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An Interview with Debojyoti Mishra: Performance Poetry

Feb 2017

An Interview with Debojyoti Mishra: Performance Poetry

Debojyoti Mishra is a Kolkata-based music composer who shot to fame with his minimalist compositions in movies like Raincoat, Chokher Bali, Bariwali and Arekti Premer Golpo. He also happens to take a keen interest in painting.

  • You had started off with advertising music and then moved on to other spheres initially with the production house, Teletel, finally composing music for Tollywood before embarking on international endeavours. With such a wide range of work to compose music for, did your inspirations change for each?

A: I derive inspiration from all around the world and each form of music, not necessarily limited to a particular genre seems to entice me. From my early childhood, I have been influenced by western classical music, be it Bach, Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Mozart. I learnt it too from my father who was a musician and my teacher. When I got the chance to meet Salil Chowdhury, the maestro, it changed my entire outlook towards music. He was my Nesfield and my father was my Shakespeare!

I would also say that it is not JUST music, it’s poetry, everyday happenings around me, all beauty in the world inspire me. To live is to delve into the literature of things. Prose, theatre, interactive art forms, choreography, the stage and above all, life. Music is never created by men, it is created by the circumstances in their life! Faces, too, from across the globe, their textures, expressions and emotions inspire me greatly. I hope there never comes a time when only music inspires music. The small things in life should, too. The history of jazz also encapsulates the ways people lived their lives, the routine of those who made blues and rock and roll music, the pages of time which hold the strains of fold music, the diverse colours of Indian classical music urge me from within to create something. That something is what I call music!

  • Do the heavy use of stringed instruments and the classical strains in your music stem from your father’s influence in your life? Can you tell us a little more about the encouragement from Stanley Gomes and Joseph Naskar as well as K.C. Bandopadhyay and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi?

A: Yes, the contributions of my father and Salil da [Salil Chowdhury] have been overwhelming. There are two things that require the confluence of the tenets of both western and Indian classical music- firstly, the body of the text in any given context where content is extremely important, and secondly, the psychological aspect, including the psychospace where the content is being performed. When it unfolds, the expressions of the audience, the light, the poetry, the voice which tremors and the moment in which the text was written, intending to evoke certain emotions, make use of all my learning. Stanley Gomes has inspired me beyond words! So, yes, I draw parallels and I embark upon a musical journey, which gives me a kind of joy which I do not find anywhere else.

Right now, during the performance poetry session, that moment when Dr. Subodh Sarkar and Dr. Neal Hall were reciting, I imbibed ever last beauty of the moments their voices echoed through the auditorium and I decided on adding a ‘folk touch’ to it.

  • With the production of Rajar Khonje [Bohurupee], you derived elements from Arabic, German and Polish music as well as folk music to match the atmosphere. Do you introduce diversity in your music because it asks for it or is it an inexplicable compulsion?

A: A very interesting aspect that I must talk about is this intense urge I have within myself to express, to be in expression and to find myself through these expressions. When all around you, music and thoughts collaborate, you impulsively become a part of the thoughts, come back and find yourself unable to address this journey in one way. I do not know how it happens! The momentum of the moment and the psychological velocity are integral parts of my music! Rajar Khonje has been one of my most interesting works. It tested my abilities to the core. When the Second World War and Rabindranath Tagore come together, you know what to expect!

  • You have composed music for films like Chokher Bali, Shadows of Time [a German production], Chander Pahar and Goynar Baksho which required the creation of a bygone era with the help of music. How fulfilling is it to be a part of this important role as a musician who must take the audience beyond the realms of time?

A: It’s definitely challenging but the end result is fulfilling beyond expression. I have always maintained that when you work, you do not enjoy. You get into the moment and it does not necessarily entail enjoyment. Immediately after that, you can say that you did. The friction that takes place and the negotiation that happens between what is to be done and your existence at that point are very important, according to me that is. You basically negotiate with the moment even during the scoring of a composition! This aspect of the question you asked really makes me think because I tend to lose myself.

  • Does the notion of the pressure to compose commercial music pertinent in your life? Has it ever compelled you to refuse work? How necessary is an independent work environment important in your work criteria?

A: Of course, I have felt the pressure at times because when you create music for art films, it takes a lot of conditions that require fulfilment. Even now, it happens! I want my music to reach the masses and the stalwarts alike, which is why this has never bothered me as such. When you have the ambition to spread the roots of your music, such calamities befall you.

  • Can you share a little about your experience at Kolkata Literature Festival 2017 regarding the accompaniment of music with poetry performers?

A: I did not know what I wanted to do and I improvised. As you must have gathered by now, I am a man of moments! When I heard them perform, I let my mind wander off to a realm untouchable by the corruption of human actions. I enjoy that portion of myself which is orthodox, organised and composed because I work on tight structures. These are the things that help me improvise on stage as I go by the need of the moment!

  • At the Book Fair we have met authors and poets belonging to different countries with their own ways of perceiving the world. Do you think such international collaborations are important to forge linguistic and cultural gaps?

A: You won’t believe, just now an author friend of mine from Wales just congratulated me on my haunting music on stage! I think this is the most important part of human existence now. It’s so interesting to see one art form blending with another, creating a third dimension which the mortal eye cannot see. Music has bridged gapes through the sands of time and through translations, literature is too. Even if for a minute, it can influence another being, it is a success for me. Art is created for every being. A person born to be an artist, he or she will be without any questions asked.

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