Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Soul-stirring legacy

Interview with Bhupen Hazarika -from 2003 archive

By Jyoti Kalsi
He was 10 years old when he gave a performance over the radio for the first time. Over the last 66 years he has written, composed and sung over a thousand popular songs in Assamese, Bengali and Hindi. But his zest for music remains undiminished. His total involvement in his work, the deep sense of joy he derives from his musical talent and his childlike delight in the appreciation of the audience are a beautiful sight to behold. Such is the stuff that legends are made of - and Dr Bhupen Hazarika is indeed a legend in his native state of Assam, India.
Besides composing music for regional films and Hindi films like Rudaali, Saaz, Gajagamini, Daman and Ek Pal, Dr Hazarika has also produced tele-serials and documentaries, written books, travelogues, short stories and children's rhymes besides editing two monthly magazines. He has been on the board of numerous film-related government organisations and has served as a member of the Indian Parliament.
In addition to a number of national and international awards for his cultural, artistic and social contribution to society, he has also been awarded India's prestigious civilian honours - the Padmashree in 1977 and the Padmabhushan in 2001.
Bhupenda, as he is popularly known as, seems unaffected by the recognition and fame. On a recent trip to Dubai, he won the hearts of everyone he met not only with his music but also with his humble and friendly nature. During An Evening with Bhupen Hazarika, a concert organised by the newly-formed 'Asom Somaj', he mesmerised the audience with renditions of his lyrics imbued with a strong social message and his soul-stirring romantic numbers including the award-winning Dil Hum Hum Kare from Rudaali.
His sonorous, resonant voice has not aged. And he is not one to rest on his laurels. The septuagenarian is currently working on the music of Kalpana Lajmi's new film titled Kyun. In keeping with the film's story about youngsters and its cast of fresh new faces, the music he has composed is lively and contemporary. During a small, social gathering at the residence of Sanjana and Aswini Borkotoky, members of the Asom Somaj, Bhupenda announced the official international launch of the film's music.
While Kalpana Lajmi, the film's director, explained the situation of each song, Bhupenda listened to the music with eyes closed, hands waving in time with the music and his body swaying to the peppy tunes. Afterwards he asked for the opinion of the audience with all the enthusiasm of a child on his first adventure.
And it has to be said that though the songs sung by popular young singers Sonu Nigam, KK and rock band Silk Route are nice, the best number in the album is the title song sung by Bhupenda. Later we sat down for what was supposed to have been a short interview but went on for over an hour. Bhupenda walked down memory lane, recalling his childhood in Assam, his post-graduation in political science from Benares Hindu University, his experiences in the U.S. while studying for his doctorate in mass communication at Columbia University and his film career that he began as a child actor in 1939.
He described in vivid detail his meeting in 1949 with legendary American civil rights activist and singer Paul Robeson, who influenced the strong social consciousness in his own music. With gusto he sang Ole Man River, Robeson's song that inspired Bhupenda's own Ganga Kyun Behti Hai Tu.
Excerpts from the interview:
Jyoti Kalsi: You have won several state, national and international awards for your work. Which one do you cherish the most?
Bhupen Hazarika: I am indebted to the Indian and other governments for the laurels they have bestowed on me. Professionally and intellectually I value the Dada Saheb Phalke Award for Lifetime Contribution to Indian Cinema, which is like an Oscar.
The Lata Mangeshkar award for my contribution to music has great sentimental value because it was given to me by Lata, who sang my first Hindi film composition and encouraged and supported me in my career. But my most cherished award is the love and appreciation of people all over the world. On a trip to Hatta yesterday, I was touched when a Bangladeshi fruit seller recognised me and offered me a basket of fruits. Gestures like these make me feel that I have a friend in every corner of the world.
Which of your many artistic and social achievements do you feel is the most important?
I am happy that I have been able to use my songs as an instrument of social change and that through my work I have revived the neglected cultural heritage of North-eastern India and presented it to the rest of our country and abroad. I became a member of the legislative assembly only to achieve my dream of establishing the first-ever state-owned film studio, a national art gallery and a national theatre in Assam and consider the fulfilment of these goals to be major achievements.
What more would you like to achieve?
I want to write my autobiography. There are about 30 biographies written by others but I want to tell it my way. The other important task I want to finish is the recovery and dissemination of classic songs from the government's archives. As the chairman of the Sangeet Natak Academy, I have already begun the work and I hope that soon tapes of ghazals by Akhtaribai Faizabadi and other such lost treasures will be available to the public at reasonable prices. This is our heritage; it must be preserved and passed on to the next generation even if we have to put some pop songs on the cassettes to reach today's listeners.
Through your music you have always tried to bring Indian folk culture and music into mainstream cinema. How do you feel about the current trend of mixing folk music with western beats?
Change is inevitable, but I see a gradual erosion in our cultural heritage. Earlier, maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain experimented with fusion music; but they embraced western music while remaining rooted in our culture. Most of the music today sounds to me like "confusion" rather than fusion, but I do see some beautiful indigenous touches in the music of A.R. Rahman, Hariharan and Leslie Lewis.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a person who believed that songs can be instruments of social change.
Source : Gulfnews, April 08 , 2003