Please tell us about yourself
It is a known fact that the music industry is driven by professionals from Assam and other parts of the Northeast. In recent times there has been a splurge in this phenomenon as more and more professionals from the State are marking their presence through their professionalism and commitment towards their work. One of the forerunners in the music industry of Mumbai is Abani Tanti, an Assamese sound engineer based in the film city and who has carved a niche for himself in the field.
The melange team had got in touch with him for a telephonic conversation recently to know more about his work. While it took some time to arrange a suitable time for our conversation, the conversation flowed smoothly once we started and we deliberated on a host of issues – starting from his journey in the field of sound engineering to the present state of the industry. Following are excerpts.
Q. Thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. Tell us about your childhood.
Abani Tanti: I was born to Gunaram Tanti and Lavanya Tanti of Jorhat. However, since we stayed in a joint family I spent most of growing up time staying with my uncles in a tea estate in the Assam-Nagaland border. I did my schooling in Balya Bhavan.
Q. How were you drawn into the offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career of music?
Abani Tanti: I have always loved music since I was a child. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would take up music as a profession. As a child, I remember going to our landlords house to listen to audio records.
I did my PU in B Barooah College of Guwahati after which I enrolled for a sound engineering course in Gujarat. Although a number of sound engineers have passed out from that institute since then, we were amongst the first few batches. To be precise, we were the second batch to have passed out from that institute. People like Jatin Sharma had passed out in the first batch.
There was a gap of one year after I passed my PU exams between the time I enrolled into the institute because of the Assam agitation which was going on then. Because of the delay in announcement of results in our State, I had to wait for one year before I got the admission to the institute.
The course was for three and a half years and after I completed the same, I took up a job in Jyoti Chitrabon of Guwahati.
Q. So you did not move to Mumbai after completing your course?
Abani Tanti: No, I did not. Immediately after I passed the course, there was a job opening in Jyoti Chitrabon and I applied for the same. That was in 1987 and I worked there for around three years till 1990.
My first project was for a documentary for Gautam Bora and then as a recordist for Sher Choudhury. Incidentally, my first recording was also for Bhupen Hazarika.
Q. How do you recount the days that you worked in Jyoti Chitrabon?
Abani Tanti: The time that I spent working in Jyoti Chitrabon was very fulfilling and rewarding for me. I worked on aspects like line recording there and needless to say, I did derive a lot of knowledge about film music in the institute.
During my course in Rajkot, I got a lot of theoretical knowledge. But in Jyoti Chitrabon, I got a lot of practical knowledge and got the opportunity to learn a lot. During that time, I have worked with almost all the big directors lie Abdul Majid, late Shiva Thakur, Pulak Gogoi, Mridul Gupta, Hemen Das and the like. The only director with whom I didn’t work was Jahnu Barua and I worked with almost everyone except him.
Q. Your name is also closely associated with Friends Studio…
Abani Tanti: Yes, I worked with Dhruba Sarma of Friends studio for nine years – from 1990 till 1999. In Friends studio, we worked on the recording of a diverse range of songs – from folksongs to rock. The studio was very popular for recording rock music and all the bands from the Northeast used to record their songs there. Be it Mojo or Rudy Wallang of Shillong, or bands from Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, we did the recording of almost all bands in the studio. We also did the recording of almost all of Khagen Mahanta’s albums there; he used to record his songs in that album.
I have worked with almost all singers of Assam during that period in the studio. I worked there till I shifted to Mumbai in 1999.
Q. Tell us the circumstances in which you decided to shift to Mumbai…
Abani Tanti: The shifting process to Mumbai happened gradually. Even while working in Friends Studio, I used to travel to Mumbai a lot for work. In the period between 1992-96, Ananda Raj Anand used to come to Assam to record his songs. That was the time when remix songs were very popular. The recording used to be so good that people in Mumbai appreciated and liked our product.
Once it came to be that Anand Raj Anand gave me an offer to start a studio in Mumbai. The idea of setting up my own studio and running it appealed to me and I took on the offer. Accordingly, I set up Sound City in Mumbai. We started work in 1999 and by 2000 we started our work.
