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When Bhupen Hazarika refused to work with Jahnu Baruah

November 09, 2011 12:29 IST
Jahnu Barua Noted Assamese and Hindi filmmaker Jahnu Barua remembers prolific composer, songwriter and singer Bhupen Hazarika, who passed away on November 5.

He tells Patcy N what it was like working with Dr Hazarika in his very first film Aparoopa, how it almost ended in disaster, and his last few visits to the music legend.


I have been a big fan of Bhupenda ever since my childhood. I dreamt that if I ever became a filmmaker, I would work with him.

I grew up listening to Bhupenda's music; I knew all his songs and we sang his songs at home.

The first time I met him was when I approached him to do the music for my first film Aparoopa. Before that, I had seen him performing on stage a couple of times.

Bhupenda did not only compose the music for Aparoopa but he also wrote the songs for the film. There were five songs in the film and he sang three of them.

I was studying at the FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) in Pune, when I wrote to him to say that I wanted to work with him. Later, I spoke to him over the phone after trying for four or five days to get through to him.

I told him that I wanted to work with him and he was very nice about it and asked me to send him the script of my film and to meet him whenever I came to Kolkata.

I met him in Kolkata and he told me he liked my script and was ready to work with me. He did not look at me as a newcomer but spoke to me very professionally. He encouraged me and tried to help me out with my first film. He was very excited about the project. He came to Mumbai and wrote the lyrics.

He had a very unique style of writing. He got up very early in the morning, at dawn, around 3:30 or 4:30, and started working.

He was a very friendly man, but at the same time he was short tempered -- you had to be really careful when you spoke with him. Every creative person has this problem -- even I am short tempered -- and you need to understand that.

He wrote the lyrics for one of the songs in Aparoopa, and I did not like it. I told him so as I was very possessive about my film. I was a little scared to express my feelings, and rightly so, because he got very offended and angry and said, 'No, I can't work with you, I won't work for you any more, you can go now'. He asked me to leave the house and said, 'Don't come and meet me again'.

I left the house and all day I was very upset. I cursed myself for saying what I did. I was restless; I did not know what to do next. I tried to call him but I was told that he was in his room and had asked not to be disturbed. I could not contact him… I was in a terrible position.

Bhupen HazarikaThen, in the evening, I got a call from him, a very loving call. He said, 'Bapu (that's how you address a younger brother), I have written new lyrics; come and listen to it.'

I was so relieved! I went immediately and heard the lyrics he had written. It was the beautiful theme song Aparoopa Aparoopa, which was later sung by Usha Mangeshkar.

After I heard the song, he said: 'Don't feel bad that I got upset and got angry with you.' He further explained, 'Till today nobody has ever said that they did not like my creation. I had never encountered that kind of confrontation, so don't feel bad.'

Hearing that, I also apologised, told him I was terribly sorry that I had upset him and I promised myself that I would never do that again.

He said some beautiful things to me that day. 'You should always speak up if you feel very strongly about something. Because you spoke out, I could create good music for the film.'

That is the greatness of the maestro. I was so touched

I remember well the things he said to me that day. He told me, 'In any creative expression you must voice your thoughts; if you don't speak up you will never come to know what it could have been finally.' And, 'sometimes what you say may be a mistake but it doesn't matter as the world will not come to an end if you make a mistake, but you must say what you want to express.'

It was like a blessing for me to get advice from him in my first film.

After Aparoopa I did not get a chance to work with him. I wanted to, especially on my Assamese film, but he was very busy making other films and later he was mostly trying to recreate his own compositions in other languages and somehow it did not work out with me. He also told me that we should work together but it never happened.

I met Bhupenda many times; in fact, we shared the stage once as representatives in our own fields, and every time I met him it was a very encouraging and inspiring moment for me.

He used to be very homely and by that I mean he would talk to you as if he has known you all your life. And you could say anything to him, he would make you comfortable. He was very simple, any person could approach him and he had no hang-ups.

Everyone can identify with his songs, whether you are lover or a farmer or a worker or a businessman -- that is what was so unique about him. In the song Jonakore Raati (Night full of stars), sung by Lata Mangeshkar, he is describing a night full of stars, and no matter what situation you are in, you will suddenly feel like you are sitting alone in a field under the open sky full of stars and that song is written for you.

There is a certain ornamentation that he gives through his voice to the song, which is remarkable; if that same song is sung by another singer you won't feel that.

I met him about six months before he was hospitalised, at his house. I sang the songs he had composed but he was not able to sing them and I felt really sad.

I met him for the last time about one-and-a-half months ago, when he was in hospital. After that I went abroad and I came back the day he passed away. I immediately went to the hospital to pay my respects.

When I met him in hospital he had not opened his eyes for four days and was not eating and was not reacting to anyone. I spoke in his ear: 'Bhupenda, I am Jahnu here.' The nurse also tried to shake him and Kalpana (Lajmi) was also there.

Suddenly, he caught my hand and gave me a smile. Everyone was shocked because he had not opened his eyes for four days leave alone smiling. I was very touched but, unfortunately, he could not speak.

Kalpana told my wife that she was very hopeful that he will recover soon.

I don't think that with his death a chapter has closed; in fact, the chapter will continue as his is a different kind of creation: Bhupen Hazarika is not just a man but a complete institution in himself.

He must have written about 1000 songs in Assamese and each song is full of energy. Even after all these years, when you listen to his songs, every word feels new.

I feel like an orphan after losing him, and not only I, but all Assamese feel like that.
Patcy N in Mumbai