Circuit Sweet Interview, Reviews

Interview Special | William Henry Prince Discusses TUMI ROBE NIROBE with Dipanjan Banarjee and Oindrila Sarkar

September 29, 2017

তুমি রবে নীরবে


    According to Wikipedia, Bengali is the 7th most spoken language of our species, with around 205 million speakers. That’s a lot of people.

 The lyrics to the song, TUMI ROBE NIROBE, originally written by Rabindranath Tagore, are translated into English by many interpreters, but I don’t think any of them fully convey the true essence of the work. I think only hearing them sung in their native Bengali can do that.  Now, I don’t speak Bengali, but I listened to this version, sung by Dipanjan Banarjee, and watched the video, directed by Trisha Nandi, and I felt the meaning of the song.

  Author, poet, song-writer and painter, Rabindranath Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. As a humanist, he advocated the independence of India from British rule.

  I have an interest in this, as my grandfather received an OBE in 1969, in recognition of his part in the ending of British rule over India and Pakistan in 1947. It’s funny how certain things in life happen at exactly the right time. Two days ago, I was reading an old obituary of my Grandfather, when a friend of mine sent me a link to this song. I think they call that  ‘serendipity’. I remember my grandfather speaking very highly of Tagore, so I played the song, and watched the accompanying video.

  Within seconds, I was hooked by the simple imagery. A young man touches the peeling paint of an old hallway, and I knew it was about returning home, and the mixed emotions that involves.The music begins with a wistful piano, but breaks into a strummed acoustic guitar, with percussion, and Dipanjan Banarjee starts to sing. His voice is wonderfully sweet and earthy, fluttering and cantillating, as he summons the bittersweet melodies of longing.

  A room, a home, a house, a street – we all have a place in our hearts where sweet memories live, where warmth, love, success and failure blossomed. We can smell our favourite food, feel the arms of those who held us, see the faces of those we loved, those we lost. Life dictates that we must leave these places, and, if we return, things are never quite the same. Giant rooms grow smaller, coloured fabrics fade, and all that glitters isn’t gold.

  I grew up with a soundtrack of Irish music. Rebel songs, folk songs, love and death songs, romantic, sentimental ballads, maudlin, get-drunk-to songs. That stuff is branded deep in my soul, and I’ve grown to accept and love it.Although this song is very firmly fixed in an Indian, Bengali tradition, it spoke immediately and instinctively to my Irish roots, to my soul. It is a testament to the singer, that he can move a listener who does not even understand the words being sung. That’s not an easy thing to do, and I think Banarjee deserves great credit for this. The tenderness and skill he uses at the end of the song are particularly moving.

  Tagore’s songs are, quite rightly, held in very high esteem, and are considered almost ‘sacred’ in India. They are not often tackled by young, untutored, aspiring singers – which is a shame.

 What these young people have done is to both honour and update. They have taken a very classical, traditional song and brought it to the attention of a new audience. They have treated the song with great respect, but also made it relevant to a whole new generation – like the Rolling Stones or Clapton did with old Blues, or Dylan did with old Folk songs, or Ed Sheeran with old Beatles songs.

   I managed to talk to Dipanjan Banarjee about the song, his performance and the notion of ‘traditions’ in music:

My father is a great singer and very good at ‘Indian Classical’ and Tagore songs. He bought me a Yamaha keyboard as a child and, soon enough, I became a pretty good player. I was a ‘bathroom singer’, never playing in front of an audience, although I played ‘keys’ in a school band. One evening, at a major school event, our singer fell sick and, rather than have the whole performance cancelled, I stepped up and sang a Lionel Ritchie song, alone at the piano. Everyone was shocked but they loved it. I remember my Dad standing there, shocked, happy and proud. That’s how I got started.”

My influences are broad. I listen to everything, from Rap to Heavy Metal, and Country to Reggae. I love Indian artists like A R Rehman, Kishore Kumar, Sonu Nigam and KK but also ‘Western’ artists – Pink Floyd, Nirvana, John Lennon, Metallica, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Ed Sheeran and John Mayer. I love the concept of a singer with a guitar – maybe because I feel I’m in that tradition myself.”

I generally avoid singing Tagore songs. You see, there’s a weird stigma around them. It’s like, if you’re not trained or don’t follow the traditional way or style of singing them, you shouldn’t do them. It can even be considered an insult or something. I just thought it depicted the spirit of homecoming and love so beautifully, that I should try it my way and see how it came out.”

I wanted to convey the emotion of the song. At the end, I wanted my voice to evoke the sadness of a long, lost love. It’s not something I’ve been trained to do, it just happens naturally.”

