More than just ‘superb support’

Showing the way: Pandit Bickram Ghosh

Showing the way: Pandit Bickram Ghosh  

Bickram Ghosh on the art of accompaniment, his return to the classical fold and how he learnt the importance of professionalism on stage from Pandit Ravi Shankar

“Indian classical music is spontaneous and interactive. Musicians like us do not play second fiddle as tabla accompanists,” Bickram Ghosh is emphatic while discussing the art of accompaniment. “We all remember duos like Ali Akbar Khan-Shankar Ghosh, Ravi Shankar-Allarakha, Shiv Kumar Sharma-Zakir Hussain. Were these people just second fiddle? No. But, somewhere in the middle, it got lost.” He agrees tabla players do not decide what raga and tala to play but goes on to add, “they share the entire gamut of music-making, without waiting for the ‘nod’ or ‘chance’, because a sensible accompanist would never play out of context.”

“From the instrumentalists’ point of view,” he says, “one must point out how correct is the sitar/sarod players’ use of the left or right hand, is dhere-dhere on the tabla crisp enough, why not dhene-gene instead....” Justifiably, he points out, a review should analyse the technique of raga-tala elaborations applied by both the artistes on stage. “The tala part is often dismissed in a few words like ‘superb support’. I wonder whether this is because of ignorance or sheer prejudice against our clan,” he chuckles.

While listening to this extremely articulate, trendy, classical musician, who wears several caps, one could not help remember his father and guru tabla-legend Pandit Shankar Ghosh, who decided to perform solo or present his percussion ensemble, to protest against this mindset. Almost echoing the senior’s feelings, Ghosh, dressed in branded jeans and leather jacket, says, “If I remain complacent with my worldly comforts and go away without using my fame to set this right, I would be doing a disservice to this great art .”

In the plush living room of the ‘Bickram Ghosh Studio’, atop Ghosh’s four-storied house in upscale South Kolkata, one notices a pair of dumbbells, well-preserved oxygen emanating indoor plants and a collection of books on diverse topics. Following one’s gaze, he could anticipate what was coming and adds smilingly, “You had to suffer the absence of the lift! The reason is, I am a fitness freak and prefer to climb. I do the weights in between recordings, walk a lot, try to eat sensibly despite our kind of erratic lifestyle – only to be able to work unimpeded by lifestyle-related problems.”

Edited excerpts:

It is widely known that during your impressionable age you were in Pandit Ravi Shankar’s constant company. Did you learn this from him?

Oh, yes. In his company, I also learnt how to bring professionalism on stage, how to create a show, which is more relevant today. Content is king, but why stop at that! I saw Pandit Ravi Shankar edit and plan his recitals according to his audience. Once in Taipei, he began with a ten-minute Rupak and asked me ‘fatiye baja’ (nail it). Sure enough, it won thunderous claps. Then he said, ‘This was the exciting part. We have an equally important spiritual part. For this, you all have to shut your eyes.’ This way he befriended the uninitiated and cast his spell.

The high-nosed attitudes of classicists, who place themselves in rarefied space, alienate listeners. I started in the 1980s when there were not many options. Now, I have to give enough to lure and hook my listeners who are spoilt for choice.

In a mehfil of the initiated audience, it is different. In hugely attended soirées, one needs to cater to all present. For this, I have to have that range! But whatever I do, I cannot be far from classical.

Tell us about your film music scores?

In films like Kadambari, Basu Parivar, I used pure classical with vengeance and brought classical back into the commercial cinema – as it was in ’60s. Thanks to my vocalist mother, my music is greatly influenced by Patiala gharana. Even the films’ soundscape is driven by classical or classic-folk medley because I want it to be percolated into generations. I am happy that people follow these crazily in local puja pandals and parties. Yet there is nobody who can say ‘Bickram tabla theke sore gechhe (Bickram has strayed away from the tabla)’.

Sonu Nigam and I had composed music for Jal. The musical score made it to the long list of the Oscars. After that, I started taking my music scores even more seriously. I am doing a lot of commercial films like Torbaaz.

You played the lead role in a Bengali film. Now you are acting in a Hindi film. Is glamour calling?

Acting is not my cup of tea; it just happened. Band of Maharajas offered me a very interesting, meaty role and I am scoring its music as well. I have been straddling different genres of music with an open mind since childhood. I always listened to Bollywood, Western music, played conga in school.

Baba, a strict disciplinarian, did not mind if I did my riyaaz regularly.

You started off as an A-listed tabla accompanist and moved in the haloed zone for fifteen years. Then suddenly, apart from giving solo recitals, you began body drumming, cheek-playing. Again a phase came wherein you were into fusion. Last two years you are back on the classical stage and released fifteen classical albums! Why such paradigm shifts?

I felt I had more music in me beyond pure classical. I always dabbled in varied forms because as a child I saw Baba doing a lot of experimental work with his musical drums (rhythm ensemble). My school-college influences led me to other forms and genres. Besides, after a point, I wanted my status as a tabla player to have a much broader spectrum. I wanted to create a brand to get more opportunities as opposed to rock-guys or Adhunik or Bangla Band gigs, etc. I, therefore, vanished from the classical arena for five-six years.

Nobody tried this risky professional hiatus like me, and yet I came back with a renewed, expanded, ‘versatile’ image. My photo and name now find a respectable place alongside the ‘main’ artists in most of the posters. I fought this battle seriously and am reaping the benefits.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 1:43:56 AM |

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