Ragas lose their classical sheen

COMIC RELIEF

The red curtain at Shri Ram Centre rose and the audience was taken aback to see men and women dressed as mythological figures standing still amidst smoke. The scene was set in heaven where characters personified ragas from Indian classical music, to stage the play Raag Droh during the just concluded Mohan Rakesh Natya Samaroh.

A satire on the deteriorating state and commercialisation of music industry, the play required extra concentration but once the audience had grabbed the essence of the plot, the journey became a comic relief. Explaining the striking story idea, director Bharti Sharma said, “We have a rich culture of classical music which takes us into trance.

Today, even those musicians who have no knowledge of music are improvising on fusion whereas a lot of foreigners are learning Indian classical music in its purer form.” She credits playwright Rasbihari Dutta, a well known sitar player and writer for composing the award-winning script.

The dramatic entry of Maharishi Narada descending from a swing with flower vines wrapped around it, made the audience curious. The divine sage landed on stage and swung his magic wand to cure the ragas. On being informed about the illicit practices of present singers which have led music into this state, he decides to find a solution for this crisis. Thus begins the comedy ride where Maharishi is astonished to hear modern terminologies such as ‘jhakas vani’, ‘top-class’ and even the musical instrument, ‘keyboard’.

Mohit Tripathi, who played Narada was complete paisa vasool with his peculiar theatrics of raising quivering arms in the air to curse everyone, falling off and on, stressing every word and exaggerating expressions. Talking about the requirement of melodrama for his character, Mohit explains, “The script demanded over-the-top acting to emphasise the comic element.”

Though appreciated for his performance, Mohit shares that it is unlikely that he will be seen in a comedy again. “This was my first comedy and I don’t want to do it again because it requires a lot of energy. I am scared of comedy as it is difficult and actors are lazy to attempt the difficult.”

The ragas lamented the loss of good singer-composers like S D Burman and shared their sad tale, “humari avtaarna hi nahi ho rahi hai!”

The ragas in the play come from Raag Pradesh but choose to abandon their native place due to modern singers and composers who don’t call them anymore. This crisis leads to ragas adopting hilarious means to popularise themselves. While Mia ki Todi goes off to tour Holland, Raag Bhairav becomes a security guard at a call centre!

In contrast to the deteriorating conditions of the classical ragas are singers who live affluent lifestyles. Playing a modern day singer Ashish Sharma said, “The character that I played lived amidst luxuries. The comedy had to be explored through a targeted approach.”

It isn’t as if the actors had known about the ragas before signing up for the play. A lot of actors were initially unaware of the ragas when offered their respective roles. Hitesh Bhargava who plays Raga Peelu said, “I had never heard about Raga Peelu before this character came to me. I then researched and found that it is a romantic raga and a lot of film songs such as ‘Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si’ are based on it.” He also admitted to viewing religious serials to take inspiration for his character.

As the play nears its end, Narada Muni is carried back to heaven by the ragas and as they all sit around in general depression, ‘Mia ki Todi’ suggests that all of them should settle abroad. Costumed in a burkha through the play, Mia Ki Todi was played by versatile actor Aparijita Dey. She later shared, “There is a dire need to revive classical music or else there will be a day when our future generations will have to head abroad to learn their own classical music.”

Ashu Pathak, a 10-year-old among the audience thoroughly enjoyed the gimmicks but when asked about classical music he fails to reply, thus validating Rasbihari Dutta’s premise that the business minded approach has taken away the virtue of music.

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