“Along with performing the vocal, I played the rhythm guitar. It was just a standard tuning. The song was originally in ‘C’ but we thought we’d try it in ‘D’ and see how it sounded.”

I think of music itself as a religion. It has no cultural boundaries. Music unites the whole world. I think we need the spirit of music to guide us to do good, to think of the world as a whole.”

I don’t think that modernising a song like this devalues or hurts the original. We must be open-minded towards every possibility of creation. Nothing rigid is good in society. Sadly, there are many who feel that certain songs or movies can’t be experimented with or updated, but I say ‘why not?’. Music is all about trying out new possibilities…”

    At the end of the song, the video shows a hand turning the dial of a radio, and you hear snippets of  Indian ‘pop’, Hotel California, then traditional Indian songs. It’s a clever touch.

    It isn’t just the music that speaks in this performance. The imagery and acting is also clever enough to translate the lyrics for me.

 A taxi pulls away. A man with a suitcase. A noisy Indian street. It sets the scene beautifully, as the man climbs familiar old steps, touches old paint with new hands. The man walks around his old neighbourhood, and sees two young lovers go by. He is transported back in time, remembering the joy of young love, and the pain of losing it.

 The actor who plays the young woman, Oindrila Sarkar, is riveting. The look of love and joy in her eyes, in her smile is perfect. She captures that fleeting feeling of first love so well. It’s a very moving and memorable performance. I managed to speak to her, and ask about her role and more.

So, how did you get started as an actor?

“I always had a hidden urge to be an actor. Two years ago, I got my first break. I got a chance to act in a Durga Puja special music video directed by a popular Bengali filmmaker. After that I joined a Drama troupe and the more I performed, the more the urge of becoming an actor increased. I fell in love with acting.”

How do you feel about the modern treatment this song and video give to Tagore’s classic song?

Rabindra Nath Tagore himself was a very modern and progressive human being. He experimented a lot with the tunes of his songs. I don’t think modernisation is wrong. It’s a way we can reach out to the young generation and present them with the classics in the way they would find interesting. But I also feel that one should know the limits and should not go over the top with anything.”

Who do you admire, among women actors, and do you feel there is gender discrimination within the
film industry as a whole?

“I admire Natalie Portman since I saw her performance  in’Black Swan’. I admire Lena Headly, she inspires me. In India, I really admire Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt and Kangana Ranaut. They are setting very good examples for the young generation, not just in terms of acting, but they are becoming role models as well. Among male actors, I admire Leonardo DiCaprio and Ranbir Kapoor’s acting.
 Although I am new to this industry, I can see that there is a gender discrimination issue. Women are often objectified and body shamed, but I think things are changing slowly, which is a good sign. In India, we recently had a few films where  the lead actresses were paid more than the lead actors. They were paid on the basis of their screen time and importance in the movie and not on the basis of their genders. There are also plenty of women oriented movies being made. Action movies with female protagonists. So many strong women characters are being created. I think things are changing for the better.”

What is the significance, culturally, of the red paint sequence near the end of the video. It’s a very striking image?

“In India, we celebrate the colourfulness of life. We have Holi or Doljatra, which is the festival of colours. We have Sidur Khela at the end of Durga Pujo. Sidur is red and red signifies strength and love. We have many festivals that revolve around colour.  The story in the video is set during a festive time. That scene in particular is a reminiscence by the male protagonist. So the face painting shows the romantic but childlike bond between the couple. The red colour signifies their unconditional love for each other.”

That’s really cool. How do you think Rabindranath Tagore would feel about your treatment of his song?

“I don’t think I’d have the audacity to comment about Rabindra Nath Tagore’s feelings about this but I have read a lot about him. I hope he might appreciate the idea of experimenting with the presentation and creating something new. I imagine he would point out our mistakes with love and care so that we can come up with something better next time.”

 What these young people have done here is brave. Taking a song by one of India’s foremost literary figures and modernising it – that requires courage and talent.

  For me, the whole project worked. It moved, captured and educated me. For Rabindranath Tagore to be speaking to me through YouTube is a thing of beauty, and I am indebted to these young artists for allowing that to happen.

A tribute to: Rabindranath Tagore & Birendra krishna Bhadra
Vocal: Dipanjan Banarjee
Sound Arrangement: Joo Naa, Arijit & Dipanjan
Sound Mixing & Editing: Arijit Mondol
Cinematography: Prabir Kumar Sen
Edit: Ritwick Purkait
Assistant Director: Satyaki Ghosal
Cast: Ritwick Purkait, Mallica Sen, Oindrila Sarkar, Sabnam Mustafi, Swades Ganguly
Written and Directed By: Trisha Nandi

Copyright © 2017 William Henry Prince. All rights reserved. Please contact the author for permission to reproduce this article.

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