Love, loss, pain at Khazana

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Veteran singer K.L. Saigal is said to be the first person to record ghazals on long-playing records (LPs). He began singing for films in 1930s, right after sound cinema made its appearance in India. Beginning his film career in Calcutta and then moving to Bombay, he constituted a formidable part of the film industry in his short but eventful life.

He acted in 36 films, in Hindu, Urdu, Bengali and Tamil, being anointed the first superstar of the Hindi film industry. He was also its first Devdas, in 1935, having played the role in PC Barua’s cinematic version of Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s epic novel. Saigal is known to have inspired legends such as Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar and Mukesh Chand Mathur. It is thus only apt that the Khazana Festival of ghazals should choose to pay tribute to Saigal’s enduring musical genius and celebrate his legacy.
Ghazals are poetic expressions that traditionally deal with love and associated themes like pain, loss and separation. And often, this love is illicit and unattainable. Ghazals represent
an ancient form, which is said to have originated in 6th century Arabic verse. Under the influence of Sufi mystics and Islamic courts, the ghazal travelled to
India around the 12th century AD.
Today, ghazals are written in a handful of Indian languages. More interestingly, the ghazal of today goes beyond poetic expression in Hindi and Urdu by embracing languages such as English. A host of poets through the 19th century unsuccessfully dabbled in English ghazals, giving birth to the “bastard ghazal”, known thus for its inadequate adherence to the traditional principles of ghazal. However, it was only in 1996 that the first known anthology of English-language ghazals was published, edited by Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali.
Now in its 10th year, singer Pankaj Udhas initiated the Khazana festival of ghazals in 2002. It is a charity event whose proceeds go to the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) and the Parents Association Thalasaemic Unit Trust (Patut). When the festival started, Udhas called on his fellow musicians to support the cause of the two organisations. Organisers report that last year’s festival generated a significant seven-figure sum for charity. The festival is scheduled to take place at Hotel Oberoi in Mumbai on July 29 and 30.
This year, the line-up has expanded to include classical musicians, ghazal specialists and familiar faces from Bollywood. What is of note is that the festival also includes young and upcoming singers such as Pooja Gaitonde, a 17-year-old Mumbai singer, who is a student of Pandit Raja Upasani and Kaamod Arbedwar, a music graduate from the Nagpur University.
In the past, the festival has been dedicated to legendary vocalist Begum Akhtar and also to Bollywood music director Madan Mohan. By bringing together an eclectic mix of artistes, the festival opens up spaces for interesting collaborative work between musicians of different genres. Ghazal singer Talat Aziz will meet Ustad Rashid Khan in a performance that seeks to make the poetry of ghazals and the richness of Hindustani classical music, a cohesive experience.
Talking about their upcoming performance, Aziz says, “This year marks one decade of the Khazana Festival. I am going to sing some of my ghazals, after which I perform something special with Ustad Rashid Khan. I will sing a
ghazal and he will sing a classical bandish in the same raga.”
Ustad Rashid Khan, who was rehearsing with Aziz when he spoke to this correspondent, is also enthusiastic about this collaboration. “This is the first time I am performing at Khazana. A bandish and a ghazal — it will be good to see how this turns out,” he muses.
Father-son duo Ajay and Abhijit Pohankar of the Kirana gharana are also on the cards. The other stars expected to light up this two-day musical fiesta are Kavita Seth, who shot to fame with the eminently hummable Iktara in the film Wake Up Sid and the bhajan virtuoso Anup Jalota.

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