Utpal Borpujari

November 18, 2012

Keeping Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s Legacy Alive

By Utpal Borpujari

A year has gone by since Dr Bhupen Hazarika passed away. It seems only yesterday that lakhs and lakhs of people queued up patiently to have a last glimpse of his body at Judge’s Field in Guwahati. It was a scene never seen in Assam before, and it is doubtful if anyone else’s death would elicit such unprecedented level of public mourning.

But as the state commemorates the first anniversary of the great singer-composer-lyricist-filmmaker-writer’s death, instead of playing into the hands of sentimentalism-driven empty rhetoric, we as a society would do well to analyse whether we are in the right track to preserve his legacy.

This is important more so in the light of the fact that the Assamese society – here I am referring to all inhabitants of Assam, rather than the only Assamese-speaking people – is inherently infamous about its ability to forget its great sons and their deeds. And let’s put it bluntly – the people, the society, the government, the media and various institutions – all are to be blamed for this trait of ours. Come to think of it – how many of us can recall the birth and death anniversaries of great leaders like Gopinath Bordoloi, Tarun Ram Phukan or Nabin Chandra Bordoloi, or know the work of intellectuals like Krishna Kanta Handique, Anundoram Barooah and Banikanta Kakati, or have adequate knowledge of the creations of cultural stalwarts like Jyotiprasad Agarwalla, Bishnu Prasad Rabha or Phani Sarma? (I remember reading long time ago in the Prantik magazine how when someone went to look for Bishnu Prasad Rabha’s house in Tezpur and asked a youngster for directions, he got the shocking counter-question: “In which department does he work?”)

Given the fact that the Bhupen Hazarika’s songs, if not other creations, are too deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of the Assamese society to be so easily forgotten for at least the next 100 years, especially in this digital age when the virtual technology has made preserving and accessing artistic creations much easier (for example, the cultural website http://www.enajori.com has archived links to many old Assamese songs which in the pre-Internet and pre-digital age were impossible to access). But Bhupen Hazarika’s legacy is much bigger than his songs – his ideology, his creativity and his connect with the masses are the aspects that need to be preserved as a whole. Hence, just constructing a memorial at the site where his body was cremated, or having a museum at the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra and instituting an award in his memory, while being essential steps, would not be enough to do that.

So, what should we do? The list can be long, but achievable. And it can include probably many more interesting ideas apart from those sought to be discussed below. But the fact is, if plans are not formulated and gradually implemented in a time bound manner, we will still be lamenting after 50 years that we have failed to preserve his legacy, like we do in case of many other luminaries in their birth and death anniversaries. Hence, my effort below to prioritise some of the things that we need to take up as a society – all of which can be initiated by the government with the involvement of appropriate experts from the various required fields:

1. The Memorial: The Bhupen Hazarika Memorial, which is planned to be constructed at his cremation point in Jalukbari, will be a “world standard” one, according to the state government’s announcement. While the details of the project are still not in public domain, it can be hoped that the government means what it is saying. But one thing is sure – it must not be just a well-designed concrete structure with flower beds and pathways around it like most of the memorials in India end up as! The memorial must enable any visitor to experience the whole life and creativity of Bhupen Hazarika. To do that, we must have a museum dedicated to him at the site (if need be, the museum at the Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra should be shifted to this location), an audio-visual presentation (comprising video, still photographs, audio of his songs and speeches), and a light-and-sound show (something which is being planned at the Kalakshetra should ideally happen at the memorial) at the site giving the visitors an opportunity to experience the life and times of the bard, and a memorabilia shop selling his music, his books, replica of his paintings, his photographs, CDs of his films, T-shirts, mugs, note pads, pens, bags, caps and anything else that can represent his creativity and can attract all sections of people. This sort of tactics are used by museums and memorials all over the world to not only make a great person’s legacy relevant all the time but also to generate revenue to run the place efficiently. Of course, the place would need ample parking space and other amenities like a cafeteria and rest rooms. But would the present available space allow such a huge infrastructure – that is the question one will have to consider.

2. House as tourist destination: World over, the houses of great personalities act as superb tourist destinations. Be it William Shakespeare or Jules Verne or even the fictional house of Sherlock Holmes, tourists throng such places in hundreds and even thousands. Bhupen Hazarika’s house – at least a wing of it since other family members continue to live there – should be put on the tourist destination map of Assam. The idea of a memorabilia shop and an audio-visual tour can be replicated here also.

