Women of the Subcontinent-Alokananda Dasgupta

Insta Meet : Music Composer Alokananda Dasgupta (Mumbai, India)

I was walking up the stairs of a tiny studio in Juhu in the year 2009 to hand over a demo cd to music director Amit Trivedi . Social media was not that much prominent as it is now and singers had to personally go to the studio , wait for hours to give a demo cd or meet the music director for work . A young girl standing at the end of the wooden stairs , looking down at me , quickly took the cd as I climbed up and said that she would give it to Amit . That was my first introduction to Alokananda Dasgupta , now a leading music composer from India . She was assisting Amit Trivedi then . Fresh in town, another Bengali girl , I could feel similar hesitations in her that I had when I first moved to Mumbai in 2005 , trying to adapt to the ways of this city and how the industry functions . I have personally witnessed Alokananda’s journey , been a part of it off and on and when I thought of featuring an Indian artist for my “Women of the Subcontinent” series , she was my obvious choice . However it took some conviction as she mostly keeps to herself and needs a little push for more of a public social media interaction . But once she appeared , she was all heart .

Alokananda is the daughter of the multiple National Award winning prominent and contemporary film maker Buddhadeb Dasgupta . She graduated in English Literature from St Xavier’s College , Kolkata . Thereafter she went to Toronto, where she completed her Bachelors of Music with Honours in Theory and Composition at York University. She also had a formal training in Odissi , the ancient Indian classical dance form that originated in Odhisa . She remains passionate about dance till date and wishes to pursue it again in the future . She debuted as a music composer with the Marathi drama film Shala (2011). She also composed the score of B.A Pass (2013), Fandry (2013), Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa (2013), Asha Jaowar Majhe (2014) and Trapped (2017).

Alokananda composed the background scores for the popular series of Amazon Prime’s Breathe and Netflix’s Emmy nominated thriller , Sacred Games . I had the opportunity of singing the chant on the opening credits of Sacred Games , which went on to become hugely popular along side her stunning music score for the series . Another web series she scored for , which is worth mentioning is Netflix’s dystopian thriller Leila .

On our Instagram meet , I wanted to uncover more of the emotional journey of this talented creative soul . Knowing her and working with her I have seen that she has great taste of western classical music and she knows what she wants . She has more of a world view of music with keen interest of experimenting with sound , it may just be the sound of plucking a string of an instrument but she can create a beautiful soundscape with that. Asking about her background and childhood musical influences she replied “ One of the most useful things that has happened to me was growing up with lots of films around … My great grandfather from my mother’s side was Rajanikanta Sen , there was always people singing , there was always music and films . Baba had a collection of rare records . So there was this quintessential environment of cinema , books and music .” Alokananda’s father encouraged her to learn classical piano and her mother wished for her to have a training in a classical dance form . “ I learnt Odhisi for a very long time and i kind of preferred that to piano because i was really scared of the instrument . We had to do exams every year and i wasn’t good” she said . However she never gave up on he instrument , eventually changed institutes and teachers and gradually deeply explored it .

Alokananda’s striking honesty in her conversation is like a breath of fresh air and speaks highly of a woman who does not hesitate to present herself exactly the way she is , often being overtly self critical and sometimes talking about her failures . That’s rare . Only a very strong personality can do that . During our conversation she said something which most people perhaps overlook to criticise or question ; our education system . She expressed her displeasure with learning under the education system our country offers . She felt that her school days were spent mostly suppressing what she actually wanted to learn . To her it was more of letting yourself get brainwashed . She started studying English Literature in college . That was the first time she tapped into desire and execution at the same time . “The joy of reading a story or a novel or a poem , to have somebody analyse that in front of you was really true learning .” Soon after she went on to study music in Toronto , Canada at York University . That was the first time she wasn’t scared , she felt that she was encouraged to be herself in music and not be like someone else . She pursued music for the sheer pleasure of pursuing it .

