CD review

Lost in translation

Anup Jalota, the uncrowned emperor of the bhajan singing tradition, is back with a bang and those of us who have heard him through the last few decades are more than happy to grab what he has to offer. What more, this time, Anup has rendered his voice to the immortal Indian song of all times, The Bhagavad Gita. In a simple and sweetly abridged version of the whole epic brought out as a two-CD set by EMI, Anup Jalota sang the Hindi poetry in lyrics written by Maya Govind, and set to tune by music director Vivek Prakash, who also pitches in as the voiceover for Arjuna.

The first CD contains 10 songs, one for each chapter. Opening with a narration from Anup Jalota who speaks as Lord Krishna, the listener is introduced to the situation in which The Bhagavad Gita was revealed. The first song is Arjuna’s lament to Krishna, where he asks why this war and destruction where members of the family are dying. Each song is named after chapters like ‘Arjun Vishaad Yoga’, ‘Sankhya Yoga’, ‘Karma Yoga’ and so on.

While one must be appreciative of this wonderful idea, Maya Govind’s writing needs far more clarity and understanding. The poetry goes from sublime and soothing to often being forced in its rhyming. At some point, it feels like the lyrics were written out of sheer boredom to make them rhyme. Across the songs, one finds words that are repeated ad nauseum. Maya Govind, who is known for writing many film songs, seems to have used the same technique in her translation process for this text as well. The sublime eternal philosophy of this highly celebrated text is lost, and lost in translation literally. The jacket announces that the Gita has been ‘simplified’ to ‘elegant’ Hindi. None of which is true if you listen to the tracks.

The second CD contains 10 more songs; all following the same note of the earlier ones. It’s hard to differentiate between them as they all sound alike. Music director Vivek Prakash’s orchestration of each track is a little more than a copy-paste attempt done more on the editing console than by any effort of putting thought behind those tunes. The ragas are blurred and the mood of all the songs is stuck in monotony even before the CD ends. There is a zero-recall value for any track. If you have heard one, you have heard them all, and this set of CDs is a good example for that.

The only solace is the wonderful bhajans written by poet Narayan Agrawal, who writes under the pen-name ‘Daas Narayan’. Surprisingly, these are sung by the late ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh. The CD cover has the image of three faces; it wouldn’t have cost the record label much to carry the face of Jagjit Singh too. On the whole, this isn’t a CD that will remain in public memory for long.

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