Soumitra Chatterjee has been so many things and has played so many roles in his long career that to pin him down and look for an easy definition can only be counter-productive. And perhaps pointless! Actors are complicated people, oddly conflicted as only people whose profession is to pretend to be other people can be. Moreover, Soumitra has always chafed at being pigeonholed in any strict category. He never settled into a comfortable groove as an actor, and refused to let acting come in the way of his other pursuits. In fact, sixty years into a celebrated career on screen, he is now enthused most about his projects in theatre, his poetry and his painting. Soumitra has always been a private person, even though paradoxically enough, he can be very outspoken and frank when he wants to. He can be the quintessentially refined and well-educated intellectual, or he will caustically tell you that there have been few people in the industry as foul-mouthed as him. It is possible that he switches through personas from his repertoire in real life like a skilled actor can from role to role. It is more probable that they are different facets of a complex nature.
Soumitra has written and spoken at length about his views on not just his craft, but on all the varied subjects that he is passionate about. Sometimes, there are glimpses into his personal life, but they are elusive and always aware of the fine line between what is private and what is fit for public consumption. He is a careful man that way, but it also has to do with deep-rooted insecurities that go back a long way to his childhood. He says that as an actor he is used to expressing himself through different personas and voices. He has always found it difficult to speak about his own experiences in his own voice. In this, he is not unusual. An actor has to contend with the fact that everyone knows not him but the roles he has played. There are many celebrated cases of actors who have never quite come to terms with this.
He had a happy childhood in Krishnanagar, but there were unexpected anxieties. He remembers how his relatives did not think much about the way he looked. There are pictures of him that are less than flattering. He grew up thinking that he was not particularly good-looking. This made him self-conscious which he tried to cover up with a lively boisterousness. It hid a sensitivity that made it difficult for him to express his true self to the world.
His family was involved with the local theatre scene and he started acting in the natural course of things. It would become a proper vocation much later in Calcutta under the tutelage of Sisir Kumar Bhaduri. Yet even in his boyhood forays he won praise and a fair bit of local renown. This became a very liberating experience for him, allowing him to mask his insecurities by freely becoming someone else. This preference for a mask or person as a mediator between his intensely shy self and the public at large has continued for the rest of his life. Even decades later, he still does not believe in autobiographies. He doubts whether anyone would want to know anything about his life, or even whether it is possible to really encapsulate a person in his complicated totality in a book. Above all, he wonders whether it would matter. He would rather be known by his work. Yet the unusual trajectory of his career and his choices as an artist have perhaps revealed more about the kind of person he is than a full-length expository tract on his personal life could ever have.
It is not as if he wants his life to be shrouded in mystery. If you ask anyone who has interviewed him over the years, they will tell you that he can be quite forthcoming. His passionate nature can quite often be fiery. He has no qualms about telling you about the time he punched Ritwik Ghatak in the face. Apparently, it was during the turbulent years in the late 1970s when the industry was going through a crisis, and there was a meeting called between all the stakeholders to resolve the issue. Soumitra says Ritwik who had a foul-mouth was keeping up a steady stream of insults directed at Satyajit Ray who was not present. Soumitra understood that he was trying to rile him up. It was definitely annoying but he did not respond because he did not think someone like Ray needed anyone to defend him. Eventually Ritwik, failing to draw blood with his taunts at Ray, directed a few snarky comments at Soumitra who refused to take it lying down. He caught him by the collar, felled him with a punch and told him off in no uncertain terms:‘You’re not dealing with a mild-mannered bhadrolok here,’ he remembers saying.
However, this has never stopped him from freely acknowledging Ritwik’s massive talent. He regrets never having had the opportunity to work with him. He had come very close, and was even supposed to meet him, but Ritwik turned up very late and drunk. Soumitra did not like that. He had been schooled in the hard school of professionalism by Ray, and he was not likely to make any exceptions for anybody.
