Friday, March 30, 2007

Sound of Music

A Conversation with the Bhairav te Bhairavi team of Vijay Koparkar and Milind Oak...

What exactly comes to your mind when you hear the word, classical? Something ancient? Something that you even remotely connect to? What about Classic music? Not for the young people! Not for the layman!
Pandit Vijay Koparkar is an accomplished musician on his own right and he says: “My concerts are always full. Observe closely and you will see that the average age of the audience is above 40. There are no youngsters. Then the thought came to my mind that one day these audience will be gone. Then what? How could music survive without the connoisseurs?”
It was a scary thought. There was a need to do something about it. The first logical question was, why most people shy away from classical music? The answer was simple: People think, to appreciate classical music you have to know the grammar of it. But it’s not always true.
There was a need to do something about it.
That prompted the four old friends from the engineering college days at the COEP—Vijay Koparkar, Milind Oak, Sameer Kulkarni, and Ashish Majumdar — to come together to put up a show called ‘Bhairav te Bhairavi’ (From Bhairav to Bhairavi; Bhairav is a early morning raga of Hindustani classical music whereas bhairavi traditionally is the last raga performed in a session. So the entire programme was planned to be a journey of classical music from the beginning to the end!
But it’s not as simple as it sounds. “We wanted to create a programme to make people think, says Milind Oak, director of the programme. “The whole idea was to take classical music to the masses. And while doing to you cannot have a tutor kind of attitude. It should be all inclusive. We have tried to make the journey an interesting one.”
The core of this interesting journey is a narration which talks about the development of music from the beginning… “In the realm of the beginning was pure consciousness. Complete in itself. That ‘itself’, maybe God or… the Supreme Being…” and goes on to explain the different facets of music… “What is the relation between a composition and a raga? Does the framework of a raga permit the performer, musical liberty? Yes, it does. The composition brings to surface the baava or a mood in a raga. Creativity, the musical liberty lies in unraveling these mysteries, talent in its total truthful…”
The strength of the narration lies not in the way it is written, which is direct and lucid, but the way it interprets the abstract notions of music into concrete rationalisation. As the narration proceeds, it throws before you a question in a logical way… “Does a raga depict a picture?” and then goes to find the answer at the metaphysical level of music. “Philosophy says each raga has a unique color, smell, touch and its own portrayal…”
Before you begin to think the entire programme is about the narration, it is important to mention that the narration is interspersed with musical accompaniment, both in vocal and instrumental, which not only complements the narration, but also serve as a practical demonstration of what the narration is trying to convey. They are both the equally important parts of the programme. It is impossible to separate one from the other.
And it’s not all about abstract sur, taal and raga. “The programme consists of 40% of light music and 60% of classic,” says oak. The light music is collected from popular Hindi and Marathi songs. “Please have heard these songs before without realising that they are based on some or other classic ragas. This is quite a revelation for a layman.”
Presented by Niche entertainment, the programme began its journey with a Marathi narration a year back, written by Sameer Kulkarni, a doctor by profession. Then there was a need to reach beyond the Marathi speaking audience. Thus, the narratives of the show metamorphosised first into Hindi and then into English.
The language of the music, after all, is unique. But how easy or difficult was it to transform the narration into English. “Everything is not in English,” explains oak. “All the musical terms, such as swar or taal remains the same. At the same time the narration is self-explanatory. Talking about how the audience may take it, even for an average Marathi audience, the original programme was a totally different show. And no, the English script is not a translation of the original. It’s almost entirely rewritten. The Marathi version contain may passages from literature. We did not find any equivalents of it in English literature, except for a very few. One thing that we focused on is to engage the concentration level of the audience.”
Now, you want to ask the most important question. Has the programme succeeded in what it set out to do. Oak believes it has. Whenever it is performed, the audience have accepted the novelty. But certainly, it is not as popular as ‘Raat Pashemani Ki,’ a musical show based on Gulzar songs, directed by Milion Oak. “That’s business, and that’s piggyriding on Gulzarsaab’s name,” confesses Oak. “This however, is our how.”
And above all this show is about the reunion of four old friends, four people joined together by the sheer love of music. “This show is not our business. We are doing it for the love it,” says Oak. For last 25 years, he running a Idea franchise, apart from directing plays and TV serials whereas Vijay Koparkar is a known name in the music circle. Scriptwriter Sameer Kulkarni is a medical professional whereas music arranger Ashish Majumdar teaches at VIT. And all of them are very enthusiastic about the programme, despite the fact that there are few sponsors at hand. “If your hobby becomes your profession, there’s nothing like it,” feels Oak. “It’s like coming back to the roots.”
But what a musician of Koparkar’s stature doing here? “Even my fans ask me what I am doing in a show like this. I tell them that this show is not hardcore classical music fans. This show is for the average Joe.
Koparkar leads a team of singers and musicians and guides the narration as it flows. How a professional singer like Koparkar adjusts to performing a raga only for three minutes (for which he may have spent three hours in a concert)? “It was very difficult to begin with. But the format of the show demands it anyway.”
The show is blooming and in June it travels to UK. After the success of live performances, is there any plans to release an audio version of the programme. The opinion is divided here. While Koparkar feels that the audio would be equally effective, for Oak, there’s nothing like the live performance.

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