Monthly Archives: July 2010

‘Chura liya he tumne’, a la Shillong style, bowls over the world

While choir groups and Kishore Kumar’s popular song Chura liya he tumne may not exactly have a lot in common, in the hands of acclaimed concert pianist Neil Nongkynrih a blend of this evergreen Bollywood hit with songs of ABBA can surely bowl people over.

Neil receiving the award

And that’s exactly what happened when Neil and his famed Shillong Chamber Choir performed last week at the World Choir Championships at Bejing in China and created a record of sorts by winning three gold medals.

The World Choir Championships — also known as Choir Olympics — brings together choir groups from all over the world. While the Shillong Chamber Choir had to meet with dejection last year on account of the championships being cancelled due to the outbreak of bird flu, the group this time made a clear sweep of the entire games. The championship is divided into three categories – the first called ‘Musicasacra’, the second for ‘gospel and spiritual music’ while the third is devoted to experimental blend of music. Neil Nongkynrih and his group bagged the gold in all three categories this time, clearly outshining the delegates of the other countries who had assembled there.

Joining the family and group of well-wishers who had come to receive them at the Guwahati airport, I watched as the members of the Shillong Chamber Choir followed their guide Neil Nongkynrih with their heads held high, feeling comfortable and firm in their belief that their leader will help them scale new heights. “It’s yet to sink in,” Neil literally shouts with a grin on his face as I make my way past the crowd to him. Of course, that is perfectly understandable. After all, it is not always, just like it is not everybody, that one and his group is declared the best among representatives of as many as 82 countries, on this occasion totalling to a staggering number of 4,000 choir groups and 20,000 choral singers!

What makes the achievement of the Shillong Chamber Choir all the more special is the fact that this genre of music has very few practitioners, as also takers, in the country. “The last time this genre had come into focus was when a choir group based in the Southern city of Chennai had won some championship,” said Pauline Warjiri, a music educator in Shillong and also the director of Aroha choir. The Shillong Chamber Choir had last year also collaborated with the famed Vienna Orchestra for a couple of concerts in Shillong and Kolkata, a first time in the musical history of Shillong.

The Shillong Chamber Choir

Formed in 2001 by acclaimed concert pianist Neil Nongkynrih, the Shillong Chamber Choir started off as a humble attempt to bring together some like-minded singers so as to produce a variety of music, rather than being limited to only one kind. The choir’s versatility reflects itself in the age of the members: while the youngest member is a 13-year old, the oldest is all of 27 years. The group’s debut performance saw 25 soloists assembling at Pinewood Hotel in Shillong on January 14 and 15, 2001 for the first performance of a chamber choir in that city, and the same was a resounding success. There has been no looking back for the choir and its members since then. Their repertoire now includes pieces from Handel, Bach, Gershwin, Mozart, Neil Nongkynrih’s compositions, Khasi folk songs as well as popular adaptations of Queen and ABBA. As Neil says, “We play all kinds of music; the sole criteria for selection of the music is its possession of positive vibrations, which uplifts one.”

Remembering the world choir championships, Ike Sinha, the manager of the choir group, tells me, “The news is yet to sink in. We are still educating the people about the enormity of our achievement.” The World Choir Olympics is organized by Inter-Kulture, based in Frankfut, Germany. Each group was allotted a time of 15 minutes in the time frame of which they had to perform four songs. The scores were then judged by a set panel of judges. “We are thankful to Inter-Kulture president Guentner Titsch, Indian coordinator Jelena Dannhacrer and Nirupama Roy for all their support,” Ike added.

Ike feels that the clear speech of Shillongites in general was a major factor in their victory. But Aubrey Scott Lyngdoh and Bill Richmond, whose support to the group has been enormous, feels otherwise. “Clear speech is of course a factor in point. But it is more of a commitment towards excellence and music and a lot of practice.” The members of the Shillong Chamber Choir put in around 6 to 7 hours of practice every day.

