Flautist sisters Debopriya and Suchismita Chatterjee talk about the masculine connotation on the instrument and the advantages of performing as a team
The sound of the flute always conveys the effect of a serene atmosphere. A traditional instrument, which can be traced back to the Mahabharata era — where a young Krishna woos gopis with his bansuri — the flute has its roots firmly embedded in Indian classical music.
For sisters Debopriya and Suchismita Chatterjee, it was this quality that drew them to the instrument. “Our parents are both Hindustani classical vocalists. During one of our holidays, when our father was posted in Afghanistan, he suggested that we learn to play the flute,” Suchismita says, adding, “We started learning as soon as we moved back to India. Over the years, we got drawn to the simple yet powerful instrument.”
The Chatterjee sisters delivered a lecture-cum-demonstration at Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communications’ cultural event last month. While Suchismita is Pune-based, Debopriya resides in Mumbai.
Explaining the evolution of the flute from a folk instrument to a full-fledged member of the Indian classical music family, Suchismita says a unique thing about the flute is that none of it can be tuned. “It is just hollow bamboo, after all. Unlike the guitar or even the veena, you can’t tune the flute. You have to adjust yourself to the instrument,” she says.
Talking about the camaraderie that the two of them present on the stage share during performances, Suchismita says, “Each of us has a set of strong points and weak points. Our performances are not orchestrated, they are fluid and we perform according to the moment.”
In their 18-year-long career, the two have performed across the globe and have also given inputs for the background scores for television serials such as Balika Vadhu, Punar Vivah and Crime Patrol.
Students of legendary flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, the sisters are arguably the only noted women flautists in India. Ask them about the masculine connotation attributed to the instrument, they say it is just a matter of time before women, too, will enthusiastically start playing the flute. “We have seen something similar happen with the tabla, and then the dhol,” says Suchismita. “I think it is due to a lack of prominent women flautists that girls these days don’t think of it as an instrument to be played by women,” she adds.
The sisters, both in their mid-thirties now, plan to spend more time in tutoring kids, specially girls, this year. “We had no woman role model when we were growing up. One of the things we can do to change that is teach other children ourselves,” says Suchismita.