Bhupen Hazarika was an Indian playback singer, lyricist, poet, musician, and filmmaker. He is popularly known as “Sudhakantha” and “Bard of Brahmputra.” He has sung, composed, and written songs in the Assamese language based on the themes such as communal amity and universal justice and empathy. He is popularly known as ‘Manu…Man’ in Northeastern India.
Bhupen Hazarika was born on Wednesday, 8 September 1926 (aged 85 years; at the time of death) in Sadiya, Assam Province, British India. His zodiac sign is Virgo.
He did his schooling from Guwahati’s Sonaram High School, Dhubri Government High School, and did his high schooling from Tezpur High School in 1940. He did his Intermediate Arts from Cotton College in 1942. He pursued his BA and MA in Political Science from Banaras Hindu University. During his stay in Guwahati, he won the scholarship of Columbia University and went to New York in 1949 for further studies. There, he did his PhD in Rural Education and Mass Communication from Columbia University. He gained his PhD degree in 1952 on his thesis on “Proposals for Preparing India’s Basic Education to use Audio-Visual Techniques in Adult Education.” He had also received Lisle Fellowship from Chicago University to study the use of educational project development through cinema.
His mother was the first influence in his life as she exposed him to the lullabies and traditional music of Assam. He spent his early childhood in the Bharalumukh region of Guwahati, where his father had gone in search of a new job. In 1932, he moved to Dhubri with his father. In 1935, he moved to Tezpur with his father again, where he was discovered by Jyotiprasad Agarwala (noted Assamese lyricist, playwright and the first Assames Filmmaker) and Bishnu Prasad Rabha (noted Assamese artist and revolutionary poet), who nurtured his talent. Bishnu Prasad Rabha trained him at Bhatkhande School of Music.
Eye Colour: Light Brown
Hair Colour: Black
Family, Caste & Wife
Bhupen Hazarika belonged to the Kaibarta community. His father, Nilakanta Hazarika was a teacher, and his mother’s name is Shantipriya Hazarika. He was the eldest of the 10 siblings; four of them being Jayanta Hazarika, Samar Hazarika, Sushma Hazarika, and Sudakshina Sarma.
He was said to be in a relationship with Lata Mangeshkar and Kalpana Lajmi (film director).
He got married to a Kenyan woman, Priyamvada Patel in 1950. He has a son named Tej Hazarika.
During his stay in Guwahati, he worked at All India Station in Guwahati. Soon after completing his education, he became a teacher at Gauhati University. He left his job after a few years and moved to Kolkata, where he instituted himself as the music director and singer.
As a Singer/Composer
Bhupen moved to Kolkata in 1936, where he recorded his first song at Aurora Studio for the Selona Company. At the age of 12, he sang two songs ‘Kaxote Kolosi Loi’ and ‘Biswo Bijoyi Naujawan’ for the film “Indramalati (1939).”
He made his debut as a music composer for the film “Aarop (1974).”
He has sung and composed music for the films such as “Ek Pal (1986),” “Rudaali (1993),” and “Daman: A Victim of Marital Violence (2001).” He has sung famous song including Bistirno Parore, Moi Eti Jajabor, Ganga Mor Maa, Bimurto Mur Nixati Jen, Gupute Gupute Kimaan Khelim, and Buku Hom Hom Kore.
He has also composed music for several Bangladeshi films.
As a Director/Producer/Actor/ Writer
He made his directorial debut with the film “Era Bator Sur (1956).”
He has directed films like “Shakuntala Sur (1961)” and “Pratidhwani (1964).” He made his debut as a producer with the film “Ek Pal (1986),” in which, he also made his acting debut.
He made his debut as a writer with the film “Chingaari” in 2006.
He served as an independent MLA from Nauboicha Constituency in the Assam Legislative Assembly from 1967 to 1972. He contested as a BJP candidate in the 2004 Lok Sabha Elections from the Guwahati Constituency and lost to INC’s Kirip Chaliha.
- In 2019, when it was announced that Bhupen would get Bharat Ratna, his son Tej called it as ‘a display of short-lived cheap thrills.’ Tez claimed that while Bhupen was being conferred with the highest civilian award in India, the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 had been passed in Lok Sabha, which was against his father’s belief and position.
- Bhupen ignited controversy in 2009. He sang a song in praise of the Tarun Gogoi’s government when in 2004, he had criticised his government during the 20o4 parliamentary elections of Assam.
Awards, Honours & Titles
- Posthumously honoured with Bharat Ratna in 2019
- Bhupen Hazarika Museum in Guwahati, Assam is named after him
- The longest road bridge of India, Dhola-Sadiya Bridge was named after him in 2017
- Honoured with the commemorative postage stamp by India Post in 2013 and 2016
- Posthumously honoured with Padma Vibhushan in 2012
- Posthumously honoured with Muktijoddha Padak (awarded as Friend of the Freedom Struggle) by Bangladesh Government in 2011.
- Asom Sahitya Sabha posthumously honoured him with the title “Biswa Ratna” in 2011
- Assam Cricket Association renamed the Barshapara Cricket Stadium as Dr Bhupen Hazarika Cricket Stadium in 2010
- Asom Ratna (highest civilian award of Assam) in 2009
- All Assam Students Union erected a life-size statue of Bhupen on the banks of Digholi Pukhuri in Guwahati in 2009
- Padma Bhushan in 2001
- Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1992
- Gold Medal from the State Government of Arunachal Pradesh in 1979
- Lifetime Achievement Award at Rabindra Bhawan in Guwahati
President Gold Medal
- For the film Shakuntala in 1960
- For the film Pratidhwani in 1964
- For the film Lotighoti in 1967
- Best Music Director for the film “Chameli Memsaab” in 1975
- Best Feature Film in Assamese for the film “Shakuntala” in 1961
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1987
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 2008
- Artist(s): Pablo Picasso, M. F. Husain
- Painting(s): ‘The Tragedy,’ ‘The Blue Nude,’ ‘The Woman,’ ‘Child by the Sea,’ and ‘Le Celestina’ by Picasso, ‘Saraswati’ by M. F. Husain
- Movies: Bicycle Thieves (1948), Black (2005)
- Playwright: Vijay Tendulkar
- Plays: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ by Tennessee Williams
Bhupen Hazarika died on 5 November 2011 at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai because of Multiple Organ Failure. On 9 November 2011, Bhupen was cremated near Brahmaputra River in a plot of land donated by Gauhati University.
