To SJ fans,
Photo contributed by Anil Anawalikar ji
Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah, want to introduce to you a strange name, name of a legend, a real person, relevance to the forum ? will unfold as you proceed to read. There has always been a talk about pressures of distributors to replace Anil Biswas and maybe Naushad with Shanker-Jaikishan for the music of Basant Bahar. I am in total and complete disagreement with this. Reasons are much stronger, powerful and different. Also I might add justifiable. Please read on. Time period, approximately 1750s, place, Chitradurga in the present day Karnataka about 200 km north of Bangalore. To give a sense of perspective of time, Bangalore at that time was a small insignificant town called Bendakaalooru; whereas, Chitradurga was a flourishing economy and civilization. Kingdom was ruled by king Madakari Nayaka, who in a prosperous kingdom encouraged arts giving importance to music. At this time a teenager named Venkata Subbiah, a citizen who lived here, was suddenly struck with a passion to learn music, this he pursued with total dedication and devotion. This was followed by an immense surge in him into an absolute liking of Raag/Raaga Bhairavi. His love of Bhairavi became unstoppable, complete and total. All through the day and night his only goal in life was to learn different aspects of Bhairavi, this takes him to an eccentric but extremely talented guru who gave him a very hard time initially for several years, who, finally yielded to the dedication and persuasion of Venkata Subbiah.“Clarification: Venkatasubbaiah was the son of an astrologer (Jyotish) who was part of the Royal Court of Chitradurga. He was an introvert and would live life day dreaming, with no interest in any activities other than music. Later on, his uncle (mama) finds out that he is more inclined and interested towards music and persuades Venkatasubbaiah’s father, who reluctantly agrees to let him learn music. Venkatasubbaiah begins his tutelage under a musician called Thirumalaiah who was pompous with self pride and would always deride other musicians in private. During one ocassion after the students and teacher are returing after attending a concert, the teacher derides the musician for not performing Kalyani raag properly. Venkatasubbaiah differs with the teacher and the teacher takes this as a challenge from the disciple and exchange of words leads the student and teacher to challenge each other to perform this raga. The teacher silently leaves the hall in which the duel is held after removing all his adornments that he had obtained as a musician when Venkatasubbaiah is performing acknowledging defeat. The next day, the teacher’s body is found floating in the lake. After this incident, Venkatasubbaiah finds it difficult to continue with his learning of music as all the musicians in Chitradurga refuse to accept a “Gurudrohi”/ “a person who caused the death of his teacher” as a student. This puts him into a depression during which once again the mama who advises Venkatasubbaih not to accept any person as his teacher and only learn under somebody about whom he is convinced. During this time, when he has almost given up hope, Venkatasubbaiah hears a beggar singing in the night and is really impressed by the singing. He follows him for many days requesting him to the accept as a disciple, with the beggar trying to avoid him initially and then trying to humiliate him. Finally when the beggar abandons the follower in the middle of the night in a strange place, Venkatasubbaiah starts crying out from the bottom of his heart and this crying out comes out so well musically that the beggar is also moved and finally accepts him as a disciple. The beggar in fact was a famous singer, Sadananda Bua, who has fallen on bad days. His wife had left him for another man and he developed an aversion to the whole mankind and always felt that everybody in the world is a betrayer. That was the reason that he avoids Venkatasubbaiah” Taught him all the aspects of music as well as Bhairavi raaga resulting in Venkata Subbiah being the master of music as well as of Bhairavi raaga. Name and fame came to him naturally and with his exponents of Bhairavi, he was called as Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah, a real name. He then proceeded to become the official court singer for the Aasthana/King for many years and was appointed by king Madakari Nayaka.“Clarification : Venkatasubbaiah on his return after a few years, finds that his father has expired in the meantime. On becoming the official court singer, Venkatasubbaiah also develops self pride and would accept to perform at concerts only when people paid him a lot of money and also pandered to his aggrandoisement. Thus the normal people were most of the time deprived of hearing his music due to his self pride. One incident happens during this stage, which alters Venkatasubbaiah’s life. A religious person on a visit to Chitradurga hears about the fame of Venkatasubbaiah and sends a request for him to sing for God that the sadhu was propitating. However, Venkatasubbaiah in his arrogance, replies saying that he is willing to sing if he is paid his minimum fee. The sadhu decides to teach Venkatasubbaiah a lesson. He sends one of his disciples to the concert in which Venkatasubbaiah was performing the next day. The disciple approaches Venkatasubbaiah with a request to let him accompany on the percussion. Venkatasubbaiah, initially refuses, but the disciple makes a appeal in public to him. Venkatasubbaiah is in a fix because if he refuses the request, it would mean that he is frightened of having a novice perform with him, but if he accepts the request, it would mean performing with somebody about whose capabilities he was not sure. Based on the mood of the public and the persusasion of the disciple, he accepts his request ot accompany him. During the concert, surprisingly, Venkatasubbaiah misses the “taal” a couple of times and the disciple ridicules him in public saying that such a popular and famous musician should not make such rudimentary mistake while performing. This incident leads Venkatasubbaiah to swallow his pride and also reminds him of the day he himself as a student had defeated his Guru Thirumalaiah in a duel. The sadhu also appears and advises him to give up his pride and share his singing with all the people. From that day onwards, the doors of Venkatasubbaiah were open ot all and he would accept any invitation to sing anywhere without any preconditions.” An incident happens whereby he comes to the Devi Temple in Chitradurga where he starts to sing a Bhajan, when at the end of it, real hair grows on the idol Devi at the temple, a miracle. At this time he takes an oath that he will sing only at the Devi’s temple, nowhere else, and one had to go to the temple if desires listening to him.