|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, June 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Keeping banner flying
Versatility is his forte
‘Asoka’ — the not so great
Journey in search of excellence
When he took to the stage at the age of six Ustad Amjad Ali Khan had little imagined that he would be able to carry forward so successfully the glorious tradition of music dating back to Mian Tansen.
But after five decades of public performances the sarod maestro is quite satisfied and feels that the future of Hindustani classical music in the country is bright.
"I have received tremendous love and affection in my career from audiences in the country and abroad in these 50 years, but my journey is yet to end," the maestro, who has just entered 50 years of public performance told PTI in an exclusive interview.
The maestro, who has donned the mantle of the sixth generation of the Senia Bangash School tracing its roots to the great Mian Tansen, however, refuses to attach much significance to the milestone. "It’s not sports where there is a winner or a loser or a game of cricket to score runs."
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s name has become synonymous with the sarod, invented by his illustrious family after modifying the ‘rabab’ an Afghan folk instrument. His unique style of playing has made the instrument more appealing to the global audience, but the maestro is modest in accepting this accolade.
"I was not even aware that I was into 50 years of public performance. My wife and children informed me," the Ustad said, "but this is a never-ending journey in search of excellence and perfection and total commitment to purity of ragas and classical music".
Asked whether he remembered his first public performance, the maestro, son and disciple of legendary Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, said he did. "But I will not claim that I was some kind of a child prodigy because it was all part of my training.
"From the age of two I accompanied my father to learn stage manners. Suddenly one day I was performing on stage," he said.
The sarod maestro underscored that the process of learning was not over for him even though he has gained so much recognition and received many international awards.
He has received the Padma Vibhushan from the Indian Government and the prestigious Deshikottama from Vishva-Bharati University. He has also received the UNESCO Award, UNICEF’s National Ambassadorship as well as honoroary citizenships of Houston (Texas) and Nashville (Tennessee).
On music, he elaborated that there are two kinds — one which is only sound or "pure music" and the other music which has various forms, bhajan, ghazal, film music and pop music.
"I live in the world of pure sound without words. Words create barriers. And sound is also synonymous with melody. ‘Swar hi Ishwar hai’ this is the food for your soul like the colour and fragrance of flowers," the Ustad said.
He said "I feel embarrassed to say that music is my profession. It’s my passion."
Expressing satisfaction on his musical journey so far, the maestro said though style over the past half century had completely changed, Hindustani classical music had retained its niche.
Asked whether he perceived any change in the classical music scene, the Ustad said the overall scenario since the days of Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan had undergone a complete transformation.
"The days of rajas and maharajas, the original patrons of classical music are gone. Now the biggest patrons are the audiences," he said.
The vacuum created by the rajas and maharajas has been filled by corporate houses, including big media houses, which generously support classical music and help it to thrive, he said.
The geographical reach of Hindustani classical music too has expanded.
"I have not only performed in almost every part of the globe, but have also been given a lot of respect. I have received standing ovations from the entire audiences at major art centres of the world like the Royal Albert Hall," the Ustad said.
The Ustad suggested that besides supporting Hindustani classical music, corporate houses should also come to the aid of those learning music and masters facing financial problems.
He expressed confidence that with the blessings of gurus of both the North and South Indian schools of music, the future of Hindustani Classical music was bright as "today there are a lot of upcoming talent in almost every field of classical music."
He especially mentioned his two sons, Amaan Ali Bangash (25) and Ayaan Ali Bangash (23), who are now well entrenched to carry forward the traditions of the Senia Bangash school. There are also bright musicians in other areas, both vocal and instrumental, he said.
The maestro said the contribution of Bengal and the South Indian states was specially noteworthy in carrying forward the tradition of Hindustani classical music with a large number of talented young musicians coming from these areas.
