To listeners with fond remembrances of the 1976 film, Meenu, Antara Chowdhury is still the little girl who sang Kali re kali re to her little black goat, and followed Manna Dey faithfully when he taught her to sing Teri galiyon mein hum aaye.
To others, she is the daughter of wizard music director Salil Chowdhury and eminent singer Sabita Chowdhury. Of course, the baby has now grown into a fine singer who is equally at ease with classical and light music.
Antara recently cut an album with Times Music called Madhur Smriti, where she pays tribute to her father. Another volume in the same series has been rendered by Bengal singer Sromona, in honour of Kishore Kumar.
Sromona is the daughter of Ruma Guha Thakurta, former wife of the famous singer. In Madhur Smriti, she has sung many popular hits, which made Kishore Kumar the household name he is today, like Aa Chal Ke Tujhe, Phir Wahi Raat Hai, Chhu Kar Mere Man Ko, Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas, Bhanwre Ki Gunjan, Raat Kali, Khilte Hain Gul Yahan and Aane Wala Pal.
The Calcutta-based singer confides that Kishore Kumar found her music trying at times, but was always patient with her. "It did not matter that he was no longer married to my mother," she says. "I treated him like a friend, someone I could share my joys and sorrows with. He waited for me with open arms whenever I turned to him, even though his success gave him very little opportunity for leisure. Bapi, as I called him, always had an encouraging word or suggestion for me. I hope he is listening when I sing because every song has something of what he taught me." Antara, meanwhile, has opted to sing those tunes of Salil Chowdhury which are not really familiar to non-Bengalis. The tunes had been confined to Bangla lyrics so far, but now writer Yogesh and Raghav have adapted them into Hindi. Antara's brother, Sanjoy Chowdhury, has rearranged the tunes to suit popular preferences.
All 10 songs, including Sajna Tere Naina, Beet Jaat Barkha Rut, Manena Nandhan and Aisa Bhi Hua Hai, are ample evidence that Antara can sing. The tunes are light and frothy, only the singer, in her zeal to display her prowess, tends to get too classical at times. On the whole, though, listeners will appreciate the originality and melody of the songs. Antara is now training with Pandit Ajay Pohankar. She spent 10 years learning from Krishna Chandra Banerjee and a year with Pandit Jasraj. She has done a Malayalam film with her brother Sanjoy, supervised the music for Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians and assisted Laxmikant-Pyarelal for a year.
She is a famous name in West Bengal. She has cut albums for Saraswati Puja and done a lot of work with children. She even trains children and has formed a choir called Ray Mangal. But films are where Antara is aiming, and her career so far is peppered with names like O Darling Yeh Hai India, Basu Chatterjee's films, Durga and Triya Charitra, and a film for which Bappi Lahiri composed the music, called Bombay Girls. She is a well-known composer for TV serials as well.
As for her first Hindi album, Madhur Smriti, Antara says she is especially happy to be paying tribute to her father on the occasion of his 75th birth anniversary. "Of course, this turned out to be incidental. Times Music approached me to do an album for them, and I informed them of the idea I was working on. We thought it would be a good idea to familiarise non-Bengali audiences with my father's relatively unheard tunes, so we went ahead with the album. It was only then that I realised his birth anniversary was nearing," she says. "The 10 songs in this album have been selected to cover all genres. There is semi-classical, pop, ghazal, and a song which could be called filmi."
Antara enjoys touring the world on her stage shows, which draw a huge response. She has travelled to the US, Britain and Canada as well as many parts of India singing all kinds of songs, whether they have been composed by Salil Chowdhury or her other favourites, R D Burman, Madan Mohan and Shankar-Jaikishen.
The rise to fame for her has not been as easy as one would think. "People were willing to grant me an appointment when they knew I was Salil Chowdhury's daughter," she says. "But after that, it was the usual story any struggler faces. I am not aggressive and find it difficult to have to lobby my way through to get an assignment. I have never done that. I do my best and then hope that things will work out!"
Salil Chowdhury and his wife, Sabita, always stressed the importance of good expression. Antara cannot escape the question about how the musical genius was as a father. She smiles and says, "Well, he was very sweet! My mother is the strict one! I remember running to my father often complaining about my mom having been strict with me! He would always protect and shield me!"Well, he's sure to be watching over her as she looks up to him for his blessings.
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.