Mukul Shivputra is today a frail 67. For decades, he has been absent from the world of music, but now he is back. The fire and power in his singing, which he was lauded for, might be missing, but the traces of his genius are inescapable. His ability to cast a spell over his listeners and his impeccable control over ‘sur’ are very much in evidence, to which has been added the maturity of the experiences of his extraordinary life.
Recently, Pune-based Mukul performed at the annual LNJ Bhilwara Sur Sangam Festival in Delhi, which was this year commemorating the birth centenary year of his late father, the iconic Pt Kumar Gandharva. Before the start of the concert, he prostrated before his father’s photo on stage. Mukul received a prolonged standing ovation after his concert, which seemed to please him, though his singing made it clear that he does not sing for applause. There were no flashy attention-seeking phrases, no display of speed to impress, no vocal acrobatics. His music is steady, peaceful and deeply impactful.
The reclusive and reticent singer carries forward his father’s legacy with his own stamp. Armed with a wry sense of humour, Mukul is simple, direct and sincere.
An unusual aspect of the concert was the frequent interaction between Mukul and his fans. There were song requests he refused, then explained why he was unable to comply with. He chatted about his raga choices; he asked for the lights in the hall to be turned on so that he could see the faces of his listeners. It all made for an old-fashioned ‘baithak’-style musical experience that was refreshingly novel for today’s times.
“This time, I found the Delhi audience to be excellent and patient as well. I have spent a lot of time in Delhi and know the audience here well. Usually, people here don’t wait for an artiste. But I found the audience very responsive and interactive. Friendly too,” he says. There was a long interval during the concert when Mukul walked off the stage to recharge.
Brutally frank and self-critical, Mukul shares: “To be honest, I personally did not enjoy my own concert that much; I was able to connect inwardly only during my Bhairavi.” But the audience felt he was singing with great depth, we point out. “Of course, I had practised and the listeners can feel it. So, they enjoyed my music,” he says.
When talking about a concert held in Mumbai a few years ago, Mukul questions with a childlike lack of guile: “Didn’t you like my concert today? I chose Raga Kaunsi as it is easier to establish after another raga has already been performed; uski pakad baith jaati hai. Then I sang Gara, which is a different ‘thaat’; then I sang Pilu and then Bhairavi.”
For years, Mukul Shivputra has not sung professionally, but is doing quite a few concerts these days. Recently, during a tour in the South, he gave two performances the same day. Usually, he prefers to sing at standalone concerts rather than big festivals.
Ask him about Pt Kumar Gandharva’s birth centenary celebrations, which are going to be held in several cities throughout the year, and he quips with surprising candour: “Nobody listens to my suggestions as to what we should do in my father’s centenary year. I know that a lot of things are being planned.”
Pt Kumar Gandharva was called a rebel by some. Like his father, Mukul Shivputra has his own opinions on what constitutes tradition. On his vision of a raga, whether it represents one mood or ‘rasa’, Mukul says: “How you interpret a raga depends on you. I am not sure a raga has only one fixed mood. But yes, I agree that ‘har raga apni chaal se chalta hai’ (every raga has its own pace); definitely some ragas should be expanded only at certain speeds; not every raga lends itself to ‘drut’.”
Ask him whether his ‘gayaki’ represents his father’s singing style, and he replies: “Gayaki ka matlab hai upaj, usse alag hona hi chahiye (singing style means improvisation, it should be different from that of your guru). It should not be something that reminds you of someone else. Music is constantly evolving, one also changes how one sings.”
Mukul has recorded many ragas under the label ‘Abhijaat’, available on his website gandharvasabha.com. “I feel that by recording my music, I have made it available to be heard by anyone who wants to learn. I also want to teach to the younger generation the music that I have learnt.”
He concludes: “Right now, my primary concern is my health. I am very serious about it. I feel that unless one’s body is totally in sync, one cannot achieve much. Unless the body is totally under one’s control, it becomes difficult for a singer.”
One is left full of admiration for a gentle yet a steely artiste, who has managed to steer his art into something meaningful and impactful that makes one ponder, hours after his notes have faded away.
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