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Songs sung true

RANJAN DAS GUPTA
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TRIBUTE Remembering Bhupen Hazarika who captivated listeners with his ‘people's songs'

A VOICE TO REMEMBER Bhupen Hazarika
A VOICE TO REMEMBER Bhupen Hazarika

I met Bhupen Hazarika at his residence in Guwahati on a sunny morning over a year ago. Munching biscuits and sipping tea, our conversation began with the number ‘Mor Mahut Bondhu Re'. “It was actually an Assamese number, which I translated to Bengali and rendered with Priyam Hazarika. It was a melody bidding farewell to mahuts who guided elephants for the royal families of Assam and Bengal. I composed the tune on a harmonium. During recording, the stress was on our joint singing than the orchestration,” he said.

India's first doctorate in film studies and music, Bhupen Hazarika was most popular for his ‘people's songs', with hits such as ‘Ganga Amar Ma', ‘Manush Manusher Janye' and ‘Bistirno Dupare'. “‘Raja Maharajader Dola' is my personal favourite. It is the song of an oppressed palanquin bearer of despotic rulers. I created a wave-like effect with ‘haiya na' in the song,” he said.

Though his voice had limitations, Bhupen Hazarika was flawless and bold when he sang. In fact, Hemanta Mukherjee supported him a lot by recommending him to many music companies.

Social cause

For a singer who's sung many ‘people's songs', he said: “Salil Chowdhury was the true trend-setter (when it came to people's songs). He tuned poems by Sakanta Bhattacharya so well. The best song of the people in Bengali is Salil's ‘Pathe Ebar Namo Sathi' rendered by Hemanta Mukherjee majestically. A true song of the people may be anti-establishment, but must have fearless lyrics concerning the cause of eternal humanity.”

The Brahmaputra has a lyrical language of its own, just as the Ganges and the Padma. Bhupen Hazarika finds a strange similarity between them and the Mississippi. “Rivers have strongly influenced my music. There is a spontaneous poetry about them. Even Paul Robeson thought along the same lines. In fact, he was my idol in many ways; the greatest crooner of protest and people's songs. It is very wrong to compare him to Pete Seeger, as both possess very different singing styles,” he said.

About his stint in films, he remembered: “Hemanta Mukherjee recommended me to director Asit Sen for composing music for ‘Jiban Trishna'. It was a challenge for me to compose — an Uttam Kumar-Suchitra Sen starrer sans Hemanta Mukherjee could fail to create ripples. For two background songs, I blended the folklores of Assam and Bengal. They were rendered by my younger brother Jayanta Hazarika effectively. His vocal range was more versatile than mine. He could lend various shades to a song. Both Nachiketa Ghosh and Hemanta Mukherjee complimented me for my creation.”

Musical journey

Atma Ram introduced Bhupen Hazarika to Hindi films as a composer with “Aarop” in 1973. “Lakshmi Shanker's bhajan ‘Jab Se Tu Ne' from ‘Aarop' remains my most satisfactory Hindi film song. I recorded the song in one take. ‘Nainon Mein Darpan Hai' by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar was inspired by S.D Burman's ‘He Maine Kasam Li'. Asha Bhonsle's was a jazzy cabaret number. Everything about the music of ‘Rudali' is known,” he said.

What about the unparalleled song on communal harmony ‘Rahim Allah Tomare Maton' he composed and rendered with Mohammad Rafi? “I experimented very well earlier with Talat Mehmood for an Assamese number. I opted for Rafi specially for his ability to compose and render in Assamese and Bengali. We recorded both versions in two takes. Rafi cried in joy as he sang, saying ‘Bhupen, raise your local octaves with a sense of devotion and let your voice pour like a fountain'.”

RANJAN DAS GUPTA

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