He is crippled by the same problem as any average Bengali while speaking Hindi, says Anupam Roy. “I can write freely in Bangla and English. But with Hindi, I mess up the gender, the singular and plural, and the grammar,” he says. So, when he started composing tunes for his first Hindi film Piku, Roy — who otherwise pens his lyrics, too — decided to get a Hindi writer on board.
However, while creating the tunes, he felt the urge to fill them up with whatever Hindi he could manage. “Although those were scratch versions, I felt the tunes should have some meaning,” he explains. With help from an online language translator and a Hindi screenwriter friend, Roy barely put together the songs and sent the scratch versions to the film’s director, Shoojit Sircar. Incidentally, four of the five tracks in Piku retain the lyrics.
“Shoojit liked the simplicity and organic quality of the versions,” says Roy. The film, with Amitabh Bachchan, Irrfan and Deepika Padukone in key roles, is also a test for Roy because it strips his music of an important element of his sound — his quasi-philosophical lyrics rooted in middle-class Bengali culture.
Roy says that a lot is lost in translation — and he doesn’t aspire to write Hindi lyrics in the future — but the approach to making music for a Hindi film was the same as the projects back home. The songs of Piku, namely Bezubaan, Journey song and Lamhe guzar gaye, bear his signature of breezy, soulful vocals and comforting pop-rock melodies with the occasional semi-Hindustani classical interludes.
“I like music that is a little on the alternative side. The melody has to be strong. My roots are The Beatles and Pink Floyd, the soul and the ‘live’ vibe in their music is what I try to transform into my songs. I see music as a personal experience, a kind of companion in your travels or when you are alone at home,” says Roy, who studied Engineering at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. In 2010, he quit his job at an IT firm in Bangalore to pursue a career in music.
In five years, the 33-year-old has produced an impressive body of work in collaboration with new-wave Bengali filmmakers, mainly National Award-winning filmmaker Srijit Mukherji. His first song, Amake amar moto thakte dao from Mukherji’s Autograph, was a phenomenon. With the song, followed by a string of hits, Roy hit the sweet spot between popular tunes and indie music. He often gets members from Kolkata-based bands to sing and play for him. Roy also released his first English single last year.
Sircar was familiar with Roy’s music. The filmmaker rejected the original idea of getting established playback names to sing and went for Roy’s relatively fresh vocals. Sircar also got him to give the background score for Piku — another first for Roy.