February 24, 2020
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Class Of The Nineties

Maintaining continuity and heralding change—the new generation weaves the two strains to preserve the cadence of Hindustani classical music

Class Of The Nineties

CONTINUITY. That’s the basic element required for a ‘living’ tradition—not just to sustain it but even to define it. And change, the very stuff of ‘creativity’ and innovation. On this double axis, a new line of artistes are readying themselves to take over the mantle from the masters in Hindustani classical music—a crop that affirms its place in tradition but is not averse to ‘other’ forms of music. Take flautist Ronu Majumdar, who is clear about the place he takes in a great lineage: "There’s the first generation, stalwarts like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. Then there’s the second generation...Amjad Ali Khan, Shiv Kumar Sharma. And people ask: who’s next? That’s where we come in. It’s our task, the new generation’s, to keep the richness, depth and tradition alive." Majumdar summarises the collective attitude of young artistes of today, whose creativity is fuelled by the conviction that the legacy of Hindustani classical music needs constant nurturing to be preserved in all its grandeur.


Calcutta-based, this ‘sarodiya’ is just 33. Presently a student of the redoubtable Buddhadeb Dasgupta, he has already captured the imagination of sarod lovers. The artiste, who began his training under his father Shyam Sundar Bhattacharya, has blossomed at a time when quality sarod players are hard to find. Aware of that, he says: "The number of gurus who’d devote their time and energy to grooming pupils has dwindled. Most teachers are only partially involved with students since they have to attend to assignments of their own." But Bhattacharya is fortunate, and Dasgupta acknowledges his pupil’s natural talent: "We’re endeavouring to preserve the music of the Ustad Mohammad Amir Khan gharana and I feel that Bhattacharya will be a true successor of the mantle in the time to come." Meanwhile, Bhattacharya’s association with his guru has enabled him to acquire a critical view of materialistic musicians. Says he: "Many of them seem to be chasing money almost mindlessly and, as a consequence, have become thoroughly commercialised." Bhattacharya instead prefers to keep a low profile. "My biggest desire," he says, "is to make a name for myself within the country. Why go abroad for fame?" So, he carries on, strengthening the Indian audience’s age-old ties with the sarod, and at the same time delving deep into his heritage in an endeavour to "learn something new from the vast repertoire of 4,500 ragas or more".


Only 37, Mudgal has already ensured her place among distinguished contemporaries like Shruti Sadolikar and Ashwini Bhide. Affirming this, vocalist Arti Anklekar Tikekar says: "She is an excellent artiste with a lovely voice. I’m an admirer of hers." Mudgal’s approach is marked by an eclecticism matched by few. Says she: "Since I’ve learnt from many gurus whose approaches were diverse, I’ve been able to absorb several important musical elements from them." It began with Ram Ashray Jha in Allahabad, who taught her the basics. Later, she trained with gurus like Kumar Gandharva, Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya, Vasant Thakar, honed her stylistic technique under Pt Jiten-dra Abhisheki, rounding off with talim in thumri and dadra under the guidance of the late Naina Devi.

Though known for her khayals, Mudgal has also charmed with her renditions of thumri and dadra, whose performances in concerts now are far and between. "One has to rethink of a way in which thumri can be presented," says Mudgal, even as she forays into the realm of popular music.


Tutored by Pt Vijay Raghav Rao, the Bombay-based flautist has often been criticised for playing to the gallery. This, the artiste doesn’t deny: "It’s often said that Ronu takes a lot of claps. And, my critics have added that even mosquitoes take claps." But 32-year-old Majumdar defends his approach: "One has to play in a way that attracts the audience. In Hindustani classical music, there is enough room to display your quality even thereafter." Few would question Majumdar’s talent. Says leading male vocalist Rashid Khan: "He has already made a name for himself and has a great future ahead of him." Majumdar plays the shankh bansuri, a three-and-half feet flute he devised to gain access to the three scales of music. "I modified because I wanted the natural advantages of all the main instruments during jugalbandi," he says. Yet his innovations do not dilute the Maihar gharana features evident in his alaap, jod and vilambit laya. Remarkably versatile, Majumdar played with Pt Ravi Shankar’s orchestra in Asiad ’82; gave a memorable performance with the Folk Chamber Orchestra and Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in 1984. He played the flute in the Ravi Shankar-Phillip Glass essay The Passages; and has produced fusion and jugalbandi releases which reflect his flair for innovation both within and outside the Hindustani classical music fold.


Is Mukul Shivputra the best male vocalist of his generation? Many will agree, for the depth and gravity of his voice is matched by few of his contemporaries. But most will add that he hasn’t lived up to the expectations of the listener. Justifiably so, since the 40-year-old Shivputra, the son of the legendary Kumar Gandharva, is less visible than the others on the concert circuit.

Shivputra is philosophical, in fact, somewhat moody. And, it’s apparent when he mumbles: "These days, I just perform and move. I don’t stay anywhere. Chennai, Mumbai, Indore, Chandigarh...." Nirgun dhara, which was adapted by his father from folk music, is one of his major interests. Shivputra seems to have mastered well all he learnt from the legacy of Bundu Khan and Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, apart from his exposure to the varied musical styles, right from Faiyaz Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to Bhimsen Joshi and Kumar Gandharva himself.

