Shantanu Moitra - Music Director and Composer
In Conversation with Manjima Chatterjee, Head, Arts programme - Shiv Nadar School, Noida
The spirit of exploration and discovery is strong in Shantanu Moitra. In everything he’s done, the engagement with the fabric of the world is his inspiration. It’s not about winning or losing, failing or making it…for this music composer, singer, traveller, and author, life’s about adventure. The Shiv Nadar Foundation’s institutions foster curiosity and make learning a truly explorative process, so this was music to our ears during the Conversations chat on FB live.
From a confused boy living in Delhi to a career in advertising where he literally fell into music because he composed a jingle for an internal project, Shantanu has had a rollercoaster of a life – and he doesn’t want to get off it! He says he never knows what he’s going to be doing after the next two years, and he keeps needing to try new things, add masala to his life and improvise. Being a late starter, (he entered a recording studio for the first time when he was 26 years old) he’s had to pick up learnings quickly.
He was obviously successful at that, as his first album was Ab Ke Sawan with Shubha Mudgal, an experiment fusing classical, rock and folk, and was a smash hit. Dreams of his face being emblazoned on billboards drew closer when he landed up in Mumbai and got his first film, Hazaaron Khwahishain Aisi. But it was when he did the music for the film Parineeta with his mentor Pradeep Sarkar that he reached the dizzying heights of fame and acclaim that he deserved.
Many films followed including the iconic 3 Idiots, and the story goes that on one of his trips, Shantanu been to Ladakh and suggested it to Rajkumar Hirani as a location for some of the scenes of the film, especially the Pangong Tso Lake where the last scene is shot. He was also the person to bring in the concept of ‘al iz well’ which is a pahadi or mountain-people idea that you have to ‘cheat your heart’ and then what you wish will come true. The mountains were in his blood.
At the peak of his career, Shantanu, true to form, decided to give it all up and spend a hundred days in the Himalayas, travelling with the amazing nature photographer Dhritiman Chatterji. They started with Ladakh, and covered Lahaul-Spiti, Uttarakhand, northern West Bengal, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. ‘It was a huge risk,’ says Shantanu, ‘but it changed my entire life and perspective.’ Besides the adventure of climbing and the curiosity of seeing new places, Shantanu learned so much more.
One story he tells is of waking up one freezing morning in Ladakh and coming upon some Changpa people. One woman was sitting very still with her child. Around her were several carcasses of sheep. On enquiring, he learned that a snow leopard had carried away one of her sheep and mauled the rest. He realised this was a huge financial loss for her. When he asked her how she was feeling (through a translator), she said something that astounded him. She said, talking about the leopard, ‘We are the guests, they own the world.’ This is when Shantanu realized how much he was going to learn from the Himalayas, and what humans needed to survive was this ability to co-exist with nature.
The other learnings from this incredible journey were about thinking out of the box; of travelling on soul journeys where you can interact with people and open up your senses to the world around you, of exploring the quality of stillness that one encounters in the mountains and much more.
For young people, Shantanu has some great advice. He loves the saying, ‘If you reach for the stars you may not get one, but you will not come back with a handful of dust either.’ He suggests an openness of mind and thinking. This is in line with what we at the Shiv Nadar Foundation truly believe too! To the teachers from Shiv Nadar Foundation schools and colleges listening in, he says, ‘Don’t stop them from falling- give them the skill sets to get up when they do fall.’
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