Sitar memories and stringing tradition

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:28 IST | Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya |

Niladri Kumar gifts a unique concert to musical dad on 80th birthday

Sitar player Niladri Kumar, who also invented the zitar, will demonstrate four ragas with different tabla players at the concert later this month
Sitar player Niladri Kumar, who also invented the zitar, will demonstrate four ragas with different tabla players at the concert later this month

When a child grows up amid notes and cadences, he ought to intone melodies. His father, sitar player Kartik Kumar -- a disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar -- disciplined him to ensure he stood among stars. The 43-year-old Niladri Kumar made him proud; he not only made a name in Classical music, even the film industry received him with grace. Kumar also invented the modified (with fewer frets) electric sitar, known as zitar. On his father’s 80th birthday on 

November 30, Kumar designed a rare concert titled Swastik. It is a celebration of ragas with four different tabla players -- Satyajit Talwalkar, Aditya Kalyanpur, Ojas Adhiya, Shubh Maharaj -- from assorted backgrounds. Excerpts from an interview.

An 11-year-old Kumar accompanies his father at a concert
An 11-year-old Kumar accompanies his father at a concert

How are you handling the pressure of an experimental concert?
I hadn’t realised the pressure I am taking on when I decided to do it. I want the concert to be memorable for him as well as people who are going to attend. My father is my guru and I have not done any concert for him before. It should be something that never happened before and will never happen again.

Do you come up with an idea every year for this day?
Before this year, the only time I did a tribute was on his 75th birthday. I released an album of an already recorded live concert. It was titled Aura. That concert turned out to be special for it was a full moon night, an evening of Guru Purnima.

How will the four tabla players perform at the concert?
They all come from different gharanas. I will play four ragas and four compositions where they will bring in their own diverse style. If time permits, I will play a lighter item calling all four of them on stage in the end.

Father and son share a light moment

What was it like when your father introduced you to the sitar?
As a teenager, I would find it hard to understand why he would discipline me so much. All my friends of that age group had an easier life. They would have a specific time for play after school, I had to divide it with music. I would wonder why my parents had so many conditions.

Of all the music directors you worked with, who stood out?
Everyone is special but there was one person who surprised me. I can’t name him but he once took out a note of R500 and gave me a nazrana for a piece I played in a song. I was lucky to get a couple of such blessings in that denomination But it doesn’t work now, so I don’t know what to do with it. (laughs)

How do you balance Classical and Bollywood?
I hope I can strike a balance. There is no formula. You may tilt either ways. As long as the work you are doing is 100 per cent, it is fine.

The zitar sound is Rock-inclined...
True, but the idiom of Rock is broad. It comes from an attitude. You don’t have schools teaching Rock music. There are Jazz and Classical musicians who led their lives like a rockstar. One can’t restrict a sound to a genre in today’s times.

Are there albums coming up?
I am working on a couple of albums, including a Classical one and an Electronic one.

On November 30, 8.30 pm
At Dinanath Mangeshkar Natya Griha Hall, Natawariya Dutta Bhatt Marg, Vile Parle (E). COST R200 onwards
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Remembering the icon

Once, Pandit Ravi Shankar came to our place for lunch with one of his students. He was travelling out of Mumbai that day for a concert. My father was also out of station. My mother had prepared food for him. He looked at me and said that I had big feet for my age. Nobody had observed anything of that sort before. I was 12.

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