Debajyoti Misra on his music for Aparajito

Debajyoti Misra
Debajyoti Misra

Debajyoti Misra does not need any introduction. He is one of the most multi-faceted, talented, a bit eccentric and trained music composer in India whose fame reaches beyond Indian borders. His music for Anik Dutta’s recreation of the making of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali has spread like wildfire among music lovers and the media. Music and orchestral performances across the board, music for ad jingles, music for television and cinema, and now, even writing about his music, he has done it all. In a tete-a-tete with this critic, he opens up about his music for Aparajito currently running to packed theatres in West Bengal and now poised for a country-wide release in UK.

When Anik approached you with the assignment of composing the music for Aparajito, what was your first reaction?

The first question that rose in my mind was – how much space will I, as a music director have, to compose the music for a film that is a reworking and recreation of Ray’s Pather Panchali? But having worked with Anik for years together, and as we have known each other beyond films, what I could gather is that the music track of Aparajito could not be a mere imitation of the original score. I needed to reach beyond the film and that by itself was a challenge for me. I grasped the fact that leaving a touch of the original score by Panditji, which may be termed the “recall factor”, I needed to create a slightly different twist to the original composition. To explain this more clearly, let me say that I needed to allow the audience to catch the “essence” of the original score and then beyond it. The reason is that this was not Pather Panchali directed by Ray but was a different film named Aparajito directed by Anik Dutta.

The film is a tribute to Ray’s Pather Panchali for which, the music was composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar. How did this affect the composition of your own music for this film?

With due respects to Panditji, let me tell you that though Panditji had composed the music for the film, it was Ray who actually constructed the music to suit the visual structure of the film. We are all aware of this. The single theme music in the film was rooted in the raga Desh. This comes across clearly in Panditji’s playing raaga Desh on his sitar. Ray added to this the Patadeep raaga through the tarshehnai, which is an esraj (an Indian bowed instrument) whose sound is amplified by a metal horn  The most difficult challenge for me was to sustain the root theme composition  and then move beyond it. What I did was to work on many variations on this original theme. I have played it out to different people to find out from them how much my composition was similar to the original music and how much does it differ from it. It is a universal truth that the recognition of Indian cinema on the world platform has been partly due to this theme music of this classic film, right? This placed a big responsibility on my shoulders as a composer. I think I have been able to successfully construct an original score without hurting the respect the original score demands till today.

Did you take this as a challenge and if yes, how did you meet it?

More than a challenge, I took it up as an experiment. Ray and Panditji had put their creative heads together to create an immortal musical score. As a composer myself composing decades after these two great composers had done their job, I have tried to invest the collaboration of these two with a new dimension altogether which should not, repeat NOT duplicate the music of Pather Panchali as this was a different film. I wished to grasp the holistic musicality of Ray who was a musical genius unto himself. The real  challenge was to be able to capture the unbelievable passion and the struggle that led to the creation of Ray’s and Panditji’s music and create a theme which would be entirely my composition alone.

You have yourself worked under the musical baton of Ray himself during the music composition of Ghare Baire. Taking that experience as your base, what came to your mind to sustain the strain of Ravi Shankar’s original score and yet walk away from it by giving it your typical Debojyoti Misra twist?

That’s right. I have worked with Satyajit Ray as a violinist when he was composing the music for Ghare Baire. I was attracted to Ray’s orchestral score and knew that he had an experienced ‘ear’ of listening to all kinds of music. The theme music scored for  Pather Panchali and the way it was used in the film is a benchmark in the history of film music across the world. I had to stick to the theme and yet work myself out of it. It was difficult, true, but I think I have been able to achieve it in my own way. Other than that, the ‘budget journey theme music I composed specially for the nightmare scene in the film is distinctly my own. I have retained the strains of raaga Desh. I instructed the person playing the sitar to play it in the exact style Panditjit played it in. Panditji’s way of tuning and regularising the beats wasnique. I stuck to that as a tribute to the great master of the sitar.

You have said that Ray was more influenced by Russian composers than by composers from other areas of Europe and UK. Can you please elaborate?

Ray had heard  a lot of composers from Europe ranging from Beethoven through Mozart to Schubert and many more. But while scoring the music for his films, he gave predominance to Russian composers specially the film compositions of Prokofiev. He said this time and again.  Prokofiev was a composer, pianist, and conductor who later worked in the Soviet Union. As the creator of acknowledged masterpieces across numerous music genres, he is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century.

There is a dream scene in the film which is a completely innovative invention by Anik. What went through your mind when you were given the responsibility of scoring the music for this dream?

There was a dream scene in an earlier film by Anik Dutta called Meghnad Roshossho. I naturally composed an abstract piece of music for that dream scene. But the dream scene in Aparajito needed me to create a cause for the dream which then led me on to create a musical extraction. You will find that I followed the style of a Russian composer for this particular dream scene. But the composition itself was entirely my very own. It carries the influence of Prokokiev in the pattern but does not relate to any definite composition of his. I created a style and I quite liked this piece of mine.

Taking Aparajito holistically, how do you look back on your own musical score for the film vis-a-vis Panditji’s score for the original film?

The music of Pather Panchali according to me, is more a collaboration between the director Satyajit Ray and the music director Pandit Ravi Shankar. This was a collaboration resulting from the imaginative and creative powers of two geniuses in their own fields and this had never happened before in the history of Indian cinema. The musical instruments used in the film had been used many times over in earlier Bengali films. But for this film, the creators had thought differently. My duty was to analyse these compositions creatively and then, create my own distinctive structure which would be exclusively my own imaginative composition. Right now, the film is running in the theatres with great success and the audience is praising it. This includes the lay man on the street. But more important for me is the appreciation from my fellow composers including those who are deeply involved in classical music. Because I know if I went wrong in a single note, they would have cut me and sliced me to shreds. Anik had given me complete freedom and that is perhaps why I could interpret my work in the film aptly. I did not limit myself to Pather Panchali. I had kept the musical score of the entire trilogy in my head to create my personal musical statement for the film.

You have also composed a beautiful promotional song for the film. What triggered this idea?

While composing this song, the uppermost thought in my mind was how to I would put together (a) the making of Pather Panchali, (b) the miracle of Bengali literature called Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhay who wrote Pather Panchali, and (c) Pandit Ravi Shankar, in a single song. I had felt that Pather Panchali was soaked in a depth of feeling, an affection and a deep emotion and empathy. And there was a sense of thrill, of intrigue. To capture all these in a single song, I wrote a fourteen-beat poyar song in a known rhythm inspired from folk songs that narrate stories. Anik loved it. I did not follow the melody of panchali in my musical composition. The tune is somewhat along the lines of the folk music known as gaji songs as I have a liking for this kind of music. The song was belted out beautifully by Arko Mukherjee who, as an expert in Bengali folk songs, performs right across the world. Luckily, he happened to be in the city right then. The humming as the back-up was done by my students. I did not use a single electronic instrument for this composition. I chose instruments used singularly by folk singers of Bengal such as the dhol, the flute, the dotara, the khamak, the khanjani and the ektara. I am thrilled that this song has reached across to touch thousands of people in remote villages and towns. You can say that I have tried to pay my humble tribute to Pather Panchali.

Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author contributing to several digital and print media in India and beyond. She has authored 27 books and two more are in the pipeline. She has won the National Award for Best Writing on Cinema twice. She lives in Kolkata.


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