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Dr. Bhupen Hazarika: The Bard of Brahmaputra

Bhupen Hazarika

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika is a household name in the Northeastern state of Assam. Also known as the ‘Bard of Brahmaputra’, Dr. Hazarika was a multifarious genius. He was known to be an outstanding poet, music composer, singer, actor, author and film-maker, who contributed not just to his native state but to the greater Indian cinema, literature and music as well.

Dr. Hazarika is referred to as Bhupen ‘Da’, generally used to address an elder brother or to show respect to someone in Assam. Bhupen Da was born on 8th September, 1926 in Sadiya, a small town in the Tinsukia district of Assam. He was born to Neelkanta Hazarika, a teacher and his wife Shantipriya Hazarika. Bhupen Da completed his higher education from Cotton College, Guwahati and then went to Banaras Hindu University where he pursued B.A. and M.A. in Political Science. Then he left for New York, USA where he lived for five years and received his doctorate degree in Mass Communication from Columbia University. He studied the use of educational project development through cinema.

Bhupen Da was responsible for placing the nurturing Assamese cinema all over India and also on the world cinema map. He propagated for a better cinema movement and has integrated all the Northeastern states, including the tribal culture and traditions through the medium of cinema. His songs, written and sung mainly in the Assamese language, have been translated in many languages, mostly in Bengali and Hindi.

His songs, based on the themes of communal peace, justice and sympathy, became popular not just among the people of Assam, but were also as loved and celebrated in West Bengal and Bangladesh. His crisp baritone balladic voice and flawless diction coupled with the theme of universal brotherhood as well as love made his songs immortal. He is also accredited to have introduced and popularised the culture and Assamese folk music to the larger Indian audience. Bhupen Da is said to be one of the only forces in India who was a true exponent of national integration, expressed wonderfully through a variety of media. He penned down more than a thousand lyrics and more than fifteen major books on short stories, essays, travelogues, poems and children’s rhymes.

Bhupen Hazarika began his career in films as a child actor in the film “Indramalati” (1939). He wrote and sang his first song at the age of 10 after which there has been no looking back. He has produced, directed, composed songs and also featured on the tracks for numerous regional as well as mainstream films. He had produced, directed and composed music for Arunachal Pradesh’s first Hindi feature film in colour – “Mera Dharam Meri Maa” in 1977. He directed a colour documentary for the Arunachal Pradesh Government on Tribal folk songs and dances entitled “For Whom the Sun Shines” in 1974.  Ek Pal (1986), Rudaali (1993) and Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence (2001) are some of the major Hindi films Hazarika made.

In 2001, Bhupen Hazarika was conferred upon Padma Bhushan by the Government of India for his contribution to music. In 1992, he received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award for his imminent contribution to the world of cinema. He has also been conferred with ‘Sangeet Natak Academy Ratna’ award. He has also been awarded with ‘Assam Ratna’ by the Government of Assam for his contribution towards building bridges of culture and unity in India and abroad. In the year 1977, Bhupen Hazarika has also won the National Award for the best music composer in India in acknowledgment for his work in Assamese movie, Chameli and also the Padmashree for his outstanding contribution to the field of culture in India. In February 2009, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) honoured him by erecting his life size statue in the heart of the city of Guwahati. The statue was unveiled by Bhupen Da himself.

Bhupen Da died on 5 November 2011 due to multi-organ failure. His body was cremated near the Brahmaputra River in a plot of land donated by Guwahati University. His funeral is said to have been attended by half a million people. Later a well-wisher commented, “It seems only yesterday that lakhs and lakhs of people queued up patiently to have a last glimpse of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s body at Judge’s Field in Guwahati. It was a scene never seen in Assam before, and it is doubtful if anyone else’s death would elicit such unprecedented level of public mourning.”

Earlier this March, Kalpana Lajmi (Indian film director, producer and screenwriter) confirmed that a biopic on late Bhupen Hazarika’s life is currently on the cards, and that she will be writing the film. She stated that this biopic will not be filled with myths or assumptions. She also mentioned that it is impossible to encompass the entire journey of Hazarika and the makers will only concentrate on certain important aspects.

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