Assamese wonder kid releases debut Hindi offering

Records of sorts was created earlier this month when a young girl from Assam, all of six years, had her latest album, and the first in Hindi, released by one of the most respected record labels of the country. The singer, probably the youngest in the music arena of the country, had released her first solo video album when she was just three years old under the Sa Re Ga Ma HMV label – a record in the music conglomerate’s 106-year old chequered existence. I am talking about our very own “wonder kid’ Aasthajitnanda Bordoloi who is crooning her way to peoples’ hearts and whose second offering, Aa gaya savera, was released in Mumbai recently.

Album cover of AA GAYA SAVERA

Aa gaya savera is a hindi music album based on various themes and concepts like world peace, the modern day hectic lifestyle of the people, innocent dreams of children, and the like. Featuring a few well-known and much respected names of the Hindi music industry, the album also contains a translation of one of Kalaguru Bishnu Rabha’s most popular songs of hope and dreams.

While Aasthajita has lent her voice in all the songs of the album, the music is by Alaap Dudul Saikia. Saikia, incidentally, has also composed most of the songs in the album. Noted lyricist Sameer is behind the soulful wordings of the songs in the album and Navin Batra is the video director. The album was released by Anandji of the legendary Kalyan-Anand duo of the Indian music industry and lyricist Sameer in Mumbai.

Like the young singer, the entire album has a peppy and exuberant undertone to it. Most of the songs are celebratory in nature and reflect the innocence of childhood. Rags Karo Rags Karo, which has been composed by Nand Banerjee, is a case in point. Talking about the album, Dudul Saikia revealed that one of the highlights of the album would be the song, Jeevan Ke Aakash Mein, which is a translation of the Assamese original Mur Jeevonor Akaaxote. The song of hopes and dreams had been written and composed by Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha way back in 1937. “We are trying to introduce our Kalaguru’s song for the first time in the Hindi music world through this song,” said Dudul.

Talking about the singer and the released album, Anandji said, “She is a child of nature. A gift of Goddess Saraswati.” Words like these from one of the most respected names in the Indian music world is an achievement in itself for young Aasthajita, feels her proud father. The six-year old had last year bagged the National Child Award awarded by the Ministry of Women and Child Development for her exceptional achievements. Her second album, Ganor probahot Aasthajita, was released on December 7, 2008.

Northeast gets its first handmade paper industry

In a first-of-its-kind eco-friendly initiative in Eastern India to revive one of the numerous desi industries nurtured by Mahatma Gandhi, the pioneering LB Group of Industries recently launched a Handmade Paper Project through its SBU LB Agro Private Limited. Located in the Koraibari area of Guwahati, the project was inaugurated by respected Gandhian and eminent social activist Natwar Thakkar, and the same is expected to open up scores of employment avenues for the youth of the region. The state-of-the-art handmade paper unit is the first of its kind initiative in the entire eastern province of the country.

In today’s age when issues like climate change and global warming have become a cause for concern across the world, the opening of a eco-friendly handmade paper project in the Northeast is a significant development in itself. Handmade paper is one of the few Swadeshi industries that were nurtured during India’s Freedom Movement under the leadership of Gandhiji. and later Kumarappaji. It was Kumarappaji who was instrumental in organizing this traditional paper making practice into the form of an industry. With technological up-gradation and more widespread utilization of handmade paper, this industry has come a long way since those early days, and India today is one of the leading handmade paper suppliers and manufacturers in the world. A major reason for this stupendous growth is the financial and technological assistance extended to this industry by the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC) due to which the industry, during the last four decades, has not only survived but also made its impact felt in other developed countries by exporting quality paper.

Because of its environment friendly manufacturing process and products, the handmade paper industry is termed as emerging in the Indian context, with its present growth rate being labelled at 10 per cent in the domestic market and at 25 per cent in the export market. Experts, however, feel that the scope of this industry is immense as utilization of paper is only bound to increase in the country. A source in the Indian Pulp and Paper Technical Association (IPPTA), which is a national-level association of professionals engaged in the pulp, newsprint and allied paper industry of India, said, “Our country’s per capita consumption of paper, which is an index of the educational and socio-economic development of a country, is only around 4 Kg only in India as compared to a world average of 45 Kg. With the growth of literacy and development, the per capita consumption of paper is bound to increase, at least in India.”

