Grammy-award winner Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt on his musical commitment, collaborators and his young audience
The only time I can take a nap is on a flight, between concerts, but the air hostesses keep waking me up to ask me what I want to eat,” says Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt, Grammy winner, Tansen Samman awardee, and inventor of the famous Mohan Veena, who performs at least 22 concerts every month. “I’m going to Pune next, then to Bengaluru, Delhi, Nagpur, Jaipur, Kolkata, and Hyderabad. And all this is within a week,” he adds.
An insane schedule such as this doesn’t bother the musician; it’s all for the love of music, he claims. “It’s not my profession; it’s my commitment to the field of arts, so I don’t mind it,” he says.
In Bengaluru this weekend, where Bhatt will perform solo, the musician intends to play some of his usual favourites, which includes the Grammy-winning track A Meeting By The River from the album of the same name, and a new raga that he’s developed. “I have created a raga called Vishwaranjini, which is dedicated to women’s empowerment. I have composed it for Nirbhaya, and had the whole image of Durga as Mahishasur mardini in mind,” he says.
On the contribution of the Mohan Veena to Hindustani classical music, Bhatt has this to say: “I have been playing the Mohan Veena for the past 50 years. I have played at the Saptak Annual Music Festival in Ahmedabad consecutively for 39 years, to name one, and I perform across the world through the year. Even musically orthodox cities such as Chennai and Kerala keep inviting me, so I believe the Mohan Veena has made its place on the Indian classical music shelf.”
Bhatt himself is not restricted to ancient rules of music though. He even enjoys Bollywood music from time to time (he’s currently listening to the soundtrack of Bajirao Mastani), and then switches back to Rashid Khan for his classical music fix. “Khan is one of my favourite vocalists,” he explains, adding that collaborating with Khan, and Hariprasad Chaurasia, was a delightful experience. “But I must add that every musician I have collaborated with has been exceptional,” he is quick to add.
Having won multiple awards, and the Tansen Samman recently, we wonder if he’s ever considered them to be a thing of validation. “We never work for an award. When I was recording A Meeting by the River, I never even imagined I’d win the Grammy. But they are encouraging, and a way of the world recognising your work. And it helps you to access audiences you wouldn’t have reached otherwise,” Bhatt says.
But a Grammy is not the ultimate endorsement, he clarifies. “The Tansen Samman awarded by the Madhya Pradesh government recently is equally important to me, as is the GIMA (Global Indian Music Academy) awards,” he adds.
A master collaborator, Bhatt says he’s quite impressed with the way the younger generation has taken to Indian classical music. “You have to give the youth classical music in a way so that they can relate to it. I think I have managed to do that. I do about 60 shows a year with SPIC MACAY (The Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth) and have seen tremendous enthusiasm among the youth,” he says.
No wonder that orthodox musicians too are looking at reworking their music. “I find this quite interesting. There was a time when old school musicians would look at me and go ‘oh he does fusion’, but today the same musicians are going the fusion way, and collaborating with others!” he muses. Talking about his favourite compositions, he says, “While I love everything I have ever played, I would have to say A Meeting by the River, and the Rajasthani folk song – Kesariya Balam – are two of my favourites. I play them all the time!” he signs off, laughing. Bhatt’s performance will be preceded by a performance by Suma Sudhindra on the veena, followed by classical vocalist Prabhakar Karekar.
January 31. Entry free. Passes at the venue. At Orion Mall, Malleswaram. 6.30 pm.
— Priyadarshini Nandy