I was returning to Aurangabad city from Verul in Maharashtra, India. It was a break from work at Mumbai and had decided to take a random trip this long weekend; random because the destination was not planned till we hit the road. The driver put on some music. An unfamiliar voice and song came about through the music system …Clear strident notes, wonderful voice quality and superlative music. It was Hindi film music but had never heard it earlier. In the close confines of the car with the twilight casting all objects outside in soft focus, the music enveloped me. “Bheegi Hui Koi Shaam Ho” simply pure, the music soared, the energy in the voice building up the song and I was lost in the wonderful composition. “Whose music is this?” I asked the driver, Sir its mine sir, he had misunderstood my question completely. “Arrey No, who has made it?” I repeated my question a bit differently. “Sunidhi Chauhan is the singer and the film Chameli” said he proud in his knowledge. It was a movie that had clearly not been a commercial success despite a great brouhaha about the top film star Kareena Kapoor doing a serious film. “Nahi…no no… What I meant was who is the music director; the composer?” “Pata nahi saab” said he…”but music solid hai and I play it often”. It was a truly glorious track. “Do you have the CD jacket?” I pressed on. He shook his head “No jacket sir, only have this common plastic box for all my CD’s here.” I had no chance then of knowing the name of the person who had created the soul stirring song that had me perking up.
On Reaching the Hotel, I freshened up. Having nothing much to do outside I decided to have a relaxed evening by myself. Ordered an early dinner up and started flipping through the cable channels. The movie ‘Gumnaam’ was on. A body had been discovered and the background music conveyed the tense moment. This movie was adapted from Agatha Christie’s famous book “Ten Little Niggers”. The book later got rechristened, when saying niggers became politically incorrect, to “And then there were none“. I had seen this movie earlier but enjoyed it yet again. The room service waiter saw me engrossed in the film and remarked, ”Lovely movie, Mehmood has acted real well”. I nodded and asked him, “who has directed Gumnaam?”. “Who knows Sir?” he shrugged. Gumnaam has been a rock solid hit and a total entertainer right from the day it has been released. I flipped a channel and “Chalti ka naam gaadi” was playing; a comedy riot and again one of the most well known movies in the Indian cinema scene. I again asked the waiter, “How about this film, who has made this one?” This time he was more confident and said “Kishore Kumar, Ashok Kumar and Anup Kumar. The three brothers together have made this film.” “They are the lead actors certainly, but are you positive they directed this film?” By this time he looked at me queerly, as if I was from some distant planet. I did not look like a quiz show host but was shooting questions about in a similar fashion. He then retorted that next you would ask me ‘Who painted the wall frescoes of Ajanta? Or who built the Kailasa Temple at Verul? And you would even tell me that the Taj Mahal was not made by Shah Jahan, Right?” And I laughed out loud and said “Exactly right.” “Kya saab subah se koi milaa nahi kya?” I tipped him, enjoyed the movie and finished my meal. My post dinner Chai was served out in the verandah where I sat in the wicker sofa chair looking into the night and lit up a cigarette.
The moot point
The question that had been hazily forming in my mind was clear. Music, Film making, Wall fresco painting, Architectural construction are all intensely collaborative art forms. However for them to cohesively come together and create something that is magical it demanded one mind to be at the helm. The one person with the overview and knowledge of getting it done exactly the way it should be, the person who conceptualizes it first in the mind before she/he gathers all of the pieces and starts the physical process of creation. In all of the above instances that I had coincidently touched upon, in the talks with my driver and the room service staff, every one of them was familiar with the work. Not one of them knew the maker. The work shone bright, luminous and had achieved popularity to become immortal, but the actual creators had receded into the oblivion or remained in the background.
Who does one credit, the Patron or the Artist?
Art and Entertainment are curious forms of creation. There are also certain forms like Architecture and Building science which reach the level of the artistic. Some better, bigger or more prolific than the others, lasting centuries. But all of them take shape only in civilized societies. It is only a fully evolved society or civilization that produces and propagates fine art. Often though the work of art has been attributed to the patron. Case in point are Shah Jahan and the Taj Mahal at Agra and Rajaraja Chola I and the Brihadeeswara Temple at Tanjore; The largest complete granite temple anywhere in the world. This was built in the 11th Century AD, nearly 600 years prior to the Taj Mahal. But neither of these kings actually drew a plan, mounted a stone or carved a design. Ustad Ahmad Lahuri, Makramat Khan and Abdul Karim Maumar Khan who were the conceivers of the Taj in the form that we see today are forgotten except by the chroniclers. Similar is the state of the Vishwakarma builders who made the Brihadeeswara temple possible. Time and history adds layers and layers of dust and the lore gathers force while the creator fades behind the curtain of time.
No one knows who actually built the Kailasa Temple. All we know is that it was built during the time of the Rashtrakutas in the 8th century AD 300 years before the Brihadeeswara Temple. This temple is unique because it is actually hewn out of a single basalt rock and has taken 120 years to build. That is nearly 10 generations of craftsmen would have worked on this one monument. Without going too deep into the historical significance, it is the creative scope that is awe inspiring. How can an idea of an architectural design survive for 120 years and whose was the mind that conceived it in the first place? But that’s a discussion for some other day. It is yet another immortal work whose actual creator is not known.
