“Baat niklegi to / phir door talak jaayegi( if a conversation has been set in motion / it will spread far and wide)” – goes the refrain of one of Jagjitji’s earliest hits that now is committed to longevity.
That, in a nutshell, is the eternal fragrance we associate with Jagjit Singh – a humble institution who changed the landscape of popular music, melding it with a polished, refined sensibility not far beyond our quotidian experiences, studied with the depth and grace of a true iconoclast rooted in that humility of the greats.
Yet, when we tell the story of a quintessential and pivotal figure of the subcontinent, we need to treat it as a prestige piece just for the vast legacy he has left behind; it needs to be free of a casual, simplified nonchalance. It needs to be grateful, accessible and enlightening for this present generation starved of good, powerful music ; his is the kind that communicates its cadences in silent bowels of human existence. KAAGAZ KI KASHTI does that. It’s not just a documentary for me but a mark of due respect for the voice of experience that we accord to senior prefects of our society. Jagjitji was that and much more.
It’s about the loss, tragedy of his wife Chitraji who took their joint partnership to great heights ala a Johnny Cash and June Carter. But the wounds of departure make her the haunting repository of a lonely life where the view at the top is solitary to the point of alienation. The two drew from each other undying strength yet a void had claimed them. The documentary also has some of the greatest artists assembling to give their sober worldviews about them including tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain, lyricist and poet par excellence Gulzarsaab, singers of the calibre of Pankaj Udhas, actress and family friend Ameesha Patel, rare photographs and videos of him and a lasting collection of vignettes from him throughout the course of his career and times. It leaves a lump in your throat but the decency, dignity of a life lingers. THE PAPER BOATS, YOU REALIZE, HAVE BEEN SET ON SEAS OF MEMORY TO LAST FOREVER.
Here are some of the greatest points I took away from the film.
** a portrait of his son.
He was a jolly fellow :
by the time I was born, as I now know, Jagjit and Chitra Singh were invincible and individualistic pioneers in their singular right, so even a young child was visibly struck by their deep, penetrating voices that entered the mind’s lair and prevailed with the softness of a lullaby and what can be defined as their ‘sobering influences’.
As I gained maturity, there was this unmistakable stamp of melancholy in his globally recognized baritone that I recognized as coming from some darker, deeper, contemplative space. No, it was no poetic affixation with a stereotype but a natural way of responding to the truth in his voice. Now I know that due to a family tragedy, that view is not entirely untrue but I am no one to talk about someone’s private moorings. It was in the music that the lumps in his throat were translated to stirring images. As a man of truth, his voice encapsulated multiple worlds without thumping chests or stating the obvious sans imagination.
What this documentary proved as a myth buster was that he wasn’t overtly earnest and inaccessible as I thought he must have been , you know a view of him as sober and dignified to the point of detachment from most of us who express ourselves brusquely sometimes. He was a jolly man as anyone from the state of Punjab is wont to be. He had his own wit which he employed as welcome interludes between his concert performances to lighten the mood, danced merrily with his closest associates, lit up the life of his introverted better half after her bitter first marriage dissolved in no time and embraced Monica, her daughter from that union, integrating her into his amiable fold like no other; even in his later years he extended his avuncular sweetness to his tour members on trips to global locations. His childlike glee and smile remains. Whatever the mood of his ghazals, he held family, friends and himself with a great affinity for community, with a positive outlook as ever. So witnessing him here in all his beauty is a sheer joy. After all, no one appearance maketh a man.
his music seemed to hold a due to the many landmarks of a full life :
as I watched the documentary, his bouquet of greatest hits corresponded most favorably with various situations in his life and that of him and his wife together. He has been survived by his wife and grandchildren now so the tenacity and maturity with which they were attuned to each other is enormous. Her loss in a life already marked by the untimely death of her only two children made me hark back to her solo song from the iconic Arth (1982) for which the duo composed a landmark musical score. That will be TU NAHI TO / ZINDAGI ME, AUR KYA KAMI RAHI ( if you are not here / then what have I been bereft of?)
Through this chronology of ups and downs, another classic from the same film, TUM ITNA JO MUSKURA RAHE HO( the way you have been smiling / what melancholy is it that you conceal) comes to mind. An interrogative stillness pervades the frames of these lives as they seem to anticipate events coming in the eye of a personal storm. Landmark songs that fill the narrative of the film, our lives in general and the life of these two great artists we have been privy to through their musical statements.
If this is the acme of non obtrusive companionship that doesn’t display itself but is beautiful in the mutual language of two intertwined souls then the song that perfects it is one of their most iconic, TUMKO DEKHA TO YE KHAYAAL AAYA / ZINDAGI DHOOP, TUM GHANA SAAYA ( as I looked at you, I thought / you are the shade to my life synonymous with noon heat). These ghazals only strengthened the credo of life imitating art and vice versa and being utterly respectful of individual selves caught in the maelstrom of fate and mutating circumstances.
perfume of sorrow :
Mahesh Bhatt, one of the most eloquent and erudite of personalities, is a wizard when it comes to spontaneously enhancing a narrative with words, be it in his films, interviews or articles. He uses this term ‘ perfume of sorrow’ to succinctly contextualize Jagjitji and his music. That goes a long way in grasping the central nuance of his body of work. Watch the documentary and its construction by Mr. Bhrahmanand, its director, to know what he means.