My personal conversations with Alokananda have always been deep and insightful. Here although it was more of a semi-formal environment but we still couldn’t stop complaining and laughing about how privacy is an issue with parents in Bengali households . She said how her she grew up in a joint family with family members around all the time . Though the atmosphere was very artistic , still there were strict vigilance where she would be often asked , “Sharakkhon Ingriji gaan shunchish kyano ?” Or why are you listening to English music all the time ? Why not Rabindra Sangeet or classical or Bengali music ? A kind of teenage revolution where she demanded strict privacy to just listen non stop to the music of her choice . Her obsession was with Beatles . She also heard a lot of classical music and Bengali Jibonmukhi Gaan ( Songs of Life ) which is considered to be more of a contemporary genre in Bengali music , initiated by Suman Chattopadhyay . She was fascinated by the fact that there was this singer song writer , writing about existentialism . Alokananda exposed herself to various kinds of music then and was also drawn towards dance music . A lot of Elvis, Ali Farka Toure a lot of Enigma as well would attract her attention .

I was interested to know if the daughter of such a celebrated film maker had any interests in film making . Alokananda said that she had a fascination for films but never wanted to take film making seriously . She found shoots rather boring , though sometimes she thinks of trying her hands at a short film . She started pursuing her masters in Calcutta University but did not like it at all , instead she started preparing to apply to music schools abroad . Ear training and theory were the subjects that was not extensively touched upon where she trained herself in music . So she had to prepare herself extensively . She wanted to go to a school where she could find a course that would offer more of an interdisciplinary study of music , where she could study all forms and kinds of music . She had this need to explore and specially get out of the country to see how it is actually taught , closest to the right way of teaching . I found a similarity in the thought process with myself , as I personally ventured out of Bengal at one point for similar reasons , to explore more music and find my kind in it . Probably our paths had crossed while we were busy self discovering ourselves and at one point discovering each other through music and indeed , some beautiful musical works came out of it . Musical connections are amazing experiences in life of artists .

Our conversation reached a certain depth when Alokananda spoke of art in our current context . She honestly spoke of how she feels uncomfortable to be speculated and monitored , as if she is in a witness box trying to cater to demands that is sometimes impossible to meet . She had no hesitation in saying that she is an over-thinker and feels under-confident under tremendous pressure . Giving an example from her early life when she was studying music in Kolkata , she said how she was made to feel she was not good enough . She clearly understood later , that was not really the case . It was more of other people’s expectations out of her and the emotional pressure that made her feel under confident and anxious . She was critical about the music examination system in India too . Giving examples of that of the Royal College examinations , which were all about learning music to clear the exams than to actually learning music in its true sense . That childhood experience had induced a fear in her ; fear of not being liked , not being accepted , not being good or judged . But a lot of those inhibitions shed during her course of study outside the country . She performed at York University eventually keeping all her inhibitions aside . She said “ Once the fear factor goes down , the interest goes high. You don’t have to depend on validation every single second of your life .”

She came back to India , her mother had passed away and within a few days she decided to come to Mumbai . She thinks the timing matched ; right time , right move , right emotions . This made her want to pursue music even more . She assisted Amit Trivedi , started her solo career doing jingles and scoring for films . Along the way came Sacred Games , which was a huge success . And the rest is history . Her journey is indeed special . Not just a journey towards commercial success, that of fame , name and achievements in her chosen craft but more of her journey inwards , conquering her own fears and thereby opening the doors to all that the universe had to offer to her . Remembering the great American painter Georgia O’Keeffe who rightly said, “To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage .”

oman of the Subcontinent” is a short series I initiated on my Instagram handle @sharmistha2000 to reach out to some of the amazing women achievers from around the subcontinent who are celebrating their lives gloriously with their chosen art forms . With the sole aim of connecting and sharing each others art and life stories and taking back a bit more than just entertainment from our conversations and music . I thought it would be wonderful to document the rendezvous to look back and fondly remember the small moments of joy helped us sail through the tough times of humanity .

Singer / Composer / Indo-Indie www.sharmisthachatterjee.com