Contrary to popular belief, production of handmade paper is based on the use of non-forest-based resources and recycling techniques. The potential of a handmade paper project is immense in the Northeast, primarily because of the availability of a variety of fibres that is rich in cellulose (the main ingredient required in the production of paper). As Bijaylakshmi Borpujari, a graduate in environmental studies, says, “Besides checking the onset of global warming and the greenhouse effect, the production and utilization of handmade paper will also help in stopping deforestation and checking our forest resources.”

The Key features of Handmade Paper Project are:

1. It is a prominent industry based on decentralised production and environment friendly technology.
2. Prevents deforestation by utilising non-woody raw materials.
3. Converts waste into wealth by recycling.
4. It is the solution to the problem of energy and pollution.
5. The durability of paper is long, compared to machine-made paper.
6. Increasing domestic consumption and bright export potential.

The initiative of LB Group to start its handmade paper factory is another instance of its attempts at “business with a conscience”. A pioneering business house that has consistently promoted excellence and best in-class performance, the group has opened up countless employment avenues for scores of unemployed people of the Northeast. Talking to Bazaar View, founder chairman of LB group Dipok Borthakur said that their recent inaugurated factory is an extension of their commitment to the local community, Assam and Northeast. “We had made a commitment to share our achievements in everything that we do with the local community and people of the Northeast. Our project is aimed at promoting sustainable industrial growth of non-polluting agenda and is a step forward in the ‘Green’ agenda of the Government. The factory is based on the idea of promoting an environment-friendly industry. Our papers, which are prepared in an environment-friendly way, are acid and lignin free. We are firm believers in responsible trade practices; we offer a wide range of handmade paper and paper products that are of superior quality and are 100% wood free.”

The LB group opened a new era in entrepreneurship and business in Assam and the Northeast when it started its journey in 1969 under the leadership of Dipok Borthakur. The group has today emerged as a frontrunner in the pharma-distribution network of the Northeast region; also harbouring plans to venturing into the healthcare manufacturing sector by 2011. The group is much respected for its continuous commitment for the unemployed people of the region. As Borthakur said, “The work environment in our factories are comfortable and our craft workers are paid well above the local average; thus motivating them to perform better. With this new handmade paper unit, we hope to provide a bigger avenue of employment for the local community.”

Unseen Underground reaches Guwahati, Shillong

Unseen Underground has arrived in Guwahati and judging by the preparations, the show on July 23rd is all set to be a rocker.

Escher's Knot

Insance Prophecy

For the uninitiated, Unseen Underground is an initiative to encourage the Indian upcoming rock & metal bands by providing them a platform to showcase their talents. From its humble beginnings in Chennai where the idea of Unseen Underground was born and nurtured, the fest has spread to all possible places of the country.

This year around, rock fanatics and metalheads of the country are already very excited about the upcoming national tour of Unseen Underground, which will tour 7 different cities with the performances of 100 talented bands from every nook and corner of the country. Nicky of Unseen Underground said, “This year we are have planned to organize shows in 7 major cities (Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati & Shillong) giving equal opportunity to more than 100 talented bands across the country. We will be in Guwahati for the 1st time on July 23 and the show will be held at Silver Streak of Hotel Brahmaputra Ashok.”


Nicky revealed that four brilliant bands of different genres would be performing in Guwahati this time. The lined-up consists of Escher’s Knot (Technical / Groove Metal band from Chennai), Lucid Recess (Alternative / Hard Rock band from Guwahati), Dwar (Progressive/ Melodic Metal band from Shillong) & Insane Prophecy ( Death / Grind Metal band from Guwahati).
The tour is moving to Shillong on July 24th where two regional bands will perform at Tango lounge. The bands which will perform in Shillong include the likes of Lucid Recess and Pip of the Fourth Mother.

Star in the making

Dhritiman Deori recently released his debut album, Mon Akax, at a simple party in the city. And judging by the songs in the album, all I would say is that a new star is in the making. The well-produced album, which features some prominent musicians of the region, speaks volumes about Dhriti’s musical acumen.

