Chandigarh, Friday, February 19, 1999

Player of Indian classical guitar
By Vandana Shukla
THIS artiste refuses to talk about his instrument unless you have listened to it. Perhaps he is right in his approach. I went to talk to him with a lot of skepticism, but after attending his concert I had to bow before his unusual endeavour.

Perfect playback foil
By Nonika Singh
IF you have spent prime youth in a culturally and geographically alienated (from India ie) land (England), go by the uninspiring name of Mangal Singh, possess a demeanour that fits a boxer, how else would you expect Bollywood to respond but with an icy cold reserve?

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Player of Indian classical guitar
By Vandana Shukla

THIS artiste refuses to talk about his instrument unless you have listened to it. Perhaps he is right in his approach. I went to talk to him with a lot of skepticism, but after attending his concert I had to bow before his unusual endeavour. It was a recital of a high standard in pure Indian classical tradition.

The artiste who waited for five long years to be given an audience by the sitar maestro Pt Ravi Shankar to help him turn his childhood dream of playing Indian classical music on the Hawaiin guitar is very unassuming. He carries grit and steely determination in his fragile frame along with the instrument he has worked upon for the past 30 years and baptised it as Indian classical guitar.

Pt Barun Kumar Pal, who knocked and hammered at the doors of classicists to let his Western instrument make an entry into the sacred arena of classical music, was born in a family of classical musicians. His father, Pt Bankim Chandra Pal, a disciple of Ustad Inayat Khan, and his sister, a disciple of Nikhil Banerji, were eminent sitar players.

He grew up with the classical tradition of two different gharanas, but nurtured a hidden desire to do something different. So, in a house that housed all sorts of musical instruments, he chose to play the guitar. His attempts at playing classical ragas on the Western instrument were actually encouraged, contrary to his expectation, by maestroes like Nikhil Banerji and Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia. They said they too were “struggling” with their instruments. Besides, they said the instrument “sounds good”.

Encouarged, Barun started playing the “alaaps” and “jods” with his sister and father, but when it came to “taans” — the limitation of the instrument came in the way. Barun says he believed if there was a limitation, it was the limitation of his mind and effort. He could not limit the expectations of music lovers who would like to enjoy the boundless beauty of Indian classical music through a new medium.

So, he set out to make innovations in his instrument. The first step was to add the sharp strings or “chikari” to the regular six strings of the guitar. Next, he added sympathetic strings or “tarab”. Still, he felt the finer nuances of Indian music like “meend” and “gamak” were difficult to produce.

Often, Barun would play light music tunes at concerts and people would demand things like “Rabindra sangeet” to be played. This required more refinement in the instrument, apart from tremendous hard work on his part. Ram Chand Biswas, a famous instrument maker from Calcutta, helped him in his endeavour. He increased the length of the instrument to accommodate 3 octaves. It also provided scope for “kharaj” — the extra base needed for Indian classical music.

Then, he changed the strings. Guitars are made of “E scale” strings all over the world, which is rather high for Indian classical music. He changed it to “C sharp” and changed the guage of the strings — from narrow to thicker — to get more resonance. Now, with these changes, he could also play “jhala” on the instrument. The instrument had almost been completed for the purpose of playing classical music.

But, all the while Barun continued playing light music on the guitar to get it popularised. He was at the peak of his commercial career in the early ’70s when he cut 17 discs — LPs and EPs with HMV and Polydor — was playing for background film music and giving indoor stadium concerts.

Simultaneously, a process of deep realisation was on that though he received money and claps, the audience was moved to tears only when maestros like Nikhil Banerji or Pt Ravi Shankar played the sitar. With the passage of time the realisation became deeper. He was missing the atmosphere he grew up with — that of classical music.

So, he walked out of a successful commercial career and closed all his contracts to explore the serene depths of Indian classical music on his new instrument. But, the identity of a commercial guitar player remained stuck to him wherever he went and people demanded light music tunes. He had to say a firm “no”.

Barun knocked at AIR, Calcutta, where he was taken as the first-ever “A grade” light music guitar player to be allowed entry as a classical guitar player. The doors were shut on him. Unrelented, he kept trying at each and every door — playing his unique instrument seeking its recognition in the classical domain.

In the meantime, he also realised the need for a guru. He had nobody to copy, nobody to follow. Carving out his own path he needed guidance. He says, “Father is father, but everybody who wants to make a mark in the classical tradition needs the blessings of a guru.” And, he decided he would seek as his guru none else but Pt Ravi Shankar, who was awarded the Bharat Ratna just recently. He was euphoric about it and said, “My teacher is a great artiste and equally great as a teacher with a kind heart and a great personality.”

