Abhay Sopori’s music for Kashmiriyat in Hindi film Shikara

Keeping alive syncretic traditions: Abhay Rustum Sopori with his santoor

Keeping alive syncretic traditions: Abhay Rustum Sopori with his santoor  

Abhay Rustum Sopori, santoor maestro, on his music composition for Hindi movie Shikara

Santoor maestro Abhay Rustum Sopori, is happy that Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s latest film Shikara tells the story of Kashmir’s Hindus who were forced to leave their homeland in 1990.

“This ‘ethnic cleansing’ should never happen again,” says Sopori, who was 11 years old then. “I was sure that we would return after a few days. It didn’t happen and I have stayed in Delhi since then,” he says, with some bitterness.

Sopori, of the 300-year-old Sufiana Gharana, now in its ninth generation, composed the music of the wedding song Shukrana Gul Khile and the love theme Dilbar Lagyo in Shikara. He designed a special santoor for the film, toning down the classical tones and textures, but staying true to the original Kashmiri instrument.

Before embarking on the project, Sopori told Chopra, a Punjabi who like him grew up in the Valley, that the traditional bhand performers of Kashmir had never got their due. The filmmaker roped them into the film in the wedding sequence.

Abhay Sopori’s music for Kashmiriyat in Hindi film Shikara

“Recordings were done in the Valley as I wanted our folk musicians, from various villages, to work on this. So they worked on matka, sarangi with me,” he says, adding that the wedding song “highlights the syncretic traditions and the bond between Hindus and Muslims before the exodus.” Excerpts from a conversation.

How did you get this project?

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, whom I fondly call Vidhuji, saw my orchestral presentation with maestro Zubin Mehta in Kashmir in 2013, which was performed by 100 musicians comprising the Bavarian State Orchestra of Germany and my Kashmiri folk ensemble. And then we met in 2017. He always believed that one day that I would bring out the best of Kashmir through my music.

This is a subject close to my heart. I feel blessed that Vidhu believes in me. I am sure that Shikara will be one of the greatest films in world cinema as Kashmir has been presented in its truest narrative.

How would you describe your contribution to the film?

Vidhuji wanted me to compose an authentic Kashmiri wedding song, as it would have been in the 1980s. It was difficult, but weeks of preparation ensured that we now have an authentic Kashmiri wedding sequence.

The song with traditional instruments like rabab, sarangi, tumbak, and matka, is the highlight of the film. It’s for the first time that a complete Kashmiri song has been featured in a Hindi film. My efforts have always been to bring forward the rich and beautiful music and culture of my State. A live song is not something that Indian cinema tries too often now. I rehearsed with my musicians in Kashmir along with the Bachnagma dancer (men dressed as females) and Kashmiri Wanwun ladies as there was no scope for retakes.

Then we have the love theme in the movie where music from the santoor would make it a memorable experience for film buffs.

Classical musicians prefer to stay away from movies. What was the experience like, for you?

My classical santoor background is my greatest strength and it doesn’t stop me from spreading my wings. My grandfather Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori, was hailed as the father of music in Kashmir.

Then, my father, the legendary musician Pandit Bhajan Sopori taught me classical — both Indian and Western, as well as Kashmiri Sufiana, Sufi, and folk. This combined knowledge helped me in composing the melodies for the film.

What is the message of this film

Shikara is a story that is woven around true events. My efforts have been to bring people together through music for a harmonious and peaceful society. This film gave me the platform to highlight this ideology through my music. I bring across the ethos of Kashmiri culture and music through this film. I believe that realisation is the first step towards transformation, correction and improvement.

What happeneded in Kashmir three decades ago were far removed from public memor. No matter how distant they may seem in space and time those horrific events are not hearsay. They did take place. Kashmiryat was torn apart on the night of January 19, 1990.

The Bhands

Five percussionists from the Bhand community — Manzoor-Ul-Haq, a 32-year-old who speaks fluent Hindi, Nariz Ahmed Baghat, Gulam Qadir Bhat, Abdul Ahad Baghat, Ghulam Ali Bhat — are shown playing their traditional instrument in the wedding song.

Bhands in Kashmir play the swarnai, akin to the shehnai. The Bhands, who are Muslims, also perform a special dance known as chhok. They have been ostracised now, after the Pandits left the Valley. Manzoor says: “or centuries, we have been engaged in the bhakti tradition in Hindu temples and Buddhist monasteries. The Sufiana Kalam (devotional music) soothes the mind and is much needed now.” Their last big performance was in 2013 at the Kheer Bhawani temple, “but now as the situation in Kashmir has deteriorated we don’t have that many performances,” he says. Munir Ahmad Mir, the singer, also a Kashmiri, and the one in the song, says: “Muslims and Hindus shared a beautiful relationship, which made Kashmir so special. My Guru Pandit Bhajan Sopori would do so many concerts where this Kashmiryat (brotherhood) would resonate. Muslims singing bhajans and Hindus singing Muslim naats was a great bond of the Valley.”

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 12:37:24 AM |

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