Sunday May 19, 2024

‘Future of classical music seems not so bright even in India’

By Bilal Ahmed
March 02, 2024
The image is a poster of ‘Rasan Piya’, a documentary by Niharika Popli, an Indian documentary filmmaker about classical vocalist Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan. —  Film Freeway
The image is a poster of ‘Rasan Piya’, a documentary by Niharika Popli, an Indian documentary filmmaker about classical vocalist Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan. —  Film Freeway

It is becoming difficult for classical musicians to sustain themselves in India. The uncertainty regarding the future of the classical music in India is no different from Pakistan.

Niharika Popli, an Indian documentary filmmaker whose debut documentary ‘Rasan Piya’ on classical vocalist Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan (not to be confused with another classical vocalist Ustad Rashid Khan who recently passed away) got her many laurels, said this on Friday as she spoke at the annual grand event of the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC) on its inaugural day.

The three-day musical event is being held at the National Museum of Pakistan. It will end tomorrow (Sunday). Popli came from India to attend the APMC event where her documentary ‘Rasan Piya’ was also screened to the delight of the lovers of the classical music. Although the audience was not in large numbers due to rain as well as the general apathy towards the classical art form, those who were in attendance thoroughly enjoyed the documentary on the life and legacy of Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan of the Gwalior Gharana, who died in 2016 at the age of 107 years.

The documentary was completed in 2015, a year before the Ustad whom the filmmaker fondly referred to as Baba died.

Speaking with APMC’s Ayla Raza after the screening, Popli said she did not come from a musical family. She surprised the audience when she said she was an engineering graduate and had no

background in filmmaking as well.

She said it was in the first year of her university, when her seniors forced her batch to attend Baba’s concert arranged by them at the varsity. She admitted that she had no idea what the classical music was at that time, but nevertheless she liked Baba’s performance.

Popli said that first experience made her listen to Baba as well as some other classical musicians such as Rudra Veena player Bahauddin Dagar.

She told Ayla that after graduation, she started working in the social sector but was not satisfied with her job when she got the chance of again attending Baba’s concert in Chandigarh when the musician was 104 years old.

Popli said there she met Baba’s grandson Bilal, who told her that there had been very few interviews of Baba. This gave her the idea of writing a book or a series of articles on the musicians, which later turned into the idea of a documentary.

Later, talking to The News, the filmmaker said she even did not know the basics of camera and sound when she started the documentary. As she met some experienced documentary makers at a film festival, they liked her idea but advised her to learn filmmaking.

Popli said she could not afford learning filmmaking for one or two years as Baba was already more than 100 years old and she wanted to complete the film as soon as possible. She then studied the basics of filmmaking in a one-month course and resumed her documentary on Baba, which was completed in two-and-a-half years.

Regarding the future of classical music in India, Popli expressed disappointment with the current trends. She said even the family members of great musicians were not adopting the profession of classical music because it did not offer significant monetary benefits.

She said the focus nowadays was to present classical music in a short form so that the new generation could listen to it. She added that this trend went against the ethos of classical music where lengthy improvisation was the rule.

After the talk, Shikarpur-based classical vocalist Salman Haider was invited to perform. He did a praiseworthy job by rendering Raag Bhairavi in a Khayal format. Although Bhairavi is a popular raag, it is extremely rare that it gets a Khayal treatment where the raag is explored successively from lower to faster tempos.

The vocalist said he was to sing Shudhh (pure) Bhairavi, which meant he was not going to use extra notes that were commonly used in semi-classical renditions of Bhairavi.

Peculiar moments in the performance were when the vocalist sang in extreme low notes. The vocalist was supported by Ghulam Abbas on the harmonium, Irfan Haider on the tabla and Wajid Ali on the Tanpura. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the performance. After the Khayal in Bhairavi, the vocalist presented another rare raag, Aasa. He sang a Sindhi Kafi in the raag. He explained that Aasa resembled Maand, which is a folk melody of the Rajasthan region.

The first day of the APMC’s annual conference also feature other performances such as the Tabla performance by Ustad Bashir Khan, and talks on the legacy of Amir Khusrau as well as the tradition of Ustad Shagird in the classical music.