I’m quitting stage forever: Kabir Suman (2011)

Bongs, he says, aren’t listening. He wonders whether they even remember the art of making love.

Emotionally bruised and physically exhausted, Kabir Suman is resolute to call it quits. He is ready to perform for a gathering of 10 friends, but there will be no more public performances. In a freewheeling chat, the songwriter-musician-actor-MP pours his heart out. Excerpts:

You were left fuming over an ad that had used your composition, “Tumi shunona amar katha’, originally sung by Lopamudra Mitra…

Once I came across the ad on TV, I called up my lawyer friend, Arunava Ghosh. He asked me, ‘Who owns the copyright?’. The next day, I called up the recording officer, Dilip Sengupta, who told me that the moment you put your signature on the paper, you assign the copyright of your song to the company.

The ad agency had indeed sought permission from the music label…

I’m not well-adept to comment on the legal side of it, but I feel, it’s a matter of decency. What’s the harm in giving credit to the composer? Initially, I was planning to sue the agency, but then I realized that I’m ageing very fast and have to live with quite a few problems. If people lack decency, why waste time over addressing it? I have attained a state where I’m indifferent to a lot of things. The very next day, I again called up Arunava to tell him that it would be futile to pursue the case. I have such contempt for this society and those who are at the helm of affairs that I don’t want to soil myself anymore.

If you can’t stop an agency that has legally sought the label’s permission, even though it has missed out on your credit, can you stop those who hum your lines without your consent on stage or on celluloid?

At least in the late 90s, it was a trend to use my lines in serials. I even saw a lead actor in a serial humming the lines “Tumi asbei ami jani” in bare voice. Today, I can chase this legally and try to find an answer, but I’m tired and fatigued. I’m suffering from dementia and cannot remember much, but I know even today, barring Tagore, no composer is given his/her due credit. Funnily, I even saw a hoarding near Barrackpore a few years back, where the then Left Front Government had advertised one of its departments by using my lines: “Chholat chhol chholat chhol/Ghater kacchhe golpo bole nodir jol”. This after maligning me to no extent, ever since I returned from the US in 1991. So, basically, my enemies have also not wasted any time to use my lines.

What about the Intellectual Property Rights?

When I recorded “Kotota path perole”, for the first time in the subcontinent, it was mentioned in an album, that the song was based on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the wind”. The label later told me that they had to pay the Bob Dylan Trust royalty in US dollars. There was a change in taal and significant digression in melody. There was also an antara in my song. But it was more of a transcreation than a translation. But the fact that the Trust had to be paid money means there obviously is something called the Intellectual Property Rights.

Wouldn’t you let the newly-formed government know what your expectations are from it as a musician?

My experience says that most of these collectives are politicized. Earlier, there used to be an Association of Professional Performing Singers (APPS), which had a CPI(M) flavour to it. I don’t know how active it is now. They never liked me, so I never joined them. I was the odd man out and Anjan (Dutt) was the next odd man out. Now, there can be plenty of other WAPPS, LAPPS or RAPPS. I don’t want to be party to associations that are blessed by political dadas or didis.

Of late, one major allegation levelled against you is that you are only into political songwriting. Where has the romance gone?

What’s wrong in political songwriting? Prafulla Chandra Roy had once said, ‘Science can wait but swaraj cannot’. So, I feel, romance can wait. But then, tell me, what do you think is romance? Talking about youngsters sitting in Gariahat cafes? After Tagore, I’m the one who has written about kisses in songs. I think Bongs, I can’t call them Bengalis, have lost the patience to listen to songs. Otherwise, they would have known that there are romantic songs even in my albums, “Chhotrodhorer Gaan” and “Lalmohaner Lash”. The lines, “Tomar chumute amar premer gaan/tomar jonyo amar premer gaan” are from “Chhotrodhorer Gaan”. In “Lalmohaner Lash” too there are two direct love songs — “Tomar jonyo” that has a beautiful line like “Tumi chao multubi thak aaj bidroho”, and “Bhangtei hobe karon amra gorte jani”. I don’t think before me, kissing had ever found a place like this in Bengali songs. I don’t think before me, love has been juxtaposed with uprising. If I want, I can block the road and kiss. In fact, I have done that too.