So, after five long years of patient waiting, when Barun was trying to get an audience with the maestro from all possible corners, he was given 10 minutes time to play raga Malkosh in the morning. He thought he was doomed. But after listening to Malkosh, the maestro asked him to play a morning raga. After this assurance, which was like a short lease of life, a waiting period of three more years ensued before he was taken under his tutelage.

With total dedication of a “bhakta” towards his guru, Barun started writing the second chapter of his life on his instrument as he had envisaged. A long journey of self-motivated endeavour of perfection where each concert stood as a challenge, where he endeavoured to take his instrument beyond his capacity, to let it express the perfect tonal beauty of the Indian classical music. He dared to follow even the Dhrupad pattern of playing the ragas on his instrument.

His single-minded dedication opened the doors of AIR, Calcutta, where again he was taken as the first-ever “A grade” classical guitar artiste in the country. Now, after having come across the best quality of listeners who have recognised and appreciated his efforts, he says, he feels quite relaxed.

There are people who suggest to him to get his instrument registered in his name lest someone else took advantage of his life-time effort, but he remains nonchalant to such suggestions. He says he sought recognition for the potential of his instrument, not for himself. He wants his instrument to get posterity, not his name.

Any worries, any goals yet to be attained?

Only the future of his instrument worries Barun along with the future of a rich tradition that has been nurtured by dedicated people for thousands of years. He is preparing a few students across the globe in the Indian classical tradition in between his tight schedules of concerts and his own “sadhana”.

Following in the footsteps of his guru, he has also been giving talks and TV shows to popularise Indian classical music. His lecture demonstrations have been recorded by BBC Radio, BBC TV Asiad of the UK, Radio France, Radio Denmark, TV Sanfranciso, USA, Doordarshan, AIR India, and other channels in France, Italy and Switzerland.

Barun has earned the rare distinction of having been invited to perform at WOMAD (World of Music and Dance festival at Reading in the UK) where only two Asian artistes were invited. The recording of his performance has been preserved by National Archives, British National Library, London, in 1993.Top


Perfect playback foil
By Nonika Singh

IF you have spent prime youth in a culturally and geographically alienated (from India ie) land (England), go by the uninspiring name of Mangal Singh, possess a demeanour that fits a boxer, how else would you expect Bollywood to respond but with an icy cold reserve? Yet, when Mangal Singh landed in Bombay in 1990 and played his vocal cords (“the best instrument I can play”), reservations melted and the barricaded doors of the film world like the fabled “khul ja sim sim” flung open.

Signed for playback singing in Sunny Deol-starrer “Vishnu Deva”, Mangal’s first major breakthrough came with the stupendous success of Kaali teri gut te paranda tera laal ni... from “Bahar Aane Tak”. Alas, the singer failed to ride high on the crest of the popularity wave for he returned to the UK to wind up his business. Nevertheless, the superhit song secured him a foothold in the competitive dog-eat-dog film industry where, as he rightly affirms, “Not only what you know, but whom you know too matters”. But the singer is only too obliged and grateful to the late Gulshan Kumar for providing him the launching pad. He says, “A whole new crop of singers — Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu and of course me — owe our success to him”.

Today Mangal may not be a household name, but be it reigning superstars, Amitabh Bachchan to Aamir Khan or sidekicks like Gulshan Grover, the singer’s flexible voice which he modulates to suit the actor’s persona has been the perfect playback foil. Though he agrees that with rapid strides in the world of music technology, today anyone blessed with a moderate voice can aspire to be a singer, yet his own foray into the music world goes back in time.

In England he was part of a troupe “Chirag Pehchaan” comprising professionals and has to his credit some all-time hits like Para hat soneeye, rail gaddi aayee.... Then he brought out the Hindi version of Whitney Houston’s evergreen chartbuster I will always love you.. from “Bodyguard”, titled Tum ho mere sanam....

Years ago he had no compunctions about quitting a successful career across the seven seas to try his luck in Bollywood, today after working with great banners like Raj Kumar Santoshi (“Andaaz Apna Apna”, song: Dil karta hai tere paas aaoon...) and musical maestros like Laxmikant-Pyarelal (his personal favourites), his own land of birth i.e. Punjab beckons.

