A few minutes into Kaagaz Ki Kashti (2017), Mahesh Bhatt appears on screen trying to simplify the phenomenon called Jagjit Singh through his insightful wisdom. Bhatt sa'ab states that the feeling of awe creates a distance between an artist and the audience. The reason Jagjit Singh was and continues to be loved so much is that he didn't have a larger-than-life persona; instead he transmitted a very friendly vibe to his fans. This, perhaps, is the best rationale to understand the unparallelled craze for the legend, who has been the face of Indian ghazal singing for billions across the world.
After the National Award-winning documentary on RD Burman, Pancham Unmixed (2008), it was always going to be tough for Brahmanand S. Siingh to match its brilliance with another documentary on a great musician. But with Kaagaz Ki Kashti, he creates magic once again. This is a superlative film on the late Jagjit Singh, tracing his journey from Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, to becoming a revered and loved ghazal maestro adored by the world. The director stitches together filmed interviews of various associates, family members, and friends of Jagjit Singh, all fondly recounting their memories of him.
There is a lot of footage where leading filmmakers can be seen reminiscing about him: Gulzar, with whom Jagjit brought alive the pain of Mirza Ghalib's words through his soulful renditions in the brilliant TV series on the great poet, Mahesh Bhatt, whose autobiographical film Arth (1982) had wonderful ghazals composed and sung by him, and Subhash Ghai, who also happened to be a college friend of Jagjit's. There are clips of great musicians, including Zakir Hussain, Ghulam Ali, Talat Aziz, Pankaj Udhas, Anup Jalota, Hansraj Hans, endlessly praising the greatness of the beloved artist. But it is through the anecdotes shared by his younger brother, wife Chitra, troupe associates, and close friends that we learn about the humble and benevolent person contained inside the Ghazal King.
Over two hours long, Kaagaz Ki Kashti converges three tracks: the first one traces Jagjit's rise to stardom from his college days to becoming a ghazal sensation, and the second act delves into the tragic personal loss of their son that submerged both Jagjit and Chitra into an ocean of sadness and grief. The final track shows his near and dear ones talk about his kind deeds and toward the end, they reflect on the ghazal legend's last days and the remnants of his legacy. In the documentary, there are a few endearing moments that stand out for me. Brahmanand Siingh uses archival footage of the show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, in which Jagjit sings his ghazal "Tumko Dekha To Yeh Khayaal Aaya" from Saath Saath (1982) and makes the show's host and the film's actor Farooq Shaikh lip-sync to his song. There is also reference to Jagjit's immense love and respect for "Shahenshah-e-Ghazal" Mehdi Hassan for whose treatment he had once raised money through a concert.
Jagjit Singh was a rare talent who popularised ghazal singing by touching the hearts of the masses and at the same time mesmerised the purists with his heavenly baritone and intensely tragic compositions. Kaagaz Ki Kashti is a delightful and touching tribute to one of the finest artists that India has ever produced. Amid the ocean of content on OTT platforms, do make time to sail on this boat that will always stay afloat!