By Madhusree Chatterjee
Journalist-turned writer Sathya Saran is moving into another glorious life as a chronicler after the successful biography of Bollywood’s yesteryear star Guru Dutt. Saran has compiled the life and times of music legend Sachin Dev Burman in her new account, “Sachin Dev Burman – The Musical Prince”.
The account to be published by Harper Collins later this month is based on nearly 80 interviews that were given to her by a Sachin Dev Burman (SD) fan. Saran, a former editor of The Femina and the Daily News Analysis (DNA), says it has been a challenge to “creatively present the interviews so that it reads like an intimate chronicle”.
Saran’s first biography, “10 Years with Guru Dutt: Abrar Alvi’s Journey” which recreated the life of the Bollywood screen icon through the memory lens of a long time Dutt friend and associate Abrar Alvi, was an experiment in the genre of biography. It was a narrative – told to the author by Alvi whom Saran interviewed over a length of time.
In 2011, Saran turned the book into a theatrical production with a cast of six actors. Since then, the Guru Dutt play has evolved into a full-length drama with a script and a professional repertory.
Saran has to live up to her creative bar in her account of SD Burman’s life as well. “The biography of SD Burman breaks all the rules of a conventional account. It is completely different,” Saran told this writer at the Mountain Echoes Festival of Arts, Literature and Culture in Thimpu.
“The Guru Dutt biography had departed from the standard model of a biography to become a narrator’s account. I was the third party as a writer. It was a shade easy because I had recorded Alvi’s recollections. But I had to research material for SD Burman’s biography,” Saran said.
Saran is pinning her hopes on the book. Millions of music lovers in India draw soul sustenance from SD’s lilting music that combined folk, urban and classical India from both India and Bangladesh (then undivided India), she says.
Born on October 1, 1906 in Comilla in Bangladesh, to Nirmala Devi, an erstwhile princess of Manipur and to Nabadwipchandra Dev Burman, a former prince of Tripura, Sachin Dev Burman trained under musician K.C. Dey from 1925 to 1932 and and thereafter was tutored by Bhisma Dev Chattopadhyay. He began to work for Calcutta Radio Station in 1932 and composed music for at least 17 Bengali movies.
He moved to Mumbai in 1944 and made a name both as a composer and a playback vocalist in classics like “Bandini”, “Guide”, “Taxi Driver”, “Baazi”, “Pyasa”, Kagaz ke Phool”, Devdas (1955), “Sujata” and “Funtoosh”. He was associated with at least 150 movies – In Hindi and Bengali – as a musician and composer. He died in 1975.
Shedding insights into the making of SD Burman chronicle, Sathya Saran said that “the raw material for the book had come to her in the form of 80 interviews with SD and clippings about his life collected over several decades by fan Moti Lalwani, who leads a SD fan club in Mumbai.”
“I had to dig for a biographical story from the interviews,” Saran recalled.
Movie music comes easy to Saran, who claims that cinema flows in her blood. “Ask me about any song from any movie and I know who sung it, the composer and the background of the score,” Saran says.
However, her bonding with SD goes back a long way to her growing up years in Kolkata and Northeast. “Sachin Dev always had a special place in my heart – his enchanting music and his high-pitched soulful timbre. He brought the salt of the northeastern earth alive in his music,” Saran pointed out when asked “why SD?”. “Doing the biography was like food for my soul,” Saran said.
On a more somber note of introspection, Saran said “one of the reasons why SD became immortal was the fact his music was grounded in nature”. “He painted lush plains, hills and the rivers of the east in his music. His understanding of music was perfect — whether it was Lok Sangeet, light classical raga, peppy urban beats or vedic hymns, SD had a way of making complex melodies simple”.
Asked about her favourite SD movie score, Saran is at a loss. “Too many…But I think its ‘Guide’”.
The writer, who had a harrowing escape from the landslide in Uttarakhand a month ago – and had to rescued by the army –is straddling multiple literary genres and projects. “I have begun to work on a biography of ghazal king Jagjit Singh, who passed away last year. I have interviewed his wife Chitra Singh. It will be a straight biography- an account of the singer’s life,” Saran said.
The writer believes that “biographies have a ready market” because people are curious about illustrious lives. She has been inspired by two powerful biographies – that of British actor Lawrence Olivier and Italian shoemaker and brand man Salvatore Ferragamo.
“What I learnt from Lawrence Olivier’s biography was how an artist hones his skill to perfection to step into any character and remain different in approach,” Saran said.
Ferragamo’s life teaches resilience and grit. “As a child Ferragamo was poor and borrowed shows, along with his two sisters, on formal occasions. One night, when he was nine years old, Ferragamo crafted two pair of shoes for his sisters to wear for their confirmation to the Church. His sisters said the fairies had brought them the shoes… Salvatore studied shoe-making and set up a workshop in US. He filed for bankruptcy during the world wars but refused to cave in under pressure for he held that trouble was transitory. He came out of it to become one of the best- known global brands,” Saran said about her “inspirations”.
Short story is yet another of Saran’s muse. “I keep writing them whenever I find time. Everything I do, everywhere I go and every situation I fend for spurs a short story,” she said. At the Mountain Echoes cultural gala in Bhutan, Saran was moved to a story as she looked at the silver designer anklet – a chunky bit of ethnic jewellery encircling one of her slim ankles.
The words poured out – 500 of them as a story about a woman and fake silver “paijan” crafted by the hands of her lover.
“I am a natural story-teller,” Saran smiled. She is the author of “The Dark Side”, a collection of short stories.