Probashi Bangalis or NRBs( Non resident Bengalis) belong to the ‘Hochchhe’ club. Hochchhe being the direct translation of ‘Hai’ in Hindi, their language of upbringing. Throughout the year, the cosmopolitan Bengali surname holder doesn’t need to use his Bongness (unless involved in heated cultural or intellectual debates) to get by. But all that changes during Durga Puja.
Mumbai has the Mukherjee barir pujo, Abhijeet’s Lokhandwala spectacle, the DN Nagar committee Durga Puja etc, where Bollywood tries to get on the pulse train to Kolkata. Draped in tradition, devotion and Bongness.
The quintessential Bengali connect to the film fraternity can also boil down to the bhog serving at these celebrity-garnished pandals. From Bappi Lahiri to Anurag Basu to Kajol to Pritam, the Bengali fraternity rolls up its Panjabi sleeves to smack down dollops of khichudi and labraar torkaari to devotees and eager instagramers.
The frenzy thereafter goes into overdrive as flavours-of-the-season belt out chartbusters to non-stop orchestral accompaniment, assuming that the idol, which has painstakingly heard every prayer through umpteen anjalis over the days, is indifferent to Munnis, Sheilas and Tinku Jias. Of course, the non-Bong performer like Mika Singh for example, doesn’t forget to throw in his Tolly-connect song like “It’s a 100% Love” to make himself relevant to the Devi bhakts. I’m sure Honey Singh is next.
But this isn’t new.
At the height of their stardom, Bengali audiences in Calcutta have lapped up the distorted pronunciations of Mukesh and Rafi crooning their Bong discographies, and have gone into hysterical peals of adulation everytime the son-in-law of Bengal boomed “Ami Banglar Jamai” in his famous baritone.
Back in Kolkata, Bollywood’s Durga Puja connect has trickled down to satellite channels live reporting celebrity-counts in the western suburbian hub.
But it wasn’t always like this.
Bengali filmmakers past and present have used the Durga Puja as a unique motif that brings together emotions of homecoming, celebration, music, dance and visarjan in one frame. Guru Dutt’s unmade Gauri (to launch his wife Geeta Dutt) was written around the Durga Puja and the immersion of the idol. Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee have used the Puja motif time and again as did Shakti Samanta. From the melancholy in Sharmila Tagore’s eyes, reflective of the world she is sacrificed into, in the opening song of Amar Prem, to the fun dhaaki-duel at a puja pandal in Darjeeling, where the hero triumphs over the villain in Barsaat ki Ek Raat. Where else would one get to see Amitabh Bachchan do a dhaaki dance that would shame all these rhythm groovers in neon pubs of today than at the place of worship?
Over the years, Bollywood has embraced the festivity with Sanjay Dutt’s dhunuchi dance in Parineeta, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s light and costume extravaganza Devdas, Sujoy Ghosh’s tension-topped climax in Kahaani and now Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday too reportedly has an elaborate Durga Puja sequence. It’s almost as if Calcutta and Durga Puja are synonymous. And why not?
But beyond merely the showcasing of a city’s glory in five days, the Sharodiya season (Sharodiya is a derivative term from Shorot or Autumn) had an even greater significance in the Hindi cinema’s fortunes in the pre-download era.
Diwali is the great spending season for North India and the corresponding season in the East has always been Durga Puja. And singers, musicians would always come out with their release of the year during this period. It is a practice that has transgressed into the concert-season for talent. And before incorporating songs in Hindi films, composers from the East like Salil Choudhury, the Burman father and son, Hemanta Mukherjee, Kishore Kumar et al would release their ‘Pujor Gaan’ LPs which would be testing waters for what was to come in the months ahead for the national audience. Not just Bengali stars, the Mangeshkar sisters too would consistently team up with composers, as would Mohd Rafi, and sing in Bengali. A trend that continues with the current crop of singers like Shaan, Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam, Babul etc. However the Pujor Gaan compositions post Kishore Kumar, haven’t transcended the language barrier and become national chartbusters. That is a fact we live with.
In the pre-Youtube era, where a song was sacrosanct in its exclusive published disc by the recording company, every melody, every written word that was to come out during the festive season went through rigorous rehearsals and sittings. Lyricists like Gouriprosonno Majumdar, Mukul Dutta, Shibdas Bondopadhyay and of course Meera Dev Burman, amongst others, penned the original, around which the maestros weaved the tunes. Once these songs made their mark, directors would sit at sittings with the Bengali composers and pick and choose.
In fact, there have been instances, especially with Pancham (RD Burman), when the transposed song has remained a forgotten gem and he has used it again like in Jaane Do Mujhe from Dil Padosi Hai after the stunning Nache Mera Pyaar qawwali from the flop film Yaar Meri Zindagi stayed obscure. A mere glance at some of the gems from the Durga Puja records that have become all time classics tells you the importance of the ‘Pujar Gaan’ category.
The treasure trove of such songs that continues to play on through dubious speaker systems lets the Bengali take that immersive dip in his/her favourite drug – nostalgia.
Durga Puja remains that one defining event that dresses up the Bong in you. The time of the year when the stitched-up-for-convenience dhoti pairs itself up with Fabindia colours and festive ringtones, and the backless blouse and big red bindi thumbs down commute and putrid weather to generate collective sighs and zillion likes and RTs, the era of melody thrives. The era when creative forces would come together to salute the goddess maybe behind us, but for us who continue to create in these trying times of free downloads and rising inflation, she continues to be the one force that gives our prayers a decent hearing.
Soumik Sen, is the director of the forthcoming Madhuri Dixit starrer Gulaab Gang
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