AR Rahman Upsets Bengalees

Tirthankar Mitra

Penned and set to tune in a tumultuous times by a man to whom patriotism was an article of faith “Karar Oi Louha Kapat” is a song which tugs at the heart strings of many in West Bengal and Bangladesh. After all, Kazi Nazrul Islam’s compositions stirs the patriotism in many hearts whenever it is heard.

Nazrul was a Muslim poet and song writer who was not only knowledgeable about Hinduism but had freely incorporated in his poems gods and their deeds of a religion he was not born into. To many, he was a shining example of secularism.

Here is a song which is almost a trumpet call to participate in a march to bring down the iron gates of a prison, break down all shackles and lead the imprisoned from captivity to freedom. Composed at a time when Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, then the embodiment of the rebellious spirit of the nation and bent on achieving freedom, was in prison.

Set to tune by Nazrul himself, it was AR Rahman who changed it into a song of a film titled Pippa made in the backdrop of the war of liberation of Bangladesh. . Needless to say the eminent composer hardly covered himself with glory.

Rahman’s brush with controversy is not a new experience for him. Years ago, noted singer Manna De who knew what he was talking about had said that Rahman’s compositions reminded him of the drum beats of forest dwellers.

It is anybody’s guess whether the master singer’s words were a compliment or something else to the composition of the versatile singer. The fact that in this case, Rahman has remained tight lipped. Rahman’s silence ought not to be interpreted to be a sign of support to his controversial act. It has avoided a war of words.

Instead, the makers of Pippa have tendered his apology in profuse and unambiguous terms. If it was once being tried to be propagated that the rights of the song have been bought from the poet’s daughter-in-law Kalyani Kazi inferring that it gave the film maker the liberty to tweak with the song, it simply did not wash. A film is made for screening before large audiences. And Pippa is no exception. It did not take a brain wave for the producer to realise that the explanation for a change of tune is thin. For it was an iconic tune.

A deviation from it entailed the risk of provoking many Bengalis, their diaspora and people from other parts of the country staying away from the shows of Pippa. In that event, neither the cash boxes will jingle nor the producer will laugh all the way to the bank, a situation which no film maker will look forward to.

The producer’s words on behalf of team Pippa are in fact a last ditch attempt not to rub the prospective viewers the wrong way. Time will say whether he has succeeded. It is also a point for Rahman to gauge how far he can go in the exercise of his artiste’s license. He has turned the song into a light hearted, folksy, romantic number.

It is very different Nazrul’s rousing song of protest. Infused with intense patriotic fervour which people still sing on occasions of protest and patriotic occasions, the new tune does not do justice to Nazrul who was requested to call off a fast as the country needs him by none other than Rabindranath Tagore.

Another icon Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had said that one would plunge into freedom struggle with Nazrul’s songs on his/her lips. Unknowingly Rahman had stepped into a sentiment dear to the hearts of all Bengalis.

Indeed it is part of cultural heritage and identity of the people of Bengal. Earlier, the same set of populace cutting across the political divide protested when a few Rabindrasangeet were improvised.

Much looked up to in West Bengal where several Nazrulgeetis (songs of Nazrul) emerge as chart toppers off and on, the man whose works are almost synonymous with protest and revolution happens to be the national poet of Bangladesh. It remains to be seen how the people on both sides of the barbed wired border flock to the shows of Pippa.

It has been premiered on November 10 on Amazon Prime Video. Based on the deeds of captain Balram Singh Mehta, hero of the tank battle of Garibpur, west of Dhaka, it has attracted publicity for the wrong reasons.

Protests have poured in from the poet’s family, author Taslima Nasreen, classical singer Ajay Chakraborty, state chief minister Mamata Banerjee to name a few. The jury is out on the merit of the film and one wishes Rahman to do his home work better when their next film reaches the shooting floor. (IPA )