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‘Silsila’ again?


Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma gave us many a Bollywood tune with friend Hari Prasad Chaurasia. The santoor maestro says he is open to the idea yet again.

Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

riding on the waves of rhythm Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma at a concert in New Delhi.

“Only a few decades back nobody knew about the santoor even in Jammu. Today there are restaurants, and even a soap is named after it,” Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma’s easy words belie the mystery element that his curly hair, jade green eyes and towering persona evoke.

The man who brought the instrument of a hundred strings from the valleys of anonymity to the heights of classical music is also known for some of the best melodies that Hindi cinema has provided. From contributing to the background score of “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje” to composing the lilting tunes of “Silsila” and “Chandni” with friend Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Panditji has bridged the eternal classes and masses divide with élan. And is now open to the idea of composing for films again!

“I differ with those who say fusion is a new phenomenon. It has been there since the late ’30s in the music of Hindi films. The language was Hindi, the song was composed in a raga or a folk melody and the orchestration included instruments like the cello, Spanish guitar, saxophones, clarinet, sitar and Indian flute. What is happening today could be called World Music. New experiments can’t be stopped. Serious attempts which create eternal melody will last and those which are gimmicks will fizzle out.”

Recently the Films Division has produced a documentary, “Antardhwani” on Panditji. Directed by Jabbar Patel, the film traces the struggle and success of the maestro. “There is nothing to hide in my life. Some people feel the struggle days constitute bad memories and should not be remembered. Yes, there were days during my struggle in Mumbai where I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. But I treasure dark nights because only then I could value the bright days. The title is taken from a raga that I created. My audience found it spiritual. To me music and spirituality are two wheels of the same chariot.”

Going back in time, Panditji recalls his days in Jammu, how he used to be a tabla player till one day his father, the eminent vocalist and tabla player Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, introduced him to a new instrument from Kashmir. “My father was a supervisor with Jammu and Kashmir Radio. He discovered the instrument when he was transferred to Kashmir. Having already played as an accompanist with the likes of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Begum Akhtar, I found my father’s decision strange. But he predicted that one day the santoor and my name would become synonymous.”

His film journey started when Pandit Jasraj, whom he used to accompany, recommended his name to his father-in-law V. Shantaram for “Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje”. As the songs were already recorded, music composer Vasant Desai used the santoor in the background score. “At that time background music of films was not released. But ‘Jhanak Jhanak’ was probably the first film whose background music was released. Jaidev liked it and offered me ‘Hum Dono’.” As Jaidev had assisted S.D. Burman, he introduced Panditji to the top music composer of the times and Panditji and his santoor became a regular feature in the films of the ’60s. “R.D. Burman and I shared a great rapport. He insisted on my playing the tabla in ‘Guide’ and despite my reservations about playing an instrument which I had stopped playing publicly, I had to relent.”

Solo success

Life was on a song but Panditji started facing the wrath of some critics, who felt that the santoor was good enough for a jugalbandi but couldn’t hold the attention of the audience in a solo concert. Panditji was already working on the staccato quality of the santoor by evolving a style whereby the notes could be prolonged and sustained after making certain changes to the instrument. “They were proved wrong. People not only came but stayed for hours just to listen to the santoor. Though similar instruments are found in different parts of the world, their players find it astonishing how I improvised to sustain notes and maintain sound continuity.”

In the documentary Panditji has explained in detail how he introduced the new chromatic arrangement of notes and increased the range to cover a full three octaves. “That’s why Jabbar was a great choice for the director. He has so much knowledge of music that I never had to explain what a raga or composition is.” Panditji’s association with Hari Prasad Chaurasia goes back to 1957 when they met at a concert in Talkatora Stadium. “When we started composing for films I started getting nasty letters that you too have succumbed to the temptation. But the very same people praised us when they heard the music of ‘Silsila’, because we never compromised with melody. But at the same we never tried to bring the classical dogma to film music. After a point of time our concert schedules started getting affected and we had to decide between the two. Since the priority was always classical music we decided to take a break.” He promises to come back the moment he gets the right offer. “It has to be with Hariji.”

On the bench strength

There is no scarcity of students. However, classical musicians of top quality can only be one or two. I feel musical talent is inborn. Ten students learn from the same guru but achieve different levels of fame. Besides talent, a good student should have loads of patience and should remain level headed when things start happening for him. ‘Ye aag ka dariya hai aur tair ke jana hai’.

On the media

When the electronic media has the ability to make somebody out of nobody, why don’t they concentrate on people who are already somebody? Even if they devote 15 minutes to classical music it would do a world of good for those who are learning the art and for the audience who feel the classical art forms are dying.

On music videos

It is a Western concept to advertise music so that people can easily relate to it. As long as it reflects the soul of music,

I have no problems.

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