Dubai: ‘The wind has blown my name away/And there’s no way back to my desolate land,
If you try too hard to behold me from afar/You’ll never be able to make me out,
My friend, farewell!’
When Rabindranath Tagore penned those immortal lines in his ‘Shesher Kabita’ (The Last Poem) in 1929, little would India’s first Nobel laureate have imagined that after a few decades, a young composer in Russia would create a chartbusting song out of it. Now, nearly 90 years later, a Dubai resident has sought to film the mesmerising story.
For Suvra Chakraborty, a Dubai-based entrepreneur who studied Russian and lived in Ukraine for more than 25 years, the discovery of the Russian trans-creation ‘Poslednyaya Poema’ (The Last Poem) came by a stroke of luck during a business trip to Uzbekistan in 2017.
“I was sitting at a hotel lobby in Tashkent when suddenly the crooners began singing a song in Russian whose lyrics sounded too familiar,” Chakraborty told Gulf News. “I asked them who wrote this piece, and they told me — why, of course Tagore!”
It was then that Chakraborty began digging deep into the masterpiece — created by legendary Russian composer Alexey Rybnikov and performed by Uzbek cultural icon Farrukh Zokirov and his band Yalla since the 1970s, which became a chartbuster in the erstwhile Soviet Union and has remained an evergreen tune across former Soviet countries. Pursuing the genesis of the song and its fascinating connection with Tagore took a few more years for Chakraborty, and the result is a self-produced documentary, also called ‘The Last Poem’, that will be screened as part of India’s 75th independence anniversary celebrations at the Indian Consulate in Dubai next week.
Tribute to UAE’s cultural confluence
The documentary, predominantly shot in Dubai and with a cameo by Zokirov, narrates the story of how a timeless song — based on translated compilation of lines from Tagore’s novel — evolved for years to become a totem of culture and universalism. Several diplomats here have dubbed the film as the perfect tribute to the cultural confluence of the UAE.
“Rabindranath Tagore happened to have been born in India. But I truly believe that he belongs to entire humanity,” said Dr Aman Puri, Consul-General of India in Dubai, during a recent screening of the documentary. “This film is also a testimony to the fact that art and culture connect people beyond language, beyond nationality ... The UAE has created a fertile ecosystem for people from more than 200 nationalities to come and live together in peace,” he added.
Joint Russian-Uzbek-Indian project
It is a sentiment with which his counterparts from Russia and Uzbekistan concur. “Culture has always served as a unifier for countries, people and civilisations. It is remarkable that we have all gathered to witness ‘The Last Poem’ in Dubai, on the hospitable land of the emirates, in the country that makes a wonderful example of a truly multicultural society,” said Oleg Fomin, the Russian Consul-General in Dubai.
“‘The Last Poem’ has been performed by the band Yalla to the music of Alexey Rybnikov and the verses of the great Indian thinker Rabindranath Tagore. I strongly believe that culture will become the fundamental factor to strengthen the spirit and unity of friendship of our nations in overcoming challenges for humanity, including COVID-19,” said Alisher Salomov, the Consul-General of Uzbekistan in Dubai.
“It’s really nice to recognise that more than 40 years after its premiere, ‘The Last Poem’ still touches hearts. The joint Russian-Uzbek-Indian project created by Suvra Chakraborty couldn’t leave anybody indifferent,” said Zokirov, a laureate of the State Prize of Uzbekistan, who has been the artistic director of the folk rock band Yalla since 1976.
The Kolkata connection
For Chakraborty — who hails from Tagore’s birthplace of Kolkata in India — the documentary is at once a tribute to the UAE’s rich fabric of cultural co-existence and yet another vindication of his decision to pursue Russian language soon after leaving school.
“We grew up in Kolkata amid very humble surroundings, with 11 members of our extended family cooped up in a one-room apartment,” he said. “I went to a free municipal school in Kolkata, and English was never my forte. So when I found myself next to fluent English speakers in college, I was very depressed and insecure. It was then that someone advised me to learn Russian — because not many people could speak the language, and, more importantly, the course was free!”
That invaluable lesson helped Chakraborty land his first job in Ukraine as the sales representative of a Singapore-based company just after the fall of the Soviet Union. Having come a long way since then, Chakraborty, now a successful entrepreneur and co-founder of the Ukraine-based Kyiv Classic Orchestra, hopes his newest venture will strike the right chord with a global audience.