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Director Mehreen Jabbar in Dubai. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News

Kolkata: In 1888, when Rabindranath Tagore composed ‘Amaro porano jaha chaye’ (‘This is all my heart desires’), little did he know that the ‘citizen of the world’ that he had always espoused to be and encouraged the youth of his time to strive to be; that the boundless, limitless entity that he had aspired to be all his life through his insatiable thirst for music, painting and poetry would one day come to be such a living embodiment of what his heart truly desired.

If Tagore, the 1913 Nobel laureate in Literature, and his works — particularly the 2,232 songs composed by him — are being heard, sung, loved and analysed with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm in the current age and time, then that is reason enough for one to be convinced about the maestro’s relevance in the contemporary world. Just as Pakistani filmmaker Mehreen Jabbar has found out and is thrilled to further explore Tagore’s treasure-trove of music and creativity.

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A still from 'Dil Kiya Karay'. Image Credit: Supplied

In one of the finest depictions of a cross-cultural assimilation, Jabbar has used Tagore’s composition ‘Amaro porano jaha chaye’ in Bengali in the popular Pakistani television series ‘Dil Kiya Karay’, where the character of Aiman, played by Yumna Zaidi, renders this song twice, with Jabbar’s New York-based close friend Sharvari Deshpande doing the playback in Bengali. Jabbar had uploaded the video clippings of the song from ‘Dil Kiya Karay’ through her Instagram handle last year, but netizens took note of it only recently and went gaga over such a fantastic choice.

Gulf News caught up with Jabbar, who, in spite of her busy shooting schedule in New York, managed to take some time off to share her thoughts on why and how did she have such a novel thought of using a Rabindra Sangeet (songs written and set to tune by Tagore) in an Urdu television series, the role of the diaspora in building cultural ties, her love for the big screen ... and much more. Following are excerpts.

What really was the trigger or motivation behind using a Rabindra Sangeet in a television series?

A: The serial ‘Dil Kiya Karay’, which I shot three years ago, had a character in it played by Yumna Zaidi who was very interested in poetry and who also sang and I tried to figure out what kind of pieces I could use for her character during the course of the series. It was then that I remembered my friend Sharvari singing this song at a gathering when we had met in New York. And I was totally bold over and drawn to this beautiful melody, though I did not know the details of the song. So I got in touch with Sharvari and asked her if she could share more details about it and that’s how it happened.

How relevant do you think Tagore really is in the contemporary world of literature/entertainment?

Unfortunately, it is only recently that I have started exploring Tagore. Of course I had heard about him, but I had never read him before. So working for this television series actually introduced me to Tagore and I hope to explore his world and his genius. I always believe that literature and art are universal. They appeal to the human emotion, the human condition and the more we experience cultures from other parts of the world, the more we realise how similar we really are because at the end of the day, we human beings have the same wants and needs. So, I feel it is very relevant to be exposed to art — whatever be its source.

With India and Pakistan sharing so much in terms of their sociocultural roots, do you feel collaborations such as ‘Amaro porano jaha chaye’, as used in ‘Dil Kiya Karay’, should have happened more often on either side of the border?

I really do believe in cultural exchanges. No matter what the political realities are, people from India and Pakistan do share a common bond. Obviously, we love our countries and we are citizens of our respective countries, but art, music, painting, writing and such other forms of expression cannot be held hostage to any one particular country. I think collaborations, interactions go a long way in tackling ignorance and reducing tension because we always resort to hatred when we don’t know the other side. As a result, people and cultures we don’t know tend to become ‘the other’. But when ‘the other’ becomes familiar, we realise that there is actually not much of a difference between ‘us’ and ‘the other’.

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Mehreen Jabbar. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News

Your film ‘Ramchand Pakistani’ is such a runaway hit on the big screen! As a viewer, and not just as a filmmaker, what do you find more alluring — the cinema or the small screen?

When I was growing up, I was quite fascinated by the medium of cinema and obviously one always wanted see one’s work on the big screen. Unfortunately, I got a chance to do that only twice in my career so far. The way things stand right now, because of COVID-19, cinema all over the world is still recovering and we have a long way to go. I personally love both the platforms a lot — especially with these web series, there is so much more access to people around the world. But cinema is irreplaceable and I’m quite old-fashioned that way because I still love going to the cinema to watch a film. I’m not the kind of person who loves to watch a film on television or on a mobile screen. Of course I have done that occasionally — particularly in the last one year, when I did not step inside a theatre because of the pandemic. But yes, I do find the big screen a lot more alluring.

Pakistani artists, particularly vocalists such as Abida Parveen, Ghulam Ali, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan — to name just a few — have had quite an endearing bond with music lovers in India. In comparison, Pakistani films have not had that big a market ever in India. Do you think there is something that could have been done better?

Compared to India, Pakistan has a much smaller industry. But I am happy that ‘Ramchand Pakistani’ was shown on the big screen in India, and so was Shoaib Mansoor’s ‘Khuda Ke Liye’. So about two to three Pakistani films were shown in India in recent years, but that is certainly not enough. In Pakistan, we are far more exposed to Indian content through cinemas, through television and I feel that India, too, needs to see the good stuff that’s coming out of Pakistan.

How important is the diaspora when it comes to interactions and exchange of ideas between the Indian and Pakistani communities?

Personally speaking, the diaspora is very important for me because I live in New York. Some of my closest friends are Indians. I have met most of my Indian friends in America and it’s so crazy that you have to step out of your countries to meet your neighbours!

I think the diaspora has a unique position because there is so much nostalgia, there is so much missing of home and yet it allows you your own space.

So far as Indians and Pakistanis are concerned, there is a lot of collaboration and mixing between the two communities outside their respective countries. There is a lot more acceptability of one another and that gives the diaspora its significance when it comes to cultural assimilation.

— Sanjib Kumar Das can be reached on Twitter: @moumiayush