<%-- Page Title--%> Cover Story <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 108 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

June 6 , 2003

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

Interpreter of Melodies

Shamim Ahsan

My mother used to say I started to hum much before I started to talk,” Ferdausi Rahman, one of the finest artistes of Bangla music, speaks of her initiation into music. Being the only daughter of legendary Abbasuddin Ahmed, the king of Bangla folk songs, music was very much in her blood. Her first lessons in music began under the tutelage of her father. “My father would take not only me, but all three of us (Ferdausi and her two elder brothers, Mostafa Kamal Abbasi and Mostafa Zaman Abbasi) together and make us sing with him.

Child Ferdausi with her father at a literary gathering.

Sometimes I used to accompany my father to different places to sing with him. Sometimes, however, he would leave me alone on the stage and make me sing,” she remembers. Ferdausi took lessons in classical music from several renowned Ustads like Muhammad Hussain Khosru, Yusuf Khan Uuraishi, Qader Zamiri, Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan.
Ferdausi went on air when she was only six. She became a regular artist of the television when Dhaka Television started in 1964. In fact, she happens to be the first artist of Dhaka Television. Even before that, Ferdausi had already begun to sing in the films for both Bangla and Urdu films. Till date, she has sung for about 200 films. Since her childhood Ferdausi has traversed a wide range of music with equal ease and skill. Her strong foundation in classical music enables her to make the different genres of music sound as if each was her specialisation. While the more classical based music like Khayal, Thumri, Ghazals are her forte she is also the exponent of traditional Bangla music like Bhawaiya, Bhatiali, Folk songs. She has also made her mark in Nazrul Geeti, and modern songs.

Ferdausi with her numerous awards in 1954.

It was sometimes around the late sixties. Ferdausy received a rather strange proposal. “Montu bhai (artist Mostafa Monwar) who was our family friend, wanted to involve me in a children's programme. I refused point blank, but finally gave in to his relentless persuasion,” Ferdausi recalls how this particular programme started. It was, 'Esho Gan Shikhi', a programme that offered music lessons to children on television. Ferdausi's unique handling of the programme, specially her ability to interact with children with a little bit of pep talk and that well-known, ever-assuring smile, gave the programme a different kind of charm and liveliness. Then there was Mithu-Monti, the puppet duo, who engaged in mutual fighting at every opportunity and sang out in their strange voice, often distorting the melodious chorus. “Children keep on asking me about MithuMonti. Khalamoni, why can't we see their feet? Why don't they go near your dais and give music exams?” Rahman says.

Ferdausi Rahman performing on the BBC, November 1967.

In the late seventies a new chapter opened up in her illustrious career. Already a veteran of more than a hundred films as a playback singer, Rahman ventured into music direction. Not willingly though.
“I never thought of composing music until I was kind of forced into trying my hands in music direction.” It was the renowned filmmaker Ehtesham, who asked Ferdausi to do music direction in his film.( She used to call him chacha and he also fondly called her chacha). A somewhat bewildered Ferdausi rejected the idea: “What do I know of music direction?” Finally, however, she agreed to give it a try. Along with Robin Ghosh, who would later become the famous music director, Ferdausi gave music direction in Rajdhanir Buke. The film was a hit, so was its music. One of the songs of this film has found a place in the all time greatest hits of Bangla film songs: Tomare legeche eto je bhalo, chand bhujhi ta jane..ee… ee, ratero basore doshor hoye tai she amare tane……... Hardly a week went by before film lovers in Dhaka and soon the entire country was humming this song. And the song is just as popular today.

The artiste with legendary Ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan.

