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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Siraj Syed reviews Kaagaz Ki Kashti: Paper-boat ride across oceans of melody

Siraj Syed reviews Kaagaz Ki Kashti: Paper-boat ride across oceans of melody        

When you are making a biopic, you first need to narrow down on either a famous person, or a commoner who has led an uncommon and highly captivating life. Jagjit Singh was an extremely popular singer, with dozens of albums and hundreds of songs to his credit. Next, it always helps if the person is alive, or has passed away not too long ago, because material used in the documentary would then be largely in colour and not too dated, and at least two generations would identify with the subject, ensuring double the reach.

Rahul Dev Burman, the music director whose life was encapsulated in Brahmanand S. Siingh’s last film, and Jagjit, both fit in perfectly. Finally, in striving towards riveting content, you need two things in ample measure—sources and resources. Brahma has had access to both in ample measure, judging from the several thousand hours of footage he has captured in both ventures. Obviously, he has done his homework rather well.

Mobius Films is the name of the banner, and a two-hour documentary on the mainly ghazal (a definitive Urdu poetry genre)-singer, Jagjit Singh, titled Kaagaz Ki Kashti (after a popular poem that he sang)--Jagjit Singh Come Alive is what he has made, with the help of at least 1,000 credited names, and probably even more, uncredited. In terms of sources, he gives us the usual--family, friends, musicians, contemporaries, fans and business associates of Jagjit Singh (1941-2011), reminiscing about the man and the singer, narrating some humorous and hilarious anecdotes and incidents, some sad and some heart-tuggingly tragic.

Significant contributions come from Jagjit’s wife, Chitra--with whom he sang duets till the death of their only child Vivek (Babu) sent her into deep depression, and Jagjit had to start performing alone, when he managed to pull himself together--and two of his brothers, adding that imperative personal touch. Then there is ever-so-eloquent Gulzar, who, along with Jagjit as composer-singer, added a new lease of life and acclaim, to the great 19th century poet-philosopher, Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’, via an eponymous television serial he directed, full of Ghalib’s matchless Urdu poetry, both recited and sung.

Jagjit Singh had a 50-year career, with innumerable concerts, in more than 40 countries, cut 80 albums on a dozen-odd music labels, rendering 500 plus ghazals. Part I includes screen appearances of producer-director and school-classmate Subhash Ghai, film producer-director Mahesh Bhatt, theatre and film personality Salim Arif, tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain, singers Pankaj Udhas, Ghulam Ali (Pakistani ghazal maestro), Anup Jalota, Hans Raj Hans, Roop Kumar Rathod, Talat Aziz (Jagjit composed Talat’s first album), Ashok Khosla, Ghansham Vaswani, Vinod Sehgal (among Jagjit’s discoveries),  Harsh Goenka (industrialist, from the family that owns the label SaReGaMa, formerly better known as ‘HMV’), Daman Sood (gold medal-winning sound recordist), Deepak Khazanchi, Deepak Pandit, Ronu Majumdar (musicians), Geeta Prem (singer and old friend), Ameesha Patel (actress) and many others.

Resources abound, in terms of locales (including the obligatory trip to Jagjit’s birthplace, SriGangaNagar), archival pictures, audio-video footage, and recordings/film clips.

Obviously, money has not been a constraint here, a fact many docu-makers will surely be envious about. Funds are the bane of the documentary genre in most countries, particularly India. Fresh shooting is finely balanced with old material. Singh’s technique is to turn on the camera and let the subject keep talking, till he can draw out the few sentences or expressions that he then retains, with telling effect. This means laborious days at the editing table and skewed shooting ratios, but the result is all that counts. He propagates this approach in his workshops too.

Great care, however, is needed to make the fresh footage appear natural. There is always the danger of characters or conversations coming across as contrived or acted out. Singh tip-toes through this maze, with some ease. Like in the case of RDB, there will be a second part of Kaagaz Ki Kashti. With so much material available, it would be a criminal waste not to release Act II. (Some of the shots in the extended trailer, to which there is a link below, will be seen only in the ‘sequel’).

Brahmanand S. Siingh is a Mumbai-based producer, director and writer, best known for the National-Award winning feature-length documentary on R.D. Burman, Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai, (113 min). Kaagaz Ki Kashti will add to his achievements. He judiciously curtails his cinematic stay on controversial matters, like the contentious cutting of his hair by the Namdhari Sikh boy Jagjit, and takes his time, dwelling upon the three major tragedies in Jagjit’s life—the death of his only, teenage child, in a road accident, the shock and consequent getting into a shell of his wife Chitra and the suicide of his step-daughter, Monica, shortly before his own passing away. Try holding back your tears of empathy, or, indeed, suppressing guffaws when the slice-of-life funny incidents come on.

Having been associated with Jagjit off and on since 1970, and having written a 3,379 word printed tribute for the compilation 70-track 5-CD set, released around his 70th birthday, I do feel that the film could have given us some more distanced insights that is does not, and featured angles it doesn’t. Part of what I am referring to is not very flattering, so it would be at cross purposes with a tribute (a couple of Jagjit’s minor indulgences do find place and could have struck discordant notes).

Sound, always a crucial element in a documentary and ever more so in a biography about a singer, is the painstaking and highly commendable work of Bhaskar Das, an alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. Editing and re-editing and re-editing... gets ruthless by the minute of screen-time, and all kudos to the team. Due credit to editor, Jabeen Merchant (NH10, Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye, The President is Coming, Manorama Six Feet Under). Merchant (mistakenly identified on Book My Show site as male) was an English literature student who worked as a journalist, before pursuing an editing diploma at the FTII. Jabeen imbibed the fine art of culling footage from epic documentary footage shooting while working with Anand Patwardhan, noted for his 3-4 hour works, on his raved documentary, Ram ke Naam. A large chunk of the inputs in Kaagaz Ki Kashti came from Associate Director Tanvi Jain, who is also Creative Director at Mobius.

Ifs and buts excepted, Kaagaz Ki Kashti is a must watch for Jagjit fans, patrons of good music and singing, and lovers of the rich and silky Urdu language.

Kaagaz Ki Kashti is smooth sailing across oceans of melody, on waves of time. To borrow from a Jagjit Singh album’s title, the experience is Beyond Time.

Rating: *** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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