Friday, December 09, 2005

Samvad! Samvad! Samvad!

Until yesterday, I had no idea the Films Division of India has a website with freely streamable documentaries. I came across the link while flipping through Jim Kippen's tabla site. This is what Kippen has to say:
A spectacular archive of films sponsored by the Government of India. Regarding tabla, look in particular for the 1971 film of Ahmedjan Thirakwa (14 mins) and the 1970 film of Alla Rakha (13 mins). Other films are available, such as Mani Kaul's excellent Dhrupad (70 mins) featuring Z.M. and F.M Dagar, as well as documentaries and dramatizations of the lives of Birju Maharaj, Amir Khan, Malikarjun Mansoor, Bhimsen Joshi, Siddheswari Devi, Girija Devi, Begum Akhtar, Ravi Shankar, and Amjad Ali Khan. The best way to access these is to choose "Music of India" [or "Indian classical series"] from the Category field, then click on the search button.
The collection is truly outstanding. In fact it's more than outstanding: if you're a classical music buff, it's incredible, epiphanic and overwhelming (and I'm sure many other subjects are equally well-covered). So far, I have watched documentaries on Ud. Allauddin Khan, Ud. Ahmedjan Thirakwa (the Farukhabad tabla nawaz), Ud. Amir Khan, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi (directed by Gulzar), Pt. Ravi Shankar and Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. I had watched Patrick Moutal's copy of the Amir Khan earlier. DD and I are in agreement that the Mansur is the best by some distance. Let's start with the stats: the film is 73 minutes long. Of these, less than a couple of minutes are used for narration, around 10-15 minutes for silence and background noise (correction: well, perhaps that should be a bit more for the former and a bit less for the latter), and the rest for singing. The director evidently appreciated the fact that the soundtrack for a film on sound is best provided by its own subject. Mansur sings all the usual stuff (Multani, Chhayanat, Paraj, Ramdasi Malhar, Bhairav, Jait Kalyan...) plus a vachana or two. And there is NOT ONE stage performance for the usual genteel urban audience. The closest we get is a bunch of neighbours (?) or a bunch of monks. There are a number of songs sung in temples, sometimes alone. The Ramdasi is sung in semi-darkness beside a window. There's a huge number of shots of (I presume) rural Dharwad. And throughout there's this impression of a man who, in the end, sings for something beyond his listeners. I can think of only two other people who consistently give this impression: Nikhil Banerjee and Amir Khan.

The Bhimsen is excellent, as is to be expected, the Amir Khan is a minor gem (and technically perhaps the best of the lot), and the Allauddin, though not the best film that could have been made, contains enough classic clippings (Allauddin teasing his wife on the violin, Ali Akbar with this absolutely fantastic clean, quick fingering of his salad days) to be fascinating. The Ravi Shankar clip is interesting -- concert fragments interspersed with questions from the audience -- the questions (and, I must admit, the answers) are eminently skippable, but the music is good.

At this point let me mention Allauddin Khan's autobiography (dictated to Shubhomoy Ghosh), "Aamar Katha" ("My Story"). It's a lovely little book about a completely unreal person. I know of no Hindi/English translation that exists.


bilu said...

The link's all screwed up. Do something about it. I didn't know that such a website existed either. Well, you learn something everday I guess. :)

expiring_frog said...


DD said...

a much required post. next post e link korchhi.

Kele Panchu said...

Thanks for the link.

expiring_frog said...

@kele panchu: If you want links to massive amounts of online music send me an email id.

heh! said...

thank u thank u thank u!!!

sorry if i sound too bloody effusive, but seriously, THANK U for finding out about this site and posting this link! it's a gemkhana, heh heh.(im a baaad punner, so kindly to ignore, pliss!)