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Is he the best ever?

Is he the best ever?

Author: Ranjan Das Gupta
Publication: The Hindu
Date: January 30, 2009
URL: http://www.hindu.com/fr/2009/01/30/stories/2009013050050100.htm

Introduction: As an Oscar looks imminent for A.R. Rahman, sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan puts his success in perspective.

His compositions have everything except divinity.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan is happy but not overwhelmed by A.R. Rahman winning the Golden Globe for his original score in "Slumdog Millionaire".

In a rare conversation from the U.S., he says, "Yes, it is a matter of pride for the Indian film fraternity. It has put Indian film music on the international scene and Rahman deserves a lot of credit. But it does not signify that Rahman is the greatest composer for films in India."

Call of music

Though Ali Akbar Khan maintains a safe distance from film music he does occasionally hear film tunes, specially the ones composed in Hindi.

He claims, "Did not A.R. Rahman compose the hit number 'Aye Ajnabi' for 'Dil Se'? It is a direct lift of Shanker Jaikishan's immortal number, 'Manzil Wohi Hain' from 'Kathputli' in 1957 rendered melodiously by Subir Sen. Even his 'Chal Chaiyyan Chaiyyan' is very similar to Shanker Jaikishan's 'Oh Maiya Bata Maiya' from 'Shree 420'. He just fastened the beats."

At par

The sarod maestro feels strongly that Indian composers have never got their due in the West.

He explains, "Rarely do western composers have knowledge of Indian classical ragas or folk music. I see no reason as to why Pandit Ravi Shanker's tunes for the 'Apu' trilogy or Vilayat Khan's background score for 'Jalsaghar' should not get Oscar awards. They are at par with the best musical compositions of any Hollywood or European classics. Though Satyajit Ray's sense of Indian classical music was limited, his own compositions for 'Teen Kanya', 'Charulata' and 'Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen' are of international standards. Thank God, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar prior to his death."

Ali Akbar Khan remembers his conversation with Maurice Jar, the legendary composer of "Bridge On The River Kwai", "Lawrence Of Arabia" and "Dr. Zhivago" in the late '60s, "Maurice was very interested in Indian classical music after watching 'Devi' and hearing my score for the film. He told me that the Oscar jury will ironically lend a deaf ear to my score as Indian classics are like acid to them generally. He also questioned the abilities of many of the jury members' idea and knowledge of Indian ragas. Similar views were expressed to me by no less a director than John Huston."

Connecting to the roots

Ali Akbar Khan remembers, "Sir Richard Attenborough was wrong in using the London Philharmonic Orchestra to conduct music for his ambitious 'Gandhi' by removing Ravi Shankar's compositions. Ravi Shankar would have done more justice to 'Gandhi' than the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I am not demeaning western classical music. I am myself an ardent listener and admirer of philharmonic orchestras. But, each director should appoint a person of the soil, where he is shooting his film."

That brings in the question that A.R. Rahman, an Indian composer was the right choice for "Slumdog Millionaire" as the theme, location and even music needed to be rooted in India with Hindi essence.

The Ustad agrees, "I am not denying his selection. He is technically very strong but if Salil Chowdhury or Madan Mohan had got chances in Hollywood, they would have worked wonders. Our legendary composers have never received international recognition in the real sense of the term. Yes, Jaikishan's tunes have been hummed in Soviet Russia, Eastern Europe and China. But did Hollywood and Western Europe ever consider his or the others' worth?"

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