Sunday, October 30, 2005

Interview with Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

The ‘charmer of the world’, that is what his name means. And, he remains true to his name; he mesmerises and enthrals the listeners with his music. That is Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt for you. The inventor of Mohan Veena (a modified version of Hawaiian guitar made to suit the rigours of Indian Classical music), Vishwa Mohan Bhatt left the city listeners spellbound with his music. The magical spontaneity of his instrumental music interspersed with his singing left the listeners speechless.

The concert was held in aid of Raksha, an institute taking caring of children with special needs. The maestro reached the institute the morning after the concert to inaugurate the newly built hostel facility for the students of Special Teachers’ training course conducted by the institute. Panditji (unperturbed by the raucous excitement all around him) sang for the children and also listened and appreciated the talent of few singers bred by the institute.

The musician and his instrument have become synonymous over the years, but the beginning of his attraction and fascination for the western instrument is not commonly known. Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt started his tutelage under his musician father with a traditional Sitar. Guitar came into his life when a German lady came to his father to learn music from him. The household had every kind of traditional instrument, so they decided to buy the guitar which the German lady was carrying. Being of an impressionable age Vishwa Mohan was fascinated and started playing instrument lap-style. It was similar to a Vichitra Veena or a Ghotu Vadiyam “I was attracted to this instrument and started playing it”, he explains. The modifications came later. “I thought of doing something new, and Mohan Veena took birth”, says the creator with diminutive pride.

Mohan Veena has almost 20 strings in the place of 6 strings found in a normal guitar.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt has time and again dabbled with fusion music, which has also brought him international recognition in the form of a Grammy Award in 1994 for his album ‘A Meeting by the River’ in collaboration with Ry Cooder. He feels that fusion music is just the utilisation of your music in a different dimension. Some orthodox people are against it because they feel it is a dilution of purity of our traditional music. It is a comparatively new concept and will take some time to be accepted. “I am against the dilution of purity when somebody is practising pure classical music”, he adds.

The subject of fusion music brings into focus the recent trend of ‘Musical Reality Shows’ on television. The maestro feels that the trend should be appreciated for it brings music into focus in true spirit. But on being probed further about the competitive streak propagated by these shows, which is against the tenets of Indian Classical music: he agrees that he dislikes the tendency to pit one singer against another and judges making bad remarks if a singer takes a false note and singer crying in front of all the people. “Music is the individual identity of a singer, just as your face is your identity, so judging who is better among two given singers is not good”, he says and adds that he used to like ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’ (telecast on Zee TV) for it projected the talents of individual singers, but in recent days it has taken the same path as others.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt has also lent talent to film music also. He has played for A. R. Rehaman in films like ‘Iruvar’, ‘Thiruda Thiruda’, ‘Sathiya’, ‘Lagaan’ and a few
others. His independent composition for Jug Mohan Mundra’s controversial film ‘Bavandar’ got rave reviews in the festival circuit.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is positive about the future of his invention. “I have been playing this instrument for the last 38 years and in my own humble way contributed towards music. Now my students from world over (including my son Salil) will carry it forward.


An edited version of this interview appeared in The Hindu

2 comments:

drsundeep said...

There's no doubt that Pt.Vishwa Mohan Bhat is a genius. I had the fortune to listen to him when he played in Dharwad in the Sitar Ratna Rahimat Khan's memorial concert. The experience was unforgettable and I get goose flesh even reminiscing about it. I had to literally pull myself out of my seat at the end of his performance.
I too feel that the current musical shows have become too competition oriented, which runs totally against the grain of Indian classical music.

Alexis Leon said...

Excellent interview. It must have been a terrific experience to talk to the great maestro. Congratulations. Take care...