ON a particular Sunday each month, some two or three hundred Hindustani classical music lovers wake up before dawn to attend the Pratah Swar concert at the Ravindra Natya Mandir in Prabhadevi, Mumbai. Organised by Tata Capital and Pancham-Nishad in the non-monsoon months, the series begins shortly after 6.30 a.m., and is unique in a scenario where most classical concerts take place in the evening. There is a pleasant open-air setting, no entrance fee is charged, and better still, one gets to hear live performances of morning raags likeTodi, Ahir Bhairav, Lalit or Komal Rishabh Asavari.
On Christmas Sunday, the venue was packed when 40-year-old vocalist Anand Bhate began raag Ramkali, just around the time it began getting bright. The slow opening section ‘Darbar dhavoon’ and the drut portion ‘Sagari rayn ke jaage’ drew a huge round of applause.
The composition was once popularised by the late Kirana gharana doyen Pt Bhimsen Joshi, from whom Bhate has studied for 15 years. Needless to say, the more knowledgeable members of the audience came in expecting to hear some Bhimsen-ji classics. Over the next two hours, their wishes were fulfilled, as Bhate rendered two of his guru’s pieces in Miyan Ki Todi, one in Hindolita (a combination of raags Hindol and Lalit), a Marathi abhang and the evergreen ‘Teerth Vitthal Kshetra Vitthal’ in raag Ahir Bhairav, before concluding with the Bhairavi thumri ‘Jamuna ke teer’.
One might argue that Bhate’s voice does not have that ‘X’ factor, specially if one tries to make comparisons with his guru or any of the greats. It’s a pleasantly-modulated voice, but probably doesn’t have the power or the timbre to make you sit up on first hearing. Still, he more than made up by displaying a fabulous command over the raag and effortlessness in singing taans, with perfect breath control in the longer passages.
Bhate is pretty well-known in his home-town Pune, and has appeared regularly at the prestigious Sawai Gandharva music festival. Unfortunately, he hasn’t performed in Mumbai as often as one would expect. However, this was his second performance in India’s commercial capital in a week – the previous Sunday, he had a jugalbandi with Jayateerth Mevundi, the other genius from the Kirana gharana.
That brings us to an interesting subject – the future of the Kirana gharana. Besides Bhate and Mevundi, the other singers one can think of are Kaivalya Kumar, Pranati Mhatre and Bhimsen-ji’s son Shrinivas Joshi. Of the lot, Mevundi is already a star in his own right – his career path reminding one of the progress made some 12 or 13 years ago by Ustad Rashid Khan of the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana. Though he’s not learnt directly from the legend, but from his disciple Shripati Padegar, there are many who have commented on Mevundi’s similarity to – or copying of – Bhimsen-ji, both in khayal and in the light classical pieces.
As music aficionados would know, Kirana has been one of the most-represented vocal music schools – the others being Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur-Atrauli. Popularised by the legendary Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, it has boasted of many brilliant artistes like Sawai Gandharva, Abdul Wahid Khan, Sureshbabu Mane, Hirabai Badodekar, Roshan Ara Begum, Gangubai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi, Firoz Dastur, Basavaraj Rajguru and Prabha Atre.
There have also been other talented artistes like Gangubai’s daughter Krishna Hangal and Bhimsen-ji’s disciple Madhav Gudi, who may not have reached the level of fame achieved by their gurus, but did help in spreading the reach of the gharana.
If one looks at the sheer impact some of the Kirana legends created in their hey-day, it would be preposterous to imagine anyone coming close today. After all, there can never be another Abdul Karim Khan or Bhimsen-ji or Gangubai . But that’s not the issue here.
Today, the classical music scenario has changed completely. It has become vastly more commercial. The ‘star’ culture is dominating the scene. Musicians are looking for short-cuts to fame or for different avenues to make a quick buck. Aggressive PR has become the norm. Most festival and concert organisers tend to pack in the same well-known artistes to ensure good ticket sales, albeit at exorbitant rates. Except for the concert listings and interviews of the ‘stars’, there is hardly any serious print coverage. Radio and television concentrate mainly on Bollywood music. Like in other genres, CD sales have been affected by the downloading syndrome. Barring old-time listeners, even the audience’s appreciation of classical music isn’t as intense as it was a quarter century ago. Unlike in the past, only a small section can identify a raag when it’s played at a concert, without hearing the announcement.
Yes, there is talent aplenty. But keeping all the other factors in mind, it would require a great deal of patience and determination from the younger musicians. If any gharana is to move forward, a Herculean effort would be required, besides the fate factor. Constant support of the concert organisers and record labels is required too. As such, it is the responsibility of artistes like Bhate, Mevundi or Shrinivas Joshi to ensure that Kirana doesn’t become a thing of the past.