A confidant Rahman then accepted another film Megher Onek Rong. This time she did the score all by herself. Interestingly there were no songs, so Ahmed had to play around the background music. “It was extremely challenging and I worked really hard for that film,” she recalls. Her efforts didn't go unrecognised. The film won the National Award for Ferdausi in the category of music direction. Ferdausi then gave music direction in two more films -- Nolok and Garial Bhai. The movie Garial Bhai however couldn't be completed for some reason even though the music was done.
Unfortunately Ferdausi's career as a music director was destined to be short-lived. It was the early eighties and the copying spree that would engulf the Bangla filmdom had already started to surface. Thus, in spite of the huge success of her composition, that too, with only three films to her credit, Ferdausi had to impose self-retirement. “Besides less and less number of people were coming to me, as they knew that the kind of music they need for their films would not be done by me”, Ferdausi remembers. The copying has now grown so rampant that people have even stopped complaining about it.
Bangla music has long lost its glorious days. What we have today in the name of Bangla music has very little Bangali element in it. The rich mellifluous tune of our Bangla music, very much characteristic of the soil it springs from, is not heard anymore. Ferdausi feels sad, sometimes regrets, but never loses heart at the wretched state of Bangla music. She points out some of the main reasons behind that. Our absolute indifference to or ignorance about our traditional Bangla music has left us musically rootless. Secondly, the ever-spreading virus of copying has gradually infected the entire Bangla filmdom and with it, its music. The advent of satellite channels have also brought about radical changes in our musical taste, particularly among the younger generation. “I am not against Hindi songs, but that should not be at the expense of our own musical heritage,” she says.

Ferdausi Rahman with her husband.

But who is responsible for this wretched state of our films and film music? Is it the bad taste of those who make films or those who watch and enjoy them? Ferdausi uses an analogy to answer: “It is the responsibility of the housewife to serve good food. If she keeps on serving bad, stale and adulterated food, others in the house will begin to like it. Simply because they haven't tasted good food.” She believes that 'making money' has become the guiding principle and 'greed' the basic 'driving force' among most of them who invest money for filmmaking. No doubt filmmaking has its commercial/business side, but a film is also an art work, she argues. “And as far as business is concerned, good films do make profit. There are numerous examples”, she says.
Ferdausi is also critical about television's performances when it comes to upholding and promoting our cultural heritage of which music is a most vital component. Again, since BTV or Betar for that matter, is not supposed to be worried about making profit, they are in an ideal position to promote and nurture our musical heritage. The picture is unfortunately exactly the opposite. Those who are in charge of running the television are more concerned about their own 'chairs' and busy in exploiting their official positions to pursue their personal interests. They care little about how a programme should be improved or what new things can be added or doing experiments or playing with new ideas.
Besides, some musical programmes like those of classical music and folk songs are presented with great negligence, Rahman alleges. While these programmes receive lowest attention in terms of time slot, budgetary allocation, recording facilities, etc. The way those programmes are presented (bears no marks) of even the most minimal of effort and thought that usually go into making a good programme. Naturally such dull and boring productions don't interest the audience who, instead, grow a permanent distaste to traditional folk music. Whereas, the copied film songs and other musical programmes enjoying great care and often luxurious treatment.
Besides, what is the cultural ministry doing? She asks, it is the job of the cultural ministry to nurture our traditional Bangla music. They haven't even managed to preserve what we have, not to mention nurturing it, she accuses.
The private television channels have also done precious little in this regard, Rahman alleges. Our treasure of musical heritage continued to be neglected. Besides, standards are often compromised for commercial concerns. “You want to make quality programmes, but when it comes to paying the artists you become close-fisted,” Rahman doesn't hide her disapproval of such bad tendency.
Again, petty political considerations and sectarian interests have often done serious harms by creating divisions and mistrust in artist community. Rahman doesn't mask her resentment as she talks about the 'black listing culture' of artists mainly in the government controlled media. Every time a government is changed, a blacklist is prepared of some artists who allegedly enjoyed the previous government's blessing. After 5 years the same procedure is repeated. This must be stopped…,' she goes on, 'I am sorry but I must say that this practice had its origin in '71. Some artists who stayed in Bangladesh during the war and did programmes on TV or Radio were readily labelled as “collaborators”. They did not try to understand the circumstances--in many cases artists were forced, even at gun-points to do programmes. But nobody seemed to be listening', she pauses after a long gap.
In a career spanning over almost five decades Ferdausi Rahman has received many awards in recognition to her achievements and contribution to the different branches of Bangla music. The President's Pride of Performance Medal in 1965, Ekushey Padak, Shadhinota Padak, Best TV Singer National Award, Pakistan Film Journalists Award are only the more illustrious entries of a surprisingly long list.
At present Ferdausi is busy with Abbasudin Music Academy. She hopes to acquaint today's children with their rich musical heritage, which, seems to be fast vanishing. She has a dream. “I want to send my students to every locality, where they will teach the people one or two particular songs. Gradually the entire country will learn to sing a common song. Wherever you go, whoever you are with, the moment you start to sing that song everybody around you joins you immediately. Isn't it great?” she asks eagerly. Yes, it is.


(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star