Exclusive interview with Sreeradha by Gaanmela Memember –Kaustav Goswami.



O Majhi Rey….paar korey dey,bolbo na aar…’ does the song sound familiar? It ought to be, as it was one of the most popular songs in the genre of Bengali Modern Music during the early 90’s and still continues to be a hot favourite with the listeners. The singer whose velvet voice had captivated the connoisseurs of Bengali Music, after a prolonged period of aridity has many such songs to her credit and has been reigning in the music circuit for nearly 25 years! Considered to be an able successor of  stalwarts like Arati Mukherjee and  Haimanti Shukla in the world of playback singing, she has carved a niche of her own, exploiting her enviable vocal prowess, an extremely honeyed voice and a rare ability to do justice to any genre of music; be itBhajan, Rabindra Sangeet, Ghazal or her forte, Adhunik.




SREERADHA BANDYOPADHYAY, was our special guest on the auspicious occasion of Mahalaya. As she entered her aesthetically decorated living room of salt lake home, clad in a tradititional Sambalpuri saree, she was looking resplendent and as fresh as the dewdrops on an autumnal dawn.

Gaanmela: Sreeradhadi, my regards to you on behalf of gaanmela.com.
Sreeradha: God bless you. My goodness! such a big questionnaire!(chuckles) can I have a look at it?

Gaanmela: Certainly. I have so many things to ask you, its quite obvious,isn’t it? a singer who’s been consistent in this cut-throat competitive circuit for 25 years.
Sreeradha: I have never thought in that way. I love music, I worship music,that’s it. I never considered myself as a part of any rat race.

Gaanmela: Tell us about your family, childhood days.
Sreeradha: We are three sisters, my elder sister is Ruprekha,I am the middle one and the youngest of us is Rajyashree, who is a psychologist. I was born into a musical family, my mother used to sing very well, my father was a lover of Rabindrasangeet, specially. I spent my infancy at North Bengal, Jaldhaka. Then we moved on to Kolkata when I was around five years old, got admitted into  Carmel High School and at the same time started taking lessons in classical music at Geetabitan from where I received ‘Girija Shankar Smriti Gold Medal’  for Classical  Musicin 1980.

Gaanmela: What was your priority—music or studies?
Sreeradha: My parents made it very clear that I had to be sincere in both studies and music. I was not a very extra-ordinary student, but was diligent   and serious….

Gaanmela: But we all know that you came out with flying colours in your Master’s Exams! Getting a First class in English from Calcutta University was not a child’s play.
Sreeradha: Yeah! that happened (laughs)…but might be it was an accident!

Gaanmela: After such a bright academic career, why didn’t you think of taking up teaching as a profession?
Sreeradha: Will you believe? I started teaching in a school; soon my students started complaining that ‘Ma’am,we can’t hear you’. The Principal insisted that I raise my voice. The third day I left (bursts into peals of laughter). I realized that if I had to sing, I would not be able to teach (read shout).

Gaanmela: Who were your teachers at Geetabitan?
Sreeradha: Shri Sukhendu GoswamiHironmoyee Pandit…..stalwarts of Indian Classical Music used to teach us there.

Gaanmela: Perhaps,a music competition proved to be a major breakthrough in your life….
Sreeradha: Absolutely.When I was doing my Master’s, there was a Nationwide Talent Search Contest organized by Lion’s Club, where I stood second in Geet, Bhajan, Ghazal. I narrowly missed the 1st position because of my own fault,I had forgotten the lyrics.

Gaanmela: Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta stood 1st in the contest.
Sreeradha: Right,but there was some partiality in judgement, which I don’t want to discuss as I don’t have the intentions of maligning someone.

Gaanmela: What was the song you sang?
Sreeradha: It was a bhajan ‘Jo Tum Sunaha,Yashoda Gauri’.Though I stood 2nd, I was very happy because I was appreciated by legends like Naushadji,Jaidevji and won many prizes. I always loved to get gifts, even now. But, this contest paved the path for me to enter the world of Bengali Film Industry as a playback singer. Offers started pouring in from directors like Biresh Chatterji, Dinen Gupta, Partha pratim Choudhuri, music directors like Shyamal Mitra, Ajoy Das and others.

Gaanmela: Paap Punya’—- was the film where Kishore Kumar, Ashaji and you  sang the same song.
Sreeradha: Unfortunately,I didn’t meet him in person. I was not supposed to sing for the film too. I had done a demo for the song which was to be rendered by them as a duet..But, somehow, he liked my song and insisted that my song should be kept, if not in the film then on the  audio cassette. I was told he followed my track and style of singing. He wanted to meet me also but unfortunately, he passed away untimely. ’Bhalobasha chaara aar achey ki’ is a landmark song in my career. Even today, I have to sing the song in all soirees.

Gaanmela: How did you start off with your basic albums? As far as I know, Hemanta Mukherjee had composed for you too.
Sreeradha: That was my dream come true. He composed two songs for me one of which was Bhalo laaga kokhon jey bhalobasha hoye gelo. I started in 1987, before that gramophone company was holding auditions to promote fresh talents for the Puja albums. I will tell you, we had to toil a lot to get a foothold, because singing was the primary requisition. Nowadays, people are shown music; I personally feel music is meant for listening, not an  ostentatious display of  the singer’s art of stagecraft and gimmicks..One should know how to carry oneself, but that does not mean a singer should exhibit or reveal to any extent to impress the audience.

Gaanmela: That way,y ou still sing, you shun from music videos and over exposure. Do you follow Lataji?
Sreeradha: She and Ashaji are my idols. I feel they are the pinnacle of perfection as far as music is concerned. No, I don’t shun from videos, but with due respect to other artists, I have never invested for my music videos like other established singers who buy slots on channels  for a lumpsum amount. I find it below my dignity. My videos were done by the company I sang for.