His son’s death :
one of the most heart breaking instances in the life of this illustrious couple is the death of son Vivek in a car accident that could have been averted by more civic sense on the roads of Bombay. I was dumbfounded that it could have never happened if not for that fateful night. A moment before or after or another route taken during the course of his journey home could have reversed the inevitable as we think. But who ever knew what lay in store for even two of the most respectable names who held no rancor for anybody or wronged anyone. Vivek was only twenty at the time of his tragic death.
The most haunting vignette is shared by one of Jagjitji’s young associates. While previewing an emotional song in the company of his kindred he suddenly started crying uncontrollably while singing, hours before the shattering news of his son’s death reached him. So much so that those in the gathering worried that he was seriously taken ill. As we say, a parent’s intuition reigns supreme. Jagjitji never fully recovered from this tragedy but clawed his way back valiantly to the musical arena to honour his craft. However, a mother’s heart was rendered obsolete and this event made an already reticent Chitraji retire altogether from music to never look back. I had heard about this untimely development in their life by my father and it made me ponder at the cruelty of fate meted out to the most unassuming of individuals. I still suffer pangs thinking about it. But then, it’s their tragedy and we have no right to impinge upon their space and this documentary never pries. The song by him CHITTHI NA KOI SANDES / JAANE WO KAUN SA DES JAHA TUM CHALE GAYE ( not a letter or message beckoned / what is the land you retired to) was a poignant summation of his private self merging with the public that has always sobbed and cried listening to his delivery and the power of his lyrics here.
the partnership of legendary proportions:
Chitraji and Jagjitji were individually and as an inimitable performing duo unforgettable, low key and had no frills attached personally. The recording industry has never witnessed the kind of staggering numbers this pair brought by dint of their lilting, meaningful melodies and number of cassettes and compact discs sold of their albums in a diverse country of millions. Each member of their fandom became acolytes of their refined craft and savored the worldview enshrined. However, the sweetest example of their joint, legendary partnership for me is YE TERA GHAR, YE MERA GHAR / YE GHAR BOHOT HASEEN HAI ( this home is yours and it is mine / it’s a beautiful home) signifying domestic bliss, the comfort of the other partner before self and an unified front. It symbolizes their extraordinary bond of years to me as it goes beyond mere words. It’s one of their songs that still holds pride of place at any prominent venue in audio.
three generations had been binded by his music :
One of the most pivotal moments in the film comes when a young member of the record company HMV that produced the pair’s corpus states that despite a vast gulf in musical tastes within his family, as soon as a Jagjit Singh song is played, three generations are binded in unity namely by virtue of his father, his son and himself. What more needs to be said? As a member/ inheritor of the legendary recording house /label, his confession is all the more impactful. It’s all in the family. As it is for countless listeners.
Chitra Singh: her private suffering :
** an iconic ghazal KOI YE KAISE BATAYE from ARTH
KOI YE KAISE BATAYE / KI WO TANHA KYU HAI( who can tell/ why he’s lonely in the world?) – another sterling gem from the situational conflict essayed with realism in the relationship drama ARTH( meaning, 1982). This song fits the unexpected ways in which tragedy took away first Vivek, then Monica and Jagjitji from Chitraji, shaking her core and making her withdraw into her shell. She is an artist second to none as I reiterate here and greater is the force of her burden of loss. She surprised me by allowing herself to be interviewed here and when she said with her luck she doesn’t even believe in the idea of reuniting with her lost dear ones in heaven, I felt as shaken to the core as this lady whose ruaab ( grace and collected dignity) and talent has enraptured generations. It’s a rare moment that made me look inward at our own legacies and inheritances, especially those colored by death.
” I’m five feet, seven inches tall”
His brother relays the modest, unassuming nature of Jagjitji. He once questioned him for committing to every random person who asked him for his presence. As he asked him if he realized his worth and inimitable status, he replied with a winning, “of course I know, I am five foot, seven inches tall.” Beautiful.
his equestrian interests :
He had a keen interest in breeding horses and taking part in derbies. Perhaps, the grace of these equestrian miracles matched his own. Full of agility and warmth. Here too, his simplicity was in stark contrast to the exclusive elitism of ‘cuff linked’ race courses.
Mirza Ghalib : infusing further aroma to the legendary poet and his muse :
Last but not the least, a classic miniseries on Indian poet Mirza Ghalib made by Gulzarsaab in the 80s received its legendary imprint from Jagjitji’s music. One of his friends says it the best, “if Mirza Ghalib could come out of the grave, he would have died again out of happiness by the sheer sublimity of the music. ” There is humour but also the honesty that only an unselfish acolyte can evince in this quote. Legendary actor Naseeruddin Shah starred in the lead role and the music stirred the soul.
Hence all these points make KAAGAZ KI KASHTI a once in a lifetime opportunity. Now it’s your duty to watch it, as it’s on Amazon Prime Video, and learn about two lives joined at the heart. CHITRAJI AND JAGJITJI, WE ARE INDEBTED TO YOU FOR YOUR MUSIC AND PERSONALITIES.