In Chandigarh to give finishing touches to his Punjabi album (music composed by Punjab’s ace music director Surender Bachhan) he has also recorded songs for a film based on Shiv Kumar Batalvi, the lyrical legend’s life. To be able to lend voice to the haunting lyricism of modern Punjab’s greatest poets would be a momentous moment for any singer. Alas, the lyrics (copyright hassels with Batalvi’s spouse) are penned by Naqshlyalpuri. Still, the singer is singularly honoured to be a part of the tribute.

Also in the pipeline is a pop album. About ephemeral pop music which could go bust any moment he reflects, “Out in the West, pop is an acronym for popular. But in India it has come to be identified as peppy feel good brand targeted at youngsters alone.” Otherwise, Mangal has great faith in the inherrent strength of Indian music which with its repertoire of inimitable ragas has no parallel in the world. Besides, for Mangal music is melody. He muses, “Watch any musical show and you will come across little children too humming songs of yore....”

Taking a breather, he adds, “Rap and reggae may come and go, but melody always reigns supreme”. To prove his point and ensure melody retains its crown, this winner of Yaadgar-e-Mohammad Rafi Society Award is pitching in his best, singing melodies in his resonant voice.Top

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Anu Malik in his element

JAANAM SAMJHA KARO (Tips): One does not expect outstanding music from Anu Malik. Just original will do, thank you! Here he does deliver. And to cap it all, the music is fluffy and enjoyable. For the title song, he holds the mike himself and does a fairly good job of it. In fact, all the songs are easy on the ears and that is what matters a lot these days.

Here, out of eight songs, Anu features in as many as three and he has given a good account of himself in all of them. He along with Kamaal Khan and Ila Arun sings I was made for loving you… with panache. Jaspinder Nirula has suddenly become hot property after Pyar to hona hi tha… and does not disappoint here with her Sabki baaretin aayee…. In fact, she sounds better when not singing in her usual full-throated style. The same song is also rendered by Alka Yagnik in another version but does not leave quite the same impact.

Alka Yagnik is better off in Kisi ne humse kiya hai vaada…. However, the music direction of this song is not that of Anu Malik but that of Anand Milind. Cultural exchange?

Udit Narayan tends to be rather loud in Chandani aaya hai tera …

But perhaps the best of the lot is Love hua… by Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu. The music seems destined to have its own 15 minutes of glory.

Lyrics are by Majrooh Sultanpuri.

SUN CHHAILA (Venus; Rs 30): There are so many wrong notions about folk songs. Some think that they are full of earthy charm. Well, the beats are hypnotic no doubt, but they can be as ribald as Dada Kondke. Sapna Awasthy is the girl responsible to give them a national exposure, pun unintended. Her name is fast becoming synonymous with all that is vulgar. Well, not all the songs are like that, but those which are more than make up for those which are not. Shows that she has it in her to sing straight songs if she wants to. But she has succumbed to the demands of the commercial world.

Among the clean songs she has sung is Kaun bhool hui gayee … with Roop Kumar Rathod. It has been written by Maya Govind. Actually, it displays the shortcomings of her voice and the rough edges. Perhaps that is why she has gone in for the so-called folk songs where the lyrics hide her weaknesses.

Jija chhedo na mujhko akele mein… and Darji tujh se karoongee ladayee… have been heard before while the others are alien for this region.

Lyrics are by Pt Vishveshwar Sharma, who has written better stuff earlier.

Music is by the old favourites of Sapna, Triveni-Bhavani.

In one song, Darji tujh se …; she has Satish Dehra crooning with her.

BALLE NI BALLE (Venus; Rs 30): There is a full-fledged Hinglish in the works. So why should Punglish be far behind? For the uninitiated, it may be added that this is a language which is a cross between Punjabi and English. In this odd lingo, most of the nouns are English and the verbs Punjabi.

So far, it has been a butt of many jokes. But in this cassette Baba Khan uses this language in a matter of fact way. So we have the lyrics which go something like this:

Akh moti moti teri eyebrow black,

Teri hirni vargi chaal,

I want to see you only.

Let it be added that lyrics are also by the singer in which he uses not only his own name repeatedly but also that of his friends. The Punjabisation of English words is to be heard to be believed. For example, the word “engagement” turns into “ungagement” in one number. Let it be added that the music is also by Baba Khan.

The lyrics may be funny but the singing is not. In fact, Baba has a promising voice and once he gets rid of his shortcomings, he has the potential to emerge as a major singer. His music is also lively and forces one to shake the leg. And that is more than enough to make a Punjabi cassette hot cake.Top

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