Documentary. Filmed over two years in India and the USA, this film brings together archive footage spanning seven decades of Ravi Shankar's performing life.
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My very dear friends,
this is something that didn't happen to me before.
This is the first time that I am 80, and I'm very embarrassed at the same time.
I don't know whether to be happy or unhappy.
But this spiritual journey through music
is the only thing that I feel important in my life.
My earliest memory is going to the ghats in the evenings,
and spending hours there, you know.
Someone is to be with me to see that I don't go and jump in the Ganges or get lost!
The heart is such magic with the shehnai playing,
and all the temples,
and they're enacting the Ramayana or some other mythological story.
Everything is going on there - children are being born.
In the distance, you have the Burning Ghat.
You have the whole world there.
As much as I remember of my mother,
it's not a very happy memory that I have.
I felt she was so lonely
and she used to work very hard
to give education to my three elder brothers who were going to college and school.
Taking care of me all by herself.
And, automatically, I felt...
I won't say anger,
but sort of...a hostile feeling towards my father
because he was never there. Either he was in Calcutta practising law or he was in London.
The first time I saw him,
I was eight in Benares.
And he came hardly for two weeks -
much less, maybe -
and stayed in a hotel.
He looked so different.
He was very fair in colour and dressed immaculate Western dress.
To me, he seemed like a sahib.
He was coming back to India, actually.
He got a very good offer. He might have taken it and we were hoping he would.
But somehow, on the way, in London, he died.
My mother - she was my greatest friend, really.
At that time period of... until about ten or so.
She would tell me all the stories.
Not only fairy tales, but also historical stories.
She was in Rajasthan for many years.
She told me about all the wonderful kings, brave kings who fought against invasions.
Then she would tell me about the stars and the moon...
with whatever knowledge she had. It wasn't very scientific maybe,
but she knew all the names of the different ones.
Being born in a Brahman family
and being raised in Benares,
which has so much of a religious aura,
I was - without trying to know or be - a very religious person,
I was brought up in the atmosphere.
And especially...gods like Siva or Krishna...
I mean, to us...
they're like persons who are still there.
We talk about Krishna, write songs about him, sing about him...
He is there in every art form - dance or music...
and if you go to Mathura,
you will have that feeling that he is somewhere there talking, that you know...Krishna was here.
And that's what it has been with me - this very nearness feeling to Krishna.
Anything I saw, like silent films, and later on, talkies, and theatre,
whatever, you know...
I used to enact it in front of a mirror.
Sometimes be the hero and the villain, or the villain...or heroine also...
When I started performing, I was already a dancer as well as a musician.
Dance has always fascinated me.
My school days in Benares came to an end when I was nine.
And my brother, Uday -
we called him Dada -
took me into his dance troupe.
What happened - he had a partner who was French.
Her name was Simone Barbier
She was a pianist. Beautiful pianist.
He was in love with her. He taught her dancing. She left piano.
A name was given - Simkie.
We can imagine 1932...
He was such a wonderful dancer,
and he was just...not sexy, but he was beautiful!
It was too much for me from Benares to Bombay -
Bombay was something which I couldn't believe. I would get fever all the time with the excitement.
And from there, on the boat...
SS Ganges. I still remember the boat.
coming to Brindisi, and from there by train to Venice.
The San Marco's Place with all the pigeons.
And then the train journey.
And it was very cold and I had never experienced such cold weather.
Everything was so exciting.
And finally, Paris -
art centre of the world.
Segovia lived a few houses away from us. He used to come sometimes. I used to sit on his lap.
And he loved Indian music.
He played for us one or two days.
So I was so fortunate in hearing the best of classical music,
whether Jascha Heifetz or Kreisler, or going to Toscanini's conducting,
or Paderewski's piano.
Chaliapin singing basso with chandeliers shaking almost.
So that one side,
then all the French accordion music...
Georges Milton, at that time, was very famous...
HE SINGS IN FRENCH
Then I had a lot of discs.
The song I remember so well...
# I love you so much Why don't you feel it?
# I love you so much
# Why don't you feel it?
# I love you so much
# My eyes reveal it
# It's a wonder you don't feel it
# It's a wonder you don't feel it
# I love you so much... #
It goes on like that. And I used to love that - I'd play it again and again and again!
BIG BAND MUSIC
Going to America with the group in those days...
there were a lot of people who were rather doubtful whether we would have success,
but because of Dada's charisma and the well-presented show in the American way of publicity...
and the best theatre in Broadway.
