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Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU

MUSIC: November 29, 1998


The bansuri comes alive

Kumar Shahani
as told to Gowri Ramnarayan

Film maker Kumar Shahani, who has a penchant for the abstract and the metaphysical, is now engaged in making an hour long documentary film on the flute. K. K. Mahajan wields the camera for this venture sponsored by the Ministry of External Affairs.

This is not Shahani's first foray into the classical arts in performance. His "Bhavantarana" looked at the Odissi dance genre through the creative genius of Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra. In "Khyal Gatha" he had traced the evolution of the vocal genre which displaced the older dhrupad form, by making his film as if he were exploring a raga.

But how is Shahani going to deal with the current project which admits no narrative prop? How will he transfer an intangible auditory experience into tangible visual images? The film maker shares some ideas with us.

Kalidasa says that a bee stung a bamboo and the flute was born.

Roshan Shahani

Hearing is the last of the senses to be activated in living beings, the other senses had to become operational before hearing was awakened. It is at once an extremely powerful and delicate experience. The process of sifting the natural sounds must have produced speech, and music, it must have generated thought and reflection. To understand this you have to go back to something primordial like the flute, a natural object - unlike the veena which requires tremendous amount of civilisational intervention before coming into being. I refer, of course, to the bamboo flute, our bansuri, not the metal instrument. It is possibly one of the earliest sounds to strike the amphibian ear as life emerged out of the oceans. Creatures under water knew mainly the sense of touch. In fact hearing approximates to the tactile experience.

I feel the flute virtually made the human ear. It taught us to hear. The magic of waking into an auditory world is what makes the legend of Krishna so intimate and dynamic.

In this film the transference of this prehistoric enchantment will have to be very different from even "Khyal Gatha". My method, as always, will rely on vyanjana, suggestive means as opposed to direct statement. It cannot be x + y = z!

I started by listening and recording a lot of music for the film, and reading about the evolution of the instrument in performance, both classical and folk. I am helped a great deal by having Hariprasad Chaurasia for a friend, with whom I have worked before. I had his help in my first feature film "Maya Darpan" and it was his music to which Kelubabu improvised the nava rasas in "Bhavantarana". I did the first thing for this film on the flute by recording a few raags with him. He chose to play "Vatapi Ganapatim" and the accompaniments include a ghatam. I have asked Alarmel Valli to give this a manifestation through the dance. I also hope to get Kelu babu to create something...

Kamal Sahai

I won't deal with my subject only through the dance. I want to get at the spatial dimension of the flute, where the space contains the acoustic impulse, and the suggestion that music gives the evocation of space...

I would like to use the Carnatic flute as well.

I will go into my own kind of narrative. In art you have to create something in the intervals where it is not there, in the pauses and silences , especially in music. Even in the visuals it is the intervals that say everything, they generate a meaning... Hopefully this film on the flute will have the sensuousness of all my films. And I hope all the rasas are present in it, as they are in the true expressions of art.


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