Anjan Dutta is a popular artist of the 1990s Bengali music scene defined by anyodharar gaan (alternative songs). He passed his childhood in St Pauls School,Darjeeling, a Himalayan township of West Bengal. He holds an MA degree in English literature from the University of Calcutta, in India. Anjan started his career as an actor in Bengali cinema. His first film was Chalachitro directed by Mrinal Sen, where he won the prize for the best newcomer actor, at the Venice Film Festival. But later on, his career diverted towards the world of music. Anjan Dutta’s style of music is different from the others in the sense that it has simple tunes, one that is reminiscent of western hits. His lyrics are simple in nature. Anjan’s music is somewhat influenced by blues and country music. He is the first Bengali artist to depend more on the saxophone. Anjan Dutta is also a co-director of several Bengali and Hindi language movies. He has admitted that he is a fan of Bob Dylan and his Bengali contemporary Suman Chatterjee. Recently, he has acted in Aparna Sen’s film, Mr. and Mrs. Iyer. In a nutshell, Anjan Dutta may be regarded as one of the best serious actors in the Indian parallel cinema movement, that has seen the likes of Mrinal Sen’s much-esteemed film “Bhuvan Som”. Anjan Dutta has been regarded by some as being the ‘angry young man’ of serious cinema in contemporary India.
Anjan Dutta’s music has been covered by a number of Bengali artists throughout the last decade. More recently, his music has been performed at a South Asian cultural show (”Ghungroo 2006?) at Harvard College in March 2006 by a quintet of graduate students (Neeraj “Richie” Banerji, Ravi Agrawal, Siddhartha Sinha, Neil Sawhney and Seantanu Dongre), who called themselves, the Calcutta Boys. They sang his “2441139 (Bela Bose)” and also songs by Mohiner Ghoraguli.
Anjan Dutta was brought up in the mountains of North Bengal. He had his schooling from the esteemed St. Paul’s School located in Darjeeling. He did not get much opportunity to listen to traditional Bengali songs (like Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti) but became well acquainted with western folk and country music around that time. Initially, he had no plans to make career for himself as a singer. His father was a solicitor, who he wanted his son to take up a career in law, young Anjan was more inclined to working in theaters and cinema. His friends also inspired him to consider taking acting seriously as a profession. He came to Kolkata in search of bigger opportunities and started working in theaters with thespian Badal Sarkar.
In late seventies, he joined a group called ‘Open Theatre’ and in early eighties performed plays translated from works of renowned foreign playwrights like Sartre,Peter Weiss,Jean Genet and Bertold Brecht.The group clearly drew inspiration from Nandikar a highly active and an already famous theater group at that time. But due to politically sensitive content, they faced many obstructions in producing and performing their work, and eventually the group had to discontinue its repertoire.
He was first selected in a feature film named ‘Chalachitro’ that was directed by renowned filmmaker Mrinal Sen. This was an unexpected break for him. The film with Anjan’s performance got critical acclaim in the Venice Film Festival but for unknown reasons, it was never released commercially. After that although he worked as an actor in the film-making industry, he was more interested in doing art cinema (or films with aesthetically sensible filmmakers) rather than commercial mainstream cinema. After doing a few art films that were not so commercially successful, including the critically well received ‘Juganto’, scarcity of job opportunities forced him to take up jobs in advertising and later as a journalist for the Kolkata based daily, The Statesman.
At that time, Anjan was greatly influenced by the music of Suman Chatterjee(now known as Kabir Suman) who had heralded a new era in Bengali music through his powerful songs, that were very different from the pre-existing genres of Bengali music. These songs and lyrics, commonly referred to as Jeebonmukhi (literally meaning towards life), concerned itself with the tough reality of Bengali middle class social life, in and around Kolkata. Anjan started translating some English songs. In his efforts, he was supported and constantly inspired by his ideological precursor, Suman Chatterjee himself. Dutta later decided to delve into the music arena on his own. When HMV offered to publish his songs, he finally realized that he had to take it seriously.
Anjan Dutt is distinguished by a new style he developed, in which a deep influence of theatrical representation is perceptible. In songs like ‘bose achi Istisionete’ (I am sitting inside the railway station) or ‘Maser prothom dinta’ (The first day of the month), this theme of theatrical realism becomes obvious. He is deft at bringing out the subtle nuances of the urban landscape in his lyrics. A substantial portion of his songs capture stories of various urban creatures like Raja Roy, Samson, Horipado, Mala , Roma and numerous other characters who have come alive through his songs.
It is well known that Anjan Dutta’s songs are influenced by western music, and especially country music and blues. Initially, he composed more upbeat,comparatively light-hearted compositions like Calcium, Haripada, Ranjana among others. These songs were influenced by numbers like Cecilia,Me and Julio Down by the school yard or the Beatles’ track He’s a real nowhere man. But gradually he moved on to more serious lyrics inspired by the ballads of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and soon developed a unique style of his own, that was truly Bengali in its core, although universal in its appeal. The style is more reminiscent of the jazz, blues and rock and roll. Dutta was also inspired by eminent western singers like Don McLean, Donovan, John Denver and Paul Simon.
Anjan Dutta belonged to an era of pre-discotheque, pre-lounge-bar Bengalis who were slowly turning on their discmans as the ubiquitous radios started their journeys to oblivion. As like the oeuvre of Suman Chatterjee, Anjan’s songs spoke of the middle-class Bengalis and their dreams, aspirations, their fulfillments and failures — without being too sermonizing or too sighing. He can be credited with giving rise to a new generation of urban Calcuttan youth who learned to thrive and prosper in the wistful mediocrities of lost or unrequited love, temporary unemployment, breaking of dreams, hearts, hearths or even the first kiss or the first swig of rum.
According to him, his music can be categorized as ‘urban folk’. But in broad spectrum, it falls under modern Bengali popular music.The mood also keeps changing. For example Duto Manush (Two human beings) speaks of the break-up of a couple after a violent clash,Bondhu (Friend) revolves around a theme of refusal to a love proposal, whereas Shunte ki Chao(Do you really want to know?) or Neel deals with the mourning of lost innocence of childhood. Kolkata-16 which is basically an address in the Park Street region of Kolkata is a tribute to that street which is so intimately related to little pieces of joy and sorrow of the singer’s life. He has also dealt with current matters in his songs like the brutal killing of Christian Missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his children on the hand of Bajrang Dal Hindutva fanatics in a remote district of Orissa (West Bengal’s neighboring province).The song Sokal (Morning) depicts the empty materialism of modern lifestyle whereas songs like Kanchan and Darjeeling are tributes to his childhood spent in the Himalayan foothills. His two most favorite themes are the guitar and the rugged face of Kolkata ,which returns recurring in many of his songs.This varying choice of themes combined with an eclectic unique style, made him one of the three cult figures of post-ninties era in Bengali popular music, besides Suman and Nachiketa.
It is worth mentioning that Anjan Dutta has a limited but ardent fan-following especially within college and university students and young urbanites and he maintains a steady popularity within his selected audience. His other works includes “Priyo Bandhu” (O my friend), a voice play performed with Nima Rehman. He has also done a few English compilations like Bandra Blues.