Our nerves were frayed by the time we got to Braman Baria. The ride had been long and somewhat bumpy, the roads overflowing with trucks and cars and one-legged beggars.

We had not planned to stay with the Maestro’s family even though they’d insisted we should. We didn’t want to inconvenience them, or stretch their already limited finances. But the guesthouse in town was dusty and stank of mothballs, the beds unmade. Their home in contrast, looked ever so tidy. There was music and the smell of freshly cooked curry greeted us when we arrived. We said we’d stay the night and look for alternatives the next day. We ended up spending the entire week with them.

Eight months ago, while shooting “The Human Trade“, we took a small detour to Braman Baria and paid a visit to the Maestro, Ustad Afzalur Rahman. It was one of the loveliest afternoons we’d ever spent in Bangladesh. The Maestro was weak and frail, but he insisted on playing the sarod for us. His performance – probably the last one recorded on video – was haunting and heartfelt. Unforgettable.

He also told us his story – about how he lost his sight as a boy but found hope again when he learnt how to play the violin; about how he begged his guru, the famous Ayet Ali Khan, to teach him the sarod; how music taught him a different way of seeing.

But what moved us even more was the relationship he shared with his two daughters. They were both visually impaired. Both, remarkably gifted. This family lived and breathed music. It gave them purpose, defined their lives.

We left, determined to return to make a film about the Maestro. He was renowned in Bangladesh. Yet so few people outside his own country had ever heard of him. We thought this should change.

And then a few days after Christmas, we received a call. The Maestro had passed on. Right up until the end, he had been excited about our return. Had even made arrangements for a final concert. His swansong. But he couldn’t hold on long enough to see us a second time. Ruba, his elder daughter, said he died shortly after saying his prayers one evening. It’s hard to put in words how we felt about the Maestro’s departure. There was a profound sense of loss. Of having failed him, somehow. Of allowing yet another amazing story to go untold.

Which is why this trip meant so much to us. “The Maestro’s Daughters” is our film about the two most important people in Rahman’s life. He had trained them personally. Had even given them names that reflected his love for music – “Ruba” is a raga, and “Tungtang”, the sound an instrument makes.


They were in the midst of a music lesson when we arrived. A group of blind boys from a school nearby regularly came for tabla and violin classes. And the sisters clearly loved teaching them. It was something their father did regularly and they were determined to carry on his legacy. But more than anything else, they wanted to start a school that would accept blind girls as well. We were told there was no such facility in all of Bangladesh.

“It was my father’s dream,” the girls said almost simultaneously. They often spoke this way. As if they could read one another’s thoughts.

We realised during our time in Bangladesh that making the dream happen would be nothing short of impossible. The Rahman name is well known in musical circles and throughout our trip, people spoke of the Maestro in glowing terms. He was a rare talent, a genius, a saint. A gentle soul who loved music so much he believed it could change the world.

All kinds of people – politicians, musicians, community leaders – had all kinds of things to say about him. They spoke a lot. Spoke and spoke. And that was about it. The girls would attend meeting after meeting only to be talked to, talked at, talked over. They would smile, then privately tell us they were wasting their time. They handled it all with good humour.

“People can say whatever they want when there’s a camera, but then after that, nothing!” Ruba squealed one day.

The girls had a way of laughing even when things weren’t all that funny. They led sheltered lives but were smart enough to know that if they wanted to make their father’s dream happen, they’d have to do everything themselves.


We learnt very quickly how much it sucked to be women in Bangladesh. Neither one of the sisters could leave their home unaccompanied by a male relative – not because they were blind, but because it was unseemly for women to be seen travelling alone.

One morning, we visited the Maestro’s grave – a short journey that required a specially chartered minibus and the company of two male relatives. A small crowd followed us from where we parked, to where the Maestro lay – a simple grave next to an ancient mosque.

A low wall ran between a narrow walkway and the burial ground. The little path was crowded, overflowing with curious kids and loud adults, so I scrambled over the wall, hoping to take a photo. Immediately, a male voice shouted something unintelligible and I was gently pulled off the wall. It was un-Islamic, I was told, for a woman to stand next to a grave.

The family had prepared a wreath. But neither Ruba, Tungtang nor their mother could present it to the Maestro. Instead, some male relatives were asked to do the honours. The family – people closest to the Maestro – could only pay their respects from a distance. They said their prayers, tears streaming down their faces, even as some noisy boys scrambled over the wall, yelling at the top of their voices, oblivious to the weeping women below.

Afterwards, when we asked, Ruba would say she wondered how her father felt about never being able to be near his own daughters again.


We woke to the sounds of music every day. Someone would be practising the violin, or sarod, or tabla. There were intense rehearsals. The family had arranged a tribute concert for the Maestro, and they wanted it to be good. They practised three times a day. Out in their backyard, on the rooftop, in their living room. Anywhere. Everywhere.

It was hard not to be infected by their love for music. Yet, during our time in Braman Baria, we were also reminded that theirs was a unique kind of obsession. People were no longer interested in classical music, we were told. The younger generation only wanted to learn pop songs and western instruments.

The city’s premiere music school, founded by the legendary Allauddin Khan, no less, was a deserted shell when we visited. The girls’ parents used to teach here. Now, the principal told us no one was interested in enrolling.

“But you can change that!” We told Ruba. And her face lit up. “You can start some classes for blind girls!”

The school’s principal nodded when the sisters spoke to him, agreed that their father was a great man, agreed their idea was a good one.

And the girls left, convinced that very little would get done.


They spent days working on a song for the Maestro. An English ditty, closer to pop than classical.

The sisters told us their father liked all kinds of music.

“Especially Michael Jackson.”

And then they burst into peals of laughter. Wondered if the Maestro was now jammin’ with the King of Pop.

“Maybe he’s teaching him how to play sarod!”

They’re vocal, assertive young women at home. Full of ideas, full of opinions. So very different from the personas they feel compelled to adopt outside the house.

The concert in Dhaka was meant to be a tribute to their father. A time to celebrate his achievements and showcase his successors – the people who would carry on his legacy. We were more nervous then they. We wondered if the students would be able to steady their nerves, wondered if the family would let emotions overcome them, wondered if the audience would like the sisters’ new song. They had worked hard on it, this last gift to their father.

They might as well have not performed.

The concert was preceded by an endless procession of Very Important People taking to the mic. We were told this was standard practice in Bangladesh. There was no way anyone could perform unless the audience was also treated to some never-ending speeches. The girls were gracious. Even told us afterwards that they appreciated all the nice things that were said about the Maestro. One woman even delivered a speech that moved everyone to tears.

And then the talking was over, and the family started playing. And people started leaving. One of the show’s sponsors, an ice-cream manufacturer decided it was time to serve everyone strawberry popsicles. Kids jumped out of their seats, clamouring for theirs.

The entire auditorium suddenly sounded like the inside of a giant paper bag as everyone started ripping open ice-cream wrappers. A mobile phone rang. The woman who delivered the speech that made everyone cry decided it was a perfect time to strike up a conversation with the lady next to her. They never once stopped talking.

It was as if the speeches were more important than the concert itself. All that talk about the girls’ talent and how they should be supported, what was that about? We were outraged. Wondered if the audience would have been just as rude if the Maestro was performing.

The power went out just before the end of the concert. It was just as well. The sisters were singing the song they had composed for their father. They had spent weeks on it but the audience didn’t care. Was too ill mannered to care. And so Ruba and Tungtang sat on a darkened stage, singing their hearts out instead to the man who had made them who they were. He had never needed the light. And now, neither did they.