Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The folk hero who became an icon

The Pioneer , 06 Nov 2011

Fondly known as the “bard of Brahmaputra”, Dr Bhupen Hazarika, the man who wove magic out of traditional Assamese music and gave us songs like Dil hoom hoom kare and O Ganga behti ho, has passed away.

He not only inspired millions across generations with the power and passion of his voice, he was a versatile man who was a poet, music composer, singer, actor, journalist, author and filmmaker at the same time. A self-proclaimed jajabor (wanderer), he took the rich folk heritage of Assam and interpreted it beautifully for the world through his songs. With his death, the country has lost not only one of its few balladeers but also one of its greatest cultural icons, cherished in Dhaka as much as in Guwahati.

Born in 1926 in Sadiya, Assam into a family of teachers, the academically-talented Hazarika completed his basic education from Guwahati in 1942, BA from Banaras Hindu University in 1944 and MA (Pol Sc) in 1946. He did his PhD in Mass Communication from Columbia University in New York in 1952. He also received the Lisle Fellowship from Chicago University, USA to study the use of educational project development through cinema.

On hearing the news about his death, President Pratibha Patil said, “A creative genius whose deep baritone voice was instantly recognised by poetry and music lovers across the nation. His use of folk music with a touch of contemporary made his composition unique in its own way.” Said ghazal singer Bhupinder Singh who sang Zara Dheere Zara Dheeme in 1985 for Hazarika, “He went from one home to the other in his attempt to make Northeastern music popular. His contribution in making folk music from the small regions in the Northeast popular will remain with future generations as he opened the doors for them. It was after he proved his talent that people from the Northeast are welcome in the music industry. Not just folk, he had an immense knowledge about everything in music that you can think of. He gave us the best music because he knew what will appeal to people.”

Hazarika, during his stay in the US, met the legendary black singer Paul Robeson, whose famous number Old man river was successfully transformed to the mega-hit Bistirno parore (O Ganga behti ho in Hindi), a virtual anthem for generations of pro-Left activists. He sang his first song Biswa nijoy nojowan (in the second Assamese film Indramalati) in 1939 at the age of 12.

In addition to his native Assamese, Hazarika composed, wrote and sang for numerous Bengali and Hindi films from 1930s to the 1990s besides other songs. He was also one of the leading author-poets of Assam with more than 1,000 lyrics and several books on short stories, essays, travelogues, poems and children’s rhymes. Hazarika will forever be credited for transcending the regional barrier and reaching out to the whole of India and the musical horizon of the world. He straddled the world of folk and mainstream with equal elan. Probably the reason why Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said, “His contribution greatly enriched our cultural landscape and his influence on Assamese art and culture was particularly profound.” Filmmaker Mrinal Sen was a lot more personal in saying, “I lost a great friend. I met him when he returned from USA. He was suffering a lot. It is sad to think he is no more.”

Hazarika produced, directed, composed music and sang for Assamese films like Era Batar Sur, Shakuntala, Lotighoti, Pratidhwani, Chick Mick Bijuli, Swikarokti and Siraj. His most famous Hindi films include his long-time companion Kalpana Lajmi’s Rudaali, Ek Pal, Darmiyaan, Daman and Kyon, Sai Paranjpe’s Papiha and Saaz, Mil Gayee Manzil Mujhe and MF Husain’s Gajagamini.

Last year, Hazarika featured in his first music video — Our Northeast, Our Star with music and lyrics by 3 Idiots’ duo Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire. He also lent his voice to this year’s film Gandhi To Hitler where he sang Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan Vaishnav jan.

Remembering the legend, veteran singer Manna Dey said, “Whenever I used to sing music directed by him, I felt good. I used to tell him that there is a different feeling and sensation when I sing his songs at his direction. There was something in his songs.”

Hazarika received the National Award for Best Music Director in 1976 for Chameli Memsaab and President’s medal for his films Shakuntala (1960), Pratidhwani (1964) and Lotighoti (1967). He was a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly from 1967-72 and was awarded the Padma Shri in 1977, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987 and Padma Bhushan in 2001. He was the chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi from 1999-2004 and a member of Assam Film Development Council and the Central Board of Film Certification. In 2003, he was appointed member of the Prasar Bharati Board. Remembering Hazarika, a tearful Lajmi said, “I have lost my father, my brother, my lover, my husband, my friend, my mentor and guide. I had a relationship with him for 29 years and he is gone now.” Added playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, “Bhupenda was a great legendary composer and a very fine and individualistic singer. Many years ago, I’d the privilege of singing for Chameli Memsaab and much later for Gajagamini. He was a very warm-hearted person with a fine sense of humour. A big loss for the music world and I’m very sad to hear about his passing away.”