Women too should come out in the open and say how they desire men. But once they do that, they’ll be branded as loose women. If you’re in love, it’s obvious for you to desire the one you are in love with. I can’t play the guitar below my lover’s window and then, go home happy with a rose petal she has thrown in my direction. Platonic love might’ve been there, but it was perhaps because it was considered an ‘in thing’, back then. I don’t know who has written these lines, but I love them: Tobu dekhi romoni album e sajiye rekhechhe swamir bondhur chhobi/aar dekhi nirobe kendechhe.

The entire unit of “Ranjana Ami ar Asbona” was recently in Darjeeling for the music release. You weren’t there…

I’m a TMC MP and this phase is crucial. If the party needs me, I’ll have to be around. They might not need me, but what if they do? I’ll have to be on my toes. I’m at the disposal of the party and also, I’m not keeping well.

Stanley Bose, your character in the film, is thought to be based on real-life Kabir Suman…

Anjan must’ve observed me for long. Stanley used to be a decidedly popular songwriter, who left the stage to move to a village. There are a lot of similarities barring that I’m extremely urban. I can spend two, three, four days in a village but on the seventh day, I’ll have to be back. So, Stanley is a complete antithesis of Abani, the ageing rockstar, who loses his ground, purpose and ends up a wreck. When Abani asks Stanley, ‘Tumi gaan gaile na keno?’, he says nonchalantly, ‘Tumi gaibe bole’.

Aren’t you keen on taking up more such offers?

I’ll either be the hero or the heroine, otherwise no. I’m also either going to single-handedly score the music for a film or not compose for films at all. Frankly, I want to do a meatier project with Anjan. Dui buroye jombe bhalo. I always wanted to be a film-maker. I’d have made for a B-grade international director. Today, when I reflect on life, I feel no ‘Tomake chai’ has ever happened in films, television or even on stage.

Why don’t you approach producers in that case?

They might turn me down by dubbing my ideas as political. Also, there’s pressure of returning the producer’s money. Can’t we have a modern Bengali musical? Anjan, that way, has dealt with a man’s helplessness in today’s day and age. It has got nothing to do with Kishanji, Mamata, Buddha. In fact, the phase that we are going through is extremely important. A new Government has taken over. There are expectations. One can make a film just on these lines. What’s the point in making films on Tagore’s novels? What relevance does it have to the society? One has to translate the real picture on screen. Even Anjan
hasn’t thought about it. Suman Mukhopadhyay, my yet another favourite director, too hasn’t thought about it.

Is your website an alternative for the popular microbloggging site that has taken the nation by storm?

My website is to let the world know that I’m still alive.

How about making the world know through some more performances?

I’m leaving the stage for good.

That’s impossible….

No, I have made up my mind. I’ll never be on stage again. This August, I’m going to UK to perform on a friend’s insistence. But there will be no more public performances here in Kolkata.

I might not be a good guitarist or a pianist, but I’m an artiste. Not even half the amount of applause for doling out anti-CPI(M) comments comes my way, when I’m singing. That’s painful. I’m not saying come up to me with open arms, but I didn’t even see people raising a brow. There’s a smoker’s room in the Parliament, where even humming a few lines have earned me huge response from my non-Bengali friends. I don’t know what is wrong with the Bengali audience.

Would you turn to writing then? You were thought to be writing a Part II of Nishaner Naam Tapasi Malik…

I’m not writing it.

What about a biography?

I wanted to write about the women in my life, who’ve enriched me and also screwed up my happiness. No, on second thoughts, I think, I had screwed up my own happiness.

So, what next?

I want to die in peace. I’ve lived a wonderful life and the next best thing would be death. This is not my place, this isn’t where I belong. It was a grave mistake to come back from America. Maya Angelou, novelist and civil rights activist, had told me once, ‘You are not an Indian, you are you’. Now, I regret having taken a decision like that. I see, no one is listening. I wonder if people are even having sex.

Zinia Sen

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