Review: Raga Unveiled
By Dhruv Jogia
Recently I went to watch a film, in Leeds. It was quite different from all the other films I’ve seen. It was full of the best artists you can name, from old to new, great scenes from the world, amazing lines, wisdom, laughter, knowledge and romance too! Using impressive big and small instruments such as the Sitar, Slide guitar, Sarod, and Tabla, created a divine and surreal musical experience for us.
The documentary-film “Raga Unveiled”, organised and promoted by South Asian Arts (SAA- UK) was screened at Seven Arts in Leeds. Seven Arts is a independent multi-purpose arts centre for live musical gigs, dramas and screening films with tiered seating, decent sound and good lighting making it a cosy atmosphere.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the film or even who had directed it. I knew it was about something like ‘an idiots guide Hindustani Classical Music’. As I went up to my seat I saw Harjinderpal Singh, one of the senior most disciples of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma the Santoor Maestro! Immediately I thought maybe there is more to this film.
The film began from the ‘beginning’ – The origin of sound. Diving deep into the ancient Vedic tradition, the artists explained that sounds were absorbed by great sages of India during deep meditation from the divine cosmos and further explained how the fundamentals of the core notes were formalised. It further went to explain how the notes developed into ragas. For me this was truly a highlight of the whole film, being a student of Indian theology and yoga, I felt I could relate to and enjoin in the magnificence of the film. I reminisce once in the private company of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, I was educated in understanding the historical and the deep spiritual nuances of music, the film made it come flooding back.
The film has many chapters exploring all the rich colourful facets of Hindustani Classical Music (HCM) such as: Philosophy and History, Note and Melody, Tempo and Rhythm, Moods and Emotions, Improvisation, Master and Disciple, Lineage, Training and Performance, Compositional Styles, Instruments and Points to ponder, which are beautifully strung like a pearl mala by the narrations and input of three respected personalities.
The film is jam packed with live or private performances, clips, interviews, and inputs by the greats of HCM. Private clips of the Late Samrat Pandit Kishan Maharaj are also in the film, recorded at his home just before his demise. Many clips and captions of equal rarity which are just practically impossible to find, are in this 2 hour film. I realised that by watching this film I was gaining knowledge from the greats, regardless of being present now or through their music, the Pandits and Ustads present to us, great lessons of music. The wonder point of this overall film is that ALL the greatest artists are in this film. Stop! I repeat – ALL of the greatest artists are in this film from Zakir Hussain, Ravi Shankar, Ashwini Bhide, Late Ali Akbar Khan, Ajoy Chakrabarty, Rakesh Chaurasia, Ustad Ahmed Jan Thirakhwa, Prabha Atre… Just check out the list below*
Raga Unveiled is a most inspiring and sweeping look at the entire “architectural brilliance” of a musical system that gave birth to this most wonderful and profound musical art form. For the first time on film, eloquent commentaries by musicians, Vedic scholars, and musicologists join hands with spectacular cinematography, intoxicating spectrums of sound, and rare archival footage resulting in a grand synthesis to honour this music in its entirety.
The film concluded by a Q&A between the audience and director Gita Desai.
During the talk she explained her musical background and how the project came about. Gitaji, who studied and learnt the Sitar for six years, further explained her inspirations for doing this project.
Gitaji then dropped a bombshell, she surprised the audience by telling them that the film they saw was a condensed version of the original four hour long film! Gita Desai has been globe hopping, promoting her film for which she uses the condensed version – which beautifully holds the integrity and essence of the original.
In summary if you want to dive deeper into HCM or just want to spend 4 hours and 20mins of your life in the wisest way possible. Watch this DVD!
On a side note I would like to thank and give my appreciation to Gitaji for her efforts in producing an extraordinary piece of work, a true ‘time capsule; for the current generation and the generations to come. My thanks also to Keran Virdee from SAA-UK and Seven Arts in their assistance and support.
For me, ‘Raga Unveiled’ led me to say: Raga unveils… the truth.
Purchase: Raga Unveiled
*Ravi Shankar, Samir Chatterjee, Ashwini Bhide, Amjad Ali Khan, Ashok Ranade, Birju Maharaj, Purbayan Chatterjee, Ali Akbar Khan, Aarti Anklikar, Zakir Hussain, Subhash Kak, Ajay Chakravarti, Tanmoy Bose, Rajan Mishra, Vijay Kichlu, Kumar Mukherjee, Lalitha Ubhaykar, Nayan Ghosh, Bismillah Khan, Kishan Maharaj, Shivkumar Sharma, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan, Veena Sahasrabudhhe, Bhimsen Joshi, Swami Yogatmananda, Swapan Chaudhari, Subhra Guha, Sabina Islam, Rakesh Chaurasia, Ronu Majumdar, Ram Ashray Jha, Gangubai Hangal, Arvind Parikh, Gundecha Brothers, Prabha Atre, Bhawani Shankar, Dinkar Kaikini, Ahmed Jan Thirakhwa, Amir Khan, George Ruckert, Yogesh Samsi, Padma Talwalkar, Allaudin Khan, SCR Bhatt, Jayant Kaustur, Steve Gorn, Yogesh Samsi, Allah Rakha, Kushal Das, Subhankar Banerjee, Prabha Atre, Shashank, Sudha Raghunathan, Shujaat Khan, Amit Mukherjee, Sangeeta Katti Kulkarni, Tejendra Majumdar, Mansi Majumdar, Fahimuddin Dagar, Debhashish Bhattacharya, Dr. Satya Narayan Dasa, Manjri Asnare and many more . . .