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Unidentified flying objects!

The unique life of Moheener Ghoraguli, the original Bangla rock group.

By Bharath Murthy

Those not tuned into the musical radar will not recognize that the hit song ‘Bheegi
Bheegi’, composed by music director Pritam for the film ‘Gangster’, is a cover version of
‘Prithibi ta naki’, a song by the Bangla collective known as ‘Moheener Ghoraguli’
(Mohin’s Horses). Formed in 1976, and led by its charismatic frontman Gautam
Chattopadhyay, Moheener Ghoraguli released three records before disbanding in 1981. In
doing so, they sparked off the musical movement known as Bangla rock, of which they
were the pioneers.
I got my first taste of the unique flavour of their music when I came to Kolkata in 2001 to
study film at the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute. There was a bluesy number going on
in one of the rooms in the hostel. The lyrics were in Bengali and the only English word in
it was ‘telephone’. It was some kind of mix (I will not call it ‘fusion’) of Bengali folk and
blues. The folk part of it, I later came to know, was Baul music (see box). At a time when
Indian English rock musicians are still struggling to find an original voice, here was a
group that had already made modern rock music their own and sung their songs not in
English but in their own language Bengali.

Phase I : 1976-1981

The 70s were a heady time in Bengal, a time of revolutionary spirit sweeping the urban
youth. The Naxalite movement, the call for armed struggle against the decrepit power
structure, resulted in many bright youngsters losing their lives, leaving scars that Bengal
is still yet to recover from. Gautam Chattopadhyay, outspoken B.Sc. student of
Presidency College Kolkata during the height of the movement, witnessed all of it first
hand. A natural musician, he used to play saxophone with a bunch of Anglo Indians in a
band called ‘The Urge’. The music scene at the time was concentrated on Park Street,
where live bands played in pubs like Trinca’s and Moulin Rouge. Abraham Mazumdar,
one of the members in the original line up, recalls the time. “We used to play Beatles,
Crosby, Clapton etc. I played with Louis Banks for a while, and Usha Uthup was also
there.” The band came together in 1976 during a three-month break that Gautam took due
to a leg injury. The name ‘Moheener Ghoraguli’ is taken from a line of poetry by modern
Bengali poet, Jibananda Das. Gautam wrote lyrics, sang, and played lead guitar. The
original line up included Pradip Chattopadhyay (brother of Gautam), who played
bass/flute, Bishu Chatterjee, another brother (drums), Tapesh Banerjee (vocals), Tapas
Das (rhythm guitar/vocals), Abraham Mazumdar (violin/piano) and Ranjan Ghosal
(cousin), who arranged the music and drew album covers. The division was never strict
and they would sometimes interchange instruments on stage.
Producing the music was never easy. A western band format featuring harmonized vocals
and witty urban lyrics talking about everyday life was probably too much to take for
record companies like HMV, who never supported the band. They self-produced their
first album ‘Sangbigno Pakhikul O Kolkata Bishayak’ (Ruffled Feathers and Thematic
Kolkata) in 1976. Gaurab Chatterjee, Gautam’s son and drummer of Bangla rock group
‘Lakkhicharra’ tells me that they even had to borrow money from kabuliwalas apart from
putting in their own savings. Soon they started performing in colleges all over Kolkata
and soon had a fan following among urban middle-class educated youth. Two more
records followed, “Ajaana Udonto Bostu ba Aw.Oo.Baw” (Unidentified Flying Object or
U.F.O., 1977) and “Drishyomaan Moheener Ghoraguli” (Real Moheen’s Horses, 1978).
Like the music itself, the efforts have a hand-crafted feel, with even the album covers
designed by the members themselves. The releases met with a less-than-enthusiastic
response generally even as they garnered a small group of dedicated fans.


The International Jazz Festival held in Kolkata for three consecutive years from 1979
deserves mention here for it was in this festival that the band played along with foreign
jazz bands like the Swedish group ‘Rena Rama Quartet’ and the German group ‘Embryo’
and produced a fusion of baul music and jazz. Their experimental approach ensured that
they would use the snake charmer’s ‘bean’ and the ‘dotara’ along with western
Though they were appreciated by the elite audiences, the group really wanted to reach out
to the vast ‘petit bourgeois’ culture, who were used to the kind of restrained ‘adhunik
gaan’ (modern song) which was an updating of the tradition of Tagore and Nazrul Islam.
However, they were traditional in their instrumentation and often used lofty metaphorical
lyrics. The ‘ghoras’ (horses, as they called themselves) wanted to intervene in that music
culture and sing about contemporary themes, and give a voice to the experience of
modernity and urban Bengali culture, which had seen a lot of political upheaval in the
seventies. As Gautam had himself put it in one of his essays on their music, “they
considered the guitar as an imperial cultural symbol”. Their fusion experience with jazz
led them to use the guitar to work upon folk music thereby creating not so much ‘fusion’,
but a style of popular music that remained rooted while at the same time allowing rock
music style chord progressions. Apart from western rock, they also incorporated Latin
music in songs like ‘Kotho ki koraar achche baaki’ (How much more remains to be
done), among others. Also, they would tend to use raw and untrained voices. Minoti
Chaterjee, Gautam’s wife tells me that once he got Kartik, who was a production boy in
the recording studio, to sing in one of the songs.