Yet when it came to his mentors, Sisir Kumar and Ray, he was always the attentive and humble student. In fact, it is his dedicated loyalty to his mentors that is perhaps the most representative feature of his character. He is the quintessential company man, if by company one means the people he looked up to for intellectual and artistic guidance. He has written at length about the various technical accomplishments of Sisir Kumar as an actor and his massive contribution to Bengali theatre. He tirelessly defends him against what he thinks is ignorant or misplaced criticism. He met Sisir Kumar when the legend was at the end of his career. There was a significant difference between their ages. There was not enough time for them to forge a long and intimate relationship. Sisir Kumar remained a distant god he adored and from whom he learnt the foundations of his craft.
He is perhaps too close to the works of Ray (having acted in most of his films) to write about him in the same manner but in his The Master and I, he has written fondly about his time spent with the master. The fact that Ray acted the role of a surrogate parent in his life is probably a pretty easy deduction to make. Ray chose him, moulded him, and set him off upon his career. He was a paternal figure responsible for the beginning of his new life as a film actor. Furthermore, he kept a watchful eye on him all his life. Soumitra ascribes everything he knows about films to him. Even when he resumed theatre in earnest, Ray was there with his honest and helpful critiques. And like a true father figure, he would take him to task as well. Once when they were shooting Devi, Ray in an irritable mood discovered that Soumitra had not brought his dialogue sheets from the hotel. The location was more than a mile from the hotel, and Soumitra had already gone through costume and make-up. Ray peremptorily told him to go and get it. Humiliation comes easy to a young man, and Soumitra felt both hurt and angry. It was a knock on the head and as he later realised, a manifestation of Ray’s fondness for him too. Ray’s influence over the actor went beyond films, and he eventually became his guide in all matters of life, big and small. He was his family in a way no one in the industry has ever been. This is more than apparent in the manner he writes about him.
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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK
Amah and the Silk-Winged Pigeons
It is Lucknow of 1857. The forces of East India Company are about to unleash plunder on what was once the cultural capital of the kingdom of Awadh. But there is Amah, a member of the Rose Platoon, an elite corps of female military guards of African descent who have protected Lucknow’s royalty for generations. Her queen, Begum Hazrat Mahal, who is also of African descent, enlists Amah to be her eyes and ears and help fight the British takeover. What happens when the women decide to take on the English colonists who declare rule, what will be the ultimate price of the women’s loyalty to the royal family and to the place they’ve grown to love?
Winning in the Digital Age: Seven Building Blocks of a Successful Digital Transformation
This is a practical handbook for understanding and winning in the post-Covid digital age and becoming a 21st-century leader. For every enterprise and its leaders, the digital age is a roller-coaster ride with more than its fair share of thrills and spills. It presents them with great opportunities to leapfrog and grow. Achieving success is not easy in the digital age. It requires a complete overhaul of the business model, organisational design, and the mindsets of professionals. Such a large and complex change is not easy to manage, and enterprises often lose their way in their digital transformation attempts. There are compelling insights, practical examples, and answers to key questions on how enterprises can win in the digital age.
Perfect Parenting: How to raise happy and successful children
Some people think that there is only one perfect approach to parenting. But can one approach apply equally to individuals who think, feel and respond differently? Some people believe that parenting is simply about applying the lessons we learnt from our parents’ experience of raising us. But can we ignore the fact that times have changed and our children’s lives have been further complicated by pace, competitiveness, and social media? This book breaks the myth that parenting is not something to be learnt. Drawing heavily on his experience of working with thousands of parents and children, the author helps you unlearn set ways of thinking and learn a new approach to raising happy and successful children.
Sylvia: Distant Avuncular Ends
Cajetan Pereira is Bhaubaab (brother-sir) to the people of the village he’s made his home. Even as he searches for his ‘roots’ in Goa, Cajetan yearns for his childhood home in Tanzania, pouring that longing into the project of living near a baobab tree on soil that is his only for historical reasons. Into this strange idyll walks Sylvia, a young woman in search of a story. As they discover a past connection and explore ways to build that relationship, they bond over the common violence that shaped their trajectories, and an uncanny friendship with their one-time aspiring film-star neighbour. Over the course of the novel, Sylvia comes into kaleidoscopic focus.
