Act of sacrilege: Outrage over AR Rahman's rendition of Bengali poet Nazrul Islam's patriotic song
The rendition of 'Karar oi louho kopat' (Iron bars of a jail) was released in the war movie Pippa, based on real-life events that happened during a battle in the 1971 India-Pakistan War
A controversy has erupted over AR Rahman's rendition of a popular patriotic song of legendary Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam in a new Bollywood film, with the litterateur's family and singers expressing outrage over the "distortion" in rhythm and tunes.
The rendition of 'Karar oi louho kopat' (Iron bars of a jail) was released in the war movie Pippa, starring Ishaan Khatter and Mrunal Thakur in lead roles. The film is based on real-life events that happened during a battle in the 1971 India-Pakistan War, that led to the birth of Bangladesh.
Islam's grandson and painter Kazi Anirban told PTI on Saturday, "My mother had given her consent for using the song for the movie but not for changing the tunes. The way the song has been dished out with the change in rhythm and tunes is shocking."
Nazrul Islam, popularly known as the 'rebel poet', was born in 1899 in present-day West Bengal's Paschim Bardhaman district. His songs, known as 'Nazrul geeti', are probably second in terms of popularity after those of Rabindranath Tagore in Bengal. He later became the national poet of Bangladesh.
Islam's granddaughter Anindita Kazi said in a voice message from the United States: "As members of his family and lovers of his creations, we cannot accept this distortion. We want it to be immediately omitted from the film and removed from the public domain."
Popular Bengali singer Haimanti Shukla said sentiments have been hurt by this "act of sacrilege".
"I wonder how a composer like AR Rahman could make this happen No such tinkering with songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam can be allowed. It is shameful for the Bengali singers who were part of the rendition. I am deeply outraged," she said.
Bangladeshi singer Khilkhil Kazi, another granddaughter of the poet who is living in Bangladesh, told local media in a video message that any tinkering of the tune of such a cult song is just not done.
She said, "We have been running the Nazrul Academy in Bangladesh for 18 years. We cannot allow any such thing to happen. The original music of the song can very well be seen on YouTube. How come someone plays with the tunes by redoing a warrior song like this as a film song accompanied by dancing?"
Khilkhil said she is scheduled to visit Kolkata on November 12 and she will meet singers and artistes next week to voice their protest against changing the song's tune.
Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin posted on X: "A R Rahman changed the music of Bengali legendary poet, lyricist, composer Kazi Nazrul Islam's famous 1921's anti-British song 'Karar Oi Lauho kapat'.
"Bengalis are furious. They demand for stopping Rahman's remake and keeping the original music of the song," she commented.
Islam's poems and songs inspired India's freedom struggle. He was arrested in 1923 as a magazine he founded and edited was critical of the British Raj.
A few months after Bangladesh was created, he was brought to Dhaka in 1972 by its new government with the consent of the authorities in India. He was, however, suffering from a neurological disease which, by then, took away his memory. He was given citizenship in the neighbouring country in 1976, the year he died there.
When contacted, acclaimed Bangladeshi actor Jaya Ahsaan who acted in a number of films produced in India declined to comment on the issue.
The rendition by Rahaman also created a social media outrage, with netizens wondering whether Rahman did research before dishing out the song.
The lyrics of the song was first published in 'Banglar Katha' (Stories of Bengal) magazine in 1922 and included in Islam's book of poems 'Bhangar Gaan' (Songs of breaking free). It was first recorded in 1949 by a famous label and then in 1952 by another record label.
Historian-researcher Chinmoy Guha, however, criticised the outrage, claiming that Bengalis are expressing ire despite seldom caring to read Islam's works.
AR Rahman could not be contacted for remarks on the controversy.