Phase II : 1995-99

After the ‘ghoras’ disbanded in 1981, everyone went off to pursue their own careers.
Abraham Mazumdar teaches western classical music. Gautam went on to make films and
did ethno musicological research. But none of the former
members abandoned music. In the meanwhile there were others
like ‘Nogor Philomel’, ‘Nagorik’ and solo performers like Ranjan
Prasad who continued working in the ‘urban folk’ idiom. In the
90s, as the Indian economy opened up to global forces, a new
generation of youth was on the scene, having grown up on
television. A new bunch of solo singer/songwriters emerged like
Suman Chattopadhyay, Anjan Dutta and Nachiketa who
popularized a style now called ‘Jibonmukhi gaan’ (songs of
everyday life), whose roots lie in the early experimentation of
Moheener Ghoraguli. It was during this time that Gautam decided
to revive the group but with the new crop of young musicians. Gautam composed and
wrote lyrics, which were performed by these new musicians who were part of the
growing Bangla rock scene with bands like Krosswindz, Lakkhichaara, Fossils, Cactus
and Bhoomi. In fact, the song ‘Prithibi ta naki’ was the first Bengali song sung by
Krosswindz. Four albums were released, the first being ‘Aabaar Bochhor Kuri Pore
(Again, After Twenty-odd Years) (1995). Minoti Chaterjee, Gautam’s wife remembers
the time. “We released the album at the Kolkata Book Fair, and each album would be
hand wrapped as a gift and presented to the buyer with love.” The new album was a big
success, and after twenty years the band’s original efforts finally reached out to the ‘petit
‘Prithibi ta naki’ became a youth anthem from then on.
Box sections

Gautam Chattopadhyay (1948 – 1999)

Singer, songwriter, musician, theatre person,

filmmaker and ethnographer, the multifaceted
Gautam was a charismatic personality with a
natural talent in music. He played many
instruments with flair and sang in a rustic voice
that carried his intensity into the music. His
belief in spontaneity and experimentation led him
towards both rural folk music and jazz and Latin
music like the tango and salsa. Very closely
involved in the revolutionary political movement
of the 70s, because of which he was also jailed,
he nevertheless used music and art rather than
politics to bring people together. He was never an
individualist and loved any form of community
endeavour. As an ethnomusicologist, he
documented various folk musical forms. He
made four feature films and his first ‘Nagmoti’
won the President’s Medal at the National Film
awards (1983). He died aged 51, while
completing his last film ‘Rong-bin’, a film with
the Karbis of Assam.

Baul music

The bauls are a mystical sect of wandering

minstrels of Bengal. Their roots can be
traced to the Bhakti movement, sufi Islam
and the tantric sects. They believe that
‘divine love’ leads to knowing the god
within oneself, the ideal they call ‘Maner
Manush’ (man of the heart). Music is one
of the ways to spiritual rapture and Baul
music celebrates celestial love, which
transcends religion yet is rooted to the
earth. In keeping with the earthy simplicity
of their outlook, a Baul musician’s
accompaniment is a single string instrument called ‘ektara’, where loosening or
tightening the string while plucking produces tonal variations. Lalon Fakir, born a
Muslim, was one of the most famous of Baul composers when Baul music was at its peak
during the early 20th century. Rabindranath Tagore did much to popularize the music
among the educated lot. In recent times, Baul musicians like Paban Das Baul have taken
the music to an international platform, mixing it with electronic drum n’bass, like in the
album ‘Tana Tani’. The Baul influence can also be heard in music by Brit-Asian groups
like Asian Dub Foundation.


Phase I : (1976-81)

Shongbigno Pakhikul O Kolkata Bishayak (Ruffled Feathers and Thematic Calcutta)


Ajaana UDonto bostu ba Aw-Oo-Baw (Unidentified Flying Object or U.F.O) (1977)

Drishyomaan Moheener Ghoraguli (Real Moheen’s Horses) (1978)

Phase II : (1995-99)

Aabaar Bochhor Kuri Pore (Again, After Twenty-odd Years) (1995)

Jhora Somoyer Gaan (Songs of Times Past) (1996)

Maya (Illusion) (1997)

Khyapar Gaan (Songs of the Loony) (1999)

Aabaar Bochhor Kuri Pore extended CD re-release (1999)

Photographs courtesy: Minoti Chaterjee

Original album covers courtesy: Abraham Mazumdar

Bharath Murthy
1/16, ‘Sanshaptak’,
1050/2, Survey Park,

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