|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, July 5, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Keeping pakhawaj alive
When sport drove cinema off TV screen
Viva women’s freedom
Keeping pakhawaj alive
The Indian classical music scene has changed over the years, simultaneously bringing a change in the accompanying instruments. So, when ‘dhrupad’ gave way to ‘khayal’, pakhawaj — one of the oldest musical instruments — was forced to take a backseat, paving the path for the tabla. This is the reason accomplished pakhawaj exponents are a declining community. Outstanding as pakhawaj maestro Pandit Bhavani Shankar comes as an exception and the interaction with him remains imprinted in one’s mind.
"The pakhawaj owes its origin to dhrupad when it used to be played in temples as an offering to the deities. But today, is having a tough time keeping pace with the changed Indian classical music," says Bhavani Shankar who recently visited Chandigarh to accompany the doyen of kathak, Sandeep K. Mahavir in a concert.
With more and more musicians opting for the tabla the responsibility to keep the old instrument alive fell on the lap of people like Bhavani Shankar who share a close tie with the instrument in spite of being equally adept in other music related fields.
After identifying the main loophole in this instrument, Bhavani Shankar is all geared to uplift its status. "The main problem for the pakhawaj not gelling well with the fast-paced ‘khayal’ is its slowness," says Bhavani Shankar. But after years of practice, he has proved that pakhawaj can be as fast as the tabla if not more.
"Now I can start the pakhawaj with a note as high as Zakir Hussain does with his tabla", he says.
Bhavani Shankar is the right person to tell you so because coming from a family of the Jaipur gharana, he has carved a niche for himself in the fields of traditional classical tabla, pakhawaj and music direction. His father Pandit Babulal, one of India’s leading kathak dancers made him learn pakhawaj and tabla at a tender age, pushing him to take a centrestage with Sitara Devi and Kishen Maharaj when he was only eight years old.
The journey which started on the stage of the Patna Conference of Classical Music, continued with performances at Sawai Gandharva in Pune, Gunidas Festival in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in New Delhi, Khajuraho Festival in Madhya Pradesh etc., taking him to the zenith of fame. He also gave public performances with Ustad Allarakha, Pt Samtaprasad, Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Pt Jasraj, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasiya, Ustad Zakir Hussain and singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi.
It was his versatile talent that caught the attention of film producer and director Dr V. Shantaram and he introduced Bhavani Shankar as music director for his films. He has composed music for films like "Adhuri Duniya", "Mata Saraswati ki Mahima Nirali", "Pyar Hua Dhire Dhire", "Man Gaya Ustad". His audio albums include names like "Rangilo Rajasthan", "Jai Jai Hanuman", "Bhajan Prabhat", "Deepanjali" and "Sampuran Ramayan". The set of Sampuran Ramayan" which was completed in 20 cassettes earned him a name in the Limca Book of Records.
After receiving such prestigious awards like Taalshri and Taalvilas, what motivates him to scale newer heights? "I would like to experiment with pakhawaj and show to the world that this instrument can be played to suit all kinds of moods — from the slow melodious kind to fast ‘tandava ras’," he says.
Speaking personally, I found it a great victory, almost as cheering as Brazil’s, that for once sport had driven cinema off the screen. Or almost. Because if non-sporting viewers are driven up a tree when cricket and, more recently football fever grip the screen, the few Indian viewers who are not film addicts, and believe it or not, that rare species does exist, the diversion from films to sport as popular viewing for the masses, has made a point. That there is life without the cinema. India is perhaps the only country in the world where the cinema, instead of retreating before TV, has made TV its willing slave. I have myself been a cinema critic for twice as long as I have been a TV critic and I would like to make the same point that I made about films long ago. That the movie moghuls have underestimated film audiences for years and that not only the art cinema buff but the ordinary audiences also are ready to accept what may be defined as good films when offered to them, instead of what the movie moghuls decide is good for them. Take two recent examples. The old New Theatres and later Bimal Roy’s versions of "Devdas" were far more popular with ordinary cinegoers than the current glossy one with Shah Rukh Khan. And as for "Lagaan", an off-beat film if ever there was one, the response to it both in India and abroad has proved all over again that actresses don’t have to bare themselves nor plots repeat themselves for popular acclaim.
