Legendary musician Prafulla Kar has presented an imperishable treasure trove to Odia music which is still a matter of discussion across media platforms even as it has been nearly a week to his unexpected exit from Odisha’s cultural firmament. This space will be too small if one sits to write about his brilliance in Odissi music, light classical vocal or how he incorporated Odia literature in Odia films. But not many people are aware about his indomitable human spirit and the circumstances that established him as a legend.
Sunday POST brings you a few interesting, lesser-known corners from the life of the musical genius.
Bonding with ‘Kuni Nani’
He shared a warm relationship with his sister ‘Kuni Nani’ who is more popular as the Iron Lady of Odisha or Daughter of Fire. Yes, she was Nandini Satpathy, his cousin (father’s sister’s daughter). So much so, that on a rare occasion, Nandini, once considered the eyes and ears of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had to call his younger brother Prafulla to give company at her new ministerial quarter in Delhi.
Recalling that incident in his regular column Saaunta Smruti published in Odia monthly magazine Pourusha, Kar said, “Kuni Nani’s care was known to all but I was fortunate to be blessed with little more than my share. In fact, I used to idolise her which I still do. At that time, she had joined as a Minister of State in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet and was allotted a quarter at 2, Janpath. After about a week of joining the ministry, she made an urgent call to my mother seeking my immediate presence at her place in Delhi. Reason: The area was isolated and jackals could be spotted roaming on her verandahs. So, she was not at ease at her new residence. After learning this, I rushed to the national capital without further delay. The original plan was to stay there for a week or two but I stayed back for over four months as I had no work at hand.”
He went on to add, “As I was idling at her place she was concerned about my future. She even arranged a cushy job for me in Delhi. But after learning that I had an interest in practicing law or doing business, Nani didn’t force me as I had her confidence.”
Commoner at CM’s grievance cell
By the time Nandini Satpathy became the Chief Minister of Odisha, Kar had already carved a space in Odisha’s music scene. But it was not easy then to eke out a living from music. The going was tough.
However, he never approached his CM ‘Nani’ for any favour. One day, his friend film director Dhira Biswal almost forced him to meet his high profile kin to resolve his problems. So, he met the Odisha CM but not as her brother but as a common citizen of Bhubaneswar standing in the queue at her grievance cell. Satpathy too was shocked to spot him in the line. Known for her professional approach, she too asked him to follow the standard operating procedure like others if he wanted to the matter to be taken up. Needless to say, the matter was taken up by CMO on merit.
Prafulla-Harihar, friends forever
If Prafulla Kar was the singer, composer and music director, his school friend Harihar Mishra from Puri was his songwriter. Harihar would write songs on contemporary issues and Prafulla would work on them. The two, ardent lovers of Odissi music, had shifted their base from Puri to Cuttack for a flourishing career. The camaraderie was such that Prafulla became upset when Harihar left Cuttack after landing a government position. But they remained in touch and continued to work in tandem.
Harihar, a former Sahitya Akademi president, recalls their bonding by saying, “During Chinese aggression in 1962, All India Radio had arranged a musical programme at Cuttack to spread patriotism and raise funds for the soldiers. The event, comprising all auditioned radio artistes, was to be relayed by several centres. At that time my friend Prafulla was not an auditioned singer of AIR. Still he asked me to write a song which he would perform. Though it was beyond the protocol, he managed to get an assurance from event’s coordinator actor Hemanta Das that he would be given an opportunity to perform before a large audience. Seeing his zest, I started penning the patriotic song Ratri Pahichi..Jatri Chalichi. But unfortunately there was a power cut in Puri, so I had to continue in the lantern light. As if that was not enough, my fountain pen ran out of ink. I was afraid that I might forget some important lines if left incomplete. So, I cut my finger tip with the lantern glass and completed the song by dipping the pen’s nib in my blood.”
Harihar continues: “But our efforts seemed for a lost cause as the music director Bhubaneswar Mishra rejected Prafulla outright as he was not an auditioned artiste. Since we had given so much to this song, I was determined to give my friend the opportunity by any means. Left with little choice, I snatched the microphone from anchor Hemanta Das before he could announce the closure of the event and told the audience, ‘the last song of the event, dedicated to the nation, will be presented by budding singer Prafulla Kar’. Even though AIR didn’t record the song, Prafulla gave one of his best performances on that occasion and it was not less than an achievement for us.”
Mohd Rafi & important life lessons
Had everything been gone according to the plan, not Shantanu Mohapatra but Prafulla Kar would have been given credit for making legendary singer Mohd Rafi sing his first Odia song. For the record book, Kar is the first Odia music director to rope in Rafi to sing for a bilingual film Jharana (Hindi-Odia) but it remained unreleased.
Recalling the entire episode, Kar in his Saaunta Smruti, revealed, “I was approached by M Bhimeswar Rao from Madras to score music for the local version of a Hindi-Odia bilingual movie Jharana. Shankar-Jaikishan was roped in for the Hindi version. Legendary playback singer Mohd Rafi had to lend voice for both versions. I was quite excited to direct Rafi. But the production house put a condition that my compositions have to be approved by Duttaram, the assistant of Shankar-Jaikishan. My friend Harihar Mishra, the songwriter of the movie, and I went to Mumbai and after a couple of sessions we were introduced to Rafi Saab. He was very happy with the composition and my rendition. He was excited when told by Duttaram ji that the songs will top the chart. After the mahurat, our photographs with Rafi Saab and Duttaram were splashed in prominent film magazines of Mumbai and I was on cloud nine. Perhaps directing Rafi had gone to my head and I had crossed the line between confidence and arrogance. The movie was shelved and with that my dreams of making Rafi sing his first Odia song.”
This reminded him of his grandfather’s advice that God may forgive man’s several mistakes but not arrogance which was proved in that case, admitted Kar.
Gesture that caught
detractors off balance
Akhaya Mohanty and Prafulla Kar are two glowing stars of Odisha’s musical sky. The duo ruled the scene for decades and created many timeless and soul stirring songs. They also received countless awards and honours for their contributions to music. However, like their creations their professional rivalry too was legendary.
But what happened at an award event in 2011 scripted a new chapter in the history of Odia music industry. Eminent poet and storyteller Satya Das was a witness to that incident.
Bioscope award is one of the most prestigious awards of Odia film industry and the ‘Prince’ of Odia music industry Prafulla Kar was nominated for the honour in 2010-11. The organisers were in search of a person who can match his stature and do the honour of felicitating the legend, says Das.
Kar came to know about the organisers’ dilemma and told them not to worry. “My mother will be the chief guest of this event and it will be an honour to receive the award from her hands,” he said to the organisers, recalls Das.
The event arrangers were at their wit’s end as Kar’s mother had passed away long back. They wondered who he was referring to as his mother.
It was none other than Subarna Manjari Devi, mother of his arch rival Akshaya Mohanty.
He had seen his mother in Subarna Manjari and the organisers finally had to bring an ailing Subarna Manjari to the event. Prafulla came down from the stage to receive the award from her December 9, 2011 at Sahid Bhawan, Cuttack amid thunderous applause.After that, there wasn’t a dry eye in the hall, recalls Das, adding, the incident also turned his detractors into his admirers.