How love transcends religious boundaries
Author Anuradha Kumar Jain talks about her debut novel ‘Written on the Wind’, set in pre-Partition Lahore.
Anuradha Kumar Jain describes Written on the Wind as a story of two women and the unexpected paths their lives take, the freedom struggle only acts as a backdrop. It is set in pre-Partition Lahore. Two strong women—Harjeet and Amiya—carve their paths amid the trials of life. Harjeet, who is from a well-respected landlord family of Punjab, is married to Gautam belonging to an equally prominent Khatri family of Lahore. Being deeply dissatisfied with her life, Harjeet enters into a passionate affair with a Muslim man named Haider. Amiya, who is born out of wedlock to a British army officer and a Brahmin girl, is married at the age of 19 to a clerk at the postal department in Lahore Ishwar Chand. We get an insight into her troubled marriage, her struggle to achieve financial independence and how she becomes a published writer. Along the way, Amiya develops an unlikely friendship with Gautam. It chronicles the choice she must make, and the secret she must live with and you have to read the book to know that.
On what influenced her to pen down Written on the Wind, Anuradha says, “Both my parents were refugees from Pakistan and my growing years were filled with stories about the land and the lives they had left behind. Those were narratives of loss but also of love and humour and family gossip and I found in myself a desire to document them before they were lost forever. So, this book was born.”
While researching for Written on the Wind (published by Rupa Publications) she went through several texts about Partition and freedom struggle which made her better understand the struggle and sacrifice that went into India achieving independence. “A lot of research went into the book as I wanted the historical facts to be as factually accurate as possible. I read a lot about the partition and freedom struggle. It was humbling to realise how much struggle and sacrifice went into getting the country freedom,” highlights Anuradha.
Commenting on Harjeet and Haider’s relationship against the backdrop of the growing Hindu-Muslim divide, she says, “I picked this relationship between a Hindu and a Muslim to show that love is a stronger force than hatred and transcends the boundaries of religion and caste.”
Sharing a glimpse of how Amiya becomes a published writer, Anuradha explains, “Amiya writing journey begins as an unnamed translator for children’s stories, from there she graduates to writing short stories and poems under her own name. Her work is good and is soon noticed and gradually she gets published in all the major magazines and newspapers of Lahore. She meets Gautam at a Mushaira, where she is invited to read a poem.”
And from there unlikely friendship blossoms. She told us that the wind in this book signifies destiny or Karma or Kismet—an unknown force that controls our lives, our past, present, and future. The title Written on the Wind reiterates that some things in life are just meant to be and that there is a definitive purpose to the paths our lives eventually take.
WHEN GANDHI TRIED BECOMING AN ENGLISH GENTLEMAN
From his fascination with British apparel to enrolling in a Western dance and music classes, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi—during his stay as a student in England—did everything to be a part of English society.
On 6 November 1888, that is, a little over five weeks after reaching London, I formally applied for admission to The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple as ‘Mohandass Karamchand Gandhi, aged 19, the youngest son of Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi, deceased, of Porbandar, India.’
Three days later I wrote to my brother informing him of my application and asking him why his weekly letters to me had slowed down. If I do not get letters every week, I feel very worried, I wrote, and urged him to please drop a postcard every week. I said the cold was now very bitter but I felt no need for meat or liquor, which fact filled my heart with joy and thankfulness.
A month later I penned the draft of a letter to Mr Lely telling him of my having joined the Inner Temple and asking him for a grant of 400 pounds as the 666 pounds that my brother had raised for me would not suffice for my needs. And I sent it to my brother asking him to hand it in person to the agent. I also wrote on similar lines to Colonel Watson, who had given me a letter of commendation. Telling him that I had comfortably settled and had fairly begun my studies, I said life in England was very expensive and asked him also for some substantial help to prosecute my studies.
