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     Volume 8 Issue 87 | September 18, 2009 |

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Shah Abdul Karim Photo: Nasir Ali Mamun


Recording a Folk Marvel's Life and Work

Ekram Kabir

Movies can fire your imagination and take you closer to one of those characters present in that picture. In movies, there is a lot of room to blend your imagination with the story you are depicting. On the other hand, documentaries are often more intense because they are representing truth without any embellishment. One needs to follow and understand one's subject for a long time to complete a documentary. One can of course add aesthetic aspects to it when the long visual research is over. The difference between a movie and a documentary is, perhaps, that movies to a great extent are emotional entertainment and documentaries are pure knowledge. But a documentary can also attain the stature of a movie when the subject is larger-than-life.

So was the life of Bangladesh's folk marvel Shah Abdul Karim who passed away this month. He was such a legendary personality that a documentary on him could be evaluated with the value of a motion picture.

Perhaps, film director Shakoor Majid realised this quite some time ago when he started making his documentary on folk legend Karim. Majid called it "Bhatir Purush". "Bhatir Purush" features the life and music of this unforgettable folk singer in different phases.

Majid started working on it in 2002. And then it took him seven years and several visits to Karim's residence to complete the documentary.

The documentary starts with the description of a boy named Abdul Karim born in a bhati [low land] area in Sunamganj of Sylhet almost a hundred years ago. Karim's parents could not afford to send him to school. But the boy had started to learn from his surroundings - water, boats, nature and people and in course of time, the boy turned himself into a living legend named Shah Abdul Karim.

Shah Abdul Karim, doesn't need any introduction. He was born in 1916 in Ujan Dhol village in Sunamganj. He grew up with poverty and hardship; started expressing his thoughts and emotions through music from a very early age. He began with the ektara. He could make the people in and around his village spell-bound with his music. He faced obstacles from society but that did not stop him from becoming a great singer with the ability to write songs, compose and sing them. Karim has written and composed over 1500 songs. His published books are: Aftab Sangeet, Gano Sangeet, Kalnir Dheu, Dholmela, Bhatir Chithi and Kalnir Kooley. Bangla Academy has translated some of his songs into English.

Majid's documentary is full of Karim's songs sung by the legend himself, his passionate disciples as well as by the modern-day singers who have popularised the songs to Bangladeshis as well as Bangla-speaking people living across the world.

It's quite interesting how Majid has organised his sequences in the documentary. He spoke to Karim, listened to the story of his life, how Karim started singing. Majid also spoke to his direct disciples. He has placed the songs sung by many singers in between the short interviews. The audience would also understand how his tunes were modernised by a group of young urban singers who, in effect, made Karim's songs popular among the urbanites. Majid also recorded Habib Waheed's concerts and accommodated some clips of the songs in the documentary. He also made Sanjib Chowdhury sing the songs for this documentary.

A part of the documentary has featured former British envoy to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury's contribution in making Karim popular in Bangladesh and in the UK. Choudhury had always remained a great fan of Karim since his childhood, since he left Bangladesh for Britain at a very tender age.

Professor Mridul Kanti Chakrobarty of Dhaka University, however, has criticised the way the urban singers have changed the tunes of Karim's songs. Researching on Shah Abdul Karim for a long time, Chakrobarty said this on record that the changes were not acceptable to him. Karim, while talking to Majid in the documentary, didn't seem to mind. He was, rather, grateful to those who have popularised his songs. Karim's songs sung by Indian singer Kalika Prasad Bhattachrjee has also found a place in the documentary.

The maker of this documentary spoke to Karim's disciples, experts doing research on him as well as singers who helped spread Karim's name across the world. So, the documentary is quite diversified. Majid seems to have tried to show the entire picture of Karim's musical impact on musicians and music lovers.

Majid has done an incredible work by tracking Karim's life and work. The extent of Majid's achievement was realised on the day Karim passed away. Almost all the TV channels had used footage from “Bhatir Purush”. At least six newsrooms in Dhaka had broadcast Majid's comments on the legendary singer. By making the documentary, Majid has become some sort of expert biographer on Karim.

Majid has planned to create an English version of the documentary. He plans to call it “Saint of Water”. The English documentary is not going to be a copy of the Bangla one, but he is in the process of writing an entire new script for portraying Shah Abdul Karim.

Photo courtesy: Shakoor Majid


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