Utpal Borpujari

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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