Reliving the lives of ‘The Great Masters’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 30 May 2017 09:05:11


By Farina Salim Quraishi,

Not everyone gets to be a part of life of living legends, and it’s for this very reason that city-based Ajay Deshpande feels really blessed reliving the glory with some of brightest stars from the world of entertainment, with his ‘The Great Masters’ Series. Ajay Deshpande, a member of Archiving and Documentation Committee, Sangeet Natak Akademi, Nagpur, has been assigned the prestigious task of documenting the life and work of 10 select artists for Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts (IGNCA), an Academic Research Institution. IGNCA is an autonomous Trust under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The archiving will be in video format and will be done under ‘The Great Masters’ Series.

“We have lost a colossal amount of our art and cultural heritage and we continue to lose some everyday. Hindustani music and dance are forms of art and a part of our cultural heritage that needs to be preserved. India has one of the world’s most-prolific and diverse music industries, but preserving its output for future generations of scholars and enthusiasts is a real area of concern due to inadequate archiving.

As the world celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema, it was found that there are no prints of India’s first talkie Alam Ara made in 1931 or of several epic films made before the 1950s. Art and culture are the cornerstones of our heritage. They have to be cherished and preserved. ‘The Great Masters’ Series, in that sense, is a well-needed stitch in time,” asserts Ajay Deshpande, while in conversation with The Hitavada.

Talking about his project of pride, Ajay says, “‘The Great Master Series’ will feature 10 doyens including the likes of Lata Mangeshkar, Dr Prabha Atre, Khayyam, Vyjayanthimala, Waheeda Rehman, Dr Birju Maharaj, Suresh Talwalkar, Enoch Daniels, Prabhakar Jog and Kishori Amonkar. All the artists were picked on grounds of their seniority, awards, repute and their standing in their particular field. We are, of course, ready for objections and disputes and will happily include more legends,” says Ajay, a connoisseur of Indian classical music, who knows his history about music and dance.

Prod the much-celebrated collector of music, about Kishori Amonkar, who passed away recently; the visible twinkle in Ajay’s deep eyes dims a little. “Kishori Amonkar was a jewel we lost,” he says with a sorry shake of his head before continuing, “I had met her a couple of times regarding the project and she was very appreciative of it. She even showed me the Sarod of Baba Allauddin Khan, during one of our meeting! We had almost finalised all the details, before fate intervened! The loss, I must say, is enormous and it makes my task all the more imperative,” asserts Ajay, who is full of praise for the Ministry of Culture and the Government. 

“I must say this is one Government which understands culture and has immense respect for it. After becoming a Member of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, I submitted my proposal to document the life and work of legendary achievers; and it didn’t take long for IGNCA to green-light my proposal. IGNCA is the body mostly involved in archiving the works and they were eager to have ‘The Great Masters’ Series, which will be in DVD format. We have decided to conduct the interviews of all the artists either in Hindi or English as these are the ‘universal languages’ in India and have done away with regional languages.

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and BJP Organising Secretary (Vidarbha), Shirkant Despande were very supportive and encouraging of my endeavour.They were instrumental in culmination of the project and it’s really heartening to see art and culture getting its rightful due,” enthuses Ajay about the project which has its fair share of challenges.

“If you look at all the artists in the list, one thing common is their advanced age. Lataji is 87 years-old, while Khayyamji is over 90 years of age, even Dr Prabha Atre is over 84-years-old. They are, in fact, living legends. We are in a race against time with this project. At this juncture, time is of paramount importance, anything anytime can happen, even when we are recording the interview. But thankfully, God has been kind and we have had a smooth run in all the interviews I have done till now. It’s not all that easy chronicling the work which has been left out. All the stars are aged and sometimes their memory fails them.

At times, it gets difficult to get them to recall incidents which took place over five-six decades ago around the time they began their career. For example, Khayyamji acted in a film in 1947, before he became a composer in 1948; you have to remind the masters of minute details, which they often miss while chronicling and talking about their lives. That one has to know more about the master’s life than the legends themselves know is a foregone conclusion, as these stars are quick to spot fakes! One has to know their lives inside-out to be able to speak to them, let alone get them to recall it,” rues Ajay, who finds the pains well compensated by the rich-treasure trove of information he gets in return.

“The masters are veterans and high-achievers, and when they journey back in time they get nostalgic and even sentimental reminiscing about the good old golden days. Khayyamji speaks highly of both Mangeshkar sisters. But at the same time he laments the fact that we don’t have singers of Lataji’s ilk now.” says the 50-year-old entrepreneur, adding in the same vein that Asha Bhonsale is a great singer not because she sang well, but because she kept the character in mind while singing. Citing the example of Rekha-starrer Umrao Jaan, he says, “When she had sung for Umrao Jaan, she sang them as Umrao Jaan and not as Asha Bhonsale.”

Chronicling and collecting songs is trait handed down to Ajay Deshpande by his late father, Justice Y G Despande, who was a musicologist and music historian in his own right. When Ajay discovered he shared a passion for collecting music, he found strong support from both his father and mother, Asha, who went out of their way to facilitate his new-found love. Ajay has been into collecting music since a very early age and has an entire website dedicated to his favourite artist, Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar.

“Since 1985, I’ve been collecting all old songs of Lataji. Barring 10 odd songs, I have with me over 2200 songs sung by her. Most of these songs were on gramophone records, which I got cleaned and stored properly, with much effort. Between 1947 to 1967, all the songs were recorded on 78RPM SP records (shellacs), 1968 onwards the songs were recorded on LPs (Long playing records), I’ve gone to nooks and corners of India, painstakingly collecting each song from kabadiwala across the country, veteran music lovers and even some private collectors. Except the 10 songs, I can proudly say I have almost all the songs sung by the ‘Nightingale of India’ and have little qualms in saying since I don’t have those songs, there is little chance that someone else will have them,” states Ajay and continues, “My wife, Saee, who is very sporting about sharing her time with the life-long passion of mine, suggested me to put up a website to share the musical treasure.

The website,  has information about all the songs of Lata Mangeshkar and even offers music lovers to hear the songs recorded before 1960.” With the musial meeting with the legendary songstress all but fixed, Ajay has a lot to look forward to.  His odyssey into the world of India’s greatest living legends is something that any art aficionado can only dream of. Ajay, on his part, is living his dream, and enjoying every bit of the musical journey.