Mon Akax album cover

Dhriti’s music is a mellifluous blend of musical genres that is deeply rooted and inspired by nature. A pioneer of sorts in alternative music in the region, his is a soothing blend of lounge and Indian classical that is sprinkled with elements of folk music forms. The album begins with the peppy Faguni Botah, which catches on to you instantly. The track, interestingly, has Shillong-based musician Keith Wallang on the Blues Harp and it was a sheer delight to see the harp being used in a contemporary Assamese music album. An assortment of other instruments has been beautifully used to create a sound that is definitely original and rooted in maturity. While songs like Nixar Endhaar proves Dhriti’s prowess as a vocalist, one of my favourite tracks in the album would be Xur aru Xura.

Dhritiman Deuri comes from a family of music lovers and practitioners. His training in Indian classical music took place when he was only ten years old. The seeds of music that were planted then has continued to grow throughout and has germinated in the form of Mon Akax. Dhriti’s growth as a musician has been a long process of practice and exploration, whereby he assimilated the best of all that he encountered. From stints in SAE, Chennai, where he got his Audio Engineering Degree, to a year-long sojourn in Varanasi, Dhriti has built up on his passion by learning and sharing. Dhriti recollects, “My experience in Varanasi was crucial to my understanding of the nuances of various folk, classical and contemporary genres of music, and eventually the kind of music I would be composing later on.”

Dhriti was recently featured in Rudy Maxa’s World, a television show in the US, where he performed two tracks from his debut album. He was also featured in BBC World’s Radio programme on Art and Culture – The Strand. His recent performances include that of ‘The Brahmaputra Beats Festival’ at the India International Centre in New Delhi and ‘The Northeast Festival’ at the Hotel Park, Delhi.

I wish Dhriti the very best!

Fighting the odds

What is it that makes a person stand out from the rest? What is that quality that separates the men from the boys, the winners from the usual lot? A tough question this, surely. But looking at the life sketches of the personalities featured here in these pages every week, one thing is clearly discernible in the life all of them. And that is faith – faith in His power and grace, and confidence and belief in his or her own abilities. After all, didn’t somebody say that faith can move mountains?

I don’t know about mountains but I do know that belief and faith can indeed bring about change – change in life, in perceptions, our attitude and outlook, et al. Instances of it are spread across the course of history for if certain men, confident about their own selves and abilities, had not dared to go against some of the established dictums of life, then mankind’s pace of progress and development would have had been markedly much slower. Talking about faith, confidence and courage, we remember legends like Albert Einstein – a man whose determination to overcome his slow verbal development and whose rebellious attitude towards conventions and life led to his emergence as one of the most creative scientists to have been ever born in this world.

A similar story of faith can be found in the tinsel world of our State Assam, whereby a young man dared to rebel against conventions and push forth his own ideas. He battled criticism from several quarters, to the extent of being mocked upon, but ultimately emerging successful in the end. Now before proceeding further, let me reiterate that in no way am I comparing this man with Einstein. But the courage and determination exhibited by him did bring about a change, however small it may be. And this kind of an attitude, I believe, surely needs to be saluted by one and all.

To start from the beginning, in the last decade of the twentieth century, when film editors often had to compromise performance for price, a company from Los Angeles introduced into the Indian market a editing product called ‘SlingShot’. SlingShot was basically designed to bridge the gap between digital video and digital film editing. Indian filmmakers, however, were wary of this new software and almost all of them rejected it, saying that editing simply could not be done with it. The mood of the moment had been perfectly captured in the memoirs of critic Barry Silver, who in his visit to Assam during that time had noted, “You can’t make films with SlingShot was the view many heard in Guwahati, the capital of Assam.”

But those people in Guwahati and the country were wrong. In Guwahati emerged Studio Brahmaputra, a professional digital non-linear studio for film and video editing. The studio’s chief editor at that time, Manas Adhikari, went on to prove a point by buying SlingShot to use on the film productions of Brahmaputra studio. And despite vociferous criticism from all quarters, he has not looked back to produce some of the most beautiful editing creations ever created on Assamese celluloid. The most memorable milestone, however, was the successful editing of a full-length Assamese feature film, Bhumiputra, on SlingShot.

