A song’s journey

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By SRIJIT MUKHERJI, KABIR SUMAN AND PROSENJIT TRACE THE GENESIS OF JAATISHWAR, A FILM THAT HAS EMERGED FROM A SUMAN SONG, IN AN ADDA WITH T2
  • Published 14.01.14
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Srijit, do you remember the first time you listened to a Suman song?

Srijit Mukherji: I was 15, my mother bought me a cassette and it had a picture of this man with Tomake Chai written on the cover. The entire family used to listen to the cassette together. That cassette unified three generations. It was incredulous. The album changed my world view, changed the way I look at my cultural identity as a Bengali in the 20th or 21st century. My language, my roots, my socio-cultural identity, I was forced to question and confront and come to terms with everything. Even the fact that I came into films was driven by the fact that someone wrote Tomake Chai, and someone had the courage to say his story, express himself musically, going against the norms and conventions of music in Bengal. At 42, he was doing concerts where he was playing all the instruments, he was getting pissed off on stage, he was pissing people off, he was creating a ruckus. That was fascinating. His influence made itself felt in whatever movies I have made. And in Jaatishwar, he finally emerges as a composer and the person who sort of heralds the musical journey.

Kabir Suman: When it comes to Jaatishwar specifically, I trust Srijit. He is like my son, though one doesn’t have to trust one’s son all the time. (Everyone laughs) I love him and I love his ways. I like his mejaj, he has a certain attitude, which I like. I knew he was trying to make something interesting out of it (the song). The song Jaatishwar can be interpreted in different ways. Srijit is digging into the past, the myths, and creating a new myth, which I find extremely interesting. I had to put to tune 13 pieces written by the kabiyals in the late 18th and early 19th century, and it was Srijit who selected the texts.

Prosenjit, how did you react when Srijit told you about Jaatishwar?

Prosenjit: After listening to a script by Srijit, I don’t say good or bad. It’s more like, ‘When do you want to start this?’ I have that sort of faith in him. He won’t narrate to me something that’s not meant for me. That’s the kind of understanding we have.

Srijit: It’s a spread worthy of kings. Only when I have something worthy of such people that I go to them.

Prosenjit: Srijit says that Autograph would not have happened without me. And now I am saying that Jaatishwar wouldn’t have been complete without Sumanda.

Srijit: And not only because Sumanda is the composer, but because Sumanda wrote a song, which was the seed of the story. He is the true father of the project.

Sumanda, how does it feel to be called the ‘father of the project’?

Suman: It’s good to see that my life has not gone in vain! Actually, I want to make films. I don’t know when and how, but I have to. Srijit has made this film with lot of love and care... recreating the old times, the old jalshas was difficult. We all fought very hard.

Srijit, what did you make of the song Jaatishwar when you listened to it for the first time?

Srijit: The ever-changing face of love through ages, through births... the geography is changing, the sociological context, the myths are changing... it could be an African folklore or Behula-Lakhindar, it doesn’t matter because the love remains the same. The cyclical nature of love and the non-transience of love, those ideas were really powerful. It actually inspired me to write a whole script. It took me eight-nine days.

Suman: Really?

Srijit: Yeah...

Prosenjit: He’s a fast writer…

Srijit: When it hits you, it’s done. The rest just comes to you naturally, organically. You don’t have to think of plot points….

Suman: Here we are sharing the story of the people of Bengal, they were not rich or famous, they were uncommonly common people…. In order to save her husband Behula can become a prostitute, so this is part of a vibrant Bengal… you still find a temple near Boral crematorium dedicated to Chand Saudagar, Behula’s father-in-law, it’s that real to us.

Srijit: And Antony was a man of flesh and blood who did something which is no mean feat, for a Portuguese songwriter to come and learn Bengali, and beat the Bengalis in their own den. So between Rabindranath, Uttam Kumar, Bhola Moira, Asit Baran, Tollygunge film industry and Jorasanko Thakurbari, there is also another Bengal that exists, which is something we need to realise and acknowledge.

Prosenjit, how did you prepare for the role?

Prosenjit: Playing Lalan helped me a lot to portray Antony. I knew it should not be like Lalan or Uttam jethu’s Antony, so I had to really work hard and Srijit gave me lot of photographs to work on. But the main character I played in the film is Kushal Hazra…

Who is Kushal?