But Shivputra rebuts comparisons with his father. Says he: "My father was a creator and I am an abhyasak (practitioner). At the level of creativity, therefore, I do not compare. As a singer though, my position is not so unfavourable." Says Subhendra Rao, one of the leading disciples of Pt Ravi Shankar: "Whenever I hear him, his music moves me. His desire to live in his own world is reflected in his music. Many have been influenced by his singing already."


Many make the mistake of comparing Sangeeta Shankar, 30, to N. Rajam, her mother and noted violinist. Natural, but Shankar today is as much a brilliant traditional violinist in her own right as she is a promising fusionist. Says Shruti Sadolikar, a contemporary female vocalist: "If you compare a person with one’s parents, the former’s individual strengths are underrated. Sangeeta Shankar has definitely established herself in the new generation. " While admitting such comparisons take place, Shankar says: "In a way, that’s inevitable." But, adds: "It’s tough to expect the kind of maturity which one’s predecessor may have achieved after 50 years of sadhana. The most I can say is that what my mother is today, I should be 20 years hence." She started playing the instrument at the age of four, and began to participate in concerts when she was merely 13.

Marked by the distinct gayaki ang introduced by her mother, Shankar’s recitals are distinguished by a purist’s passion for execu-tional excellence. An exponent of the left-hand technique in the violin, Shankar, like many of her contemporaries, has an obvious fondness for fusion. But she says: "While one can always experiment, it should be done with a feel for the subject."


In his 40s, Ulhas Bapat’s musical career began with playing the tabla under Pt Ramakant Mhapsekar and then moving on to vocal music to evolve a classical base. He learnt the santoor because he "was curious" and today is one of the best exponents of the instrument. Bapat has made two contributions to the art of playing the santoor. While learning the instrument, he realised it was incapable of reproducing the meend or the glissando note. "I developed a way by which one could take a meend on any bridge," he says of his patented modification. His second contribution is ‘chromatic tuning’ which helps him to tune all the 12 notes on the santoor. Consequently, he can shift from one raga to another without having to tune the instrument after each performance.

In a career that began only in 1975, Bapat has already been compared with Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma. He has also composed two ragas: Parijat and Gorakh Kauns. Says Shruti Sadolikar, who discerned Bapat’s talent even as he trained under her father, Pt Wamanrao Sadolikar: "Bapat delivers something new to his listener every time he performs. His implementation of taal and sur highlight his inborn talent and exceptional genius."


At a time when sarangi soloists have become rare, Dhruba Ghosh, 37, took to the sarangi "because the sound of the instrument attracted" him. Son of the revered tabla player Pt Nikhil Ghosh, he started training in vocals and the tabla at a young age and proceeded to popularise the sarangi thereafter. He has used "a combination of strings" to enhance the richness of sound and clarity of tone; introduced the tantrakari ang by which new patterns can be played on the instrument; played the Hamir and Adhana ragas, usually not played on the sarangi. Says Rashid Khan: "Among the younger artistes, he’s definitely excellent, and his taiyari is remarkable." Dhruba has also worked towards exclusive solo material while being naturally influenced by masters like Bundu Khan, Ghulam Sabir Khan, Pt Gopal Mishra and Pt Ram Narayan. Nayan Ghosh, 39, his elder brother, is as distinguished but different. He plays two instruments with equal ease: the tabla and the sitar. Acknowledges Subhendra Rao: "Nayan Ghosh is definitely one of the leading musicians of the new generation. What’s amazing about him is that he plays two diverse instruments like the tabla and the sitar. On the one hand, he is an excellent accompanist. On the other, he is an equally outstanding sitar player."

As a tabla player, Nayan’s exposure to all the main gharanas—Delhi, Farrukhabad, Ajrada and Lucknow—has enabled him to learn and execute the best of styles. He has played with frontrunners like Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan, Amjad Ali Khan and Shiv Kumar Sharma. "Statistically, I have played the tabla more often at concerts," he admits. He is a "much-loved accompanist", and it’s easy to understand why. Being an accomplished sitar player himself, he can anticipate the movements of the main instrument and can mould his approach accordingly.

WHILE these artistes epitomise the genuinely committed Hindu-stani classical performers, one crucial question is: who’ll elevate these new stars to the stature of the Bhimsen Joshis once they have acquired the required executional experience? The new audience, a product of the same times, is throwing up new sets of loyal fan followings. The kind that has grown up on the likes of Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan and is already exploring the sitar skills of Nishat Khan and Shahid Parvez; those who hear flautists like Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Rupak Kulkarni at the same time; others who admire Pt Jasraj and also recognise the talent in Sanjeev Abhayankar or Rashid Khan; those who revere Kishori Amonkar and read into the class of Veena Sahasrabuddhe, Shruti Sadolikar and Ashwini Bhide. It’s a generation secure in the feeling that while all things old give place to the new, the new reveals the old once again. 


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