Project rewinds a century of Mumbai’s Hindustani music heritage

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 29 Juni 2014 | 22.23

When the late Hindustani vocalist, Firoz Dastur, once wanted to learn a new bandish, he visited his guru Sawai Gandharva's home in Girgaum's Khetwadi neighbourhood. The Kirana gharana exponent, relaxing outside his house, decided to sing a few notes for his disciple. Minutes after the master began the bandish, the bustling chawl ground to a halt. And then turned into a mehfil. Residents lined the balconies, spilled over into the courtyard and gathered around Sawai Gandharva. The Hindustani classical maestro's impromptu bandish was now an outdoor concert of sorts.

Elsewhere, sangeet natak troupes travelled to competitions across Maharashtra in buses provided by the BEST union, three singing siblings from Uttar Pradesh set up the Bhendi Bazaar gharana, and a pokey room at a Girgaum chawl became the hub for musical performances. While each of these narratives unfolded at a different point in time, together they created Mumbai's rich heritage of Hindustani classical music.

Today, they are also part of Making Music Making Space, an ongoing collaborative project by documentary filmmaker Surabhi Sharma, cultural theorist Tejaswini Niranjana and architect Kaiwan Mehta. It looks at how Hindustani classical music flourished in colonial and post-colonial Mumbai, and how its growth was interlinked with that of the city. Through interviews, archival material and biographies, the project chronicles almost a century of the city's "intangible heritage".

"A lot of the research we did was from the 1860s to the 1950s," Niranjana said. "The idea isn't to document the history of Hindustani music in Bombay, but to show what its significance was." At a talk on Friday, the team took the audience on a tour of sorts, across landmarks such as Girgaum's Laxmi Baug, which was among the most prominent performance venues, the neighbouring Trinity Club— a chawl room where musicians lived and practised— and institutes like the Deodhar School of Indian Music where Kumar Gandharva studied. Wagle Hall at Gaiwadi, Girgaum's Muzaffarabad Hall, and Capitol Cinema in CST too provided space for the genre to flourish.

"There was a kind of mapping that happened," said Sharma. "The people we interviewed would point us to places where they had attended performances, buildings where they learnt music. Layers of history emerged in a single neighbourhood."

While the patronage was earlier clustered in the lanes around Girgaum, the action movednorthwards after the 1950s. "As people migrated to the Dadar-Matunga side, performance venues and music circles came up there," said Niranjana. "This also happened in places like Thane, Vile Parle and Santa Cruz."

Hindustani also seeped into Parsi theatre around the 1870s, said Niranjana, when playwrights began using it more than Gujarati. "Since not many knew the language, there were playwrights brought in from Uttar Pradesh," she said. Marathi sangeet nataks were influenced in turn and incorporated raga-based songs.

The team also looked at how the advent of recording studios and technically superior venues impacted the genre. The art of fitting an entire raga within a recording-friendly span of three minutes also had to be mastered. As the city shape-shifted, the way Hindustani classical music was practised kept pace. "It's a project that can be added to constantly," said Niranjana. "The more we research the subject of Hindustani classical music, the more stories we keep finding." Gandharva,Hindustani Vocalist,Firoz Dastur

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