A straightforward documentary that through its visuals makes you listen to the music of Kishori tai, look at her life and understand her philosophy.

Classical music is not just about entertainment or satisfying the wants of listeners but more a journey of discovery for the artist. In this journey of discovery, the treasures that are stumbled upon are shared with the audience, who as listeners participate in this process. If this is the true definition of a performing artist, then we need not provide any descriptions, all we just need to do is call out the name Kishori Amonkar.

To make a documentary film on such an artist is a process ridden with difficulties. The multiple layers of the thoughts and emotions of such individuals, are so woven together that it's difficult to get the whole picture, their essence and their soul. In “Bhinna Shadja” Amol Palekar has achieved and sustained this elusive quality. A straightforward documentary that does not dazzle you with complicated visual mysticism but through its visuals makes you listen to the music of Kishori tai. The film takes you on the journey of her life, music, philosophy, family, students and musicians with some of today's greats including Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan sharing their thoughts.

Honest conversations

What makes this film very special is that Amol Palekar has been able to get Kishori tai to discuss and describe her philosophy of music and her idea of creation, in the most honest and uninterrupted manner. The conversations are the life of the film. We almost feel like she is talking to us, completely personal and intimate. The greatest relief is that we do not have an over-voice describing anything. This is truly a great offering to this living legend.

As a musician some of the most arresting moments are when Kishori tai talks about music. Her description of the svaras, their form, character and their completeness when understood as a creation and not a technical tonal position and their relationship with the Raga is almost like describing the relationship between the antaratma and the paramatma. This philosophical connection cannot be missed in the way Kishori tai describes svaras and ragas. Equally stunning is her description of the note Shadja. The crafting of this note where the Raga takes ownership of it, giving it an unique character, is beautiful. She calls it the “Omnipresent, all-encompassing note”.

To capture the emotion of every raga and to retain this identity, not merely technically but as an emotive quality, has been one of the great qualities in Kishori tai's music. This approach has taken her deeper into the raga and all the “liberties” that she has been sometimes accused of taking are but a result of this expression. In many ways these are only dimensions of the raga that have revealed itself to her through her approach to Raag Sangeet. We get to see her as someone who has created a musical identity that is all hers but built around her Jaipur Atraula gharana not as a rebel, but as a passionate lover of Raga. This comes out as a stunning revelation.

Kishori tai's learning and relationship with her mother Mogubai is described with such great reverence and heart, the emotion is palpable. We travel back in time with Kishori tai to her home town; not as a narrative, but a journey in the language of music.

From her sons we come to understand the difficulties of Kishori tai losing her voice in the 1960's. But her description of the whole experience as the blossoming of her inner voice gives us a glimpse of the inner journey of this great musician.

Two words we hear Kishori tai use often are “intuition” and “restraint”. These are probably the bedrock of great music with one feeding the other. A true Sadhaki lives in this dialogue between these two experiences.

Some of the footage from her past lectures and of Mogubai singing are beautiful. If I have any complaint about this film then it would only be a wish for more footage as each one is very revealing. Kishori Amonkar also faces head-on the many criticisms about her both musically and on the personal front giving us the perspective that we don't often hear.

To have been able to capture all this and more and give it to us as an aesthetic and passionate creation is truly the greatness of filmmaker Amol Palekar. There is not one moment in the film which is frivolous or out of place. The film is almost like the musician: intense, passionate, clear, subtle, strong yet tender and a result of a long journey.

Eye-opener

This film is a must-watch for every music aficionado, student or performer irrespective of the form of music they practise or listen to in order to understand the mind of a truly great musician. This opens our eyes to the world of music and the fact that what we hear and experience is but a glimpse of what is behind. To surrender to art, to its all pervasive nature — irrespective of one's own mastery — is the most important message of this documentary. When this comes through the life of a person who embodies greatness itself then it awakens inside each one of us a realisation of life itself.

The writer is a classical Carnatic musician.