Hindustani classical music blurs borders, bonds hearts

Reel experience

If you thought that documentary films are only for research scholars, the high-gentry or the elderly, the latest screening of Yousuf Saeed’s Khayal Darpan at India International Centre told a different story altogether. Made way back in 2006, and since then exhibited in film festivals across the world, it drew a packed house for its umpteenth screening.

It pro­ved yet again that a film ma­de on a unique subject and crafted intelligently finds its own audience, whether it be commercial or non-mainstream.

Post the screening, the proud documentary-maker, Saeed, sat down for a tête-à-tête with Metrolife, enlightening us on the time he spent in Pakistan recording the condition of Hindustani classical music there for Khayal Darpan, his philosophy on filmmaking and future projects. Saeed also expressed a wish to film in Pakistan again if circumstances permit. 

“Those six months I stayed in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad will always bear fond memories for me. I was actually researching on Amir Khusro and went on a fellowship there to study if his poe­ms are still read in that country, and almost stumbled on the subject of Hindustani classical music as it exists in Pakistan. Lots of Muslim musicians who practised shastriya sangeet migrated to Pakistan post partition and have, since then, struggled to keep it alive. Somehow, no one else had touched the subject till then,” he says.

For Saeed, though, it ope­ned up a treasure house of knowledge and incomparable experiences. He acknowledges that there were problems in getting a visa initially but once ‘across the border, musicians and their families there welcomed him whole-heartedly.’ “Since Hindustani classical music has been on the downslide in Pakistan for long,” he explains, “Musici­ans there look up to India where it is relatively thriving. They lap up every chance co­n­cert by an Indian artiste the­re and opportunities to interact with researchers like me.”

Interestingly, Saeed also made his small contribution in resuscitating Hindustani classical music in Pakistan during his short stay. “Arti­stes there would ask me to read out old Hindi and Devanagari-script based books on shastriya sangeet. Hindi is not taught there traditionally, so they would be at a loss to understand the writing. I was only too happy to help,” he remembers fondly.

Khayal Darpan is a fiercely honest account on how Hindustani classical music has decayed in Pakistan in the face of State antipathy. With India projecting a secular face post Independence, and Pakistan insisting on an image of a hardline Islamic State, Hindustani classical music there was actively discouraged. Though artistes like Amer Ali, Ashiq Ali, Amanat Ali, Roshanara Begum and Bade Ghulam Ali practised it for as long as they could, ‘more Islamic genres of music’ like qawwali and ghazal soon took over its popularity.

With a documentary on such a significant subject made only once in a while, Saeed registered his own name in history, but, he insists ‘the tradition of filmmaking on such issues must not stop,’ “I have personally been inclined to always make films on art and culture and communal amity. (These include Qasba sanskriti on shared religious traditions in UP and The making of the Taj). Unfortunately, I don’t see many youngsters picking up such themes.”

“It’s true that art films are not as commercially viable as say Bollywood films, but then filmmaking is also about recording history. And, in the process, if you travel to a place like Pakistan, what could be better? I would love to visit Pakistan again.” 

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