3. International chair in a centre of educational excellence: A chair can be instituted in Bhupen Hazarika’s name at perhaps the Columbia School of Journalism, his alma matter, and a prominent Indian university like the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, dedicated to the study of impact of culture in society building, given the fact the Bhupen Hazarika’s songs always reflected the society around us. An appropriate grant can be secured by the state government from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, to institute these two chairs.

4. The award: The state government has already made the highly-welcome announcement about instituting an international award in the field of music in memory of Bhupen Hazarika. But if the award has to be a really international in its scale, the government will have to appoint a body comprising international musical stalwarts to identify suitable awardees from various parts of the world whose musical philosophies reflect that of Bhupen Hazarika. Just giving the award to some ‘famous’ names who won’t have even heard Hazarika’s name would not mean anything. The state’s Culture Ministry has a huge role to play in it, which hopefully it will.

5. Museum: While the aspect of museum has been discussed above, the idea of it must reflect everything about the great artiste. It should have everything related to him – original EP and LP records of his songs, posters of his films, photographs, his clothes, his pens, his note books, samples of his handwriting – and everything else that one can put on public display.

6. Annotation of songs: This is what must be taken up at a war footing. We still don’t have annotations of Jyoti and Rabha Sangeet that can be accessed by international musicians. Only recently, media reports said that for the first time ever English annotations of some of Jyotiprasad’s songs were being prepared. This is a real shame. While it’s the duty of the State Culture Ministry / Department to prepare annotations of the songs of such great artistes, it’s even more important to get on the job as far as Hazarika’s creations are concerned, given the hug e number of songs he wrote, composed and sang. Proper annotation is a must if we want his songs to travel to various parts of the world.

7. English translation of all his songs by a panel of experts: This is again a must. While it may not be possible to have quality translations of his lyrics in a way that they can be sung in English, given the fact the high rootedness of them in the cultural and social milieu of Assam, they can be academically translated into English so that researchers and music lovers from the world over can access their meaning in the true sense.

8. Translation of all his writings to English and other languages: The same applies to his other writings, that are already available in collection forms.

9. Recognition of Bhupendra Sangeet as a legitimate school of modern music like Rabindra Sangeet: Again, the state government and non-governmental organisations will have to play a leading role in making the Centre take this forward. Bhupen Hazarika’s music has its own unique style and idiom, and that will be scientifically preserved only if gets nationally recognised as a school of music.

10. Proper collection, archiving and public accessibility of all his films (both fiction and documentaries), plus films that he scored music for (Assamese, Bengali, Hindi): Like many old Indian (including Assamese) films, most of Bhupen Hazarika’s work in cinema (as director) are inaccessible to the masses. In contrast, his work as a composer in cinema as relatively better accessible. However, a concerted effort is needed, perhaps under the aegis of an organisation like the Assam Film (Finance & Development) Corporation, to collect all his cinematic work (as director and as composer), whether in fiction or non-fiction, and across languages, and properly archive them and make them available for public consumption. While some of his films are in the National Film Archives of India and the State Film Archive, quite a few of them might be already lost. Urgent action is needed to preserve whatever is remaining.

But all this and perhaps more will be possible when the government, people and the Bhupen Hazarika Cultural Trust will work in tandem. Given the present circumstances, where the legal heir of Bhupen Hazarika’s intellectual property is still to be decided, it seems that will still take some time. And that means some precious time will be lost. One can only hope that the legacy of Bhupen Hazarika will not get lost in some silly fight over ownership of his creations. Because ultimately, what he created is the common heritage of Assam, India and the whole world.

PS: The last paragraph comes from the author’s own small (and sad) experience. Senior journalist Samudra Gupta Kashyap and the author had conceptualised a documentary film relating to Bhupen Hazarika’s songs, and Kashyap wrote one email formally to the Bhupen Hazarika Cultural Trust and also spoke to Trust member Sunil Nath more than once on the mails which had sought certain information regarding the use of Bhupen Hazarika’s songs in the film. That was nearly a year ago. We are still awaiting a reply!!! If something seeking to take Bhupen Hazarika’s philosophy to the world elicits no response from the quarters that supposedly holds the rights to his creations, how can one expect these quarters to keep the legacy alive?

(Published in Assam Information, November 2012 issue; as well as Seven Sisters Post, http://www.sevensisterspost.com, on 16-11-2012 & 17-11-2012)



November 5, 2012

Bhupen Hazarika’s Cinematic legacy: Lost forever?