What a success! For five, six years, we were on top of the world.
It came..."God On The Stage!"
The Sunday Times... The New York Times...
superstar in those days.
We never had a superstar like that. Not just in your own city or own country, but world over.
When we went to Hollywood...
he was mad for the cinema stars.
Jean Harlow...! He went straight and got their autographs.
-Jean Harlow. I was in love with her!
Marie Dressler used to be the old actress.
She wanted to adopt me!
She was so much in love with me... I was 13½, going 14.
Marie Dressler wanted to...
We were at her home, big party - Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo - they were all there.
And when she proposed that,
my brother... I saw them discussing something and my brother was there saying no.
And he called the other brother. They all said no.
And I was so angry...! I was crying. I said, "I want to be adopted by her!
"I want to stay in Hollywood!
"I want to become a film star!"
And they wouldn't let me. What a sad thing!
I loved dancing and I think I would have been a good dancer.
I was 15, 16 when I composed a piece myself,
completely choreographed it - a solo dance.
I used a lot of footwork
which in those days was very much associated with erotic type of words
and dancing girls, you know.
But Baba - that is my guru...
He was always giving me a little...
"This is not the way...
"This is not the life to learn seriously.
"You are like a butterfly.
"You do this, you do that, you run around girls...
"I mean, you are not serious in anything.
"And you have so much talent,
"and I will teach you... I would LOVE to teach you...
"but only if you leave everything and come to me. I'll teach you."
This went directly in my head and stayed there.
It was haunting me. And I was having much more fun all around.
I was going through such turmoil in my mind,
and gradually, I decided that, "No, I'll have to work and learn from him."
The way... I was attracted to him as...
I mean, I had only seen Pablo Casals or Kreisler at that stage...
I never had any idea of Indian musicians. He was the first one.
He was, to me, like a Himalaya.
Taking a guru was the biggest decision of my life.
It demanded absolute surrender -
years of fanatic dedication and discipline.
I stayed with Baba more than seven years.
He was a tyrant, absolutely,
and I was always frightened of him.
Now I thank God for bringing me to Baba.
What he gave me is all my life.
'The grand old man of Indian music,
'Allaudin remains the uncrowned king of my heart,
'a versatile musician
'playing practically ALL instruments.
'Under the stern discipline of the master,
'his children and his pupils became the famous musicians they are today.'
Those years in Maihar with Baba were so wonderful,
along with his son Ali Akbar
and his daughter Annapurna whom I married in 1941,
and we had a son Shubho.
It was difficult for me, you can imagine,
after years of good living in five-star hotels
and all the pleasure and fun in life,
and I was 18.
So to be, all of a sudden in a place like that,
where there's nothing, nothing.
There was no cinema, no entertainment,
nothing that you could waste your time.
I had just a room to myself, next house to Baba's,
an ordinary bed made of coconut coir, I think - very thin, you know.
But the fact that I had tremendous fire in me,
I went through all that.
He was continuously saying things
relating to music and religion at the same time.
And he used to say all the time that music is not for entertainment.
It's not to make money.
We HAVE to do it, we have to live,
but it is not meant for that. It is meant for worshipping.
Singers have an advantage because they can sing beautiful songs
composed on Siva or Krishna or Devi...
..but we...don't have that advantage.
It's just mere sound...only,
but to create that, you had to go within and think of...and train yourself,
and that only can come with a lot of humility.
If you have ego, you are saying, "Look what I can do - the speed and this,"
and playing for...you know, continuous praising from the public.
That is a different music. That's for entertainment.
As they say in the West, playing for the gallery.
But what I'm talking about is something else.
It's more the introvert.
You don't know what you are doing yourself.
You're not planning to go to the next note. It flows.
The raga and you become one.
It is a state of mind which is unbelievable.
It's so beautiful.
It's an ecstasy that cannot be explained.
Often, tears come to my eyes or...
It is a beautiful pain,
which makes you so sad,
but that sadness has such beauty in it,
it's also like a happiness at the same time, you know?
And that truly, I think,
is the real spirit of music.
He had finished the film. He showed me the rushes.
The moment I saw the rushes, which were very rough,
I knew it was a great film.
Nothing like that has been made in India before.
He was very dejected
because all his finance was finished.
He didn't know how to bring it out.
When I saw it, I said immediately that I had a tune, like a theme music.
HE SINGS A MELODY
MUSIC PLAYS ON FILM
This came to me like this...
and I sang to him and he was overjoyed,
and that's why it became the theme music which flowed with different things.
