Girija - A Lifetime in Music: A documentary that pays mellifluous tribute to the Hindustani classical music legend

Girija – A Lifetime In Music is a melodious account of the life and the works of Girija Devi, the legendary Hindustani classical vocalist, who was famously known as the ‘Queen of Thumri’.

Directed by Girija Devi’s own Gandabandh shishyas, Debapriya Adhikary and Samanwaya Sarkar, the film offers a direct insight into the life of the Padma Vibhusan awardee, and also boasts a carefully curated selection of songs from her vast repertoire.

Through the two-hour film, Girija Devi recounts her childhood days, how she overcame the backlash female vocalists were subjected to in those days, and her attempts to strike a balance between her married life and her career as a musician.

Supported with interviews of stalwarts of Hindustani classical music and rare concert footage, the film upholds Girija Devi’s reputation as the face of Hindustani classical music. Her songs used in the documentary, complemented by the soothing visuals of the Varanasi ghats,transport the viewer to a bygone era.

Girija – A Lifetime In Music won the 2018 National Film Award for the Best Arts/Culture Film.

Excerpts from an interview with directors Debapriya Adhikary and Samanwaya Sarkar:

How did you come under the tutelage of Girija Devi? You were her students for a long time, when was it that you decided to make a film on her?

Samanwaya: She is a goddess... to get in touch with her was definitely a dream of ours. We both were judged by her in a competition called Ravi Kichlu Foundation Golden Talent Hunt (Samanwaya in 2000 and Debapriya in 2004). I advised Debapriya to go to Varanasi and learn from Appaji, she gladly took him under her wing. By that time, we had also started performing duets, Appaji was concerned that if I learnt from Debapriya, who was new himself, I might get my basics wrong, and so she asked me come and learn from her. During the course of film she made us her Gandabandh shishyas.

Debapriya: In 2010, at Learnquest Music Festival, Boston, Madhu Chandra (the producer of the film) had attended our concert. She was overwhelmed after listening to purab ang music, and she soon started learning with me. She had also expressed her desire to create something meaningful with her hard-earned money. Initially, we didn’t pay heed, but later, after a lot of thought, we went to her with proposal of making a film on Appaji. And that is how it all started. Later, Sudha Datta (daughter of Girija Devi) also joined us as the co-producer.

How long did the entire project take? What was the ideation process like? Since you’re not professional filmmakers, did you face any technical problems?

The entire project took us around three and a half years.

Appaji gave our music a new vision, a different dimension to explore and practise. As we were at a slightly advanced level, she not only taught us technical intricacies, but shared her own thoughts with us, about aesthetics and things beyond our medium. We wanted people to know her persona, the story behind her music. We started out without a detailed script, as we wanted to give a natural flow to the film, our main idea was to introduce her not as how she was known to the world, but to us.

Since we did not have any formal training of filmmaking, another director, Sankalp Meshram joined us. He guided us through the technical aspects, shaped our ideas and helped us edit after the filming was over. We also had a very efficient technical team of a DOP and a Sound Recordist and engineer.

There are a great number of her thumris and other songs in the film. How did you go about curating the music? What did you have in mind while selecting the songs?

We tried to showcase her vast repertoire. We had decided that we would cover all types of songs, including khayal, thumri, tappa, kajri, dadra, everything. We went through all her songs, including her different performances through the years. She was not only the thumri queen but the queen of all the forms we mentioned. Madhu Chandra ji also suggested one song that we included in the film, ‘Janani Mai Na Jiuun Bin Ram’. After we selected the songs, Sankalp worked on the visuals, for which we filmed in Purulia, Varanasi and other parts of Uttar Pradesh.

What's really striking about the film is Girija Devi’s enthusiasm, her positive outlook towards life, and the sheer joy that can be seen on her face while performing. Do you have something to add to that?

She lived her music. She had always said that she wanted to leave the world while she’s in form. She was very enthusiastic and positive. And happy that she could relate to classical music, her passion. As her daughter still says, she was only fond of "Gaan, Khaan and Paan".

What significance does a film like Girija — A Lifetime In Music have in the present age, with Hindustani classical music facing challenges to find an honest audience?

It’s a portrayal of the life of a lady, who overcame the confines of hardcore discipline, and just through her sheer strength became successful. It also depicts the love of artistes for another artiste — we believe nobody can judge an artiste better than another artiste. It gives a strong social message too.

Times may have changed, but the roots of classical music remain deep. Presently, there is a small honest audience, but the form exists and will live forever.

Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 17:29:48 IST