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Bollywood is my gharana
Set to battle 'Himmatwala' and 'Ek Thi Daayan' at the box-office on April 12 is an hour-long film on one of the finest flautists of the Hindustani concert stage, Hariprasad Chaurasia. 'Bansuri Guru' mixes docudrama with footage from the master's colourful life. The film covers his childhood as a wrestler's son in Allahabad, his furtive music lessons, his work in the film industry and the music circuits in India and abroad.
Biopics on classical musicians and dancers have been the preserve of art house filmmakers: 'Siddheshwari' (Ketan Mehta), 'Hans Akela' (Jabbar Patel), 'Sanchari' (Arun Khopkar) and 'Swati Thirunal' (Lenin Rajendran). But the director of 'Bansuri Guru' is not only a debutant but also Chaurasia's son, Rajeev. Although he is neither musician nor filmmaker, Rajeev, doesn't consider himself to be at a disadvantage. "My father keeps a hectic schedule, and we realised when we trying to pick a director that juggling filmmaking with his lifestyle would be hell for an outsider, " he says. "Besides I know him inside out but can still look at him from outside with total clarity. "
Tracking, shooting and directing his father was not the easiest of assignments. "Creative people live at a different pace and it is hard to deal with that, " says the new director. "It was often like handling a child, but I could push some limits being his son. With him, it was either a one-take shot or none, he found it exasperating to be asked to dress thus, move thus. "
The music is drawn entirely from Chaurasia's body of work, a selection of Rajeev's favourites: "The ragas I heard growing up, while studying, waking, some Bollywood. " The film is being released at PVR cinemas across five cities and in other cities at different venues. It will run as an experiment for a week. "I didn't want this to be seen at exclusive concert halls or select auditoriums by a few, " says Rajeev. "He deserves to be known better by the common man. "
Hariprasad Chaurasia spoke to TOI-Crest about the film and his music. Excerpts.
Have you watched 'Bansuri Guru'?
Not really, it is a bit awkward watching yourself on screen. Rajeev is my son so he knows me inside out - nothing is hidden from him, my flaws as well as qualities. I can't boast that I was born to a maharaja, sone mein khela, chandi mein taira (played with gold, swam in silver). I would have been shown up as a fraud fast enough. The film had to show my beginnings in a humble home, as a wrestler's son, my struggle to learn music. I feel good all that is up on screen for all to watch. It is a clean film that is truthful and people like stories that are honest.
Do you regret the shrinking base for pure classical music?
Everything comes with a time and age stamped on it. And if it is time for change, change will happen. It is human nature to look for change. We are in an age when we believe that packaged food tastes better than what ma makes at home. We live in an age when we believe that if your old parents are keeping you up at night with their coughing it is better to find them another place to live. We are looking for new experiences. To all those bemoaning the loss of purity in classical music, to all of them I ask: what are you doing to preserve that purity? But classical music, in whatever form or shape, is beautiful. The beach I walk on is filthy but the sight of the sea still uplifts me. The breeze might stink but it still feels good on the face. End of the day, every musician has to go from sa to sa without sounding besura (false). How you do that depends on your thinking.
If you ask me I have no complaints about my audience. I see small children listening to me with rapt attention way past midnight. They don't know if it is Yaman or Darbari, they don't care. They may not even want to learn but they listen. In small towns, old women come and hear me. They say 'Anand aata hai sun ke' (We feel happy listening to you). There is an atimyata (sincerity) to these responses because they come from ordinary folks. Too much purity, too much scholarship in the arts can sometimes fail to touch people. In the old days, listeners were knowledgeable but there were so few of them. I never played to these kind of crowds back in the early decades of my career. People know me as the man who took their music to the world and never compromised. That is enough for me.
Your 'Call of the Valley' produced in 1967 along with Shiv Kumar Sharma and Brij Bhushan Kabra actually set off the experimental genre within classical music. How does it feel looking back on it?
It was the first thematic album, and it was produced by HMV. And it was how the world discovered us. No matter what else we might do, how much we may achieve, that music made our identity. Even today in the West, it is played as 'Indian music' in restaurants, hotels and airports. The story of the album is really interesting. There was one Mr Joshi at HMV to whom we took the proposal. HMV was sceptical to start with. We were raw and they were like: you guys are not Lata Mangeshkar, we will go bust if we simply put out something you played. So we suggested that we play a medley of instruments. It became so popular that it was copied by several other artistes. It set the trend for many such attempts.
You played the flute for films for nearly two decades and then composed movie music yourself. How did the Bollywood journey begin for a small Allahabad flautist?
There wasn't a single music director I did not play for - Husnlal Bhagatram, SD Burman, C Ramachandra, Vasant Desai, Shankar Jaikishen, OP Nayyar, Laxmikant Pyarelal. . . I had been working at AIR in Cuttack when I was transferred to Mumbai. I hated the idea of moving. I was playing the flute by then for Kelucharan Mahapatra and a whole lot of Odissi dancers. Woh toh meri diwani theen (They adored me). They just loved my flute and how it worked with the pakhawaj and sitar. I was loath to leave all this and go to Mumbai. When I reached there I found that film musicwallahs wanted me. I was so much in demand that I would be running from one studio to another, my pocket stuffed with money. I would reach home at night and throw it all into the cupboard and then set off again the next day. It got so hectic I left AIR and spent my whole day - sometimes from 8 am to 2 am - at the studios.
It didn't take away from your classical roots?
I was never shy about my Bollywood work. Musicians boast about their gharanas, I say Bollywood is my gharana. There was so much to learn from movie musicians - how to compose, how to convey emotions, how to put music in a context, how to please the listener . . . I learnt it all there. And Hindi film music has all the traits of a gharana - each composer had a distinct style, a creative stamp, so you hear a song you can say, yes, this director created this piece of music. I can never be contemptuous about film music. It isn't the same anymore - the lyrics don't grip, nor does the music. You don't see distinct musical styles. But I have always believed that life is about different flavours and colours and if it was all uniform, how would excellence stand out? Apni jagah mein sab theek hai (Everything works in its rightful place)
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