Getting the right food had become an issue for me, a big issue. Vegetables cooked without spices or salt I could not abide. What could the landlady cook by way of my needs? The morning’s daily fare of oatmeal porridge did fill me up somewhat but by the afternoon and evening I would be famished. The friend would try every day to persuade me to give up my no-meat restriction. I would cite the vow and say nothing more. For lunch I would subsist on bread with marmalade and a green vegetable slop. The same or similar would comprise dinner. I could see that of the bread I was expected to take no more than two or three slices. To ask for any more would be unseemly and embarrassing. Now I was used to eating heartily. My appetite was robust and demanding. There was no milk to be had at lunch or dinner time. Seeing my predicament, he one day asked me: ‘When back home you had no need to eat meat you tell me you did eat it; now when you really need to do so, you are starving yourself. How strange!’
Dr Mehta and Bhai Dalpatram Shukla had me move shortly thereafter to new lodgings in the West Kensington home of an Anglo-Indian widow. She was apprised of my dietary quirks and was very understanding. But the hunger pangs stayed! The landlady had two daughters. They would urge me at table to ‘take a bit more of the bread’. Little did they know that what my growling stomach really wanted was the whole loaf. A wandering hunt for a vegetarian eating place started then in right earnest. My landlady said she knew such places did exist in London, but was not sure where they were. I would walk some ten to twelve miles looking for them, and fill my stomach with bread bought at some poor eating house. ‘Send me some mashala and fine-ground saalam,’ I wrote home, ‘in tin-plated lightweight containers.’9 One day my wandering feet reached Farrington Street and lo! there it was, a sign that said ‘Vegetarian Restaurant’. I was as a child that had found its heart’s desire. Buying a book called A Plea for Vegetarianism by Henry Salt for one shilling, I walked into the precincts to sit down for what was my first proper meal in England. God had saved me from hunger at last.
Honouring the word given to my mother was now not a matter of stern vow-keeping alone. It acquired the grace and fullness of joy.
What remained now was becoming an English gentleman.
I had brought ‘Western’ clothes with me but a Bombay cut is only a Bombay cut. That would not do in English society. And so I went to the Army and Navy Stores where a chimney hat to be sat on my head was bought for nineteen shillings. And then on to Bond Street, no less, where the elite had their clothes tailored. There, putting a hissing matchstick on full ten pounds, I got myself an evening suit. And as if this was not enough, I wrote to my brother to send to me a chain that would hold a pocket watch. My brother’s innocent and princely nature moved to do so at once and a heavy chain of pure gold arrived at this fop’s doorstep from home. It was long enough to work its way into not just the one pocket on the three-piece’s jacket, but two.
This was about appearances. What of culture? A cultured man about town must know to dance. He should be able to speak French, the lingua franca of all of Europe—which I wanted to tour. And he should be able to give a speech, fluently. So, I enrolled in a dance class. The first term cost three pounds. Over some three weeks, I took about six lessons. But the feet would not follow the beat. The piano would sing but I could not follow what it wanted me to follow. ‘One, two, three,’ it said, but at its own pace which was not mine. And so, what was I to do? A cat, says the proverb, must be got to catch the rat. I added to the accoutrements of culture. I started to learn to play the violin just so that I could get a sense of notes and beats. Three pounds went into the purchase of a violin and some more on its learning.
To learn the art of elocution, I went in search of my third teacher in gentlemanship. He cost me a guinea. I bought and started to read Bell’s Standard Elocutionist. It was when reading it that a ‘bell’ rang in my mind’s ears. Was I going to spend the rest of my life in England? How was my dance-learning going to help me back home? The violin I can learn to play when I return. I am here as a student. I should acquire but one asset: learning. I wrote to my elocution and dance teachers of my thinking. I took my violin to my violin teacher. She was most understanding. She said she would try to sell the violin for whatever value it fetched. She and I had got to know each other and so I told her of my realization that learning dance and music was a kind of delusion with me. She understood and appreciated what I said. The desire to be a gentleman had held me in its grip for some three months. The fascination with apparel lasted much longer. But I had at last become a student in London.
BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK
Raj & Norah: A True Story of Love Lost and Found in World War II
Peter R. Kohli and Shaina Kohli Russo
When World War II broke out, Rajendra Kohli was studying chemistry at a college in England but soon he decided to join the army. After he was severely injured and sent to Naples for treatment where he met Norah Elizabeth Eggleton, a nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. It was love at first sight, and in each other’s company, they forgot the devastation that surrounded them. Later, Raj was sent to London, Norah was posted to a hospital in Rome. Would they ever see each other again? This book is a thrilling account of love found, lost and reclaimed in the midst of war and how they battle against their circumstances.
India Today; India Tomorrow: Where we are headed and how we will get there
Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda
India was marching ahead to become a significant power on the world stage. But then Covid-19 struck, leaving the country reeling under its catastrophic impact. While it gives the pandemic a good fight, India mustn’t lose vision of the future that its leadership had envisaged for it. How indeed does the India of tomorrow look like? And how do we get there, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic? This book offers a navigation plan from India today to India tomorrow in the voices of the very people holding the reigns to the future. India has an arduous road ahead of it. What it needs to do is to not lose sight of the goalpost and have a strategic approach.
Dwandv: The Battle for the Gate
The book, Dwandv: The Battle for the Gate, by Dinkar Goswami, is a compelling story of an American yogini Gerua set upon a challenging odyssey in the Himalayas. Chosen to find a secret gateway for humanity’s survival, she escapes treachery, hardship and loss as she races against time. Dotted with elements of history, yoga, technology and the cosmos, the powerful new book was recently launched. Written against the backdrop of misuse of the mightiest cosmic powers, called siddhi, and longing for absolute attainment of the rare Vital Knowledge, ‘Dwandv’ is built upon three mysterious revelations: a prophecy, a warning and a condition.
Mint Your Money: An Easy Manual to Unlocking Your Wealth-Creating Potential
A global economic slump, a shocking pandemic and a teetering job market underline, more powerfully than ever, the need to smartly manage your finances. In this personal finance guide, seasoned value investor Pranjal Kamra discusses focused and practical ways of not just managing but growing your money. Whether you’ve just started working or are already retired, whether you’re raking in money or barely getting by, you can (and need to) secure your financial future. With a firm focus on empowering the individuals, Pranjal demystifies investment, debt, tax and insurance, showing you how to make it all work for you. Intelligent and intelligible, this book is tailored to Indian needs and the finance environment so you can successfully grow your hard-earned money.
Leadership lessons from a pandemic
It is no secret that businesses went through a hard time during the unprecedented crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. But as the vaccines bring hope in 2021 and companies begin to regain their balance, there is much to learn from what top industry leaders did to stay afloat during the lockdown and handle the challenge. With inspiring case studies outlining the importance of lessons like rising above self-interest during a global crisis and being open to failures, Disha Chhabra has put together Inflection Point, a book which has won high praise from several leading members of the corporate world and which can serve as a guiding light for the entrepreneurs of today and tomorrow.
In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, the author spoke of what motivated her to write the book and how the process unfolded. Excerpts:
Q: What led you to write Inflection Point during the pandemic?
A: In April 2020, I was perplexed by how the pandemic was changing our lives and habits. The way we lived, ate, worked, played was all altered. The resulting lockdowns of countries had brought national economies to a standstill. Salary and job cuts are happening throughout the world. ‘Lives versus livelihood’ was a constant debate. No one living in these times has experienced a crisis that can be remotely equated to this one, and things were still unfolding.
Covid-19 had also impacted every sphere of the corporate world. I was curious about the different challenges leaders across industries were facing, how they were thinking and organizing themselves through this. Which of these challenges were common and which of these were unique? Which leadership and business lessons from this crisis will be taught as crisis management case studies in B-schools? Which of these lessons will be permanent armours for future leaders? And does the learning differ depending on which side of the revenue curve a company finds itself? Does leadership need to be reactive? All of this led me to think about Inflection Point during this period.
Q: How was the process of interviewing such a varied group of leaders? Any favourite instances which stand out?
