Certain serenity can be seen on his face and the moment you say hello to Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, you feel and know that the calmness comes from his utter reverence to music and the passion with which he plays the Mohan Veena. He was in town to attend Fest 2014 held by Spic Macay’s Pune Chapter. This Grammy-award winner has probably changed the way we hear Indian classical music.
A disciple of the legendary sitar player late Pandit Ravi Shankar, this education must be both daunting and fulfilling at the same time. This is considering that Shankar trained under doyen Ustad Allaudin Khan who was known to be a tough task master. “Though we belonged to different generations, he changed with each generation. Between us, the relations were different as I was already an artist when I went to him.” Bhatt accepts that with Shankar, it meant hours of practise. But Shankar was also a modern guru who did not see distance or time coming in between their learning. “He would talk on the phone as he would travel a lot. Once, by chance, our programmes were in Russia for 15 days together. We would eat and travel together. I would learn and he would also give challenges like calculations of rhythms and varieties, etc.”
Many would be aware of his Grammy-award winning album A Meeting by the River, with Ry Cooder, who is an acclaimed American slide guitarist. “When we were recording, we were just pouring in our energy and honesty. We did not aim for the award. One interesting fact was that we did the recording past midnight. Kab mood aata hai, you never know. One can be inspired by anything,” Bhatt revealed, with a matter-of-fact honesty.
Bhatt has collaborated, not just for albums but also for shows too. One wonders at the criteria while choosing fellow musicians for albums and so on. Bhatt admits that such things just happen sometimes and only rarely does one plan for it. “In fact, I have done 16 fusion albums. I check the artist’s ability and whether he is good to see if I have to do the collaboration. You have to click with that person. Many a times, the suggestion comes from the music companies. They want a certain project between artists. We do propose some names though,” says Bhatt.
He tries not picking favourites. But his Meeting by the River is an obvious choice. “It was a spontaneous album which got me worldwide fame and name. It has been 20 years since the album and award but I still get requests to play the songs at shows” Bhatt laughingly recalls. Coming on the topic of shows and performances, Bhatt is a regular at Pune with programmes. One really wants to know his opinions or views of the music scene in the city and what he thinks of the city audiences’ taste. Without any bias, he feels Pune audience is the best in India. “They are learned and experienced listeners. On 31st December 2013, I had a concert in Pimpri and was thinking of who would come there. But I was surprised at the attendance. They come with a purpose – to enjoy music. They know the intricacies and understand each raga.”
It intrigues you to find that Bhatt has not really had his tryst with Indian film music as a composer. One wonders if he chose not to walk that path or no one approached him. “AR Rahman does keep on calling, along with Vishal Bharadwaj. I have played for them. I did compose for Bhavandar. I feel I should stick to purity and Indian classical music by performing. It is actually easier for us to compose music for films. But the effort we put into performing at a concert or the work we do should not be hampered.” But he admits to liking the works of Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal. Kaushiki Chakraborty from the classical faction happens to be a favourite too.
On a parting note, Bhatt shares a positive view saying that Indian classical music is going in the good direction, with new artists coming in and a 24 hour channel dedicated to it. “In Sync channel should go national now to promote classical music. In the last five to 10 years, things for Indian classical music will be progressive. There is certain awareness amongst people and we are getting sponsorships. Many also know the names of the musicians.”
Well, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Mohan Veena are names never to be forgotten.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia and www.jpc.de