I played the sitar also. And there are a lot of different sequences,
but with few instruments. I did it in hardly eight hours - looking at the film,
stopping, timing it and then, the second time, just doing it with a few musicians,
making them write some pieces,
and it turned out to be so fantastic.
MUSIC DROWNS SPEECH
It was in that period that I met a few diplomats in Delhi -
you know, the Belgian, the French, and the other embassies -
and some of them were very interested in music.
They came to my concert and they were very impressed.
But at that time,
unfortunately all our musicians - almost every one of them barring a few here and there -
they had no proper education in English,
and they couldn't explain,
so I, with my childhood experience and all that,
I had a great advantage.
COMMENTARY IN RUSSIAN
That was their cultural delegation
which Pandit Nehru sent in '54
in Eastern Europe.
We played all over Soviet Russia.
We had Bolshoi Theatre and Kremlin Theatre
but I had the major section,
almost playing 20 minutes.
I took the whole responsibility on myself, you know,
concerning Indian music and the West...
because I had felt that I could do it.
All the encouragement that I had from the group in Delhi
who told me to go out and tell them about Indian music
made me go, go, go and not stop.
We've invited one of India's foremost musicians, Ravi Shankar,
to discuss the music of his country, to play it for us, and to explain its characteristics.
The raga is very hard to explain to the Western listener
because it is neither a scale nor a mood as many people think,
though it was based on both.
Like the major and the minor, we have 72 parent scales, as it is known, which is known as mela...
'They didn't have any idea
'that Indian music is as classical as you can think of Western music being classical.'
And then of course, a raga is not a written-down thing.
First, I have to tell them ours is not written-down, it's an oral tradition,
so a raga is just a cluster of notes
where you give life to the raga, which you learn from the guru, of course - breathe life into it.
Then the use of microtones... Little... Sometimes microtones are not used directly,
but with little...
HE SINGS WITH SUBTLE VARIATIONS IN NOTES
We never use staccato.
HE SINGS SEPARATE NOTES
This is not Indian music.
It's always rounded. It's not cornered, you know?
That is a very important thing.
And then give feeling to it.
I was lucky also being the first person there, and the right people being there.
Yehudi Menuhin was the greatest name that I can think of in the classical world.
-I'll do this...
-Yes, the ta-da-ra-dun.
He got so much interested in it.
That was a unique quality in him -
his love and respect for other art forms, other cultures, other religions.
We have to remember that this was the time that Ravi should meet people like Leary and Burroughs
and Ginsberg and all these people that were the arbiters of a new kind of culture.
The point was that there was a cultural shift.
It was like a sea change. It was a profound change
in the way Western culture saw itself in relationship to the world,
in relationship to its own history,
and also in terms of its own responsibilities.
Ravi was somehow... When that door opened,
he was already there.
SITAR MUSIC PLAYS
Everything was happening together,
and they were giving all these mantras to the young people.
"Take hashish, take LSD, take this.
"This is how you can meet God. In India, everyone does it,"
and that's not true at THAT time.
They created Haight Ashbury,
and the whole works - Kamasutra, Tantra, Tibetan Hole In The Head, Siddharta -
these were only the few things they read,
and they were thinking they knew everything.
You know, playing guitar... for hours, stoned.
"What are you doing?" "I'm discovering new music,
"writing stupid lines, my own thing. Painting, just like that."
But, on the other hand, I liked them
because, at that period, that innocence was there.
THEY SING ALONG WITH MUSIC
-Now, once more. "Jai jai Guru Deva...?"
"..Jai Sri Guru Deva Jai jai Guru Deva."
It is in praise of the guru.
'And then I met them for the first time, the Beatles. And, believe me, I had no idea who they were...
'I'd vaguely heard they were very popular.'
It was George who really attracted me, in the sense that he was so...
interested in Indian music, philosophy...
He had come to a few of my concerts, heard me in the Royal Festival Hall and different places,
and he had all my records, and he had been so much interested in sitar.
I told him very frankly
that it's not like guitar - that if you have a lot of talent, you just learn a few chords
and, if you have enough talent, you can go on your own, write your songs - which is fantastic -
but it's like classical guitar or anything like violin or cello,
you have to give many years and many hours to work hard on it.
HE SINGS THE INSTRUMENTAL PHRASING
'He did develop a lot, musically, by listening all the time to the chords, by thinking about it,
'and as much as I could give him through talking to him about music.
'And he has become one of the dearest persons in my life
'and I really love him like my son.'
