Rajeev Chaurasia’s documentary Bansuri Guru sums up Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia’s life and music

He is the Krishna of Indian classical music whose Vrindavan encompasses the world. Despite his father’s insistence he rejected the akhadas (traditional kushti ring) yet mastered the blowing technique. For the past 75 years, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia has caught the winds of change impeccably in his flute, building a bridge across time and style with his gentle and melodic notes. So it is only fitting that his life and work be preserved for posterity and Bansuri Guru does just that. The documentary film has been produced by Films Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and is being released all over India under the PVR Director’s Rare banner.

Films are not new to Chaurasia who as part of the Shiv-Hari (along with santoor exponent Shiv Kumar Sharma) jodi composed beguiling songs in many Yash Chopra films such as Chandni, Darr, Silsila and Lamhe. But how about being the protagonist? “Yes a hero with a lifelong affair with swar and taal,” he laughs robustly. “I wanted to better Amitabh Bachchan but I realised it wasn’t easy being before the camera,” he laughs again. You realise the long years of struggle — born into a family of wrestlers, scorned by his father for his musical leanings, finding a job and then moving to Bombay — hasn’t dampened Panditji’s spirit. “What is an artiste’s life without struggle? They provide the emotional connect to the art. Whenever I think of the hard days, Raj Kapoor’s Mera Naam Joker comes to mind. He who makes the world laugh weeps alone,” he says striking a philosophical note.

Talking about Bansuri Guru, Panditji says, “Sadhana ka phal hai (the result of my dedication) and if my journey inspires some youngster to pursue sangeet I will feel blessed.” The one-hour documentary is directed by his son Rajeev whose association with television made the job easy.

“It wasn’t a planned move,” says Rajeev, who graduated in finance from the University of Texas. “I entered the scene when I realised it would be better for me to handle the film than take up the responsibility of providing every little detail about my father to someone. Who else could have had a closer view of Panditiji as a man and a musician?”

It took some time to convince Films Division but Rajeev’s conviction went in his favour. Once his role as a director was finalised, Rajeev got down to serious research trying to capture the essence of his father’s life in 60 minutes. He made sure not to leave out interesting anecdotes such as how his father got his first bansuri. Panditiji was about 10 when he spotted a boy walking down the street playing the flute. When the boy put down the flute to have water, he picked it up and fled.

The film also features those closely associated with the flautist such as former AIR station director, Cuttack, P.V. Krishnamurthy, who gave Panditji his first music job in 1957. Rajeev also wanted to get Panditji’s guruma Annapurna Devi (late Pandit Ravi Shankar’s first wife) to talk but the reclusive artiste was not keen. “She is a very important person in my father’s life. It took my father three years to make her agree to accept him as her disciple. He owes his creative vision to her.” The film has Amitabh Bachchan as narrator and Panditiji’s melodious Bollywood tracks have been woven into the background score.

Some of the picturisation happened in the musician’s gurukuls in Mumbai and Cuttack. “Surrounded by his loving sishyas, Panditiji is at his cheerful best here and you can feel the vibrations of the wind too.”