A: It was quite a humbling experience, to be honest. I had imagined it difficult to get a spot on their calendars. In times when your servers are crashing or your inventory is stuck, where would you find the motivation to talk to an author? But nevertheless, I found people very approachable. When they learnt that my intention behind writing the book was to capture their leadership lessons for a wider audience, they made themselves available for all my research. And the best part was that they were extremely candid in these conversations. I felt they shared their hearts out.
While all the interviews were extremely engaging and taught me so much, I would say interviewing Anil Rajput, Sr Vice President, Corporate Affairs, ITC, was very special. A person of his stature, with more than four decades of experience, was extremely down-to-earth, honest and willing to share anecdotes from this crisis and comparing it with the other crises that ITC has seen during its long existence.
Q: Were there any challenges you faced while working on this book?
A: A book is a long journey and there are times when one feels like giving up. I had to deal with my own challenges. While working from home, with no house help for a long time, finding the time to do this was sometimes a challenge. I spent many nights on the manuscript and mornings at work. What kept me going was a constant reminder of why I wanted people to read such a book. When I saw what potential the book had, in terms of leadership lessons for a lifetime, it kept me going.
Q: What are the biggest lessons that a reader can take away from the accounts in the book?
A: The leadership in this crisis was all about the human spirit and leading with compassion. As one of the leaders said, “When crises like these happen, one does not think of top and bottom lines.”
Q: Is there a particular business leader—whether a part of this book or not—who has been an inspiration for you, personally?
A: Leaders who inspire me personally are those who stand by their people, build businesses for the greater good and also have a passion for bringing social change through their work. Being a corporate professional for more than 14 years now, I have had the opportunity to meet many such leaders who became my mentors, idols and coaches. Some taught me the hard skills at work and others led by compassion. One learns so much through the journey of these individuals. In that sense, it is hard and unfair to pick one name.
HOW PANCHAM PUSHED LOUIZ BANKS INTO BOLLYWOOD
Music maestro R.D. Burman played a key role in kickstarting the Bollywood journey of Louiz Banks, who later became the godfather of Indian jazz.
From the comfort of Blue Fox in Calcutta, to the country’s commercial capital by the Arabian Sea, the journey was a huge leap into the unknown. Bombay was a much bigger city and leaving a steady job overnight always carries a certain sense of insecurity. Louiz was lucky in two aspects. First, Ganga, his sister, had a rented flat in Nirmala Colony, Bombay where he could put up. And second, there was R.D. Burman’s assurance that the doors of his studio would always be open for him. However, the sudden closure of a life of contentment in Calcutta marked for Louiz a fresh beginning to something promising. Unlike most beginners, it was not a tale of an incognito struggling to get a toehold there. Just a day after he moved to Bombay, he landed straight in the recording room of Film Centre. The scopes and premises of music-making in Bombay differed vastly from what it was in Park Street. Louiz had had just a week’s experience when he had come there a year before, but at the time he had no clue he would be resuming his career there so soon.
Louiz had hardly any idea of the mammoth dimension of Hindi films and film music in the psyche of average Indians. One wonders whether cinema is an extension of Indian psyche or the other way round. Every average Indian has felt, at a certain point in their adolescent years, that they would like to be part of the dreams ferried in celluloid. They glorify the struggle that they see in their heroes of the screen and pass away their youth in vicarious wish-fulfilment. The victory of the hero over all odds assumes such a pyrrhic proportion to the countless fans that they can afford to smile even in the direst inadequacies of life.
So deep and probing is the reach of Hindi films in the sensibility of youth, that Bombay itself seems to be the gateway of dreams for the legions. Music is, in fact, the bedrock of Hindi films. There are thousands of technicians, like tunesmiths, whose works get relayed from one hand to the other. Finally, they take the shape of a glittering music piece. Hindi films are eloquent not just with dialogues but also with songs. So, when a wayward youth jostles through the screaming, vulgar train passengers on his way back home, a Kishore Kumar song keeps him absorbed in his own world. Or when an adolescent eyes his lady love while walking under her balcony, he sings another tune. Happiness in the family is ushered in with a song, a beggar sings out the pangs of his life, friends swear their companionship with a song, a loner rambles fostering a song in his heart and a song begins to float when hope resurfaces. Film songs are like the essential breath, the ultimate raconteur of dreams and despair, an identity of Indianness and a parallel lifeline of one’s being.
