Ustad Rais Khan speaks on film and classical music.

Remember “Pakeezah”? And the hero captivated by anklet-adorned, daintily beautiful feet of the heroine? That beautiful platonic sequence came alive with a highly romantic melody on the sitar which kept haunting through generations, throughout this sub-continent. The wizard who cast the spell is Ustad Rais Khan. The tonal quality of his sitar strokes and virtuosity know few parallels.

Films and classical music are not the only fields he straddles with ease. Besides being an excellent vocalist, he is a swimmer and badminton player, holds a pilot's license and loves car races. The maestro along with disciple-son Farhan Khan came down to Kolkata from Karachi and enthralled the packed-to-capacity crowd at the RKM Institute of Culture with Kalyan-ka-ek-prakar, Marwa and a dhun. One found him characteristically candid the day after. Excerpts from an interview:

Apparently you prefer ‘prakar' (variety) to pure ragas; any reason?

Who can guarantee purity? Besides, I find the wide-ranging ragas open to experiments and composed a few prakars apart from Desh-Malhar — a popular raga now. Nevertheless here is a challenge: you give me an asthaayi (opening half of a bandish), I will give you the rest, or vice-versa. After all I hail from the family of blue-blooded musicians! Others, who claim to play dhrupad-ang on sitar-surbahar, show neither technique nor tuneful melody. Meri itni si guzarish hai unse (I ask only this of them), prove yourself!

What is the secret of such sweeping allure of your music?

I am old and was very ill. Lekin aap ki mohabbat, your love compels me to give my best even now. (Smiles and with a faraway look in his eyes) I have always yearned to possess the sensitivity of women. A 15-year-old can sense the intent of the passing glances of men! I assess my listeners with that kind of sensitivity and translate emotions through my sitar. There are hundreds of ways of saying ‘Roti do' (readily acted out different shades of emotions). I cherish all my experiences of life as they add colour to my music.

Did your involvement with film music interfere with your classicism?

What all emerged out of those innovative works! Madan Mohan and I were neighbours and good friends. Many of his compositions were inspired by my music which looked for new vistas while etching story-lines or emotive lyrics. You know, I composed ‘Allah tero naam'!

I never cared for due credits then as creativity reigned supreme and it actually enriched my musicality. That I am exceptional in many ways, proved to be the major obstacle for me in the classical arena. I could not take the jealousy-induced politics in my stride. When I migrated, several top-ranking musicians heaved a sigh of relief.

Are you happy in Pakistan — the land of great musicians?

Arre bibi-jaan, what musicians! India produces numerous artistes every day. Yahan ek chhoti si ladki Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab ko pi gayi (a young girl has imbibed the style of the legend); many sing like Mehdi Hasan. What do we have there now? Fashion, yes; hard work to learn classical music, no. Fortunately Chiku (Farhan) is very diligent.

Timi (Husnain), my youngest son, is intelligent but not so diligent yet. Though I have great expectations from both, I do not believe in praising them. Otherwise we share a very friendly relationship. My elder sons Suhel and Shahzaan (known as Anurag in TV serial ‘Kasauti Zindagi Ki') are in Mumbai.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. There is no one like him. I believe his younger son Alam Khan has imbibed his style to a great extent. The journey of life has taught me that with His grace on your side you can tide over every crisis. No one can snatch away your destiny from you. My only advice to the young aspirants is: work sincerely. It never goes waste


Born 1939 in Indore's Mewati gharana, to the family of great musicians Haddu, Hassu and Natthu Khan.

Initiated into music at two by his father Ustad Mohammad Khan

Mother hailed from family of Ustad Imdad Khan, grandfather of Vilayat Khan.

Debuted as five-year-old and carved out his niche by nine.

Joined film industry, composed immortal music for 30 years.

Migrated to Pakistan (1980), second wife Bilquees Khanum is a popular singer.