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‘Those were the days’: a music video for a cause-a million masks for a million people

An Age-old Tagore Classic-Purano Shei Diner Kotha-translated Into Hindi By Javed Akhtar Spans Oceans During Lockdown

SAM SPECIAL-12-06-2020

Kaushiki Chakraborty

Those days of the past

Can we ever forget?

What the eyes saw, the heart felt,

We cannot forget.


Purano Shei Diner Kotha”, a timeless song composed by Rabindranath Tagore.

The Bengali bard had composed the song inspired by Scottish national poet Robert Burns’ ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Burns’ lyrics –which now in the English-speaking world have become associated with the New Year festivities-reminisces about old friends sharing a drink and recalling adventures they had in their youth. It is a reunion of friends.

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A London-based cultural group has produced a music video with a new version of the song, an adaptation of Tagore’s ‘Purano Shei Diner Kotha’ and a fresh Hindi translation of the timeless gem which spans the age-old Auld Lang Syne.

Titled ‘Those Were the Days’, the video track has been produced in view of people isolated worldwide due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and who want to reunite with family and friends, but are unable to do so.

Some of the biggest names in Indian and British music and cinema have joined forces to offer audiences a sense of togetherness in the present bleak lockdown situation.

The music video produced by the London-based Baithak UK-an influential not-for-profit cultural group that promotes and celebrates the rich legacy of South Asian arts in the UK-has brought together artists from the UK and India to raise funds to support two charities in India and who provide essential support to vulnerable people of all ages and backgrounds who are significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Baithak UK has teamed up with two charities in India-‘Kolkata Gives’ and ‘Mijwan Welfare Society’ in Uttar Pradesh-who are each raising funds to distribute one million masks for one million people.

Baithak UK has brought together a great bunch of creative to work on the music track, which spans the age-old ‘Auld Lang Syne’, Tagore’s Bengali adaptation ‘Purano Shei Diner Kotha’ and a new Hindi translation- ‘Beetey Dino Ka’ penned by renowned poet-lyricist-scriptwriter Javed Akhtar, said artistic director of the music video and filmmaker Sangeeta Datta.

Lifts-SAM Special-English-12 June 2020-1

“To celebrate the unifying power of music on the occasion of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth anniversary, Bhaithak UK has brought the globally popular folk song by Scottish national poet Robert Burns, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, it’s Bengali adaptation by Tagore and the recent Hindi translation-which was written exclusively for Baithak UK-by Indian legendary poet Javed Akhtar,” Datta told South Asian Monitor by phone from London.

Bollywood singer and composer Shankar Mahadevan sings Rabindra Sangeet for the first time with Kaushiki Chakraborty-one of India’s best classical singers of her generation-along with Sangeeta Datta and Soumik Datta, who has composed the music for the track.

“In these lockdown times, a number of artists have come together to respond to Baithak’scall and the video has been made by artistes singing on their phones or in their home studios,” Sangeeta Datta told SAM.

More than 25 artists from the UK and India, including actors, singers, music composers and classical dancers from India have performed the song from their living rooms from different locations due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Actor Vidya Balan gives the key message of “Masks for All” while actors Shabana Azmi, Sharmila Tagore and actor-director Aparna Sen recite the Tagore poem and also urge people to wear masks and stay safe.

The video also features Noble Laureate Amartya Sen.

For the Bengali version, Kaushiki Chakraborty is joined by Rabindra Sangeet stalwart Pramita Mallick, popular actor-director Parambrata Chatterjee, Bangla rock artist Rupam Islam, and the very popular musical duo Soumyojit Das and Sourendro Mullick.

The group is joined by the actor-dancer Sreenanada Shankar.

Auld Lang Syne is presented by the international soprano singer Patricia Rozario, Tagore singer Sangeeta Datta, sarod player-composer Soumik Datta and musical theatre artist Sasha Ghoshal.

The artists urged viewers to stay safe and follow WHO recommendations by wearing masks.

“The folk song by Robert Burns ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is about reunion with friends. We all want to reunite with family and friends right now, but are unable to, in times of social isolation, disease and death,” Datta, who is famous for her documentary feature-The Bird of Dusk-an insight into the life of late writer-director Rituparno Ghosh, an iconic  Indian cultural figure, told South Asian Monitor.

“In India my thoughts are with the thousands of migrants and daily wage earners who are homeless and hungry today, unable to reach their homes and families.

“By creating a virtual community of artists from different spaces and time zones, we will voice a positive and artistic message of togetherness in these difficult times.”

The challenge in translating Tagore is to retain the simplicity, purity, this magical poetry of love, said lyricist Javed Akhtar, who translated Tagore’s timeless song into Hindi for the music video.

“How does one carry this from one language to another? Someone has rightly said, however, carefully you pour incense from one jar to another, some of it will get lost in the ether.

Lifts-SAM Special-English-12 June 2020-2

“But this is Tagore’s music, its fragrance could not fade in anyway,” said Akhtar, an award-winning poet, lyricist and scriptwriter and who has translated Tagore songs in Hindi for Sangeeta Datta’s feature film “Life Goes On”.

“What a beautiful song,” said Shankar Mahadevan, who sings a Rabindra Sangeet for the first time in the music video.

“I simply loved the melody and enjoyed singing it,” Mahadevan said.

Having grown up in a Bengali household, it was a happy privilege to sing Tagore in Hindi for the first time that too in Javed Akhtar’s words, said classical vocalist Kaushiki Chakraborty, who performs both in Hindi and Bengali versions of the track.

“It’s an honour to be part of this Baithak UK production, to work with all collaborators, and a great responsibility because music has the power to spread a message.

“I am happy to do this for the cause of mask safety awareness and wish the charities all the best,” she said.

The lockdown times have been both challenging and exciting to stitch together these remarkable voices into one song, which flows through different languages, said Soumik Datta, who composed the music for the video.

“It’s really about the power of music which transcends social isolation and heals,” Souvik Datta, who is an international composer, sarod player and television presenter, told South Asian Monitor.

His latest album “Jangal” is protest music against deforestation and climate change. His travelogue on Indian music Tuning 2 You has been aired on Channel 4 and Sony BBC Earth and Rhythms of India (BBC4).

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The music video took three weeks in the making from the conception, to contacting the artists, shooting and editing, said Sangeeta Datta.

“In London you really get a sense of that historical exchange between Robert Burns/ Tagore/ Javed Akhtar as if striking up a conversation in this song,” she said.

“It’s been hard work but exciting to make a video in lockdown times, to put these varied popular artists together to spread an urgent message through the vast power of music. I wish Kolkata Gives and Mijwan Welfare Society all the best.”

Award winning filmmaker Souvid Datta, who won the Cannes Short Film Festival and IMDB New Filmmaker of the Year awards, has edited the music video, drawing from his archieves and stock footage.