the ghazal

When Danny Denzongpa sang ghazals

Apart from a flourishing film career, the actor sang in Hindi and Nepali.

When Tshering Phintso Denzongpa was auditioning for roles in the 1970s, the Film and Television Institute of Indian alumnus was told that he looked too exotic for Hindi cinema. The Sikkimese actor had already changed his first name to Danny, on the recommendation of his FTII classmate Jaya Bachchan, but he was an oddity in a world that was and still is hostile towards actors from the North-east.

Denzongpa started out with bit parts in Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1971) and Zaroorat (1972) before his break-out performance in BR Chopra’s Dhund (1973). Over the next three decades, Denzongpa played innumerable roles, including the iconic gangster Kancha Cheena in Mukul Anand’s Agneepath (1990), a role that was reprised by Sanjay Dutt in the 2012 remake.

The singing break came in the form of bait for a role. In Yeh Gulistan Hamara (1972), Denzongpa was initially cast as a Naga rebel, but the part went to Sujit Kumar. The movie’s director, Atma Ram, offered Denzongpa the role of a servant, tempting him with the added bonus of a song. Denzongpa recorded the duet “Mera Naam Aao” with Lata Mangeshkar for music composer Sachin Dev Burman, but he lost out on the role to Johnny Walker. Atma Ram wanted to dub Denzongpa’s song with Manna Dey, but Burman insisted that Walker be filmed in Denzongpa’s voice.

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‘Mera Naam Aao’ from ‘Yeh Gulistan Hamara’.

The slurring accent is meant to be a parody of how people from the North-east sound when they sing in Hindi. The track was dropped from the movie after protests by members of the Ao community from Nagaland, which seems to have been the inspiration for the unnamed tribe depicted in the plot.

Whatever the circumstances, Denzongpa’s brief singing career had kicked off. He was born in Sikkim in 1948 into a family of horse breeders. He played the flute and could hold a note while shepherding horses through the valley. When Denzongpa enrolled at FTII for the acting course, music was part of the curriculum.

The opportunity to sing came again in Kala Sona (1975) under the baton of Rahul Dev Burman. In “Sun Sun Kasam Se”, written by Majrooh Sultanpuri, Denzongpa’s co-singer was Asha Bhosle, with whom he would later collaborate for Nepali songs. The song was immensely popular, but Denzongpa wasn’t exactly flooded with singing offers.

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‘Sun Sun Kasam Se’ from ‘Kala Sona’.

In Mahesh Bhatt’s Naya Daur (1978), Denzongpa sang with Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi. He did not get behind a microphone again until 1985, when Nadeem-Shravan released the album Star Ten in which actors like Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Mithun Chakraborty, Sachin and Danny Denzongpa sang songs alongside actresses like Kajal Kiran, Kalpana and Vijayta Pandit.

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‘Yun Dhoop Mein Na Jao’ from ‘Star Ten’.

Denzongpa’s intermittent singing career included the record Nazm, Geet and Ghazal under the EMI music label in 1979. In “Bagair Ishq Ke”, Denzongpa announces that he will pursue ghazal singing as a career. He sings from his heart, but the texture of his sonorous voice does not quite compliment the form. Nazm, Geet and Ghazal remains Denzongpa’s only excursion into the territory.

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Although Denzongpa’s Hindi film playback career did not take off, his fall-back option in the language in which he is fluent worked. Denzongpa has given voice to several hit Nepali songs. Watching him dance around Asha Bhosle in “Aage Aage Topai Ko Gola,” one of those rare occasions on which the disciplined actor lets his floppy hair down.

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‘Aage Aage Topai Ko Gola’.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.