Pt. Mukul Shivputra’s utterly quiet rendition

Pt. Mukul Shivputra performing at Kalakshetra, Chennai. On the tabla is Sunil Jalfikar and on the harmonium Vyasmurti Katti   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

Pt. Mukul Shivputra is a restless seeker. A rare instance of a Hindustani vocalist who bothered to engage with Carnatic Music, he came to Madras to learn from a musical great — M.D. Ramanathan. “I wanted to study this traditional music which too must have its own aesthetics. People in the North don’t like Carnatic music, they don’t listen to it. They are satisfied with Hindustani music. Carnatic music does not have melody, you see. But I once heard the veena and became attracted to this music. I stayed for six months in a lodge in Mandaveli to learn from MDR. I only studied it — not with the intention of performing it but just to understand it.”

This was in his late teens. Many twists and turns in a peripatetic life later, Mukul Shivputra returned to Madras that is Chennai now to offer a concert in tribute to his guru MDR and his Kanna Mama, who raised him — both from Gods’ Own Country. The Rukmini Arangham in Kalakshetra was warm and the hall was almost full when Shivputra walked in without any ceremony, and started tuning the tanpuras. And without any ceremony, while still playing the tanpura, he started singing Raga Shree. That Komal Rishabha, raised by a couple of microtones, impossible to capture on the accompanying harmonium, and the large gaps between the notes that make this raga of the dusk almost unsettling — it was as if the heat was rendered in sound.

Khayal is explored around compositions, usually very short, of four lines, through the various devices of alaap, bol alaap, bol taan, taan and sargam. Shivputra’s father, Pt. Kumar Gandharva, blazed through the world of Hindustani music as a phenomenal performer while questioning the stranglehold of these presentational elements; Shivputra quietly reasserted that stance but very differently. Kumarji’s music was a brilliant drama of light and shade and the listener was jerked out of any drooping attention by a dazzling taan here or a sharp contrast in volume or sudden pouncing on a syllable or words. All this was never for effect, but that was the way he made music, the most astonishing music a generation of listeners knew.

Shivputra’s voice and rendition are a stark contrast — his voice is mellow as is his badhat or development of the raga. There were no highs in the concert — no climaxes. Each moment, as he sought the sur, was an intense shade in the quiet canvas that he painted. Inclusion of taans and bol taans and layakaari was subtle and judicious; these are really devices to create interest in the concert. Raga does not need taans, etc. to manifest itself.

But one must admit that this is too demanding upon the average listener — an utterly quiet rendition, uncompromisingly focused on the essentials of sur and taal, with minimal exhibitionism.

Later I remarked to him that there was no pradarshan, no attempt to exhibit his music. He thought for a bit and said — “Pradarshan is necessary. Other things remaining equal, I do engage in pradarshan.” Perhaps other things were not equal that evening. The heat certainly, the humidity, the sound system which could have done better, and the fact that he had to play one tanpura himself. “Nobody plays tanpura — they don’t know how to,” he said in despair.

Chennai is reputed for its serious and informed listeners, but is a nightmare for Hindustani musicians who draw their music out from the tanpuras.

The concert unfolded in an atypical way. There was no vilambit composition, for example. Shree was presented through a long alaap in the beginning and then a madhya laya bandish and tarana. Next followed the raga Khat, a combination of six ragas. ‘E madamatta,’ a beautiful composition was followed by Kumarji’s composition ‘Ranga kesariya sira paagaa in Basant.’ And then came a tappa in Khamaj followed by another tarana. After an interval, he sang Shyam Kalyan and a couple of bhajans.

Accompaniment by Sunil Jalfikar (tabla) and Vyasmurti Katti (Harmonium) was subdued — in keeping with the general tenor of the concert. As I watched Shivputra sing, lost in the sur of the tanpuras, inexplicably, an image flashed across the mind — of a delicate lotus that reaches out of the surface of a shimmering lake. A refined artistry was evident through the concert, an artistry that would not compromise for effect. But dynamics is vital for the communicative process — not for its possibility but for its impact.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 10:01:07 PM |

Next Story