Srijit: We’ll find out soon! Antony was also an urban performer. He was catering to the babus as well as the lowest strata of society. Which is where Antony becomes such a brilliant exponent of kabigaan. And he had some very illustrious peers. He was not born into the language, so he had to unlearn and learn a lot of things, which I thought was fascinating and which resonates in a love story set in 2013. It’s the resonance of two journeys.

So, what is the film all about?

Srijit: The film is a musical-cum-biopic-cum-reincarnation drama-cum-love story! It’s a chronicle of Antony’s life, which was never done before, because the black-and-white film starring Uttam Kumar was based on a novel by Madan Bandopadhyay called Kabiyal Antony Firingee. As it happens with novels, you do take flights of fantasy. On the other hand, we have tried to derive it from history books, and then cross-refer...

Prosenjit: …and then connect the entire journey to 2013… that’s the most important thing.

Srijit: Like Sumanda’s music bridges two generations of Bengali modern song, in the same way how Antony’s journey is bridged across 177 years and is resonated in another journey of similar nature in 2013, which forms the love story bit of it.

Srijit, how did you get Suman on board?

Srijit: That was a hell of a job.

Suman: I was not too keen on working…. I was sick and tired of society, I don’t like the film industry, I don’t like Bong films, so I actually wanted to avoid… (everyone laughs)

Srijit: It started with him saying, ‘I’m not well’, ‘I’m very busy’.... The next coup was getting the songs E tumi kemon tumi and Khudar kasam jaan, because he is very, very, possessive of them, and with good reason too…. I know I’ll be remembered for getting Kabir Suman to do music for Jaatishwar, a film which has Khudar kasam jaan on the soundtrack.

Suman: Indraadip Dasgupta assisted me and I can never really adequately express my gratitude to Indraadip for what he has done for this movie. My role was to couch the texts (the 13 pieces selected by Srijit) in music that would justify the way the text was written.

They had no notation?

Srijit: Absolutely not. There was sparse information about musical instruments. The most difficult thing was the meter of text. There were some songs where I was wondering how does one set tune to this? Some of the songs had just two lines... Sumanda had to lyrically take himself back 177 years and seamlessly write two more lines which would make it seem like one whole piece of text. If you listen to the songs, you would never find out the lines Sumanda wrote. I can challenge you to that!

Sumanda, what inspired you to write the song Jaatishwar?

Suman: A great love. That’s what spurs me on... love and lust. Lust for love, lust for women, lust for everything that is alive. At that moment (1996) I was in love, but I am always in a state of love. I took about an hour to write it. Why did I write Jaatishwar? Out of love? Yes. It is addressed to a woman who does not exist in my life any more. But then the song wrote itself.

How did you structure the film?

Srijit: It’s again the magic of the song Jaatishwar. It was an epiphanic moment for me which transcreated itself into the script. It is my most organic script. I just saw the film and wrote the film as I saw it. For 22shey Srabon I had to be smart. I had to back-calculate from the last murder and go back to the first. Here something got hold of me. It is love.

What does the term ‘jaatishwar’ mean to you?

Srijit: My earliest memory of jaatishwar is Satyajit Ray, Sonar Kella, Mukul and the entire romanticism associated with it. After hearing Sumanda’s song, I had the feeling that I too was jaatishwar. What is the state of being jaatishwar? It is the persistent state of deja vu. We have moments of deja vu, we feel this has happened to me before. You put these moments together and stretch a persistent feeling of deja vu, and you get the mental state of jaatishwar.

After listening to Sumanda’s song, I started believing that certain things I do had to be a result of something else, whether it’s my chromosome or the memory of my previous birth, I don’t know. But the thing is it could be that. I can’t write it off. If I’m truly a rationalist there are more scientific proofs for jaatishwar than there are against. I can cite you 40 European cases offhand. After Sumanda’s song, I realised jaatishwar can actually explain a lot of things... your existence, your current identity, it can explain why you are the way you are. You are reaching an identity of 2013 through the bylanes of history. I believe in janmantor and I’m pretty much unapologetic about that. And the film uses jaatishwar as a metaphor....

Suman: He has done that very well, that was a stroke of genius.

Arindam Chatterjee