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India’s Bhupen Hazarika dies

Was filmmaker, composer, journalist

Indian multihyphenate Bhupen Hazarika died of multiple organ failure in Mumbai on Saturday, Nov. 5. He was 85.

Hazarika was a singer, poet, composer, filmmaker, author and journalist who made it his life mission to propagate the folk traditions of his native state Assam, in India’s northeast. He directed 14 features beginning with “Ek Bator Sur” (1956) and ending with 1988’s “Siraj.” Hazarika also composed the music for 12 features.

In the early 1950s, while Hazarika was a Ph.D candidate at Columbia U., he met legendary singer Paul Robeson and was inspired to compose an Indian version of “Ol’ Man River” in the Assamese, Bengali and Hindi languages. The resulting song, “Bistirno Parore,” became an anthem for Indian leftist groups.

He was accorded India’s highest film honor, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, in 1992.

His long-term companion, the filmmaker Kalpana Lajmi, survives Hazarika.

Lajmi said: “I have lost my father, my brother, my lover, my husband, my friend, my mentor and guide. I had a relationship with him for 29 years, and he is gone now.”

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