The 28-minute documentary If Not For You is a film made for Bob Dylan fans by Bob Dylan fans. Directed by Vineet Arora and scripted by Jaimin Rajani, the film, titled after the Dylan song of the same name, focuses on how the living legend has influenced and inspired different musicians.

Among the interviewees are veteran musicians from Kolkata and frequent visitors to the city, such as singer Usha Uthup, filmmaker-songwriter Anjan Dutt, music producer Miti Adhikari, singer-songwriter Susmit Bose, Rahul Guha Roy of Cassini’s Division, veteran percussionist Nondon Bagchi, and folk-fusion artist Arko Mukhaerjee.

There are also interviews with Purna Das Baul, who is said to have had a close friendship with Dylan, and former Jadavpur University professor Ananda Lal, who included Dylan in the English Literature syllabus in 2016 shortly after Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The film was screened across Kolkata and Shillong in 2019.

If Not For You (2019).

Arora is a part-time filmmaker and full-time information technology consultant, while Rajani, a Dylan aficionado, worked in advertising and journalism and is now concentrating on his own music. For these Kolkatans, choosing their city over others was a deliberate choice, as was their decision to hold screenings in Kolkata and Shillong.

“Dylan is like a local resident of Calcutta,” Rajani said. “This city firstly had some of the earliest rock-and-roll bands like High and Great Bear, so there was a culture of listening to English music. Secondly, Dylan is appreciated here more as literature, as poetry.”

The only other Indian city with a strong attachment to Dylan is Shillong, Rajani added, because of blues rocker Lou Majaw (who began his career in Kolkata).

Rajani developed the script around Dylan songs that he felt would tie in well with Kolkata’s spirit. For instance, over the lines “In the dime stores and bus stations, people talk of situations, read books, repeat quotations, draw conclusions on the wall” from Dylan’s Love Minus Zero, we see a group of men, newspapers in hand, animatedly discussing something or the other.

(L-R) Jaimin Rajani with Susmit Bose, Usha Uthup and Nondon Bagchi; Vineet Arora.

The film is intercut between the interviews, which are in black-and-white, with archival footage of Dylan, some of which is in colour. While the interviews often offer interesting stories and insights, they begin and end abruptly with no continuity of thought between them.

Arora said that this was because he did not want to bore viewers. “We had at least one more hour of Anjan Dutt talking about how Dylan made him develop his relationship with Calcutta,” Arora said. “Had we added that, perhaps we’d have had more of a story. But attention spans are small now. We only chose to put in what we felt were the most profound things each person said.”

Rajani added that he wanted the interviews to be “freewheeling conversations”, where questions for each interviewee were based on their unique relationship with Dylan’s work.

Anjan Dutt talks about his relationship with Dylan and Kolkata. Susmit Bose, who was close to Pete Seeger, one of Dylan’s inspirations, talks about the poetry in Dylan’s lyrics. Miti Adhikari, who was a producer for BBC in the United Kingdom, had a take on Dylan that differed from Purna Das Baul, who spent time with Dylan when he visited the wedding ceremony of the baul singer’s son in Kolkata in 1990.

Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man, sung in Bengali by Purna Das Baul.

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