- He liked to collect the handwritings of famous people. His most treasured ones were from Somerset Maugham, Pablo Picasso. He had the handwritings of almost all the former president’s of India; the most favourite being of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
- He liked reading, writing, singing, and watching films.
- At the age of 10, he sang Borgeet (the traditional classical Assamese devotional songs written by Srimanta Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhabdeva) at a public function, which was taught by his mother.
- At the age of 13, he wrote his first song titled ‘Agnijugor Firingoti Moi.’
- When he was working in the radio station in Guwahati, he met a 16-year-old girl and fell in love with her. He could not see her again because he went to the USA. Years later, he met the girl again at a wedding ceremony in Kolkata, the girl had already married to somebody by then and Bhupen was married to Priyamvada.
- During his college days, Bhupen used to go cycling to the ghats (bank of the river) and used to hear Ustad Bismillah Khan do his riyaz (practise) from distance. In the evenings, he used to visit the temples to hear Siddheshwari Devi sing.
- During his stay in New York, he became friends with Paul Robeson, a musician, actor, and activist. Paul influenced his music and his song ‘Bistirno Parore.’ He translated this song to several Indian languages including Hindi and Bengali.
- Following the Greenwich village’s music scene, he sang with Paul Robeson and was jailed for participating in the civil rights demonstrations.
- On his way to the USA, he was allowed a three-day stopover in Paris. He was determined to meet Picasso and got a chance to meet him. Talking about his meeting with Picasso, Bhupen said-
He was a very good-looking man. We had a conversation on his art and he was impressed when I told him I liked his paintings from the Blue Period.”
- He met Priyamvada Patel at Columbia University. They got married in 1950 and had a child Tez Hazarika in 1952. They came back to India in 1952.
- In 1963, when Bhupen was being escorted to a meeting, a policeman came to him and told him that Indira Gandhi wanted to hear him sing. Bhupen sang “Ganga Behti Hai Kyun…(Bistirno Dupare… in Bengali).” Talking about the incident, he said-
It amused me to see Congress leaders clapping for a fiery Marxist who was using the Ganga as a metaphor to rant against injustice.”
- Bhupen met Kalpana Lajmi for the first time when Kalpana Lajmi was 17 and Bhupen was 45 years old, at Kalpana’s uncle Atmaram’s home. Bhupen was there to score music for his uncle’s film “Aarop (1973).” Lazmi describes his meeting with Bhupen as-
The doorbell rang and there he stood, painfully thin, dark circles under his kind eyes, a dazzling smile, wearing a shirt that had two cigarette burn marks. I was a fat, awkward teen, in my school uniform. It must have been love at first sight”
- Bhupen and Kalpana came in a relationship but he always introduced Kalpana as his manager. According to Kalpana, they had a talk about marriage, when Bhupen was 80. Bhupen told her that they should marry now, in reply, Kalpana lashed out at him and said-
I always wanted marriage. But, you never bothered to ask me when you were 48, 58, or 68. At 80 you dare ask me to marry you?”
- After returning from the USA in 1953, he started a close association with the leftist Indian People’s Theatre Association. He became the Secretary of the Reception Committee of the Third All Assam Conference of IPTA, which was held in 1955.
- He has also worked with the legendary artist M. F. Husain. When Bhupen was composing music for Husain’s “Gaja Gamini (2000),” Husain told him that Bhupen should think of his songs as ‘paintings on the celluloid canvas.’
- Bhupen is considered to be the avant-gardist of Bengali Cinema. He is believed to have influenced ‘Jivanmukhi Geet,’ the famous genre of West Bengal music, started by Kabir Suman in 1990s.
- In 1993, Bhupen was elected as the president of Assam Sahitya Sabha. The same year, he became the first Indian to win Best Music for the film “Rudaali” at the Asia Pacific International Film Festival in Japan (1993).
- Bhupen served as the Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi December 1998 to December 2003.
- Bhupen had also been the Assam Film Development Council and Central Board of Film Certification.
- He was appointed as the member of the Prasar Bharti Board in 2003.
- In 2011, he recorded the songs of the film “Gandhi to Hitler,” which also became the last film that he had worked on.
- He has written more than 15 books including “Demystifying Dr Bhupen Hazarika: Envisioning Education for India” and “Winged Horse: 76 Assamese Songs.”
- According to a poll conducted in Bangladesh, his song “Manush Manusher Jonno” was voted to be the second most favourite number after the National anthem of Bangladesh.
- His full-length docu-feature biopic film “Moi Eti Zazabor” directed by Late Waesqurni Bora and Arnab Jan Deka has been under production since 1986.
- In 2010, Bhupen was featured in his first music video “Our Northeast, Our Star” with music by Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire.
- In 2012, Priyamvada Patel claimed that Lata Mangeshkar had been the reason for her separation with her husband. She went forward and also said that her husband and Lata Mangeshkar had slept together. After this, Lata Mangeshkar and Kalpana Lajmi decided to take legal actions against Priyamvada.