Thursday, 15 December 2011

He touched a chord with his sitar

By Ganesh V

Pandit Janardan Mitta’s sitar recital at Arkay Convention Centre was exquisite, and touched a chord deep down.

The spotlights bathed the performing area in a warm, rich glow. The burnished metal of the sitar and the tanpura gleamed. The tabla sat majestically on the stage, waiting to do its bit. The sound of the sitar being tuned was in contrast to the hush that otherwise prevailed in the room. The audience sat in a mellow silence, waiting for the concert to begin.

Pandit Janardan Mitta was a picture of stately sophistication. Seated on a small raised platform, he prefaced his recital with a few remarks. Given that there were very few people in the audience (I counted about 16 heads), he said it would be more like a mehfil (a private chamber concert, so to speak). He hoped that this atmosphere would lead the audience to a better bonding and appreciation of the music. I was soon to know how prescient Panditji was!

He chose Purya Kalyan as the main raag for the evening. His half hour exploration of the raag started at a slow tempo and steadily built up pace. He followed the classic Hindustani pattern of alap, jod and jhala. Purya Kalyan is the Hindustani equivalent of the Carnatic raga Poorvi Kalyani. It being an evening raag, the choice seemed perfect. Panditji’s exploration of the raag was deeply introspective and extremely melodious. At times, he would look straight into the eyes of the audience as he played. At other times, he would close his eyes and let his head fall back an inch. At such moments, I felt he was playing for none but himself and the Divine. The soothing music indeed applied itself on my mind like a balm. For the next hour and a half, I lost myself in the notes originating from the sitar.

A short aside. As the rich tapestry of raag Purya Kalyan unfolded from Panditji’s sitar, I was time and again reminded of a song from the Hindi film Badaltey Rishtey. Released in 1978, the film had Lata and Mahendra Kapoor lending their voices to the song “meri saanson ko jo mehka rahi hai”, which is based on raag Purya Kalyan. Composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal have harnessed the beauty of this raag extremely well in this song. A song very close to my heart.

After the first piece, Panditji played a light dhun in a medley of raags. He then moved on to the concluding piece, set in Malkauns (Hindolam). In fact, he played this more as Hindolam rather than Malkauns. Throughout the recital, the audience responded with warmth and appreciation. It was clear that everyone present was savouring every moment of it.

The tabalchi for the evening (J Payanadaphe; he is new to me) was extremely competent and followed Panditji as faithfully as a shadow. Without attempting to drown out the sitar with his drumbeats, he laid a strong foundation which served to elevate and highlight the sitar’s notes. Given more concert opportunities, I am sure he will blossom into a topnotch musician.

I was gratified to see that Panditji fell back on a traditional tanpura for the recital (though the electronic avatar could also be seen perched on the stage; I wonder why). In the four concerts I have attended so far this season, this is the first time I saw a traditional tanpura being used. A commentary on our ‘electronic’ era, perhaps? This trend calls for deeper probing and a separate story. 

Born at Hyderabad, Telugu speaking Janardan Mitta spent many years there, before he moved to Chennai where he has been a prolific sitarist in films. Initially self-taught, he then came under the tutelage of Pandit Ravi Shankar. A regal performer at all times, he is known for the honesty of his music and not for showmanship. It is a pity he doesn’t find larger audiences in India. A few years ago, I attended another beautiful concert of his in the mini hall of Narada Gana Sabha. Then too, he played for just a score of people or so.

The fact that many talented musicians like him cheerfully play to tiny audiences speaks volumes of their humility and love for music. May his tribe grow!

Thank you Panditji, for a wonderful evening. Thank you for soothing our souls with some balm.

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