Shekhar Sen: An administrator and an artiste

Shekhar Sen

Shekhar Sen   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini


The Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi wears many hats

“ I am seeking. I am striving.

I am in it with all my heart.”

— Vincent Van Gogh.

These words of Van Gogh best describe Shekhar Sen — singer, composer, lyricist and actor, who says, “Art should make an individual a better person and I believe that as an artiste, we have to leave a better world.”

Sen’s foray into the world of art was not by chance. His parents were musicians (Gwalior Gharana) and academics — postgraduates with triple areas of specialisation and holding doctorate degrees too. His father, Arun Kumar Sen (Bengali) was Vice-Chancellor, Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalay, Khairargarh, and his mother, Aneeta Sen (Telugu) was Principal, Girls Higher Secondary School.

Growing up in a combined world of academics and music and having a bi-lingual parentage gave Sen the advantage of appreciating art, developing a scientific temper and a love for languages. These held him in good stead in his later years as an actor.

Music constantly reverberated in his home on the campus as both his parents would do their riyaz at 6 a.m. and music classes would go on till late in the evening. Many celebrated musicians such as V.G. Jog, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia and N. Rajam, who visited the city, would stay with the family. Sen thus was exposed to the best at these mehfils and discussions.

“I am the second child of my parents. My mother had so desired a daughter that she even made clothes to welcome a baby girl. Not only I had to wear those clothes as a baby, I was also taught sewing, cooking and knitting during my growing up years. All to make my mother happy,” he laughs. Training in music followed. Sen began learning the sitar and vocal music. But to escape the tough regimen, he complained to her about his fingers bleeding when he played the sitar. Being a tough task master, she suggested that he could play the violin. And Sen thought it was better to bow to her wishes, instead of coming up with excuses.

Sen was about 10, when he was enrolled in the class of Karthik Ramji, a Kathak dancer at the court of the Raja of Raigarh, who came to teach at the campus. Sen recalls how difficult it was for him to be in a class full of girls. Fortunately for him, the injury by a hockey stick when playing brought the Kathak classes to an end.

Shekhar Sen: An administrator and an artiste

Sen moved to Bombay to make his progress as a musician. He got an opportunity to work in two films as music composer, but both did not see the light of day. Sen regards this as a divine intervention because it gave him the courage to seek other avenues and rediscover himself and his strengths. He began to pursue singing with great fervour. He did not see himself as a singer, yet had to make a living and do what he was good at. He began performing at concerts, but sang only his own compositions just to keep alive the composer in him. And he knew this was possible only if he widened his repertoire. So he began to delve into the literature of the languages that he learnt such as Bhojpuri, Marathi, Urdu and Hindi, besides Bengali and Telugu spoken at home. “It was a lot of hardwork; I wanted to improve my vocabulary to write songs in these languages.”

It was around this time that he was invited to sing at a wedding, which he didn’t want to taake up. So Sen quoted an exorbitant amount as fee and to his shock it was accepted. With the money he travelled with his parents to the U.S., where they presented 18 shows. At the last show, which was at the international conference on the Ramayana, Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas was released in Chinese and Portuguese. It left a strong impression on Sen. He felt that the rich culture of our country should be showcased to our own people, since many are unaware of these works.

This paved the way for his entry into theatre. Explains Sen: “I returned to Bombay and kept thinking. Suddenly an entire play formed in my head and the script emerged out of nowhere. Thus was born my first musical mono-act play ‘Tulsi’.” The success and reach of this led to plays on Kabir, Vivekanand, Soordas, etc. Saheb was the only non-biographical work he has done so far. Mira se Mahadevi tak was a musical programme on poets from 15th to 20th century.

String of awards

His works fetched him several awards, most importantly the Padma Shri in 2015.The same year, on January 28, he was appointed the Chairman of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (a post he will hold for five years). A few days later, he was conferred an honorary doctorate by the Khairargar University.

Talking about helming a prestigious cultural body (SNA), Sen says it entails a lot of responsibility. “I see myself as the head of a large family of artistes, whose interests are uppermost in my mind.” As the chairman, he has been widening the scope of cultural activities, from being Delhi-centric to other regions of the country. He started live streaming these activities to show the proper use of the funding.

To Sen must also go the credit of introducing an award for light film (sugam sangeeth). Sen also extended the benefits of health insurance to awardees and supporting artistes, including those handling light and make-up. Such measures endeared him to artistes across genres.

Inspite of his distinguished status as an administrator, Sen sees himself first as an artiste. “At the end of each day, I find myself in the court — my own, where I am the judge, the defendant, the accused. I sit in judgment on my day’s work and also mete out punishment to myself when I make a mistake as an artiste. That to me is a reminder that I will always be a student in the great realm of knowledge.”

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 2:58:30 PM |

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