Katyar Kaljaat Ghusli has been making news across Maharashtra and needs no introduction.
Let me begin by saying that I am the black sheep on both sides of the family when it comes to classical music, poetry and the like. I’ve grown up hearing stories, surrounded by people passionate about each of these. So I have deep respect and an extremely strong desire to be able to understand and appreciate it. Let’s just say I am not there yet. But I continue trying.
Katyar has been an exception. The original play and the songs have captured my heart and I love listening to these endlessly. I even sing these out of tune, much to my husband’s chagrin. This is what drove me to see the play staged by Rahul Deshpande and team. As I’ve already mentioned, classical music or traditional music is not my forte. So I will refrain from commenting on that aspect. But I was disappointed with the performance (acting-wise) of Khan Saheb. Subodh Bhave as Baanke Bihari did a fantastic job though. When the trailers for the new movie adaptation started surfacing, I was disappointed to see Sachin Pilgaonkar cast as Khan Saheb. I’ve liked Sachin in all the fun Marathi movies but was skeptical about his ability to carry Khan Saheb. We did finally succumb to the multiple recommendations from our close friends and decided to give it a shot.
What I expected – a grand visual experience. It’d be fun to see the play get all the grandeur that the cine-screen would offer. Larger than life portrayals of the court, bright colorful representation of the performances.
The opening song ‘Sur Niragas Ho’ confirmed the visual appeal that I was banking on. The movie starts well and the relation between Panditji and Khan Saheb – the mutual respect and the love of music that transcends all boundaries is all there. But as the plot develops, two of the pivotal characters are turned into extremely simplistic caricatures.
Khan Saheb was a tortured soul – His talent was God-given, the mastery was with endless years of sheer hard work and grit. His gayaki (singing) was extremely good. But the then popular music was Panditji’s. The populace was used to his gentle, spiritual and pure reverent style of singing. This did not mean Khan Saheb’s style had no acceptance or no admirers. Even the royal court members acknowledged him as a great talent. It was just Panditji’s era that time. This was the reason why Khan Saheb failed. Their respect and regard for each other continued through all the 14 years that they competed. While his uppermost desire was to get his Gharana recognized and he struggled valiantly for it, he was also deliriously awed and respectful when Panditji’s music wove its magic. When he did finally win and become the ‘Raj Gayak’, he was disappointed that Panditji hadn’t sung. His victory was empty and meaningless. Khan Saheb is not a character who would divorce himself off his guilt by just divorcing his wife. The pain of his wife’s treachery would continue to haunt him all his life. This talented, complex, tortured, victorious but guilt-ridden soul is the beauty of Khan Saheb.
The movie chooses to make this a completely one-dimensional, negative character driven by jealousy and envy. A Khan Saheb who burns with hatred, who finds it difficult to acknowledge or enjoy good music without bias irrespective of the singer, who proclaims his triumph brazenly in a court numbed with sadness and shock, stoops so low as to flaunt his ill-gotten victory in the face of Panditji – this is a mockery of the magnificent persona of Khan Saheb and the wonderfully nuanced script of Katyar.
Further, the sly references to religion and the British influence are completely uncalled for. When Usman and Chand decide to throw away the murti of Murlidhar, Khan Saheb chastises them severely. He respects the ‘Murali wala’ as another artist – a divine musician and wouldn’t allow such blasphemy. No British courtier would’ve goaded Khan Saheb into revenge and I am sure even if he did, Khan Saheb would’ve brushed him off with a biting remark.
It doesn’t stop here. We still have Sadashiv. Sadashiv is innocent, guileless and completely immersed in his world of music. He is driven to frenzy seeking his guru and is always parched for divine music. All he wants is to learn music, experience music, imbibe music and be music. Normal, human concerns of rivalry, petty fights, and ego are for people who inhabit this world. Sadashiv lives in his own world of music. He is ready to give his soul to anyone who takes him into the world of pure music. For Sadashiv, the loyalty and worship is to music. So be it Panditji or Khan Saheb, he’d revere both. The relation between the 2 pivotal characters of Khan Saheb and Sadashiv is not purely hatred. It’s not an immature sentiment with a reason as blasé as ‘Panditji’s pupil’. Khan Saheb sees the spark, knows that he is in the presence of something divine. However, he knows that Panditji has already left his impression here. Whatever he tries to impart, it will be on someone else’s foundation and will never be his pure ‘gharana’ gayaki. He revolts at the thought of diluting his gharana and that is the reason he refuses to take him under his wing.
