Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bhupen Hazarika : An Obituary

By Subhash K Jha ,

The voice of Assamese-folk music was stilled on 5 November. Bhupen Hazarika’s close associates went into mourning. Kalpana Lajmi his companion for 4 decades was shattered. I had occasion to meet them both together several times. One can’t imagine the one without the other.

In an interview some years ago Bhupenda had said to me, “I came from Assam to Mumbai to work with the Indian People’s Theatre Movement. It was composer Hemant Kumar who introduced me to everyone in Mumbai including Lata Mangeshkar. I was in love with her voice and wanted her to sing in my first film as a director Tunes From The Deserted Path. She agreed. ”

In the interview Bhupenda had singled out A R Rahman as the notable contemporary composer. However he had warned Rahman against over -work.

Said Bupenda, “He is a great talent but his talent shouldn’t be over-utilized…I’m saddened by presentday music trends. You can’t kill a raga like Bhairavi or a clean melody by Hemant Kumar or Lata Mangeshkar.

Why don’t they have music as a subject in schools? We shouldn’t criticize youngsters for falling tastes. We should berate music composers and companies for marketing rubbish…I want to make a film in Aassamese. ”

Each time we would meet with his faithful companion Kalpana Lajmi besides him he was full of anecdotes songs and dreams. Bhupenda loved beautiful melodies, women and landscapes.

Javed Akhtar who had written words for some some of Bhupen-da’s most memorable songs in Kalpana Lajmi’s Darmiyaan, remembers him as a happy-go-luck soul.

“He always had a smile on his lips, and a twinkle in his eyes. In his songs one could smell the scent of the earth…. Assam ki mitti ki khusboo aati tthi. Whenever I heard him sing his own compositions I could feel the Bramhaputra River flowing through the veins of his compositions. He brought the folk tunes of Assam into Hindi cinema. ”

Javed Akhtar worked in two films with Bhupenda. “One was a film for Amit Khanna’s now-defunct Plus Channel which never got released.

The other was Darmiyaan, a film about an actress (Kirron Kher) and her eunuch son. It was a great challenge writing lyrics for this film. I even had to write a nonsensical lyric Sheena gorey hazy hazy gobbling for Darmiyaan. Not a word of it made sense.

I don’t know who had more fun with it…me while writing the words, or Bhupenda while composing for it. Every time we’d run into each other he’d ask me to recite two nonsensical lines for him. When I did he’d double up with laughter. ”

Javed says Bhupenda had a great sense of humour. “He was always up to something or other. But when he composed he poured his heart into it. And when he sang…oh my God!

I get goosebumps when I hear him sing Duniya parayee log begane in Darmiyaan. We’ve lost a true artiste. That breed is becoming progressively defunct. I feel we artistes now have to walk on our knees to look like dwarfs. ”

Raveena Tandon who worked with Bhupen-da in Daman which Lajmi directed, is shell shocked. “I’ve just got back from Delhi to hear this. You know when I heard Bhupenda was critical I wanted to go and meet him. But Kalpana never replied to my SMS.

I thought maybe they wanted to be left alone. I will always cherish the good times we shared during the making of Daman. We were on a tea estate shooting in Assam for a month. Every night after shooting we’d be sitting around a campfire.

Bhpenda really took care of him. He looked after me like a father. In fact he reminded me of my father. When I got the National award for Daman he was the happiest. God, we’re losing all the great artistes one after another. Soon there’ll be nothing left except mediocrity. ”

Kirron Kher who played the lead in Darmiyaan remembers all the time she shared with Bupenda and Kalpana during the shooting of the film.

“My heart goes out to Kalpana. She stood by him. She was his pillar of strength. It is so sad that Bhupenda is no more. He was supremely talented. He was a legend in his lifetime and full of life. His death is a huge loss to the music world. ”

Shabana Azmi who had the privilege of working with Bhupen Hazarika in Kalpana Lajmi’s Ek Pal and M F Hussain’s Gaja Gamini recalls the musician with misty-eyed affection.

“I loved his music and voice which was unique. He used to come over to my home in Janki Kutir and sing for Abba and Mummy (father Kaifi and mother Shaukat Azmi). You can’t even begin to comprehend his popularity in the North-East specially in Assam.

He was their absolute hero who respresented the voice of the Common Man. He was very inspired by Paul Robeson and used his music as an instrument for social change. My condolences to his family and to Kalpana Lajmi. ”