Gaanmela: Kalyan Sen Barat had once said that after a period of aridity during the early 80’s, Indrani Sen and Sreeradha Banerjee came like a whiff of fresh air in the world of Bengali Music. How successful do you consider yourself?
Sreeradha: Success can’t be decided by the singer, it’s the audience who decides that. But, since I sing my own songs, my audience request my numbers, I think to a certain extent definitely, I am successful.
Gaanmela: Sreeradhadi, you have a number of hit songs to your credit; can you remember any interesting anecdote about a particular song?
Sreeradha: ‘O Majhi’ was a landmark song in my career. My mentor, and the composer of the song, Jatileshwar Mukherjeewas initially reluctant to give me the song, perhaps he  had it recorded already or he wanted to record it himself. But, it was during a Bengali New Year’s Day programme (Nababorsher Boithak), that I had sung the song for a two minute slot. The response was overwhelming. Jatilda then felt that I could do justice to the song, and I recorded it finally in 1995.

Gaanmela: You have also sung Shakti Chattyopadhyay’s verses.
Sreeradha: He was my sister-in-law’s husband; he loved to listen Tagore songs in my voice, but when I recorded the songs penned by him, he had already passed away.

Gaanmela: You were apathetic to songs of Tagore initially, then you started singing and recording them simultaneously——
Sreeradha: As I told you, I somehow could not come to terms with the typical mannerism which was followed by theRabindrasangeet singers. Whenever my father would persuade me to listen to Tagore, I used to escape because the style used to irritate me. But later when I realized and came to knowTagore through his works I comprehended that Tagore himself didn’t want his songs to be sung with a mannerism. Definitely, one should stick to the notation and try to make it presentable by understanding the lyrics and emoting it accordingly. Credit goes to my guru,Shri Subhash Choudhury, who encouraged me to sing Tagore numbers and it was he who inspired me to cut my first solo album Shuroloker Shur Shedhechi.

Gaanmela: How was the response?
Sreeradha: It was overwhelming! I could never imagine that my audience who were accustomed to hear me sing Adhunik songs would accept me as a Rabindrasangeet singer too.I recorded as many as ten albums consecutively from the same company.

Gaanmela: You also had the opportunity of performing withSangeetacharya Shantidev Ghosh .How was the experience?
Sreeradha: It was an honour for me, because I was quite junior then. For an artist of his stature, that too, a disciple of Gurudev, agreeing to perform with an upcoming  singer like me,was a blessing.
Gaanmela: What do you have to say about the experimentations with the songs of Tagore ? After the expiry of Vishwabharati’s copyright, a renowned singer and composer of Kolkata had said, Rabindranath etodine maatitey nemey eshechen.
Sreeradha: Who has this audacity? It is absolutely an  insane comment! Rabindranath is a class by himself, an institution whose appeal is global, so dynamic. If someone is so keen on experimenting , then why not with his own compositions? Why Tagore? Its absolutely ridiculous. Moreover,the so called expriments are ephemeral, as all our ears are so attuned to his songs that the slightest distortion strikes a chord.

Gaanmela: Sreeradhadi, do you think contemporary Bengali music is reaching out to the masses or is as appealing as the songs of the yesteryears?
Sreeradha: Obviously. Some of the lyricists and composers  of this generation are so talented, and many of the songs are quite popular too; Chiradeep Dasgupta,J oy Sarkar, Ashok Bhadra, Saikat Kundu———all of them are very gifted. But quality is being dominated by quantity. There are so many songs in an album,that its pretty difficult for the listeners to choose.

Gaanmela: Is there any singer of this generation whose voice touches you?
Sreeradha: Yes,there is an upcoming singer Jayati Chakraborty, she’s extremely talented and sincere.

Gaanmela: Sreeradhadi, how was the Mumbai industry different from ours?
Sreeradha: Its totally different. Professionalism is at its peak—-I had been promised by Shri Basu Bhattacharya that he would make me sing in a film. He had heard me perform at Toronto. I was surprised that he kept his word and gave me a scope to sing in Aastha. Labon se chum lo and Tan pe lagti kaanch ki bunde, these were the songs. We had a good rehearsal for a whole week. On the d-day, Rekhaji came and said she would listen to my rendition, the way I sing, because her voice  texture was entirely different from mine. Later, when I saw the film I thought it was Rekhaji herself, singing the song. Sharang Devhad done a marvellous composition.

Gaanmela: Why didn’t you stay back in Mumbai?
Sreeradha: I didn’t want to take the risk of starting afresh; I had heard about the lobby factor and I could never indulge in self-propaganda. In Kolkata, I had numerous assignments, recordings, functions. So, I returned.

Gaanmela: Why don’t you teach music?
Sreeradha: I am a performer, and a performer can’t be a trainer. This is what I feel. There are so many good trainers, and moreover I don’t consider myself eligible to train someone.

Gaanmela: That means, you would be depriving so many upcoming talents, because you will perform for quite a long time…….still now.
Sreeradha(chuckling): Tomar mukhey phul chandon poruk…….I will sing as long as HE makes me sing, because its not me who’s singing, its God who is making me sing. I am a very God fearing person.

Gaanmela: When should a student of music start singing publicly?  I mean after how many years of classical training?
Sreeradha: There is no hard and fast rule,you train yourself everyday.I learn from myself,my seniors,my  juniors——-but what I feel is when one is confident enough about one’s pitching,expression,and ability to sing all kinds of songs,then only you should  start off.