Sanjoy Bandopadhyay is an eminent sitarist from Kolkata. He was recently in Varanasi to deliver a lecture-cum-demonstration at Banaras Hindu University. Here he speaks about the music he likes and loves.
What is self-expression in sitar rendering according to you? Is it expression of yourself or the expression of the raga through you?
It’s an interesting question. I would prefer to say that both the statements are right. Really intense raga performances are expressions of self and at the same time it’s an expression of raga through me. When I play a raga, actually I stay as a free flowing medium so that the raga may get expressed through my sitar. But, at the same time it is my embodied system that is working in this process. So, my assimilated musical repertoire surely is an important component that gets utilised in this process. I assume this may be considered as an expression of my musical self.
What have you say about the present-day sitarists, their level for present and future?
What is good or bad in a creative art like music can easily raise many debates. Whether a musical rendering is ‘good’ or ‘not so good’ usually gets established on the success of the rendered musical pieces before the listening public. I view the quality of music as extremely subjective. I do not like to equate good music with a musician’s degree of fame. The Indian musical tradition is a living and throbbing tradition that is moving with time. This has already given us the opportunity to enjoy the art in many different shapes, shades and colours. Let us enjoy as it comes. I do not wish to be one of those who believe that ‘old is gold’. But sometimes, when I am alone and only listen to my inner self and don’t care about anything else, I tend to feel that possibly some of the oldies are really heart-warming. But this is my very personal feeling, this is quite subjective and possibly my limitation to equally appreciate the new.
Who are your favourite sitari players among seniors and contemporaries?
I like all the three very famous sitar players of our time — namely Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan and Nikhilda (Pandit Nikhil Banerjee). I like these three musicians because of the simple reason that I learnt to appreciate the sitar through these exponents. There may be other excellent sitar players like Pandit Balaram Pathak or Ustad Abdul Halim Zaffar Khan but I did not have enough exposure to their music. Their music was not easily accessible. So, I could never develop the same kind of receptivity. But, I know people who have the deepest appreciation for Pathakji and Halim Sahab. As for contemporary sitar players, I wonder if it will be proper for me to take specific names. My student Kushal Das is getting very popular and a musician like Pandit Ravi Shankar expressed his happiness listening to him in one of his concerts in Delhi. I have heard other sitar exponents too like Shahid Parvez and others they are all very good and have very high merit.
What are you doing creatively now in your field?
Of late I have started experimenting on cross-over music. My recent experimentation in New Jersey (U.S.) received high appreciation in addition to my traditional sitar playing.