Monojit Lahiri wonders whether it’s a timely new-age challenge or a dangerous and desperate misadventure.
Love, loss, longing, heartbreak reflect Shelley’s immortal lines: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thoughts.” The Ghazal remains achingly committed to bringing a magical solace to the distraught lover, luxuriating in sublime sorrow – real or imagined – living the pain and pathos that intrinsically colours this genre. The iconic exponents of this enchanting form of music include Begum Akhtar, Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh & Ghulam Ali among other stalwarts. The poetry quotient is as critical as the rendition, making it, almost, a spiritual voyage to the soul of all who have hearts that beat to the pangs of unrequited love…or are blessed to embrace heavenly bliss without boundaries. It can be best described as the art of public solitude where each listener believes that the Ghazal has penetrated his/her innermost being, laying bare his/ her most private thoughts and feelings…
Now comes news that – courtesy DD Urdu – a national reality show on Ghazal singing, entitled “Jashn-e-Begum Akhtar Talaash – Ghazal Mein Nayi Aawaz” will come to the Indian audiences soon. Ghazal entering the Reality Show domain! Sceptics are shocked. They believe that this genre is precious, private and gentle. It does not cater but speaks to our souls in rich and poetic language that caresses the heart while it soothes the mind. Reality shows, by and large – in contrast – are glamorous, over-the-top events dedicated mostly to celebrate Bollywood fare, mandated to convert the occasion to a superbly orchestrated and marketed circus catering to the vast, (uninformed), masalacrazed entertainment-driven masses. In this kind of a setting, where do Ghazals [a dying music form?] fit in? The late Jagjit Singh has gone down on record categorically stating that “Music reality shows don’t really nurture talent. They just provide fifteen minutes of fame. It is just another commercial product for the channels. Music, after all, is for inspiration, not competition. The moment competition comes in, the soul is lost. There are very few new, talented Ghazal singers because it is not a part of popular culture. Where are the opportunities, training modules or exposure?” Interestingly, another popular Ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas, has differing views. Forget the past. The focus has shifted and the young generation is attracted by these talent-hunt shows because of the platform it offers to reach their desired destination. Electronic channels and the media play a huge part in promoting Ghazals and reality shows are a great step in that direction because of its pre-sold-format with the masses.” So, what gives?
The person who has singlehandedly endeavoured to take ‘ammi’s’ spirit ahead by celebrating Begum Akhtar’s birthday with a ‘jashn’ for the last three decades and remains the moving spirit behind this reality show (along with Shri Tripurari Sharan, DGDD) is none other than one of the Begum’s most devoted & gifted protégés, Rita Ganguly. An artiste of repute, Ganguly believes that this move is a giant step in the right direction. “Ghazal is a dying musical form, largely because of the Bollywood-isation of music across the land. While their popularity is undeniable – across the globe – the Ghazal too remains a very popular genre for a large section of discerning listeners everywhere. Sure Lata, Asha, Rafi, Kishore and Mukesh are loved everywhere as are the new bunch of talented Bollywood singers but Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh and Ghulam Ali, Hariharan and Bhupinder are not exactly forgotten. If they are not as popular, it’s because of market forces and commercialisation by the media that gives ratings and stars to best-selling products and promotes them with big budget marketing campaigns designed to rocket their brand equity to a different stratosphere. Comparatively, the gifted Ghazal singers are shrouded in obscurity, very high on talent but alas, very low on opportunities and exposure.” Ganguly insists that there is enough proof to indicate that Ghazals remain cherished by tons of talented young singers across the country. “The amount of CD’s we continue to receive for the initial screening is frightening in its quantity, totally slinging out the notion that Ghazals are dead and have no market. They may not be as popular as Agal Bagal or Gandi Baat but millions of people welcome them. This show is to take the Ghazal movement forward by placing it in the public domain through a channel that is not completely sold on TRPs and eyeballs but believes it has a responsibility because of India’s rich legacy, which is under threat from frivolous, populist and time-pass popcorn for the eyes and ears!” The super popular anchor of the Bengali general entertainment channel Akash Aath, Sharmishta Goswami Chatterjee, agrees. “It is a myth that our audiences only want and love commercial/ Bollywood music. My morning shows – 7 AM – 9 AM – are varied and encompasses several genres and each one of them attracts huge phone-ins, all the time!” Chatterjee laments that more channels don’t take the other genres seriously enough despite having a platform. “It is, I guess, both a pre-conceived notion and a non-risk move. Pity, because genres like Ghazals, classical and folk need to be nurtured to stay alive in the hearts of the listeners. I think DD’s move is fantastic and have no doubt that it will go a long way in saluting a musical form that is magical.”
Vipin Handa, however, dismisses both Ganguly & Chatterjee’s views with all the arrogance of a 25-year-old Bollywood diwana. “Hey guys, this is 2014, remember? Ya, sure Jagjit Singh and gang did their soulful numbers in the 80’s and 90’s but tell me something honestly: Did they ever gain even a fraction of what the RD-Kishore or Rafi, Asha, Lata numbers did? Boss, it was popular only among one kind of audience. Another thing. At least half of the guys who went for these concerts or professed love for these Ghazals were faking it! They didn’t understand nothing! They went because of the snob value. It made them feel culturally superior. Peer pressure. Their wah-wahs were invariably at the wrong places! The Ghazal is history and belonged to a time and place long vanished. No wonder DD – (which no one ever watches) with its sarkari sensibilities has taken it upon itself to try and revive the corpse. Take it from me, it will be watched only by a section of audiences who remain determined to hit the rewind button. Heavy duty Urdu, soulful renditions with instruments that are scary … boy, give me Yo Yo Honey Singh and Mika any day!” Celebrated dancer actress Mamata Shankar – daughter of the legendary Uday Shankar – concludes this discourse in style. She straightaway begins by stating that “Today’s reality shows are totally unreal! Everything – mostly – is fake or got-up. Several times, the winners are decided way before the final results are out. In many instances, the selection of judges are suspect because they seem to be there more for their glamour, less for their knowledge. Also their irritating parroting of stereotypical words – Mind-blowing, cool, great energy and body language, looks so cute – instead of genuine criticism/tips that will allow them to improve, does not help the show. I’ve participated in some of these shows but decided to opt out because it wasn’t really my cup of tea.” However, Shankar admits that with DD coming into the picture and stalwarts like Rita Ganguly and the present DG at the helm, good things could well happen because “they have a record of being passionate about their calling with impeccable integrity attached. Their vision is not touched by TRP or commercial considerations, but committed to take this magnificent cause forward. This reality show, finally, could be the Real thing. Good luck to them …” We say Amen … or is it Ameen … to it!