It was the year after Independence. Bangladesh Television chalked out elaborate programmes to observe the birth anniversary of our National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Selected artistes were chosen for a live telecast from the Engineers Institute in Dhaka.
Amongst the senior artistes were Kamal Das Gupta, the incomparable composer of the modern songs of the1930s and his wife, the renowned songstress Feroza Begum. Other celebrated Bangladeshi artistes invited to the programme were Sohrab Hossain; Shudhin Das; Nilima Das and Sheikh Luthfur Rahman. From India, Dhirendra Chandra Mitra: Krishna Chaterjee; Dr. Anjali Mukherjee; Nazrul's sons Shabhbhyasachi, Onirudhya and his wife were also invited to perform on that day.
I was the youngest artiste (I was still in school) to perform at the soiree. I was to perform the opening song. My mother, Dr. Fyzennessa was anxious that we might be late, started to rush me to get ready from early afternoon.
When we arrived, I could not help but stare wide-eyed at the legendary singers. At the first opportunity, I asked for an autograph from Kamal Das Gupta. When he came to know I was to perform “Priyo Emon Raat”, he smiled and told me that the song was amongst the first of Nazrul songs that he had composed and recorded for the HMV.
That evening Kamal Das Gupta sang “Kuhu Kuhu Koyelia”, a semi-classical song based on Raga Mishra Khamaaj, and “Nilambari Shari Porey”, based on Raga Nilambari. His presentation was magical and I could not stop tears welling up in my eyes, as I sat mesmerised.
Kamal Das' untimely demise was a loss to the music world. With his birth centenary just past on April 9, I wanted to reminisce with Feroza Begum on the life of one of the most prolific Bengali composers of all time.
An astonishing 8000 songs to his credit of which 400 are Nazrul songs, and the rest based on various styles such as Geet and Meera Bhajan; Kabir Bhajan in Hindi; Urdu Naat; Thumri and Ghazals -- Kamal Das' standing is incomparable.
Born in Jessore, Kamal entered onto the music world during the golden period of Bangla songs. Kazi Nazrul Islam along with Pranab Rai, Sailen Rai, Tulsi Lahiri, Chitta Rai, Mohini Chowdhury and Pankaj Kumar Mallick made immortal contribution to enrich the realm of music in Bengal during that period. Vocalists like Kundanlal Saigal, Kanan Devi, Jaganmoi Mitra, Juthika Roy, Feroza Begum, Sachin Dev Burman, Angur Bala, Indu Bala, Harimoti, Kamala Jharia, Abbasuddin, popularised Bangla songs marked by remarkable lyricism, tunes and rhythm.
Kamal Das' parents -- Taraprasanna Dasgupta and Kaminiranjan Dasgupta were both well trained in classical music and hence a musical environment existed at home.
“Because of the disciplined training in music at home, five/six out of the ten siblings could record songs at HMV at an early age, and three brothers excelled as music directors, including his eldest brother Professor Bimal Das Gupta and his younger brother Shubal Das Gupta,” said Feroza Begum.
While a student of Shibpur Engineering College, Kamal had to quit studies and take charge of the family business of the Gupta Press. With the death of his eldest brother Bimal Das Gupta there was little option but to complete his unfinished works. And this was a turning point in his career, went on Feroza Begum.
In 1935 Kamal Das Gupta joined the Gramophone Company of India as a music director.
At a very young age (22), he was being hailed as a true successor to Ustad Zamiruddin Khan, his mentor at HMV. His first song “Ami Shanjher Taroka”, sung by Juthika Roy and penned by Pranab Roy, ushered in a new era of modern Bangla songs and was an instant hit at HMV.
During his tenure at HMV, he developed a close association with Kazi Nazrul Islam and composed the music for almost 400 of his songs. Kazi Nazrul Islam and Das spent long hours in the company of each other. “Sometimes I would be in his room; sometimes he would be in mine. Kazida and I have spent years and years skipping lunch. Often, food was sent to us from home, but it would remain untouched. There was no time,” Kamal Das would say.
Kamal Das continued to work at this frenetic pace for 15 years during which he composed an incredible volume of songs. Equally popular were his music compositions for films in Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, and English documentaries. According to his peers, it was not unusual for him to compose around 45 songs a month.
His evergreen songs “Prithibi Amarey Chaye”, “Ghumer Chhaya”, “Tum Bhulaye Na Gaye”, “Chupke Chupke Bol,” “Duti Pakhi Duti Teere” “Aye Chand Chhup Na Jana,” “Tasweer Teri Dil Mera Behla Na Sakegi” and countless other songs are still being re-recorded by upcoming and established artistes.
It was however, under composer Kamal Das Gupta that artistes such as Juthika Rai, Sudhira Sen Gupta, Satyen Ghoshal, Jogonmoy Mitra, Hemanta Mukherjee, Bhiswa Dev Chatterjee, Talat Mahmood, Proshun Banerjee, Meera Banerjee and of course Feroza Begum blossomed.
After the Second World War, around the mid-1940s, in some of his songs a unique blend of romance and revolution were found. Great examples are: “Prithibi Amare Chaye”; “Jege Achhi Eka”; “Ami Duronto Baishakhi Jhor”; “Jaader Jiban Bhora Shudhu Aankhijol”; “Kotodin Dekhini Tomaye” and more. All of these songs have resonated for years throughout Bengal.
He composed the music for about 80 Bangla films. Playbacks for Bengali films include “Pandit Moshai” (1936), “Shesh Uttar” (1942), “Sahadharmini” (1943), “Jogajog” (1943), “Bideshini” (1944), “Nandita” (1944), “Bhabikaal” (1945), “Rangamati” (1948), “Anuradha” (1949), “Prarthana” (1953), “Sandhan” (1953), “Nabibidhan” (1954), “Bratacharini” (1955), “Manraksha” (1956), “Bodhu Baran” (1967) and more and he was awarded for Best Music for several films.
Playbacks for Hindi films include “Jawab” (1942), “Hospital” (1943), “Rani” (1943), “Meghdoot” (1945), “Arabian Nights” (1946), “Bindiya” (1946), “Krishan Leela” (1946), “Faisla” (with Anupam Ghatak, 1947), “Gribala” (1947), “Iran Ki Ek Raat” (1949), “Phulwari” (1951) and many more.
Besides composition, Kamal Das' contribution to music came in other areas also. He undertook an extensive research work on Meera Bai, the composer and singer of bhajans. He was duly awarded a Doctorate in Music in 1943 by the Benaras Hindu University. His unique contribution to music was his innovative shorthand method for noting swaralipi (notations).
Kamal Das, along with his family, moved to Dhaka from Kolkata in 1967. At the age of 62 he passed away (in 1974).
For the genius that was Kamal Das Gupta, little has been done to preserve his masterpiece works. “For want of a sponsor, a colossal number of 78 RPM records composed by Kamal Das Gupta are gathering dust and dying a painful death,” said Feroza Begum.
It is only apt that while celebrating his birth centenary, we rethink, as a nation, how we can best preserve his contributions and witness a reincarnation of his priceless work. His was a voice of renaissance in the music realm that was undivided India once. It is that legacy which needs to be preserved, for now and for the times to come.
Sadya Afreen Mallick, Nazrul Sangeet exponent, is Editor, Arts & Entertainment, The Daily Star