From the auspices of jazz music into this elaborate paraphernalia of music-making in the Hindi film industry, it was a massive paradigm shift for Louiz. The hysteria and frenzy associated with Hindi film songs can never be matched with any other genre of music. The process of music-making was elaborate. The songs were meant for the billions. On the contrary, jazz was always the music of the elite, food for the reflective and knowledgeable. It was primarily live improvised music, a marked departure from the recorded music of Hindi film songs. While jazz music is born on stage, recorded music is the finished product of many brains working together and the culmination of a lengthy procedure. Jazz is open to impromptu music, whereas Hindi film songs are a straitjacketed field of notes and bars—every single note is too sacrosanct for musicians to take any liberty. While jazz is the combined effort of primarily four or five minds, Hindi film music is the combination of hundreds where a pianist is just a small cog of a vast wheel. So, when Louiz chose to leave the seat of the bandleader and fit himself in one of the hundreds of musicians, it was undoubtedly a metamorphosis of his career. Taking a leave from the cloistered music circle, he jumped into the bandwagon of popular music. He welcomed another change in his life, a change of which he was not certain.
Jazz musicians were lucrative properties among the music directors for they could write and understand staff notations. Hindi movies had offered the scope for earning their bread and butter to quite a few jazz players. Jazz had not exactly been a domain known for minting money. Louiz followed the illustrious footsteps of the legendary jazz trumpeter Chic Chocolate who was a nightclub music performer and had been inducted to the Hindi film industry. Chic Chocolate, introduced by music director C. Ramchandra in Hindi film songs, was hailed to be one of the pioneers of bringing elements of jazz to Bollywood songs. Many other jazz musicians had since had sporadic stints in Hindi film industry. Louiz’s connection with Hindi films turned out to be an abiding one, and one that would cover a significant phase of his life.
Hindi film songs are woven out of interconnected notes in a well-thought-out pattern conceived by music directors and their arrangers. Individual players hardly have any freedom in that preconceived pattern. Moreover, a jazz standard runs for any length of time, whereas, the span of a film song barely crosses a duration of five to six minutes until, somewhat of a maverick and genius, R.D. Burman broke all the barriers. Like an iconoclast, he set his own parameters and definition of music-making in Hindi films. He not only composed songs of unusually longer lengths, but he was also instrumental in bringing many changes to the traditional concepts of Hindi film music. Other composers at the time were pretty complacent and did not cross beyond the known peripheries in order to pander to the popular taste. But Burman was ever experimental and set new dimensions in music for listeners. For him, music-making was an extension of his own aesthetics. He was more of an apostate, a free-thinking spirit looking to set new grounds for the future. From the innovative use of western instruments to various experimentations with sound, only R.D. Burman could break the set parameters with his free-thinking spirit and zest to explore the unknown. R.D was a jazz enthusiast. Introduced to this genre of music by his friend and musician Kersi Lord, he was largely influenced by the jazz greats and had tried to experiment with the tenets of jazz in his compositions. His team of musicians were key to implementing these experimental thoughts and ideas. When he had listened to Louiz’s music in Blue Fox, he had spotted a quintessential member in his armoury. There were pianists galore in the Bombay film industry but Burman had discovered a rare spark in the talent of Louiz. He could foresee an untapped potential in the young man’s piano-playing. The feel, the technique of playing chords and the instinct to sound different from the rest marked Louiz apart. On top of this, his jazz background helped him play in a manner which had never been witnessed before in anyone else’s technique. It was no wonder when Burman welcomed him the day Louiz decided to close the Calcutta chapter of his life. For Louiz, as he always believed himself to be one of the choicest recipients of divine intervention, it was another beginning. He found his ‘godfather’, R.D. Burman.
Excerpt from the book ‘Louiz Banks: A Symphony of Love’ (published by Rupa Publications)
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