaan composed by Rahman,while his rabab in Trivedi’s delectable Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana theme was sublime. More recent examples include the dotara in Ilahi from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani,and in Lootera’s Monta re. He is also present in the respective ensembles of Clinton Cerejo,Hitesh Sonik,Trivedi and Sampath in Season 3 of Coke Studio@MTV.

There is some ambiguity as to how much a musician can contribute to the song,is it entirely the composer’s vision,or do musicians like Tapas bring in their imagination too? “Sometimes the composers are clear about a particular tune,like Amit in the Luv Shuv… theme whereas Rahman lets you get into the mood of the song,and allows you to exercise your own creativity,” he says. “Composers don’t always know the instrument deeply. Sometimes they just give me a hookline to develop.” adds Tapas.

Tapas’ control over two master string instruments,the mandolin and the dotara,helped him play the others. “I am not a master of all. But my expertise in dotara,being a fretless instrument helped me adapt other obscure instruments like oud,” he explains. Tapas listens to a lot of instrumentals by international folk and classical artists — from Bela Fleck and Vivaldi to Paco De Lucia.

His tours across international folk festivals in the mid-’90s with Bengal’s celebrated baul artiste Purna Das Baul exposed him to rare folk instruments. If he likes an instrument then he makes sure to buy one. Similar to the Bolivian charango,which he used in Haan tu hai composed by Pritam from

Jannat (2008),his first popular

Hindi film song.

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