In the movie, Sadashiv’ s innocence, his love for music and passion to learn is all there. Subodh Bhave does a fantastic job of bringing it to life. But this is interspersed with totally contradictory moments of Sadashiv driven by a desire of revenge threatening to choke Usman and Chand or Sadashiv facing off the seasoned Khan Saheb with insolence. The character then doesn’t align. Sadashiv challenging Khan Saheb to a jugalbandi is the height of all absurdity. A pupil begging to be taken under the tutor’s wing and yearning for the ‘Jeete Raho, Gaate Raho’ blessing is in direct contrast with the arrogant, ego-riddled Sadashiv who challenges a ‘guru’ in all aspects. Also, with my limited knowledge of music too, it’s ridiculous to imagine the jugalbandi would be over a qawwali and would consist mainly of only speedy taans.
These two turn the entire story into a typical good vs evil and triumph of the good always story. Katyar is firstly a musical, but it also is an extremely mature and profound story of true human behavior and relations that are neither black nor white but are various shades of gray. The movie misses this angle completely.
Having said that, if you decide to ignore the original story, in which case it shouldn’t have the same name, then it’s a well-made movie to watch barring the few points where the characters itself contradict earlier behavior. However, there are few things that the movie does. Firstly, it brings the masterpiece ‘Katyar Kaljaat Ghusli’ into the world of the younger generations (including ours) from just our parent’s altar where it has been worshipped for so many years. Second, though the music is far from the original natya sangeet pure classical masterpiece that it was, it still is (especially for people like me) very pleasant on the ears and stays with you interspersed with bits of classical easily palatable to even the most naïve audience. Also, I’ve seen my 4 year-old daughter and her friends humming it and it’s great to have them sing this after the ‘Blue hain paani paani’ that they’ve been spouting (help me!). Shankar Mahadevan as Panditji is very believable and likeable. He has been able to walk the fine line and prevent what could easily have been the Marathi version of Aloknath aka Babuji if not portrayed well. Zareena and Uma fit their characters perfectly. Sadashiv despite the flaws of his character in the story, is totally sincere and he does a fantastic delivery of his monologue that ends with ‘Jeete Raho, Gaate Raho’. He completely steals the show. Also, as a director he does stay true to the period unlike the latest fiasco ‘Bajirao Mastani’ that is to hit us. Sachin disappoints in parts slipping into bouts of overacting that he is prone to. The movie makes a last, half-hearted try to bring forth the tussle in Khan Saheb’s mind in only the last few scenes. In his final dialogue where he urges Sadashiv to continue singing, his body language is oddly reminiscent of his scene with Hema Malini in Satte Pe Satta where he is requesting her to not leave his brother and them.
But, Katyar (The film) had a greater responsibility. The play ‘Katyar’ is true to the story but lacks the acting talent. The movie with so much at its disposal and with the responsibility of being the first ones of bringing this on the screen, have taken the easier way out. The audience is mature and could definitely have taken more. The movie should’ve taken the risk of the exploring the complex angles of story confidently instead of playing it safe with an outright simple, straightforward, fairy tale story. With this, we are only left with the current play to get the story and just audio recordings of the original Katyar to try and imagine the magic this would’ve created in its days of glory.
*Words in italics
Katyar Kaljaat Ghusli:
Marathi musical play originally released in 1967
Abbreviated reference to the above. Also means ‘Dagger’
The opening song of the film ‘Katyar Kaljaat Ghusli’
Vocal tradition, style of singing
The word gharana comes from the Urdu/Hindi word 'ghar', which means 'family' or 'house'. It typically refers to the place where the musical ideology originated
The Royal Court Musician/Singer
The one with the flute (murali). Denotes Lord Krishna
A musical duel
Form of Sufi devotional music
Blue hain paani paani:
You don’t want to know. Anyhoo –Yo Yo Honey Singh’s nonsensical song that stormed the nation
Jeete Raho, Gaate Raho:
A blessing literally means – live long and keep singing
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magna opus. Another article for this shall come
Satte Pe Satta:
An extremely popular Hindi movie from the 1980’s featuring Sachin