It is difficult to imagine a time when Kazi Nazrul Islam could have been locked away in a world of anonymity. Yet it is true that when he became involved in the anti-British movement, our National Poet who had given his heart and soul to a nation, came very close to such a situation.
Despite his rising popularity, the Gramophone Company of India was ready to turn down the chance to record any of his songs once his political activities came to light. However, when Nazrul's first record, a compilation rendered by reputed artiste Harendra Dutt, was sold out, he irrevocably stamped his presence on the cultural scene. The Gramophone Company could no longer overlook the mass hype, and he was soon asked to record songs for them.
The job offer was a heaven-sent opportunity. The association with the company marked an astonishing period of creativity. He also recorded for Senola, Pioneer, Regal and Twin.
The Gramophone Company better known as HMV provided a platform for talented lyrists, composers, trainers and singers. Once Nazrul joined the HMV as the chief trainer, it gave him the opportunity to work with a talented group of musicians of that period (1928-1932). It also provided an income he could use to continue the treatment of his son Bulbul, something that the meagre royalty from books could never provide.
Though best known as the “Rebel Poet”, Nazrul's ghazals were as masterful as they were works of delicate composition. In 1928, for the first time two of Nazrul's finest ghazals were recorded. Legendary singer Angur Bala sang “Eto jol o kajal chokhey” and “Bhuli kemoney”. The songs proved to be an instant success and brought Nazrul further into limelight. But his musical life truly flourished in the 1930's.
This was also the time of Talkies. Audiences were demanding songs between sequences in movies. Until then Bengali poets were composing songs for a very narrow segment of the audience. Now the record companies had to produce records for the masses. Nazrul took deep interest and worked tirelessly in directing and composing music for theatre and movies.
Romanticism was the dominant theme of this new musical trend. Nazrul directed the music in the film version of Tagore's famous novel “Gora”. He had also directed music for several classic films like “Dhrubo”, “Patalpuri”, “Shapurey”, “Bidyapati”, “Nandini”, “Chourangi”, “Dikshul”, “Chattagram Astragar Lunthan” and “Shri Shri Tarakeshwar”. Apart from composing an astounding 18 songs for Dhrubo, Nazrul also appeared in the role of “Narad” in the film.
Nazrul's yearning to be both original and creative was legendary. For one particular film, “Patalpuri”, based on the life of coal miners, Nazrul travelled all the way to Raniganj, his ancestral home, to get a better understanding of the theme and tunes atypical to the region. He lived with the local Santals for a week and returned with some Santal tunes on which he composed several songs in “Jhumur” form.
Nazrul also conducted radio programmes on All India Radio, Kolkata titled Haramoni, Nabarag Malika and Geeti Bichitra. In Haramoni, Nazrul presented songs based on classical melodies, which were fast fading out. In the programme Nabarag Malika, Nazrul is said to have developed 17 new ragas such as Nirjhorini, Udasi Bhairab, Arunranjani, Shiv Sharaswati, Asha Bhairavi, Benukuntala and more. He also created 6 new taals or rhythms. Renowned musician Jagat Ghatak who worked closely with Nazrul wrote on how Nazrul painstakingly worked on the new ragas well into the wee hours. Nazrul is said to have conducted 80 such programmes.
When Nazrul came to Dhaka to attend the first anniversary of the radio station in 1940, he conducted a programme titled Pubali. Among other artistes, Shuprobha Sarkar accompanied him. Speaking on Nazrul's spontaneity, Shuprobha said, “At Goalondo, we were waiting on the deck, when we saw a few women leap from one boat to another. I asked, 'Aren't they afraid?' To which Kazida (Nazrul) replied, 'They are from East Bengal, they are fearless.' While we were talking, a young bride looked at us for a few moments. Kazida instantly wrote a song and composed a beautiful tune -- “Purobo desher puro nari”.
This was classic Nazrul -- impulsive, inspired and tirelessly creative. It truly is difficult to visualise the world of our culture without Nazrul giving it such a sparkle.
Sadya Afreen Mallick, reputed Nazrul exponent,
is Editor, Arts & Entertainment, The Daily Star