It is the patron who creates the environment that is amiable to the process of creation. The patron may fund it or commission it too and should they not do this the artist may not have a platform or an environment to achieve his creation; in the above cases such sublime ones too that have lasted centuries.The Patron and the Artist , two individuals who needed to collide in a window of time, for artistic magnificence to happen.
What began with the music of Chameli and its music director Sandesh Shandilya who created this fresh sound, moved on to Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi the movie. Do take note that this the movie is nearly 60 years old and an absolute cult comedy yet equally fresh and fun when viewed even today. But ask the same people who is the director and erroneously one of the Ganguly brothers or all three who acted in it would be given credit. Nobody remembers the prolific film maker Satyen Bose who was its director. Satyen who? Now this phenomenal talent has made upwards of 34 films in as many years in Cinema. Some of his works like Dosti, Jagriti, Raat aur Din , Jeevan Mrityu were smash hits, but none like the one movie he made in 1958 “Chalti Ka Naam Gadi.” Same is the Case of "Gumnaam", one of the tautest thrillers ever made in Hindi Cinema. This movie is a perfect blend of being a complete entertainer yet a classy thriller for its amazing screenplay , story idea, the casting, the performances and the music. This movie is right on top of most watched movies ever in the video circuit but even today very few would be able to name Raja Navathe - the director. Nawathe was the assistant director to Raj Kapoor in making the RK Classics Aag, Awara and Barsaat. The seven films which he later directed were all popular films and commercial successes. Let me put them in perspective and you will know what I am talking about. Aah starring Raj Kapoor & Nargis, Basant Bahar & Sohni Mahiwal with Nimmi and Bharat Bhushan, Gumnaam and Patthar ke Sanam both starring Mehmood and Manoj Kumar, Bhai Bhai with Sunil Dutt and Manchali with Sanjeev Kumar. The work is famous its creator isn’t.
Schools of thought
In ancient eastern civilizations of India,China & Japan art and architecture flourished. Who doesn’t know about the ceramic pottery of the Han, Tan and the Ming dynasties? The metal working skills of the ancient Japanese are particularly well regarded in fashioning swords and blades; The Katana’s and the Samurai swords or the polished metal mirrors. The Buddhist and Hindu art forms have their roots in the Guru-Shishya tradition. The school of the master would be known and its style would have a demand. The maker was not important as long as he/she maintained the very high standards of the school. This was the ethos from which an Artiste from the east operated. Pride in the work but not in self. Those who practiced it achieved immortality through their work.The work spoke for itself and artistes were richly rewarded if their art found patronage or languished on the path to penury without it.
The western society which has its roots in the Greco Roman civilization took pride in the self. Not that the artists were any less talented but very few of them as persons remained hidden behind their work. A classical example is the Sistine chapel that had the greatest of the renaissance painters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and Bernini coming together. The patron Pope Julius II is comparatively much lesser known for the chapel than these masters. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and her enigmatic smile even now leads to speculation not so much about the muse as much as the multi talented painter who created it. The enigmatic sculpture “The Thinker” is not complete till we say “Rodin’s Thinker”. The name stamp of the artist is equally strong as his work is magnificent.
And then there is Fame for Fames sake
In the material world of today modesty has ceased to remain a virtue. It doesn’t ring the cash register. The speed at which the world moves today has everyone scrambling for their “fifteen minutes of spotlight” as Andy Warhol had very aptly said. This hurry, impatience and wantonness tends to sometimes divert the attention from the actual product delivery and its quality in the art that they practice. The work by these people may even achieve quick popularity but also is forgotten just as quickly.This is exemplified in a Marathi language music reality show that is extremely popular and aired on TV called Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. Season across Season the bulk of songs that have been sung by the contestants have all been from an era that is even early for their parents. How does this happen? These works are timeless because they were perfected. One hears of music directors of yore taking months to record a song. RD Burman gave 36 versions of the music to Nasir Husain before the director was satisfied for Teesri Manzil. With technology time has certainly been crunched but imagine the quality of the work if the same team records 40 songs in one day. Kumar Sanu is credited with this dubious record, am positive he himself would not be able to recall all the 40 songs that he sung on that fateful day. If he himself cant then how will I?
Then there are the cases of those individuals who are simply famous for being famous. No one really knows or worse cares what these people actually do. Leading this pack today is Rakhi Sawant, the current flavor of the season (ala Paris Hilton minus her billions and good looks).Open a page 3 of any newspaper and we see some faces there time and again, the usual suspects. Now reflect on the actual activities or work done by them, those that stare at us from these pages and go figure their reason for being famous.
Some stray thoughts as I sat out looking into the Aurangabad night. Rakhi Sawant or Sandesh Shandilya, Paris Hilton or Satyen Bose & Raja Nawathe…the two antipodes on the compass of the bitch goddess of fame.