Jabbar Patel, the noted theatre and film director, recently released Antardhwani, a documentary film on the life and music of the santoor maestro, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. The film deals with Pandit Sharma’s childhood in Kashmir, the days of struggle in Mumbai, his experience of working in the Hindi film industry and his quest to bring the santoor to the mainstream of Hindustani classical music.
In a chat with Lounge, Patel talks about the film, and his other projects.
What prompted you to make a documentary on the life of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma?
The films division (FD) of the Union ministry of information and broadcasting has made many biographical films—on Mahatma Gandhi and Satyajit Ray, for instance, and on musicians such as Begum Akhtar, Siddheshwari Devi and Bismillah Khan.
Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma (centre), Jabbar Patel (left) and artistic consultant to Antardhwani Ina Puri (right) at the inaugural screening of Antardhwani at the Siri Fort Auditorium, New Delhi.
I made Hans Akela, a documentary on the life of Kumar Gandharva for FD and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma had seen it. When FD approached Shivji with the idea of making a film on his music and life, he suggested that I make it.
What did you set out to do in Antardhwani—any aspect of Pandit Sharma’s life or music that you wished to highlight?
The santoor used to be an accompanying instrument and, following his father’s wish, Shivji brought it into the mainstream of Hindustani classical music as a solo instrument. In this, his achievement is comparable only to that of Bismillah Khan who brought the shehnai to the classical level and made the instrument internationally recognized.
The film traces his journey, initially as a tabla player and then, in the 1960s and 1970s, as playing the santoor in the Hindi film industry for the likes of S.D. Burman and O.P. Nayyar. This was followed by a period when he dedicated himself solely to the santoor and then, along with Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, he composed the music—as the team “Shiv-Hari”—for eight films for Yash Chopra’s Yash Raj banner, beginning with Silsila.
He is a musician and composer, a creator of new ragas who inspired a new generation. He has collaborated internationally with musicians such as George Harrison, and now, he is entering the world music scene, collaborating with renowned guitarists and percussionists.
Musicians are often said to be temperamental. What was the experience of collaborating with Pandit Sharma like?
It was not about being temperamental, but about getting accustomed to the camera, which can be difficult initially. But Shivji became attuned within a few days.
Over the years you have been an actor, a theatre director, a film director and a documentary film-maker. Where have you found the most fulfilment and success?
In films. The challenge of theatre is different—you can improvise when you act and it has a certain warmth. But the view there—of the stage—is one-dimensional. In films, the camera can go behind, to the left or to the right of the actors. The challenge is where to put the camera. Cinema has music, sound, actors, décor—it is the confluence of the arts. So, cinema is more challenging for a director and theatre for an actor.
Are you involved with any theatre projects currently?
No. I was actually waiting to direct a new play by Vijay Tendulkar (the noted Marathi playwright) based on a story from the Mahabharata (but that did not happen because he passed away). Unless someone were to approach me with a challenging idea, I see no point in doing theatre. To me now, the challenge lies in cinema—its structure and content. In fact, I want to do mainstream cinema now.