Since then, I have worked in various studios in Mumbai like Wings and Studio 1. At present, I am running Jatin Sharma’s studio Geet Audiocraft in West Mumbai.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your first project in Mumbai?
Abani Tanti: My first project was that for a Punjabi singer Gurdass Mann for his film ‘Zindagi Khoobsurat Hai’. The music was scored by Anand Raj Anand. Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam had sung for the film and the former also got the national award for the song.
After that I worked in a number of mega blockbuster films like Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Kaante, Raju Chacha, Yadeein, and the like. All the work of those films was done in Sound City and in the very first year that the studio started working, we earned around Rupees One Crore and Thirty Lakhs, which was a huge amount in those days.
Q. Do you feel that there has been any change in the audio recording industry since the days you started working?
Abani Tanti: There has been a tremendous change in the field. I have personally witnessed this change. One can say that the change started from around 2009 to 2010. The number of studios started decreasing as more and more musicians began installing their own set-up.
Earlier, we used to get the recordings in the form of external hard drives. Then people started giving us work in DVDs. Gradually, people started sending us their work in portable hard disks and then pen drives. Nowadays, the situation has reached such a state that people just mail us their recordings. This is a clear instance of when we have to change our way of life because of change in technology.
Nowadays, almost 70 per cent of the work that went into the production of a song is done outside the studio. It is a vast different from the earlier days when everything – right from recording, programming, dumping and mixing – was done in the studios. Nowadays, people do everything in their own home studios and send us the product only for the final touches.
Q. Do you feel that the music industry of Assam has developed at the same rate as that of Mumbai?
Abani Tanti: To be honest, there cannot be any comparison of the music industry of Assam and that of Mumbai. The music market in Mumbai is far too big than that of Assam. Most of the music produced here is for films and obviously their budget is also very high. For instance, the minimum budget for a project in Mumbai is Rupees 16 crores while back in Assam, we cannot even think of a budget which is more than Rupees one crore.
Another aspect is that we have to work under a lot of limitations in Assam. We have to work under a fixed budget and we have to fit or alter everything under that budget. We also have a fixed time frame for doing things in Assam. However, that is not the case in Mumbai. Out here, we have the liberty of doing whatever we want to do and taking as much time as we want.
For instance, I am presently working on the music of Dabang 3. We do not have any limitation and we can deliver our best. If we are not happy with something, we have the liberty to change it. This is because the budget is big. A huge amount of money is invested here in Mumbai which is not the same in Assam. Producers here are not hesitant to spend money because they know they will get it back from the market.
Yes, from a technical point of view, Assamese people are far more advanced when it comes to other people. In Mumbai, Assamese people and Malyali people are regarded to be the best. But when it comes to the commercial angle, we Assamese people are far behind. For our own projects, we cannot do a number of things that we would have wanted to and for which our products ultimately suffers.
Q. Has the change in musical formats affected the music business?
Abani Tanti: There has been a big impact. Earlier, as a child I remember growing up listening to big Sonodyne speakers. Nowadays, having a speaker in a house is like having a luxury item. It is not that people do not listen to music nowadays. They just don’t want to pay for it. If you travelled in upper Assam earlier, you would have seen the shops in Jakhalabanda or Bokakhat playing hindi numbers. Where have those songs disappeared?
All this has had a major impact on the music business. In 2010, Sound City studios had to change its business. A number of major studios in Mumbai were closed down. A lot of instruments which used to be played in songs have now almost vanished. Studios wear an empty look and the owners also close them by asking how long they can run a loss-making business.
Q. What are you presently working on?
Abani Tanti: At present, I am working on a number of Hindi film projects. I am also working on a small movie by Jahnu Barua. It is not that I don’t do Assamese projects. I am also working with Priyanka Bharali for a song which should release by next year.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Abani Tanti: I love photography, fishing and cooking good food. I love to cook and eat different varieties of food.
Q. Tell us about your family.
Abanti Tanti: I am married to Meetali Chetia Tanti, who is a graduate in physical education from Gwalior. However, now she prefers to stay as a housewife. Together we have a son.