He also appreciated the move by the Centre to dedicate a TV channel, DD-Bharti, to promote Indian culture and music and urged private channels to follow suit which would help in promoting classical music, which is "our treasure and needs to be cultivated". PTI
Keeping banner flying
Sapna Bhattacharya never aspired to be a producer but she was destined to be one. When her producer -director brother Sanjeev Bhattacharya (of ‘Chunauti’ and ‘Campus’ fame) died four years ago, leaving the banner of Anant Production high and dry, she had no option but to take up the herculean job of not only continuing it but keeping up with the high standards "Aamanat" had set in the history of Indian television.
"Aamanat, the longest tele-serial that the Indian audience ever viewed, was at it’s peak during that time," says Sapna who recently visited Chandigarh, her home for more than a decade before her family migrated to Mumbai. "When the responsibility to keep the serial afloat fell on my lap, with my meagre experience of a costume designer of the serial I gave my best shot to keep up the standards," she says.
The high TRP ratings "Aamanat" has been receiving confirms Sapna’s calibre as producer who knows her subject well. "After running the serial for four years we have gone through a revamp recently," she says. After exploring the man- woman relationship outside marriage, "Aamanat" is adding a spiritual touch to the main theme.
Sapna who was in town in connection with the pilot project of an adventurous serial for children is unhappy with the latest trend in serials. "When ‘Aamanat’ had shown extramarital affairs, it was a fresh concept, but over the years it has become a trend with all production houses and the situation is such that no channel is willing to except anything new," she says.
According to Sapna, media has an important role to play to break this monotony. "There are other relationships to explore like a mother-daughter relationship, father-son relationship and so on, but none of the producers are willing to take a risk due to the fear of rejection," she says. Sapna is also toying with the idea of producing a serial on the theme of the 1960s Indian society written by Shivani.
Sapna who looks after the creative departments of a project says producing a serial gives as much creative satisfaction as directing it. "A producer has to continuously be in touch with the changes being made in a serial and to justify the changes or a script to be viewer worthy, one has to have a creative bend of mind," she feels.
Sapna, a former student of Sacred Heart School in Chandigarh, started her career as a journalist. "After doing mass communication from St Xaviers, Mumbai, I started writing for the Times of India, Sunday Observer, Femina and even Star and Style," she says. Her stint with television started when her brother Sanjeev asked her to take care of the costume department for "Aamanat" to give it an authentic north Indian background.
Despite being engrossed with the hustle-bustle of electronic media, this quiet woman remains loyal to her first love, writing. "I would like to write a novel one of these days. In fact I am already doing the leg work for it," she says. About her relationship with the idiot box she says, "It will continue to grow, culminating somewhere in the tinsel town."
Versatility is his forte
Folk music reaches out to the soul, contends Rajinder Mohni, a popular figure on the Punjabi folk scene. He has honed his skills by learning classical music and developing a good range. He is equally adept at qawwali and ghazal singing.
Son of singer Shukar Singh, Mohni was born in Karnal. A graduate from Kurukshetra University, he shifted to Chandigarh in 1987 and later settled down in its satellite township SAS Nagar. Starting off with Hindi film numbers, he got a break as Punjabi folk singer with Jalandhar Doordarshan.
The versatile vocalist hit big time with the number Tu vanga na chhanka kudiye... and never looked back. Albums like "Kaka Jam Peya", "Hai Kudiye", "Bhanda Bhandariya", "Mul Pyar Da" and "Kar Yaad Sohniye" followed, besides one cassette of devotional songs.
He has also lent his voice in Punjabi films like "Zaildar", "Putt Sardaran De" and "Dharam Jatt Da". He has sung the title song of "Bhandd Punjab De". He has performed on stage in the region and in Delhi. His programmes have been telecast on ATN Channel.
This humble and modest folk artiste is also a lyricist. He has been penning Punjabi songs for other singers for the past many years. Among his recent numbers is the beautiful Kiton lab ke liyao... for Hardeep.
Winner of a cash award for Sufi rendition, Mohni has been greatly inspired by Sufi singing exponent Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He has high regard for Bulle Shah and Shiv Batalvi. He is also a fan of legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi.