One might now surely question as to what makes SlingShot or Manas’s action so noteworthy. Relevance, there certainly is. For until that time, all the production houses in the entire north-eastern region of the country had to depend upon the studios in Mumbai and Chennai on the other end of the Indian sub-continent for their production needs. The result was higher production costs and a tough time for the production crews who had to stay away from their homes for long periods of time. Though clearly a suffering lot, the filmmakers of the region, surprisingly, were wary of trying new and cheaper methods of film production; even going to the extent of criticizing those who tried to do so. Manas, however, dared to go his own way. As he reminisces, “People ask me about challenges in life. All I can say is that I didn’t face that many challenges from people outside than I did from the people of my own State. When I decided to make Bhumiputra using SlingShot, everyone brushed me off saying that films can be made only with Avid (the software used in studios that time). Sometimes, I felt that I was committing a big blunder but I carried on anyways. In the process, I proved a point and also showed the people that a cheaper method of making films does indeed exist.” And they had said it couldn’t be done.

Manas has always been a maverick rebel of sorts, eternally trying to rebel against the established and conventional dictum. An entirely self-made professional, Manas was the key person in the production of Bidexot Apun Manuh – another revolutionary feature that can be said to have opened a new era in Assamese television. For the unacquainted, Bidexot Apun Manuh traced the life and times of Assamese people and their families who are now settled overseas, and the same was highly successful and much popular amongst the people.

Criticism from my ‘own’ people is always present in my ventures, says Manas. He explains, “Bidexot Apun Manuh was a path breaking television series. I acted as the director, camera man, editor – all rolled in one. In the initial stages, people were fearful of the outcome of the production and they tried to stop me at every step through their so-called concerns. Had I listened to them and surrendered to their fear, Bidexot Apun Manuh wouldn’t have been made. Neither would have had Bhumiputra”.

Manas spent the initial part of his childhood in Kolkata where he studied till the eight standard in St. Thomas school. His inclination towards the world of films is evident from the fact that he used to watch the latest movies in theatres on the sly. A science graduate, his entry into the film world happened when he assisted Munin Baruah in the film, Pahari Konya. That was in the year 1987. After helping renowned film makers like Hemanta Dutta and Shiva Thakur as Assistant Director, he made his foray into the world of editing by assisting senior film editor Tapan Dutta. Since then, Manas has created a name for himself as a film editor of substance by repeatedly producing quality creations. An experiential yet successful professional who is always willing to take risks if it augurs well for the future generation, Manas has always been surrounded in the midst of controversies; yet emerging triumphant every time. Till date, Manas has worked as the Chief Assistant Director in as many as ten Assamese feature films and in more than twenty television serials besides editing more than twenty-full length Assamese and Bodo feature films, seven hundred and fifty episodes of Doordarshan and more than a thousand commissioned programmes of Doordarshan Kendra, Guwahati.

Success, however, does not come easy. Having seen Manas from very close quarters, I have personally witnessed his eye to meticulous details and the amount of labour he puts in to his each and every production. Besides writing a saga of valour and determination with his radical initiatives, he has also provided hope for thousands of youngsters of the State. His achievement has been dutifully recognized by the film world and the government, which has heaped a plethora of awards on his lap, including the Assam State Award for Best Editing (2007). Manas had earlier been bestowed with the Moon Light Media Award for four consecutive years in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, Jyotirupa Joint Media Awards for three consecutive years in 2003, 2004 and 2007, the RAPA Award in 2004, the Prag Cine Award in 2004 and the NE Peoples Choice Award 2004.

Manas lives in Guwahati with his wife and two children. With his wife Kabita now helping him run his studio, Adhikari Vision, bigger things can be expected from him. He dared to dream and made those dreams come true. His story proves that even if other people say that certain things cannot be done, remarkable things can often be achieved by putting the right technology into the hands of creative people. Manas has proved that they really can do remarkable things in uncommon places.