A film presentation brought alive the phenomenon called Ustad Vilayat Khan.

“When we listen to music the first thing that comes to the mind is neither vocal nor instrumental, but the melody of the sound that touches your heart. Usme Sur kitna hai, wahi asli baat hai.” This was Ustad Vilayat Khan talking to you during a film screened on the inaugural day of a fabulous festival titled ‘A Life in Melody’, organised as a tribute to the legendary musician who was among the all time greats of Hindustani classical music. The three-day festival presented by Seagram’s 100 Pipers Pure Music at the FICCI auditorium recently, pulled big crowds because it featured artistes like Shujaat Khan, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Raza Ali in place of Sultan Khan who could not make it on the last day.

Apart from the high standard of the musical tributes paid by some of the top musicians, what made this event different from the ordinary fare, was the above mentioned film and a meaningful presentation on the musical journey of Ustad Vilayat Khan, “the sitarist par excellence”, by Pandit Arvind Parikh.

Different facets

The presentation was structured to project the different facets of Ustad Vilayat Khan’s multidimensional musical personality with comments on his individual dimensions like how he evolved the profoundly complete gayaki ang, an essential ingredient of the Vilayat-Khani style, or how did he embark on his musical career, the distinct stages of his musical journey from the early years, the various forces that shaped Ustad Vilayat Khan into an elitist musician who valued the approval of the discerning and cultivated audience eschewing populism, to the way he reengineered his sitar et al.

The presentation was substantiated by the recordings to prove the points put across. Raga Puria for instance, recorded in 1952 had the explosive music of the youthful Vilayat Khan on one hand and the “Sanjh Saravali” recorded in mid-nineties had the mature music of an introspective Ustad creating the masterly edifice of his own musical vision. The musical journey, thus, elaborated upon stage by stage, could also be heard in the recordings. To show the reengineering of the sitar there was the recording of raga Khamaj, the balance of tantrakari and gayaki ang could be heard in Rageshri and Pilu and the marked emphasis on gayaki could be heard in Bihaagara, Shankara and Kaamod.

There were excerpts of Vilayat Khan, the surbahar player in raga Purba, the light classical flavour of his Sitar in Gara and Bhathiyali and also a very rare glimpse of giving thumri lesson to the renowned ghazal singer Begum Akhtar. You could see the slides of Vilayat Khan as a duet artist with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s sarod, Imrat Khan’s sur-bahar and Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai. Then there was Vilayat Khan, the composer of “Jalsaghar” by Satyajit Ray, The guru of James Ivory and Madambari of Madhusudan Kumar. Khan Sahib’s love for fine cars, perfumes, silks and carpets…nothing was left out. The presentation echoed the conviction that led Khan Saheb on the path of passionate absorption of the tradition, unrelenting innovation and the pursuit of super human standards in the execution of his musical vision.