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More Show than Substance

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THE State festival of music and dance held recently at the open-air Rang Bhavan in Bombay was a mammoth cultural event.

Times Weekly, March 28, 1971

The article as it first appeared.

The article as it first appeared.

The Directorate of Culture, which organized the festival, featured nearly 50 artistes. The impressive array of 17 vocalists, 12 instrumentalists and 7 dancers included many top names. The selection seemed to be largely confined to local artistes but the fare was fairly representative of our contemporary music and dance traditions. It was also good to see that adequate representation was given to new talent as well.

However, while many of the items were enjoyable, there were quite a few recitals which sadly brought to the fore many of the sins that have lately beset contemporary practices in traditional music and dance.

By far the most disconcerting aspect of the current musical scene is the craving for showmanship and exhibitionism : so much so that not only promising youngsters but even acknowledged veterans have come to show a crass disregard for the finer values of presentation. They seem to think like a great majority of their quiescent listeners, that vocal gymnastics, instrumental mastery, notational gimmickry and dramatic alterations in speed and rhythm make for good music.

Typical of these trends were the recitals of Bismillah Khan, and Latafat Huaaain Khan, Jasraj, Hafeez Ahmed Khan, Praveen Sultana and Uttamrao Patil (singers). While Bismillah showed more skill than sensitivity inhis medium, there was more physical verve than musical grace in Latafat’s singing. On the other hand, Jasraj, Parveen and Hafeez ( who could not even keep his Darbari distinct from Jaunpuri ) chose to waste their fine voices on soulless virtuosity. And Patil’s bid to combine the style of Amir Khan, Bhimsen Joshi and Kumar Gandharva was a desperate exercise in futility.

In the same context, one also wished that gifted Kanak Rale’s Mohini Attam number could be as authentic as it was colourful. Asha Parekh’s Bharata Natyam item, alive with filmic flourishes, emerged more tantalizing than satisfying, more impressive than expressive.

The growing fondness of some artistes for queer-sounding or less known melodic innovations was yet another irritating experience at the festival. Indeed, it looks as if our present-day performers have no use for the vast and varied repertory of traditional ragas. Not that new creations should not be encouraged and popularized. But then they should not only conform to the accepted standards of raga form and structure but also have an intrinsic entertaining quality. Their ultimate assimilation into the mainstream of tradition will depend not so much on their novelty as on their structural authenticity, individuality and sustaining power.

Not surprisingly, novelty was about the only virtue of Champakali (Shridhar Dhage), Madhu- Kauns (Prabha Atre), Madhyami (Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan) and Shuddha-Kauns (Laxmi Shankar) which were heard at the festival. There was a peculiar lack of flow and continuity of passages which hampered effective modal portraiture.

Finally, if festivals must be organized on this scale, it is necessary to make the sitting not only briefer but also fewer. The artistes should not number more than three for each sitting and there should be at least a day’s break after three sessions on consecutive nights. This will ensure fuller enjoyment and appreciation and also obviate the physical discomfort that might otherwise distract the audience in the long run.

*Mohan D. Nadkarni often wrote as Gurudev Sharan and Lalitmohan Dutta.


LETTER: Music Lovers

SHRI Gurudev Sharan in his article, “More Show Than Substance” has already said most of what I meant to However, I would like to add some more suggestions. News of the Maharashtra Government’s mammoth Music and Dance Festival reached lethargic Lucknow rather late; but the menu of musical fare in the list was simply irresistible, and I made it all the way to Bombay somehow. My admiration for the tireless patience and intense love of Bombay audiences for music and dance grew ten-fold this year. Some of the items were satisfying enough to reward one for the long journey.

Why should there be so many artistes in every session instead of just three – an instrumentalist and vocalist, and a dancer? In this case, we could have seen and heard every artiste on all the days. Each evening’s programme started with a lesser-known artiste who was expected to provide “background-noise for” the audiances tropping in noisily, and all the other initial disturbance. The best artiste of the evening would be reserved for the mid-night-hours when the audience would be in a state of drowsy stupor. Why not restrict the duration of each session to four hours or so. So that the audiences. When a glamourous flimstar is performing, it is better to keep her item at the end. The early part Nanada of doubtful purity, so that she had very little time left to render the Thumri in which she really sparkled?

Why do not artistes confine themselves to their forte? When everyone knows that Parween excels in the light classical and lighter varieties of music, why was she allowed to devote most of her time to Klayals in a Nayaki of music-experts to plan and decide the Ragas for each evening. That there was no such planning was obvious from the repetition of Ragas, and the surfeit of Kaunses and Kanadas that we were subjected to. And why this craze for new-fangled queer, and cramped ragas like Madhukains, Champakali and Madhyami—when all those ‘elemental’ and beautiful common ragas lay neglected?

Laxshmi Shankar’s singing was partially drowned by the roaring sounds from the engine of a motorcar that had been brought close to the stage-side exit to whisk off Asha Parekh from amidst the large crowd of star-gazers who had rushed to surround the car. Because of the deep concentration and her rich and vibrant voice, Lakshmi was able to hold her audience, but car’s the disturbances until it noisily roared off with Asha and party and very annoying.

No doubt, there are many good harmonium-accompanists in Bombay, but this vast musical city seem to have acute Sarangi-shortage, for, we saw only a solitary Sultan Khan for Sarangi-accompaniment. The potentialities of the Sarangi were amply revealed by Ramanarain’s brilliant Sarangi recital. Can Harmonium really take the place of Sarangi? Where was Bombay’s peerless Sitra Devi? If Bharata Natyam could be repeated, Kathak too could have been.



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