Jagjit Singh's Kaagaz Ki Kashti review — Sailing across a sea of symphony and melancholy

Bhramanand Siingh's film on late ghazal king will open your eyes to the Jagjit Singh you have never seen before.

Mayur Lookhar

Film: Kaagaz Ki Kashti

Rating: 4/5

It was a dying art when he revived it, and upon his death it died a little again. Ghazal owes a debt of gratitude to the late Jagjit Singh, and that would still be an understatement. Jagjit not only popularised ghazal, but made it commercially viable too. The 70-80s generation witnessed Singh’s legend in the making, but Jagjit remained largely anonymous with the subsequent generations who were brought up on a diet of Bollywood music and Western pop.

However, be it the 70s class or the new generation, Jagjit is an undoubtedly powerful and soothing voice. Unlike film music, most ghazals were not picturised, the few that did had pretty faces lip-synching. In these, Singh, the man behind the great voice remained a mystery.

Though not fully, a substantial portion of this mystery has been unravelled in Bhramanand Siingh’s Kaagaz Ki Kashti. Titled after one of his classic ghazals, Kaagaz Ki Kashti not only traces his life journey, but also gives us an insight into the man behind that great voice.

With over 4,000 hours of recording, Bhramanand and his team collected archival footage, and have taken views from a plethora of people that include the likes of Jagjit's wife Chitra Singh, younger brother Kartar Singh, sister Geeta Prem, Mahesh Bhatt, Subhash Ghai, Zakir Hussain, Gulzar, Sunil Gavaskar, Harsh Goenka, and whole lot of people who’ve worked with him. Even his contemporaries showered praise on the legendary singer.

The film begins with Jagjit uncorking a champagne, and then breaking into a freestyle dance. The next visual stuns you — at the same party, Jagjit is playing the guitar, then being carried by a gentleman like a baby. Surprised? That's just the beginning of an enlightening film that simply leaves you in awe of the man.

Though his father wanted him to be an IAS officer, Singh senior was keen that one of his children learnt singing. Little Jagjit cleared daddy’s audition and soon the family hunted for a teacher. Jagjit initially learnt his craft from the visually impaired Pandit Chaganlal Sharma and later found his true mentor in Ustad Jamaal Khan.

He quit his studies, fled to Mumbai with nothing but hope. The Sikh boy shaved his beard and gave up the turban. He sang at private parties that were attended by big stars like Rajesh Khanna and Dilip Kumar. While the food and drinks were free, it didn’t get him any work. The first time he earned was Rs125 while performing at a non-filmy party.

Eventually, Hindi cinema came calling, but save for few films — Arth (1982) and Premgeet (1981) — Jagjit knew his destiny didn’t lie here.

The film also explores the love story of Jagjit and Chitra, who was earlier married to an advertisement executive Debo Prasad Dutta. Their first meeting was anything but poetic. Chitra wasn’t fond of Jagjit's voice. Ironically, this disdain was evident in their Punjabi song together — the lyrics of which had the girl mocking the guy for not having even a moustache, while the young Jagjit crooned that if she agreed, forget a moustache he would even grow a beard.

After a hush-hush marriage, Jagjit and Chitra composed many a great LP records. They had a son Vivek, and their life was full of bliss.

For most of the first hour of the film, director Bhramanand relies on views and experiences of people who lived or worked with him.

Bhramanand also taps into the humorous side of Jagjit. He was perhaps the only ghazal singer who resorted to humour to strike a chord with his live audience. He even explained to his audiences what the lyrics of his ghazals meant. A classic ghazal from television show Mirza Ghalib is an example. 

In one of his shows, Jagjit cracked a joke, “Husband is in the house firing darts on a picture of his wife, and he misses the spot most of the time. The wife then calls, quizzes him about what is was doing? The husband cheekily replied, “Darling, I’m missing you”.

Another one that comes to mind is on a popular TV show with Rajat Sharma. When asked why he did a song (Kya khoya kya paya) that was penned by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and what it did for his career? Jagjit cheekily replied, “Bas agle saal ek Padma Bhushan mil gaya. Yeh life ka pehla award mila.  (I got a Padma Bhushan award. Never got any award before this) Jagjit lived life to the fullest, spent huge sums betting on horses, partied hard, didn’t hesitate to splurge on his friends and colleagues.

The untimely death of his only child Vivek left Chitra and Jagjit devastated. There’s a touch of irony to this dreaded incident. Jagjit was performing at a private party where one of the guests asked him to sing a sombre ghazal. Maybe, the heavens gave him a sign. Jagjit was so engrossed in his performance that he kept weeping throughout. As fate would have it, few hours later, he got the tragic news.

Chitra gave up music, while Jagjit took a year to get out of the trauma. The ghazal maestro then released an album Someone Somewhere in the memory of his son.

Director Bhramanand deserves praise for his great sensitivity in addressing this tragic episode. 

It is truly remarkable how Jagjit picked himself after his son's death. He submerged himself into work totally, becoming a workaholic. He carried grief in his heart, but Jagjit never let this affect people around him. Old or new, he gelled with all, took care of their needs, even splurging on them.

The bhajans were a way to achieve spirituality which enabled him to cope with the personal loss.

Brahmanand has spoken to a whole lot of people, but the one person who has figured less than expected is Chitra. Impressions by friends, colleagues are fine, but a Jagjit Singh documentary having a restrained Chitra takes a chunk from the soul of the film. It is heart wrenching to hear Chitra say that one by one her dear ones have left her, but given her destiny, she fears that she won’t be able to meet with her son, husband and daughter (from her first marriage).

Lack of archival material and grainy footage hampers Bhramanand's film, but his heart is in the right place. Minor glitches can be overlooked easily. The narrative is simply following the life of Jagjit as it happened. Just like Jagjit, Kaagaz Ki Kashti, too, has weathered many storms to reach its destination.

It’s not so much a musical journey, but Bhramanand succeeds in bringing back to life the humane side of Jagjit. Jagjit was perhaps the only ghazal maestro who rocked his audience. The sailor has walked into the sunset, but his Kaagaz Ki Kashti will stay afloat in the vast ocean of hearts.

Cast: Jagjit Singh, Chitra Singh, 

Director: Bhramanand Siingh

Running time: 127 minutes