Indian classical journey and my journey retracing its 'roots': Why the art form must not be lost

Shweta Basu Prasad explains why she felt moved to make Roots, her documentary on Indian classical music's fading visibility

Shweta Basu Prasad February 12, 2017 10:30:54 IST
Indian classical journey and my journey retracing its 'roots': Why the art form must not be lost

Growing up, it was a tradition in my home that one learnt a sport and an art form. For sport, I picked tennis and archery, For art, I chose to learn kathak — and to play the sitar.

My family was one that appreciated art — be it cinema, poetry, literature or music. So I was exposed to classical music very early on. I heard it at home and we would attend concerts as well.

Indian classical journey and my journey retracing its roots Why the art form must not be lost

Shweta Basu Prasad interviews Gulzar for her documentary on Indian classical music, 'Roots'

I enjoy classical music in the pure form, although at times, I do listen to fusion. What draws me most is instrumental music, percussion especially. I love listening to different kinds of instruments depending on the time of day — the pakhawaj, mridangam or tabla on lazy mornings, when I need somethign upbeat to wake me up. But then there are also mornings and evenings when I seek out the flute or santoor. I love listening to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan's thumris, and the music of many, many Hindustani and Carnatic vocalists too.

When I became a little older, I started to wonder why my love for classical music was not something I saw reflected widely among my peers. They thought it was "not cool". I thought about why that was — my friends were the same age as me and I listened to classical music. I realised it was the lack of exposure. On television, radio or in films, classical music is not the first genre one would tune in to. Not that it should be — one should be open to all kinds of music, be it Bollywood, pop, rock, jazz, folk and classical.

I tried discussing this with my friends, and getting them to hear me at the institute where I learnt the sitar. Some came, some didn't. It was when I was pursuing a degree in Mass Media and Journalism that I came up with the idea of making a short Q and A-style documentary about classical music. Mostly, this was to aid my own understanding of why the popularity of the art form was dying out, especially among the youth. The result was my hour-long film Roots.

It took me over four years (from 2012) to research the subject, put a team together, interview musicians, edit these interviews and finish the project. I consider Roots a blessing and a great journey.

Among the musical greats I interviewed for the documentary were AR Rahman, Vishal Bhardwaj, Gulzar, Amit Trivedi, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Birju Maharaj, Imtiaz Ali, Shubha Mudgal, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Dr L Subramaniam, among others.

They had so much to share that it would be difficult for me to pick highlights from these interviews. But they all expressed their concerns regarding the promotion of classical arts in this country.

The shoot was a lengthy process because classical music presents such a vast subject. There was so much I didn't know... I had only been a listener. In the course of making Roots, I travelled to places like Pandharpur, Maharashtra, where tanpuras are made. It was really amazing to spend time with those who craft the instruments.

There's definitely hope for a revival of Indian classical music, especially if we follow what these stalwarts in the field have said. I, for one, strongly feel that classical music should be taught compulsorily in schools. Once students learn raagas and get to know of the great maestros, I believe they'll receive that much-needed exposure to the art form. Students who grow up with the music will not find it 'uncool'.

The media too has a huge role to play. TV channels and radio stations should have programming on classicalmusic (I mean, apart from DD and AIR).

I see us losing thousands of years of tradition if classical music were to ever die out. We must remember that it is those nations that manage to strike a balance between culture and modernity that excel.

Roots premiered at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival on 10 February 2017. The writer is a TV and film actor.

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