Saturday, 4 August 2012


This post is too Bengali. To derive maximum pleasure out of this post, you have to be well-versed in the life and times of some of the prominent Bengali public figures.  I am happy to share with you my pleasure obtained from seeing one of the most striking plays I have seen in recent times.

This post is also more personal than the others. Debabrata Biswas is arguably the best রবীন্দ্রসঙ্গীত  singer that was ever born. Many of us have been fascinated by his rendering of রবীন্দ্রসঙ্গীত. I started hearing him in my teens and he has me captivated ever since then. There are altogether about a couple of hundred songs only and once in a while it has given me great pleasure to discover a song sung by him from someone's personal collection. The guy was a genius. I never had the opportunity of hearing him live - I was born too late for that. There was a time when I had all of his songs that were available in recorded form. These were in cassette tapes. Over the years, I have lost some of them from my collection. There was a time when, as soon as the prelude music started, I knew which song was being played. I have lost that touch. However, the deep impression that he left on me at a formative stage has shaped my life.

রুদ্ধসঙ্গীত is the second word from the title of the book that Debabrata Biswas wrote. Bratya Brata Basu wrote a play of that name a few years back. Living out of Kolkata, it is practically impossible to see these plays. I saw it recently on the website of a Bangla newspaper. The full play. This post is about that play. A priori, one would think that the play is on Debabrata Biswas. However, as the play progresses, one realizes that on the pretext of making a play based on the singer's life, Bratya Basu has caught the turbulent time in his play. It was a difficult time, just after India's independence. On one hand, there was Nehru at the helm of government making new strides in many areas of science and technology taking the nation ahead. On the other hand, the Communist Party of India had declared that yeh azadi jhoota hai because in their opinion, the baton of power had just changed hand from the British to the Indian rulers who were characteristically no different from the British. And IPTA took this responsibility of convincing the mass about that by their songs, street plays etc. At the forefront were several talented artists like Utpal Datta, Ritwik Ghatak, Salil Chowdhury, Sambhu Mitra and of course Debabrata Biswas.

Things fall apart very quickly in the communistic household. All the above named people were extremely talented in their own fields. And many of them felt stifled by the party. They began to realize that there is a huge gap between their own artistic creativity and the way the party wants to use that. Different people reacted differently to that. Utpal Datta just quit the party and did what he could do best - acting (of course he was ridiculously accused of being a CIA agent, the best he could do was to just ignore that, and that is what he did). Salil Chowdhury summarily left for Bombay to create some of the best music, Sambhu Mitra could not care less for the party once he saw that he was not being allowed to do what he knew he could do. Ritwik Ghatak was accused of various cheap, false charges by the party and gave an aggressive fight back before leaving. The person who saw all this coming and made a quiet, dignified exit was Debabrata Biswas.

Biswas moves on in life and becomes the apple of everyone's eye. He sang for Ritwik's films and sang with the dances of Manjushree Chaki apart from his own programs. There is an unforgettable scene in the play where Manjushree Chaki, who has a rare communion with Biswas, breaks the news to him that she will leave India soon. Manjushree Chaki invented new oriental dance forms at a very young age even when she was a student at Presidency College. With Biswas singing to her dances, she had a gratifying life in Kolkata. Going out of Kolkata would definitely disrupt her passionate involvement with dance. Why she did not take a strong decision is something that I do not know. However, Bratya Basu makes an excellent scene out of this rather sorry situation and the way Biswas handles it. There are minor factual errors in this scene and I am somewhat surprised why these errors exits because the drama does seem well researched. Manjushree Chaki was married in 1958, not in 1961 and went to Africa, not to USA immediately after her marriage.

The rest of the drama revolves around Biswas's problems with establishments like the Viswa-Bharati Music Board and Anandabazar group. In both cases, he runs into problems with strong individuals. I suppose Bratya Basu wants to portray Biswas as just a human being who is not above artistic arrogance. He has human follies. He could not ignore barking dogs, could not resist from hitting back, courted troubles that could be avoided. He got both accolades and brickbats just as any artist does. I personally would think that the immense appreciation he received from Bengalis all over the world should have overshadowed the few stabbings that he got in the back. He was a very positive man in his youth. He wasn't so when he died.

Debrabata Biswas has shaped and will continue to shape minds of generations. This drama goes a long way to relate us to him once more.