By Utpal Borpujari

His first association with cinema happened in 1939, when he appeared and sang “Kaxote Kolosi Loi” and “Biswa Bijoyi Naujawan” as a child artiste in Jyotiprasad Agarwalla’s “Indramalati”, the second Assamese film. And his last happened in 2011, when he sang for the Hindi film “Gandhi To Hitler”. Just before he had recorded for this Hindi film, he had recorded his last Assamese work for a movie, when he recited the title poem in Bidyut Kotoky’s Assamese/Hindi film “Ekhon Nedekha Nodir Xhipare/…as the River flows”.

It’s been now a year since Dr Bhupen Hazarika passed away, but unfortunately, it’s still not clear whether all his cinematic creations (as a director) are still with us, or some of them have been lost forever because of lack of adequate archiving / preservation. A search on the website of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) gave no result for any of the Bhupen Hazarika’s directorial ventures. Neither does the State Film Archive that has been created through the efforts of the Assam Film (Finance & Development) Corporation seem to have any of his films. The Cultural Affairs Department is the only likely place where one might expect to get a few prints of his films, as the department at one time used to screen (maybe it still does) old Assamese films through a 16mm projector regularly at various venues.

So, the question is: have we lost at least some of Dr Hazarika’s films? It’s a question that can be answered by the following: his family members, the Bhupen Hazarika Cultural Trust, and the state’s Culture Ministry (which is the mother ministry for both ASF(FD)C and the Cultural Affairs Department). And when we talk about his films, we are talking not only about his feature films, but also the various documentary films and at least a couple of telefilms that he had directed.

It will be a shame if we have lost even one of his films, because while Bhupen
Hazarika might not have been a trained filmmaker who could have been technically perfect, each of his films were milestones of Assamese / Indian cinema for their themes and execution. But the fact is, we as a society are prone to easy empty sentimentalism. So, while there were millions queuing up to have a last glimpse of the great singer as his body lay in rest at the Judge’s Field at this time last year, and while there will be endless programmes of TV channels and articles in newspapers this year at this time, there is still no clarity on what will happen to the great artiste’s creative legacy and how that will be preserved and archived.

Hazarika made his debut as a film director at the peak of his early creativity, in 1956, with “Era Bator Sur” (Song of the Deserted Path). It still remains the only film made in Assam that tried to capture the state’s rich but fading musical heritage through a fictionalised story aided quite obviously by his great music. After that, he went on to direct “Mahut Bandhu Re” (1958), “Sakuntala” (1961), “Pratidhwani” (also called “Ka Swariti” in Khasi, 1964), “Loti Ghoti” (1966), “Chik Mik Bijuli” (1969), “Rup Konwar Jyotiprasad Aru Joymoti” (documentary, 1976), “Mera Dharam Meri Maa” (Hindi, 1976), “Mon Prajapati” (1979), “Swikarokti” (1986), and “Siraj” (1988). He won the President’s National Award thrice for his films “Sakuntala”, “Pratidhwani” and “Loti Ghoti”, apart from the National Award for Best Music Director for “Chameli Memsaab” (dir: Abdul Majid)

Apart from this, he made a number of important documentary films too. It’s anybody’s guess prints or negatives of how many of these films survive today. Each of these films had evergreen songs, which, luckily still are in public domain.
On behalf of the people of Assam, it’s my appeal on his first death anniversary today to the Trust and the state government to take urgent steps to first collect all his cinematic creations and then take steps to archive and preserve them scientifically. If need be, the state government should create a special grant for this purpose, asking the State Film Archive to implement the project, which must be made a time-bound one. Let’s try to save whatever is still surviving. Let’s restore the surviving prints, digitalise them and also bring them into public domain through DVDs, so that people can savour his cinema. Also, let’s make his cinema available online, so that the world can access them. Can this happen? Will this happen? Bhupen Hazarika’s zillions of fans are waiting for an answer.

Luckily, thanks to online efforts like Enajori.com and some others, a lot of music of Hazarika and other singers are getting archived on the Internet in digital format. But many of our movies are lost forever, thanks to lack of awareness about the importance of archiving and neglect of the surviving prints by the producers and their families. Let’s at least try to find and preserve Bhupen Hazarika’ cinematic legacy. Or our future generations will be left wondering why was he awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke Award, the country’s highest honour for cinematic excellence!

(Published in The Assam Tribune, http://www.assamtribune.com, 05-11-2012)



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