A trendsetter and his muse
A trendsetter in his own unique way - percussion wizard, film actor, music composer/director and charmingly articulate, Bickram Ghosh is perhaps the first internationally acclaimed tabla player of his Bengali peers who took formal training in mridangam at the feet of guru Vidwan S Sekhar. This inspired many musicians of Bengal to explore the Carnatic stream of Indian classical music with its unique features. Ghosh’s highly accomplished wife Jaya Seal Ghosh is a sought-after actor and Bharatnatyam exponent.
One, therefore, expected that Naad, a festival of music and dance, curated by Ghosh, would have a major quotient of Carnatic music and dance to attract a huge number of art lovers belonging to both the streams. An initiative of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, this three-day extravaganza was presented by the Bhavan in association with Pandit Shankar Ghosh Tabla Foundation at G.D. Birla Academy recently.
The fest commenced on a devotion dipped positive note Andal, the string of divine love. Conceived, curated, directed and led by Jaya Seal Ghosh, this dance drama embodied the life-story of Andal. She was born to Vishnu chitta, who considered the Lord as his child, composed divine pallandu verses and offered floral service to the Lord. He named her Godha (sacred floral garland). Since her childhood little Godha (beautifully enacted by Bihu) felt Lord Krishna’s presence all around her and imagined Him as her lover. One day she wore the garland meant for the Lord’s idol and kept it for the floral offering. Her father was furious to find a string of hair in the garland and made another fresh one. But Shriman Narayan wishes to have the garland worn by Godha. Since then she was called Andal – the one who’s love conquered the Supreme Lord. Despite all the trials and turbulences she remained entirely devoted to her Lord.
Based on a series of songs from beginning to end and dotted with a few dialogues in Sanskrit, this was beautifully depicted and choreographed at different levels of stage. Jaya, looking resplendent in the title role, interpreted the character’s depth with her entire being. It cast a spell on spectators. The climax was scripted with a spectacular marriage sequence wherein Andal joins her Rangaraja. The divine splendor of the pair left a lasting impact.
The script and narration by Sridhar Vasudevan and melodious music and singing of Sudha Raghuraman proved to be the heart and soul of this beautiful production. Imaginative light designing by Dinesh Poddar and sound by Prashant Chaudhary further added to its magic.
The fact, that touched by the magical fingers of maestro Kumar Bose the pair of tabla and bayan transforms into musical instrument, is irrefutable now. It’s a delight to witness him play solo. The second evening reverberated with his powerful strokes on broad-faced low-pitched tabla while Arunava Mukherjee followed his Guruji on a tabla, tuned in upper tonic. The master chose a khanda jati tala cycle, Jhaptal to elaborate with innovative mnemonics, variations of the original bols, tihais (a difficult feat in a tala of ten beats) and almost all self-composed kaidas with superbly dexterous style.
Harmonium wizard Hiranmay Mitra maintained a steady pace of the naghma set to raga Sivaranjani to support Bose. He closed the magnificent presentation of the tala with a classic composition of his father Biswanath Bose. He followed it up with a short and sweet display of the sky-like expansive scope of limitless permutations and combinations within one cycle of an oceanic teental (sixteen beats).
Next was a presentation of North-South camaraderie, for the first time on stage, by a quartet of world renowned musician featuring none else than veteran mridangam S Sekhar, his versatile disciple Bickram (tabla and special digital effects), Carnatic violinist Kumaresh Rajgopalan and erudite sarod maestro Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. The format of both the streams are more or less the same. They, therefore could easily strike a dialogue within the alap/raga, jod-jhala/tanam and gatkari/pallavi in raga Jhinjhoti (Hindustani) and Kambhoji (Carnatic). And avoiding the beaten track of Teental/Adi tala, they chose a composition set to roopak/ misra Chapu tala.
It was interesting to find Majumdar portraying the serene persona of Jhinjhoti in alap with soft, intimate intonations, loving meends and finer nuances of khayal vocalism while Kumaresh repeated the same phrase with heavily ornate gamakas of different grains that etched a different look of the raga. His penchant for taanas gave a restive feel but Majumdar’s powerful gamaks transposed with soul-stirring bends in between the taans made the jod segment very interesting. In jhala both stalwarts could do better with restraint on speed to stay tuneful. They also played raga Kirwani based composition of the late Pandit Shankar Ghosh.
Bickram has inherited his father’s compositional trait both in rhythm and melody. To support the gatkari his tabla, closely followed by Sekhar’s seasoned mridangam, made an impressive entry one by one. After a while Bickram, on his base tabla, played in Carnatic style with Kumaresh and Sekhar paired with Majumdar. Towards the end they all got engaged in sawal-jawab to build a thrilling crescendo.
Famous flautist Ronu Majumdar and sarod virtuoso Debojyoti Bose, along with tabla exponent Tanmay Bose, formed a tantalising trio to get in action of music making. They portrayed the eternal beauty of traditional raga Bihag replete with alap, jod, jhala and gatkaris in roopak (seven beats) and Teental. To script the melodic grand finale of Naad 2023, they played a sweet and swaying Pahadi dhun to the enjoyable tabla support. Earlier, the evening witnessed Tagore’s immortal opera, Valmiki Pratibha, featuring the inmates of correctional homes. Supported by West Bengal Correctional Services they are trained by renowned classical danseuse and social activist Alokananda Roy.
The only soloist of the entire soiree was slide guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. In the second half of day one, nicely supported by Jyotirmoy Roy Chowdhury on the tabla, he played self-innovated raga Vishwaranjani (a blend of Madhuwanti and Sivranjani) in his usual, glitzy style.
PC: Prashant Arora