Music is a passion Mohni shares with his family. His wife has a B.Ed. degree in classical vocal. He is assisted during stage shows by four of his brothers, one of whom is a guitarist and another a keyboard player.
Working as business executive with a leading Punjabi daily, Mohni has continued pursuing his passion with his job. A humble and modest person, he aims to bring the rustic Punjabi beat back to its former exalted position. He may cut an album with pop composer Jawahar Wattal in the near future.
‘Asoka’ — the not so great
Film buffs, such as your columnist, and Sarat Chandra addicts could not help wincing when they heard that Shah Rukh Khan was to play Devdas. What, that dimpled, frisky lad! Nostalgic memories of the melancholy, romantic Dilip Kumar and Sarat Chandra specialist, Bimal Roy. Even more nostalgic memories of New Theatres’ ‘Devdas’ with K.L. Saigal and Pramathesh Barua. Cannes or no Cannes. Technical glitz cannot glam up a basically simple and very famous plot. And then comes Shah Rukh Khan as Asoka the Great. Of all people, by Santosh Sivan. Make no mistake, Sivan is one of the best cameramen, not only in India, but also by the strictest international standards, Not only the way he shot Chhaiyan, chhaiyan... on top of a train, but also look at what a gem he has made of the tourism promotion film, "God’s Own Country" for the cause of Kerala tourism.
Sivan, however, is at his best when he makes modest, small-budget films, like "Terrorist", which shot him into international fame and awards. He shot it in his own backyard while creating an effect of changing landscapes. He also made a touching film with children, "Milli" about a little village girl who enriches the life of an over-protected physically challenged girl, the daughter of an urban police officer. Their excursions into a magic forest treated us to stunning visuals as well as the joyous life of children. And that is another point about Sivan. He is at his best without stars. True, he made a star out of Ayesha Dharkar, but she was not so famous when he chose her to play the girl terrorist. Also, the children in his next film became famous afterwards.
So I braced myself to watch the serialised version of ‘Asoka’ on the small screen, offered to us by Star Plus. Sivan’s camerawork is so skilful and rounded, that the visual part of the film certainly adapts excellently to the screen. There are stunning outdoor shots with big open spaces. There are also frequent close-ups, which is excellent for TV.
As cameraman, Sivan could not but excel in directing these shots. The trouble starts with the acting, which on a subject like one of India’s legendary greatest emperors, needs both great acting and great style. But both were sadly lacking in both Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor. Unfortunately, we have all been watching that dreadful Pepsi advertisement shot in Venice with Shah Rukh and Kareena. Also shot by Santosh Sivan. There was an uncanny resemblance to the acting by both stars in the Venice ad and the "Asoka" sequence I saw. It left me feeling very sad. Sad for Sivan, that he was tempted into making what is virtually a Mumbai glossy and a very extravagant one, in every sense of the term, instead of sticking to his forte, which is simple, straight plots, backed up by extraordinary camerawork and fine acting. I have tremendous admiration and affection for Sivan. I hope he will revert to his former self as a director.
The Football World Cup is a small screen delight. Not only the close-ups of the faces of the players and their coaches during play, but the reactions of their supporters in the stands. The all-red stadium, as Korean supporters cheered on their favourites. Above all, the hair-styles of the players. The Japanese, who were not addicted to shaven heads like some others, had dyed hair, ranging from at least four golden blondes on unmistakable Japanese faces, but their key player had post-box red hair. Beckham’s natural hair-style, for once, looked a little lost in that crowd. And, lastly, an apology to our very own Baichung Bhutia, I think he is the first Indian commentator for World Cup football. I had been looking casually at the screen before the match started and missed the caption. I thought he was a Korean until I read the caption. Bhutia is quiet and knowledgeable. Just right.
Quote of the Week: An American fan in New York, who had sat up till 4 a.m. to watch his team’s victory: "The world is becoming a very ugly place. I am glad some beautiful things are left." One would like to second that.