And if advertisers have propelled TV into a daunting rat race, TV channels have obliged them beyond reason, forcing viewers to watch the same film stars in monotonous interview programmes and see the same song and dance sequences ad nauseum. To take a recent example of how films can kill good ideas. The Faroque Sheikh-anchored programme "Jeena Iska Naam" Hai on Zee, produced by NDTV, has run into a glut of minor film folk with little supporting back-up by celebrities because someone has decided that only film personalities will be acceptable to viewers. I am sorry to say that about the only programme I missed in the series was the one with Laloo Prasad Yadav and I am told it was not only hilarious but also refreshingly different. What prevents the programme from featuring sportspersons like Yuvraj Singh or Sunil Gavaskar, writers like Gulzar, music directors like A.R. Rehman and even painters like M.F. Husain? I am told that film personalities are in any case programme-shy because they don’t like some details of their past being sprung on them. I doubt if people from other fields would have such inhibitions, unless, of course, they happen to be politicians who tend to be extra sensitive about their personal and professional lives being exposed, especially if they are non-glamorous and pedestrian. What a pity Dr Abdul Kalam, by virtue of being potential President cannot come on the programme. That would have been the day. I am sure he would have enjoyed it as much as the viewers.
Now that the World Cup football has passed into history, one would like to record some of its more pleasurable moments. I loved two Pepsi ads. One where Carlos, after autographing his signature for a little Japanese boy, finds the boy bowing traditionally to him. He recalls that when a Japanese team is lined up for a penalty kick, bows to the players, and while they are bowing back in return, he shoots the ball over their head into goal. The other also involves a child. This time it is Beckham who asks a little boy if he could have a sip of his cold drink. The little boy hands over his can, Beckham takes a sip and returns it and then the boy asks for his shirt. As Beckham smilingly hands it over, the boy wipes the top of the can to clean it and then returns the shirt to the puzzled Beckham. At least Indians understood, which Beckham did not, that the boy rubbed off the "jootha" of Beckham’s polluting lips. One is glad that the advertising jokes were Asian-orientated too and we Asians could follow them when perhaps the mighty European footballing nations could not.
Still on football, I must quote a 10-year-old schoolboy who used to watch the World Cup with me up in Shimla...He said to me confidently before Senegal was eliminated that he was sure they would win. "How can you be so sure?" I asked. "Because, ma’m, the 21st century is the century of the Blacks". A wonderful sentiment from such a small boy, and even if Senegal lost, Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters at tennis and others are certainly carrying on.
VIVA (Times Music): Pratichee, Mahua, Anushka, Neha and Seema. Five girls of the 21st century. Bold, beautiful and with reasonably good voices. This is an album devoted to their combined talent. They make quite a team.
They are lucky to have lyrics of no less than Javed Akhtar. So, they can concentrate on weaving patterns with powerful words. Quite predictably, they go beyond predictable romanticism. They sing of the thoughts of today’s girls: Tum mera haath chhod ke agar/Jana chaho to/Jaa sakte ho/ Saath rehke agar mujhpe/Taras khana chaho to/Jaa sakte ho....
Even when they pine for a true friend, the image that they have in mind is quite different from the stereotype: Mujhe jindagi mein ek dost chahiye, devta nahin/mujhe pyaar kisiko karna hai lekin poojna nahin....
Their message to the womankind is specific, to the point: Koi ye keh raha hai aaj tumse/Na haar man na kisi sitam se....
But they are not quite that rebellious all the way through. The mental state of child-girls shines through such numbers as Kali mai diyasalai/Bhago bachcho aafat aayee/Azab chakkar hai in maan-baap ka bhi/Ye ladki ko padhana chahte hain/Ye hukum magar inka/Ke ladki kabhi apni marzi se na soche/Wo kehdein din — to ladki maan le din/Wo kehdein raat — to ladki maan le raat ….
The eight songs have been composed by eight different composers which is a unique variation. For instance, while Hum naye geet sunayein … has been composed and produced by Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, Jahan ho pyar ka mausam … is the creation of Jatin/Lalit.
GAL SUN (Sony): Punjabi pop is bursting at the seams. Singers are emerging on the scene faster than you can say pop. Mortality rate is high. In fact, few manage to sell any albums at all. In such a dismal scenario, Sony Music has gone against the grain. It has come out with an album which is a medley of different singers, some big ones, some little heard.
The only singer who has more than one song is Sardool Sikander who has a duet (the title song with Kavita) and a solo. Then we have Surjit Bindrakhia, Ranjit Mani and Jasdeep Grewal.
While they sing in a typical Punjabi style, the others are a little more cosmopolitan. While the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan brings out the Pakistani flavour in Tere bin nahin lagda…, Asha Bhosle and Kumar Sanu apply different styles to Taga tut gaya….