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The magic of music

Friday, February 02, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Last year, Ustad Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar had a three-hour, and from all accounts, enthralling jugalbandi at the G5A black box. Sumantra Ghosal was filming the performance, with multiple cameras, not just to document it, but to make a lovely film titled The Space Between The Notes.

Just about 30 minutes of the concert are used, interspersed with interviews of the two maestros and others, plus archival footage, and, in the run time of an hour, Ghosal not only lets the viewer enjoy the spirit of the concert, but also gives them a capsule history of the two musicians, the influence of their illustrious fathers (Ustad Allah Rakha and Kartick Kumar), and their growth to eminence in their chosen fields of music.

Ghosal took the tough way out, and edited the footage using split screens, so the viewer can see the faces and hands of both musicians, as well as that electric charge passing between them that makes the difference between a great performance and a magical, memorable evening.  It took understanding of music and precision in editing to get those shots right. (It’s possible that a CD of that concert along with the film will be available soon.)

Both Hussain and Kumar are articulate about their music, their ideas, and their playing together, when neither tries to overshadow the other; they perform with a sense of abandon, which Hussain likened to two puppies playing in a field, much to the delight of the audience.

Hussain pointed out that it was his father who brought the tabla out of the shadows, so that the tabla player was not just an accompanist but an equal; still he admits that he never tries to overpower the musician he is accompanying. There is a comfortable vibe between the older, more experienced, charismatic star Zakir Hussain (who has performed with all the greats), and the younger, adventurous sitarist, Niladri Kumar, who credits Hussain for changing his personality. He also narrates an instance when in a long concert, he experimented for a few seconds and was pulled up by a critic. Far from being annoyed by it, he believed if that brief moment could offend a purist, he must be doing something right.

Both are expressive, attractive on stage, spontaneous and open to improvisation or experimentation — that comes across in the film. As Ghosal says, the idea behind making the film (produced by Hussain) was to get audiences to understand the processes that go behind a  jugalbandi  between two great musicians. A lot of thought and hard work goes into a performance that seems so effortless… and joyous.

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