Friday Review

When music plays the main role

Hindi film director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, (L) with singers Shreya Ghoshal and Sonu Nigam.  

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali talks about how classical music spurs his creativity.

His movies are works of high art not because of the screenplay, cinematography and costume, but more importantly, for the background score and songs. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is as skilled a filmmaker as he is a composer. So his winning an award recently for music direction for ‘Bajirao Mastani’ hardly came as a surprise. Each song in this film, based on the Maratha warrior, evoked a feel of the era besides being soaked in the earthy classicism. Bhansali talks about his passion for classical music and how he makes it an integral part of his stories. Excerpts from his interview.

When did you fall in love with music?

I always had to have a radio, and although we could not afford record players, I would sit on the steps and listen to the records my uncle played. I was intrigued about how one should shoot a song and the role that the actors played. My father was musically inclined and exposed me to the music of greats right from Amir Khansaheb, Roshanara Begum and Gangubai Hangal to the music of V. Shantaram and Raj Kapoor. Residing in a Marathi mohalla, Marathi folk and Koli songs fascinated me, and my mother would sing Gujarati folk songs of singer-composers such as Avinash Vyas. In my difficult, lower middle-class life, I was perpetually surrounded by music which was great solace every time I beheld the pain on my parents’ faces. So music I feel is the best thing in life.

What draws you so deeply to classical music?

I don’t know. It’s just the mood that ragas create, or the way great musicians elaborate them, creating their own emotions within you. The legendary Pandit Kumar Gandharva is a big influence on me and you don’t know why you start crying or get goose bumps when you hear him sing a particular raga. Kishori Amonkar’s Bhoopali draws me to her. One wonders where these maestros got their precision from, and they connect you to God directly. Music touching the rooh (soul) does not happen to just anybody. I firmly believe, never analyse anybody’s art beyond a point. You lose the spontaneity and magic of what they are creating. For me Lata Mangeshkar, Diwaliben Bhil (Kathiawadi folk singer), Shahid Sabri and Parvathy Baul are all equally important.

You have heard many classical giants. Tell us who has touched your rooh the most?

Kumar Gandharv. I can’t even tell what it is that touches me about his music. I had bought a record of his bandish. I still listen to it.

The folk element in his classicism fascinates me. He speaks to your soul, breaking away from the conventional gharana norms. He will be relevant even 50 years hence. I remember listening to Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur live at Mumbai’s NCPA. He was very old. He sang after Kishori Amonkar, who would take all the time in the world to begin a performance, considering her myriad adjustments. Panditji started off right away without much ado. He was so humble and simple despite his lofty stature and magnetic voice texture.

A rendition that is etched in your consciousness.

I am very receptive to music from anywhere. The asar (impact) of a lot of music I have heard keeps revisiting me. ‘Ab tohe jaane na doongi’, a Thumri by Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the idea of which I have used in the ‘Bajirao song, tells me that perusing human excellence calls for great meditative powers, riyaaz and dedication. I use the same parallel in film making.

Why did you transform the Ahir Bhairav bandish (‘Albela Sajan Aayo re’) into Bhoopali in ‘Bajirao Mastani’?

It was instinctive. I would always sing ‘Albela Sajan’ in my own tune. Though I was afraid purists would question me for doing this, I could not stop myself from using it. I don’t think anyone has ever used the words of a bandish of one raga for another raga and a lot of people complimented me for this.

How did you think of using a traditional bandish for a romantic scene in ‘Bajirao…’?

Malini Rajurkar, my favourite contemporary singer has sung it just as she has in her album. You go towards purer things as you age. Music that is not processed or computerised is far more effective, like Lataji’s Meera bhajans as compared to her film songs. The purity from the audience’s hearts hasn’t disappeared. They want something honest and real and if you have the courage to do it it will always work.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2018 3:20:30 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/when-music-plays-the-main-role/article8393246.ece