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An ode to Thumri legend Girija Devi

Learn about the life and music of Girija Devi, through a documentary that will be presented on her 86th birthday, this Friday

Her students listen in rapt attention as the Hindustani Classical vocalist, Girija Devi, begins singing the Thumri, Bansuri Kaise Bajaye Shyam. While she adds different intricacies in her notes each time she sings it, she focuses on reinterpreting these simple lyrics, explaining the different nuances to her students.

Girija Devi (third from left) in a music session as part of the documentary
Girija Devi (third from left) in a music session as part of the documentary 

This music session among other concert footage and interviews with the octogenarian are part of the documentary, Girija: A Lifetime In Music, that will be screened in the city, for the first time, on the occasion of her 86th birthday.

Debapriya Adhikary and Samanwaya Sarkar — both disciples of Girija Devi for the last eight years — along with Sankalp Meshram — have helmed the documentary.

"We always had the desire to make a documentary on Appaji (as she is fondly called). She brought a revolution in Thumri singing. While Thumri is perceived as semi-classical, she believes that it should be regarded as a Classical form and has elevated its status.

A still from Girija: A Lifetime In Music
A still from Girija: A Lifetime In Music

Her persona, intellect, wit and philosophy moved us and we felt that her work needed to be documented," says Adhikary, who began making the documentary in 2011.

One of the most celebrated Indian vocalists, Devi, who hailed from Banaras, was initiated into music when she was five. Besides Thumri, she is also acclaimed for her proficiency in North Indian vocal forms like Khayal, Dadra, Tappa, Kajri, Hori, Chaiti and Bhajan. Using footage from her concerts and interviews, the makers have explored her personal journey, her life in Banaras as well as her contribution to music.

"We did a systematic study of her music and interpreted her songs using landscapes and scenery as she borrows a lot from the nature (prakriti) in her music. We shot with her in different parts of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh and have fused the footage of her ITC Sangeet Research Academy concerts and the archival footage from Doordarshan," elaborates Adhikary.

The makers also interviewed her fellow associates and musicians like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Abdul Rashid Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Kishori Amonkar, among others, in order to gain an insight into Devi's loving persona.

On May 8, 6.30 pm
At Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
Call 22824567

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