It was a day marked by performances of Hindustani classical music stalwarts, such as Padma Talwalkar, Aarti Anklekar-Tilekar and Pandit Upendra Bhat. But it was Abhay Rustom Sopori, a young santoor player from Kashmir’s Sopore sufiana gharana, who stole the show on Day 4 of the 65th Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav.
Forcing even the toughest critic in the discerning audience at Sawai to shower him with multiple ‘waahs’ and ‘kya baat hain’, he produced innovative improvisations on the string instrument. So powerful was his rendition of raag Bhim that senior and young artistes alike, who were backstage, came out to hear the young musician perform, and he later received a standing ovation. Even the otherwise strict management of Arya Prasarak Mandal, who ask artistes to stick to their allotted time, gave in to the audience’s demand for an encore. In the last lap, Sopori played a sufiana tarana from Kashmir, composed by his great grandfather.
The young musician also treated his performance in a manner similar to a music appreciation class — explaining the peculiarities and his interpretation of the raag before beginning his act, and singing the first few lines of the gat bandish for his audience’s benefit, before playing it. Preceding Sopori’s performance was vocalist Tushar Datta. An artiste who has trained under both the Kirana and the Agra gharana, he chose raag Gaud Sarang, a daytime raag with melodic movements, for the opening act.
After his rendition of the first two bandish, Gori tere naina and Bin dekhe tohe chain nahi aaye, it was when he launched into a dadra, Dil ki choton ne kabhi chain se rehne na diya — made popular by Mohd Rafi in the 1973 film Naina — that the mood picked up. He followed it up with a bhajan, Sawariya manbhaya re. Pune-based Pandit Upendra Bhat, a singer from the Kirana gharana, and one who is often said to remind listeners of his legendary guru — Pandit Bhimsen Joshi — chose the rarely-heard raag Durga. After a tarana ‘Rasiya’, the senior artiste chose Ustad Abdul Karim Khan’s bhajan Gopala mori karuna, which he replicated quite movingly.
One of the big stars of the night was famed vocalist Aarti Anklekar-Tilekar of Jaipur Atrauli gharana. The two-time National Award winning singer presented a vilambit rupaktaal in raag Rageshri, Sumiran karat ram bisarat, followed by a drut teen-taal composition. Employing her signature high-pitch singing and style, she exhibited her mastery over both rhythm and melody.
She then delighted the audience with her choice of a tappa in raag Kafi, Madhav mukund murari, originally composed by her guru Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. She ended with a performance of Bolava Vithhal, a famous abhang of her other guru, the late Kishori Amonkar, and that received the second standing ovation of the day. By 9 pm, the stage was cleared for the first and only Kathak performer at Sawai stage this year, Prachee Shah. Also an actress”, Shah enthralled the audience with her debut performance at Sawai, which started with a Ganesh vandana.
Accompanied by her guru Ganesh Hiralal on the harmonium, Shah’s next performance was a vilambit teen taal kathak act of the Jaipur gharana, an act of much finesse. Vocalist Padma Talwalkar was the last performer of the night. The veteran artiste chose the night raag Bhoop, known for its bhakti (devotional) rasa, to bring a soulful end to the proceedings.