Monday, August 21, 2006

Song of the Little Road

I recently watched the Apu Trilogy and was struck by the amazing music. Who can forget the Shehnai piece by Ustad Bismillah Khan[1] in Pather Panchali? It takes great genius to get noticed over the startling, stunning scenes by Ray and to the Ustad, that comes naturally.

My lessons in Carnatic music (ages ago) barely help me understand the nuances of his performance, I cannot even place the raag he plays, but all that hardly matters.

"At the Everyman Cinema there is a season of Satyajit Ray. He watches the Apu trilogy on successive nights in a state of rapt absorption. In Apu's bitter, trapped mother, his engaging, feckless father he recognizes, with a pang of guilt, his own parents. But it is the music above all that grips him, dizzyingly complex interplays between drums and stringed instruments, long arias on the flute whose scale or mode - he does not know enough about music theory to be sure which - catches at his heart, sending him into a mood of sensual melancholy that last long after the film has ended.."
-J.M. Coetzee's Youth

[1] May his soul rest in peace. 1, 2, 3...

[2] Song of the Little Road is Pather Panchali.

[3] Incidentally, there was a piece on the Saarangi that I heard this Saturday that was just tantalizing. This is the first time I have got a chance to really experience the instrument being played live (as in, not the cheap-seats so far away, I might as well have watched the performance on television).

This was part of a wonderful musical night organized by friends. The performers were an eclectic bunch - from grandfathers, to young mothers, to 10 year olds, to semi-professionals, to the sound engineer's stunning ghazal (from Umrao Jaan). What made it so special and inspiring was the love and respect each brought to his/her practice. I was more than impressed to hear that this was their 9th annual concert - given that it is all planned, set and performed by people who claim to be amateurs. :)


Falstaff said...

I have to admit I've always associated Pather Panchali more with Ravi Shankar. Remember that scene with the rain? It's got the point where every time I listen to Ravi Shankar now I can see that scene in my head.

The Black Mamba said...

Yes, the rain scene - especially the way it starts out - the sitar to the accompaniment of tiny droplets that slowly hit the still lake.

Also the bit where Apu and Durga run to catch a glimpse of the train. The music builds the excitment that is soon followed up with even more vigor in the scene that follows (the train chase and the bright sparkling eyes of the two kids).

I can understand that people would not recall the shehnai piece as vividly. I would place it at the other end of the emotional spectrum - the sequence in which Harihar finds out Durga is dead. The sudden shock and the mourning after - all that is so beautifully captured by the Ustad. When I heard of his demise, this was the first scene that came to mind.

Dipta Chaudhuri said...

One brilliant piece of musical theme used in the Trilogy was in Apur Sansar.
When Apu and Aparna are speaking for the first time in the bridal chamber, there is a very faint strain of bhatiali music in the background.
Several years later, when Apu comes back to meet Kajal, he sits on the side of the bed where Kajal is sleeping - and that same musical strain is heard.
Lovely use of music to signpost memories!