As actor Amitabh Bachchan’s identifiable baritone narrates a story about Krishna and the bansuri (flute), the camera languorously pans over lush green bamboo stems, alternated with a sepia-toned “flashback”, to draw a connection between the lord of the flute and its well-known modern exponent. That’s only the beginning, but throughout the under-60 minute documentary Bansuri Guru, the flute almost never leaves the hands of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia.
The documentary, produced by Films Division and directed by the flautist’s son Rajeev, is an attempt, by the producers, to document the life of the winner of the Padma Vibhushan, and by the director, to pay tribute to his father.
The story, told in a linear fashion, starts with Chaurasia’s initiation into the flute, his early days growing up in Allahabad without a mother, trying to appease his wrestler father who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps, and working as a typist for Rs.45 a month. He learnt the flute on the sly till he got a job with the All India Radio (AIR) in Cuttack in 1958, and had to break the news to his parent.
“My musical journey began in Orissa,” says Chaurasia, who turns 75 this year, in the film.
The journey continues through a move to Mumbai three years later, his tryst with Hindi films, the eternal search for a guru, taking his music global and the establishment of his Vrindaban Gurukul.
Bachchan’s contribution, initially to catch the viewer’s attention, also stems from the Allahabad connection between the two men. His is one of the faceless voices in the film; the other tributes come from peers and partners like santoor player Shiv Kumar Sharma, tabla player Zakir Hussain and dancer Kumkum Mohanty, among others. Touchingly, the man who gave Chaurasia his AIR stint in Cuttack, the then station director P.V. Krishnamoorthy, says he always knew the flautist was destined for greatness once he had heard him play the kajri.
Though Chaurasia was “shattered” when he was transferred to Mumbai, his career later benefited from the move, as the music director at AIR was Madan Mohan. Chaurasia’s tangential career, in films like Jahan Ara, Taj Mahal, Milan, his famous rendition in Hero, collaboration with Sharma and Yash Chopra through Chandni, Lamhe, Darr, etc., continued till the point that he realized he needed to go back to his true calling—just playing the flute.
“He gave the flute a new language,” says Sharma in the film, “with a rare control over the instrument.”
Chaurasia himself pays rich tribute to Annapurna Devi, who he calls Guru Maa, and his intention to keep her legacy alive at the Gurukul. I did not wish to be her student to learn the flute, he says, but to learn music.
The film is shot in Allahabad, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar and The Netherlands, but Hindi is the predominant language, with the kind of pristine usage that’s not commonly heard any more. Rajeev says he was disappointed initially when the family, given the responsibility by Films Division, could not find a film-maker who could understand the subject as well as required. That’s the reason he decided to direct it himself—it’s his first documentary film.
“Through the process of initial research,” says Rajeev, “I realized I should do it, I must do it. The attempt was to have serious fun. Music is divine, it touches people’s heart and soul. I hope this creates a path for others. While I had to be objective, it was also my tribute to my father, to the time we have not had together.
“My failure would be if I glorified him.”
There are only rare glimpses of Chaurasia’s frequently mentioned sense of humour, like when someone tells him that she went to see Iskcon. “Uskon mein gaye kabhi?” he asks, with barely the hint of a smile.
Rajeev says his father was “cool” with the film, allowing the son freedom in filming. There is enough footage for Rajeev now to make a longer film, which he hopes to, so that he can include more footage of Chaurasia, the man, rather than the artiste.
Bansuri Guru will release on 12 April as a part of PVR’s Director’s Rare in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and Allahabad.