Bombay Royale is a retro band unlike any you’ve heard before. For starters, they’re a ten-member Melbourne-based “vintage Bollywood” act that writes and composes Hindi and Bengali songs inspired by the sounds of 1960s and ’70s Hindi film soundtracks. Started by saxophone and flute player Andy Williamson aka The Skipper and featuring Australians of Indian origin, Shourov Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh on vocals, the band just released their debut album You Me Bullets Love to rave reviews in Australia (see the video for the title track above). Though they do a couple of covers at their gigs—their album includes “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” from 1965′s Gumnaam—they’ve been impressing audiences at home with their mix of surf rock, funk, jazz and disco, a musical melange that characterised the Bollywood movie scores of the past. We interviewed singer Shourov Bhattacharya about Bombay Royale’s inspirations and the dangers of being considered a novelty act. Edited excerpts:
What are some of the most common reactions the audience members give you after the band’s gigs?
We do get different reactions from those who are familiar with the genre as compared to those who don’t know about vintage Bollywood. Indian people love the covers like “Dum Maro Dum”, but they are often surprised to hear our original songs—they don’t expect us to be composing our own stuff. For those who don’t know much about Bollywood, the first thing they love is the groove, that’s the part that is familiar to everyone in the West—whether it’s a funk line, surf guitar, [or the] spaghetti western [sound].
This may seem an unfair question, but who would all the members in the group agree is the ultimate Bollywood film composer and why?
I don’t know if you’ll get us to all agree! I know Andy (The Skipper) loves Anandji and Kalyanji for their psychedelia and crazy synths etc. He’s also a fan of Ilayaraja’s music. I’m a big fan of R. D. Burman in particular. Either way, the thing that we all like about these composers is that they’ve created something new. Even if inspired by Western music, they’ve taken it and crafted their own unique sound. They were pioneers, they created the genre themselves—we admire that.
How do you go about writing new lyrics for music with such a vintage sound?
I usually start by writing the melody line—that’s often where some of the “vintage sound” comes from too, as one feature of many of the old Bollywood tracks was that they had playful and fairly complex melody lines—and then I usually fit a lyrical idea on top. They are mostly love songs, of course, but there are quite a few tracks which are dialogues between the lovers.
The video for “You Me Bullets Love” is quite a hoot, would you call it a parody or a tribute or both?
Definitely in the spirit of a tribute. All the elements that we included—damsel in distress, over-the-top villain, masked dacoits, fight scenes etc.—are obviously inspired by the vintage movies. We just wanted to have some fun with it, not taking ourselves too seriously. At the same time, I hope it’s clear that we have enormous affection for the genre—we’re not making fun of it as such, we just find it genuinely entertaining!
While Bombay Royale has received a lot of critical acclaim, there’s also the possibility of the band being seen as something of a novelty act. How do you all react to that?
Yes, that’s always a danger. It is a challenge to get people look past the novelty of the act, especially in the live setting where we are very theatrical. I think in the end the only way to do that is just to make great music. That is one of the reasons we are proud of this debut album—it strips away the novelty and stands purely on musical merit. The theatricality, costumes, characters etc. all came later.
Do you listen to any contemporary Bollywood music. What do you think of it?
Some of us do. There’s some really great stuff coming out, but a lot of terrible stuff on the charts as well. We do like a lot of bhangra/UK Asian influenced Punjabi songs, also Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and A. R. Rahman.
Bombay Royale has no immediate plans to tour India but you can listen to You Me Bullets Love here.