When the daughter of one of the forerunners of the Vishnupur Gharana, Pt. Manilal Nag, came on to perform, everyone assumed that she would simply be a carbon copy of her father and have nothing special to offer, considering the strong dosage of showmanship and flamboyance that has crept into sitar playing nowadays, threatening to ruin the beauty of the melody that is being presented before the audience itself.
Considering all that, Mita Nag pulled off another shocker by sticking to the oldest principles of sitar playing, simply speaking, smart touchups and some traditional meend wizardry, like a breath of fresh air. The sitar is being played like a pakhawaj too much nowadays, it needs a woman’s touch, and that precisely was the missing element that finally was discovered today. In terms of oozing harmony and melody, I would say that this is the best opening act out of all three days so, yes, even better than Arshad Ali Khan’s dream debut the day before. The way she handled the raga Nayaki Kanada reminded me of a vocal performance, and that is what all instrumentalists strive for. The way she delved deeper into the raga using minimal alankaars was beautiful. There was always a feminine side to this raga and from the raagdari point of view, she scored a perfect ten. If Nishat Khan’s playing was intimidating, hers was adorable, where she put the raga ahead of herself and surrendered to its beauty. Her maturity in certain phrases showed glimpses of greats like Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. Her father has taught her well. Coming to the vilambit teental, her musical phrases gelled well with touches of layakari and ‘pause-flash’ taans. Anuradha Pal spared no quarter, matching her beat for beat in every step of the instrumental format, sometimes coming up with admirable improvisations, one such eliciting a couple of whistles from the crowd, causing Mita Nag to have a fit of giggles. The jhala part was a seamless transition, where she executed a series of fast paced taans and gamaks, progressing slowly towards the finale. After that, she played a dhun in Mishra Pilu which though had its moments, seemed to end abruptly. The concert ended with Anuradha Pal handing over her newly released Cd to Shri Pradipta Shankar Sen. Everythng said, she is going to do great in the future if she sticks to this kind of format.
Next up, we had Pandit Channulal Mishra who is already known for his vast knowledge of different light classical forms and raagdari. Hence, his first time in Dover Lane promised wonders. And he didn’t let down. He quickly moved through a series of khayals in Sham Kalyan, Jhinjhoti and Bahar, where his knowledge of alankaar varieties impressed us all. However, it was time for him to unleash his light classical arsenal and fans of his, who had caught a glimpse of his magic in Benaras and other places knew only too well what was about to follow. Whether it be a Gat Bhav Thumri by Bindadin Maharaj, a proper Benaras styled Thumri (which was mindblowing ) , or a dadra set to such a wicked tempo that we felt compelled to clap like retarded people, grinning all the time. Such was the spell he had over us. He signed off with a variety of Horis and a Ramcharitmanas Bhajan. However, he has mastered the style of explaining and singing( like a lecture demonsration format) very well. And last of all, his son. In allusion to the movie, “We need to talk about Ramesh” (reserved for later).
Next we had the illustrious Grammy Award winning Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt on the Mohanveena. If meend equated to power, then he has conquered the world by now ( no kidding, he’s got a Grammy! ). His instrument, combined with amazing acoustics (though a bit loud) gave off an ethereal feeling and his slide techniques were so compelling and powerful that they tugged at one’s heartstrings right from the start, creating the apt atmosphere for ‘his favorite raga’ , Maru Behag. The coaxing of gentle notes served to create a cloud of wistfulness that is the primary nature of the raga. He began with alap, jod and then moved to the gat and jhala. As a student of Pt Ravi Shankar, he displayed the same aggression, creativity and improvisational techniques that we have seen generated from Baba Allauddin Khan Sahab’s generation, which Ravi Shankarji used to take the world by storm. The meend hurricane, situational tricks and intelligent phrases elicited a lot of applause from the crowd. However, what really caught my attention was the way he used his instrument like a combination of a normal acoustic guitar and a slide guitar for chord patterns in Raga Kirwani, Karun Rasa ( by the way, dedicated to Nirbhaya) . After this piece, it is only fitting to include the phrase: “ while my mohanveena gently weeps”. The ending piece, Kesariya Balam rivaled that of any Sarangi version, seemingly vocal in nature and the Sultan Khan Sahab styled vocal plus instrumental technique worked wonders. Simply stunning. About the accompanist, again, “We need to talk about Ramesh”.
The Gundecha Brothers came in at a bad timing. People were more inclined to sleep, eat,chat outside or check the music collection of Bihaan and others displayed in the stalls outside Nazrul Mancha. In spite of that, they delivered a spirited performance, singing ragas Bhairav, Charukeshi, the highlight of their performance being the gamakas of one brother and the bass vocals of another.
Finally, the celebrated Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia arrived , was felicitated by United Spirits Limited and got down to his performance. He played Raga Prabhateshwari and a well known Bhajan( Payo ji maine..) on his North Indian Bamboo flute, which created a dreamy atmosphere even though the public was more interested in him playing a better known raga like Ahir Bhairav for instance. Nevertheless, he delivered a brilliant performance like always, and we were able to leave with a smile on our faces.Kudos to Shubhankar Banerjee for his tablatronics keeping us all entertained.
However, HOWEVER before signing off on an extremely happy note, the exploits of one person must be mentioned otherwise this day would not have been as grand. That person is Pandit Ramesh Kumar Mishra, son of Pandit Chhannulal Mishra, who played back to back performances alongside his father and then immediately with Vishwamohan Bhattji. He is one of the cleanest strokeplayers (in table sense) I have ever seen till today and beside his father, he was on fire, beating out Teental, Rupak, Jhaptaal, Keharwa,Dadra, Bhajani thekas with masterful precision and improvisation. I’ve got to say, Panditji has raised a firecracker of a son, who exploded today in a flah of technical brilliance that is rarely seen nowadays. If his laggis didn’t have the audience begging for more, then his Teental based pieces and fast jhala antics, coupled with an ‘out-of-the world’ sawaal jawab portion that showed glimpses of the famous sawaal jawaab between Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pt Shankar Ghosh in the past. Ramesh ji is a diamond in the making, someone who can play something that you were just thinking about in a flash, and should he choose to move to Kolkata, I can promise that many fans of the usual Pandits residing in Kolkata will have their belief shaken quite a bit.
Long live Indian Classical Music.
Blog by - Riddhidev Banerjee. He has been a student of St Xaviers Collegiate School, Kolkata ,and is currently doing his 5th year as a student of BITS Pilani, and is currently pursuing a dual degree in Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering.He is also a Junior Scholar of ITC SRA, and has received the National Scholarship by the Ministry of Culture, 2009-2010. He currently resides in Pilani and enjoys music, writing and an occasional game of table tennis.