And he considers me as a father. But we are at the same time great friends. A lot of fun!
TABLA JOINS IN
I was discovered, you know, by the young generation...all over the world...and became a superstar.
It was strange!
If I were young, younger than I was - because I was already 47, 48 -
I'm sure I would have lost my mind.
But having worked...
All the ten years in Europe had created a wonderful audience for our music.
That was very helpful for me to keep my head straight.
I mean, the first one was all right, Monterey -
in spite of drugs, which I was always talking against, and protesting -
but I saw how quickly it was going on changing...
And with the experience I had in Woodstock, I knew that this... this is not going to work.
MEDITATIONAL CHANT BEGINS
Sometimes it worries me, this "globalisation", as they call it, Americanisation, whatever,
and I feel it might harm the classical or the traditional part.
But...as long as there are artists, still,
who can really touch the heart, the soul of people through the traditional music,
I think it will live.
Ah...no... Because that sound is...
PLAYER COPIES PHRASING
THEY REPEAT IT
"Dah..." THEN, you can. OK?
HE SINGS LYRIC
PLAYER REPEATS MELODY
HE SINGS NEXT LINE
PLAYERS REPEAT IT
WOMAN: His disciples are REALLY like his children to him.
He just dotes on them, he loves them all so much.
They really give him the respect of a guru. But at the same time they just love him like a father.
They eat with him every day when they live with us,
and talk about all kinds of things, personal problems, musical problems. He's very close to his students.
'Being my teacher AND my father was a lot tougher for him than it was for me,
because he's the one who's USED to having many, many students and having them be a certain way with him.
And this relationship where there's so much respect from the student
that he can almost command them to practise all night, or sit for eight hours. And then I come along.
I was eight or nine. He really had to tailor the way he taught me. He COULDN'T get angry. I'd start crying.
So HE had a tough time with that. And then we worked on it together.
For me, it's just beautiful. I've got a father and teacher in one. And that's made me a lot closer to him.
'It's a pity that I didn't start with her SERIOUSLY when she was younger.
'I think it would have been a different story if we lived in India. But being in California...
'It is a life that...'
'She's along with all her friends, and they are into everything.'
Listening to all sorts of music, seeing films, this, that, TV... There's so much of distraction.
But in spite of all that, she has this versatile mind,
and anything that she wants to do, she can do it.
You know - she changes like a chameleon into different atmospheres
with different dress, different people...
She's a fantastic person.
Well, we had to do something for him, for all that he has given us.
And that's how it all started.
We needed a place to put all his things, all his works...
'My idea for the centre is basically research as well as an archive.
'I do want to help maybe a few students,
'but it will be training in the best thing of the old gurukul system.'
This is the main dining room for all of us.
This is Sukanya's area.
To keep ALL the saris he has bought for me. Never-ending!
This is the... Next-door is a college, a ladies' college, girls' college.
-So you know he'll be standing here!
-Their playground's really beautiful.
This will all... Flowerpots. Flowerpots here.
And this, you can have a fantastic view from here.
I would like to watch a show from here.
And this is MY terrace, to keep an eye on him when he's watching the girls! Ri-ight across.
And this is our piece de resistance, the music room.
And that will be the stage, a small platform area for performance,
people sitting on the floor.
Maybe on the sides, special guests or people with bad legs might have some chairs...all around.
I mean, I wish we had started it at least 10, 15 years earlier!
But with this lady there, I have full faith that, yes, it's going to be done.
It's very much your thing, isn't it?
-Anybody would have done it...
You are special.
ALAP OF RAGA BEGINS
ANOUSHKA: His health is definitely not the way it was ten years ago. And I wonder how he does it.
He goes into the hospital and will have an angioplasty, then he'll come out and do a show two weeks later.
My mother and I will always be like, "You don't have to do a show. Cancel it." But he won't. He HAS to play.
I'm convinced that performing for people and playing his music is what keeps him alive.
As far as improvisation and ideas...
I mean, I never had it before like this.
It is such a joy and ecstasy.
It is like I'm being sent ideas after ideas.
It comes like a sea wave.
And it is so spontaneous that I'm wondering MYSELF, "Oh, how beautiful it is. I wish I can remember it."
But by that time it's gone and something else is happening.
Subtitles by Subtitling Unit BBC Broadcast - 2002
E-mail us at [email protected]
Filmed over two years in India and the USA, Mark Kidel's award-winning documentary brings together archive footage spanning seven decades of Ravi Shankar's performing life, and provides a definitive account of the late sitar maestro's unique musical career.