A short history of entertainment

A short history of entertainment

Words Sounds Images: A History of Media and Entertainment in India by Amit Khanna. HarperCollins. Pages 855. Rs 1,499

Book Title: Words Sounds Images: A History of Media and Entertainment in India

Author: Amit Khanna

Amit Sengupta

Amit Khanna is a walking encyclopaedia of the history and origin of both classical and commercial cinema. In that sense, what he has stored in his brilliant mind in terms of words, silences, voices, sounds, moving and still images, anecdotes and themes is a library and archive on the verge of becoming a museum. This 855-page book, and every word, sentence and paragraph in it is testimony to this fact. Even as he looks at the Indian past, he does not rewrite history. He is surely not a trained academic or historian. He writes from experience. And it is rich and complex and varied.

Indeed, he can be easily described as not only a film historian, but a post-modern storyteller of both classical and commercial cinema, especially the mainstream movies from Bombay dished out in hundreds and worth many millions.

Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

As a producer, lyricist, composer, writer and television honcho, Khanna is a reasonably good writer and patient historian. He takes his time to introduce the history and origins of classical dance and cinema from the ancient archives of India’s Vedic, Mughal and post-Mughal past, and makes the reader comfortable with the huge variety in Indian aesthetic and creative forms, so much so that the vast difference between mainstream Bollywood art forms and the classical traditions become starkly in synthesis and instantly separate. So how do you compare the Natyashastra with say an artificially sexy Sheila ki Jawani or a pseudo raunchy Fevicol dance item song with the origins of Kathak or Bharatnatyam?

Khanna started young, soon after college. Later, he had a long stint with the Navketan Films, then led by the great progressive and sensitive director, Chetan Anand, brother of Vijay Anand and Dev Anand. Some of the most deep, humane, melodious, soulful and sensitive movies came from Navketan Films of that era, and Amit Khanna, as usual, was learning and unlearning fast. This was an internship which could turn any man or woman into a genius, and, surely, he grabbed it with his mind and soul.

This book is not about Bollywood only. For instance, in his two decades of research, he discovered the magnificent and painstaking inheritance of the classical music gharanas in India. There are biographies within biographies. There are meticulous and little details of the brilliant musicians of various gharanas, such as Mallikarjun Mansur, Gangubai Hangal, Kesarbai Kerkar, Ustad Alladiya Khan, Hirabai Boradkar, DV Paluskar and his renowned musician father, Vishnu Digamber, Onkarnath Thakur, Dhondutai Kulkarni, and of course the great Bade Ghulam Ali Khan saab.

He writes: “These legends continued to brighten the Hindustani vocal music scene for many decades. The 1950s also saw the arrival of some young masters like Aamir Khan of the Indore gharana. He is considered one of the important voices in Hindustani classical music and the founder of the Indore gharana... Kumar Gandharva, Munawar Ali (Patiala Gharana), Ghulam Mustafa (Rampur Sahaswan gharana), Bhimsen Joshi, Mallikarjun Mansoor, Channulal Mishra, Pandit Jasraj ( Mewati gharana; Jasraj created a novel form of jugalbandi called ‘Jasrangi’, which is styled on the ancient system of moorchana between a male and a female vocalist who each sing different ragas at the same time), Siddeshwari Devi, Hirabai Barodkar, Girija Devi and Gangubai Hanal, all from Banaras.”

Indeed, he narrates that the Dagar brothers of Hubli gharana and the eight grandsons of Zakeeruddin and Allabande Khan Dagar “are credited with keeping the dhrupad tradition alive during the period after Indian independence... The platform provided by AIR and the increasingly popular music conferences and gramophone records made classical music more accessible to the audience.”

This is just but a drop in the ocean when it comes to the life and work and the archival memory and documentation of Amit Khanna. From theatre, poetry, cinema, music, to radio, performing arts and cinematography and sound, his versatile repertoire is beyond imagination. This book is a must for every person involved with Bombay or regional cinema, as much as for young and veteran historians who want to research the history of sound, text, words and images in the Indian film industry. Surely, this book is a collectors’ item, all 855 pages of it. Besides, it is lucid, interesting and easy to read.