“Clarification: This incident is to save the temple priest who commits a mistake of offering the flowers adorned by a lady to the King and tries to defend it by saying that the hair is from God himself. In the meantime, Venkatasubbaiah for the most beautiful prostitute in Chitradurga, Neela Sai. In order to meet her, he takes a loan of one thousand gold coins by placing raag of Bhairavi and one more raga to the pawn broker. After meeting her, both fall in love and start living together. Venkatasubbaiah’s mama also visits them once with a view to wean away Venkatasubbaiah, but leaves without saying anything when he finds that both of them are made for each other and leading a happy life. In the meantime, Venkatasubbaiah’s mama learns of the pawning of raag by Venkatasubbaiah. He then comes to meet Neela Sai and implores her to advise Venkatasubbaiah to start with his singing again and not mislead him from his ultimate ambition of becoming a fine musician. Neela Sai admonishes Venkatasubbaiah for pawning raag for her sake and implores him to take up singing back again. She feels that she is is becoming an impediment in the progress of Venkatasubbaiah and gives up her life in order to enable him to continue with his goal in life. Venkatasubbaiah falls into depression again and starts singing again after a period of time. He used to go into deep contemplation in the rendition of music many times and it was on one such ocassion that he gets the grace of Mata Saraswati herself and discovers Bhairavi. It was rumoured that after this incident whenever he sang Bhairavi raag, it was as if the Goddess herself were singing through him. Not only, he used to get lost in divinity while rendering Bhairavi, but he also transported all the listeners to divinity. It was due to this, that he earned the title of Bhairavi Venkatasubbaiah.” Years go by, the kingdom comes under the rule of Tippu Sultan, then the king from Shrirangapattana near Mysore. Tippu Sultan visits Chitradurga often, becomes, fond of Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah”s singing. In course of time Sultan’s wife,The Begum, comes to know about this and develops an interest towards listening to his singing and gradually it becomes a very strong desire. She expresses this to the Sultan. This results in a major dilemma for the Sultan. He knew that Bhiaravi would not sing anywhere except other than at the Devi’s temple and at the same time as was customary of that time period Begum was unable to go out of the palace. Pressure mounts on the Sultan as her desire overcomes her other interests and she becomes obsessed with the the thought of listening to a performance. Unable to no longer keep her from fulfilling her ambition,The Sultan summons Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah, to whom he had such high respect, with lot of delicacy, presents his request again to the singer. Without going into the details, I will say this, that a little misunderstanding happens, which was not meant to be in the situation and leads to greater misunderstanding. That night, like no other night in in the history of Chitradurga an event occurs. The description of the event is electrifying and chilling. Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah sits in front of the Devi in the temple and starts singing like he had never done before, with so much of passion and virtuosity. Most of the compositions were Bhairavi based. News spreads that he was singing non stop all through the night. As time goes by the entire population of Chitradurga is sitting there at the temple. Unknown to many, also included among them was the Sultan in disguise who was drawn to the temple to quench his thirst for Bhairavi’s deliverance. After hours of captivating music a loud scream ensues, stuns and shocks everyone when they find music had stopped and Bhairavi had cut his tongue……. Tippu Sultan is found expressing regrets… And this, my friends, is the Swan song of all the Swan songs. This is a historic Kannada (language of Karnataka state ) novel “Hamsa Geethe” (meaning Swan Song) based upon which Basant Bahar was made. This was written by “Tarasu”, real name T.R. Subba Rao with extensive research of the history. An eminent and powerful Kannada writer, many of his writings are based on the history of Chitradurga and many are made into famous Kannada movies which are known for commercial as well as artistic success. Gopal portrayed by Bharath Bhooshan is Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah, Manmohan Krishna is the eccentric guru, actor Chanrashekhar is Madakari Nayaka, incidentally he did the same with kannada version of the film. If Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah wanted anyone to give music to his film he would have picked the masters of Bhairavi, exponents of Bhairavi in Hindi film music. As it happens Shanker and Jaikishan are THE best known exponents of Bhairavi in Hindi Film music. There goes my reason of DESTINY that has happened, a reason that is more than a century old. Certainly it did not happen because of the plea of distributors. Or were they puppets of destiny ? At this point I can only say that the music of Basant Bahar does an absolute justice to Shri Bhairavi Venkata Subbiah, I am positive he would have expressed this himself. …….chandra shekar. PS I have clarifications and footnotes that will follow but as an SJ fan you have to see the film to understand what I have written, if you have not, please consider..
As indicated by Chandrasekar, this movie was based on the historical novel Hamsa Geethe by Ta Ra Su in Kannada. A movie of the same name was made by well known film maker GV Iyer in Kannada language. I remember this movie well for a few reasons – one of the main ones being that this movie drew the attention of one of my aunt who was eager to watch this movie during her visit to Bangalore in my childhood days. Later on, in the early 80’s, when Bangalore Doordarshan Kendra was established and inagurated, this movie was telecast during the inagural telecast. Further down the years, I had in my posession a cassette of this Kannada movie, which had some carnatic classical pieces as well as some of the Ashtapadis of Jayadeva which were a pleasure to listen. The credits for the music for the kannada film were shared between the classical carnatic vocalist M. Balamuralikrishna and the well know Kannada film musician TG Lingappa. However, M. Balamuralikrishna won the National Award for the music of this film.
I got the opportunity of purchasing and viewing Basant Bahar a few months after our discussions and found the movie quite enjoyable. However, I still wanted to view the Kannada movie also and finally managed to get a VCD of the Kannada movie. However, I found a few differences between the two versions and really wanted to know what was the original story. Last month on a short trip to India, I purchased the original Kannada novel Hamsa Geethe. This was the first time that I was reading a novel or an entire book in Kannada language and I would say that the original story is much more moving. Of course film is a medium which is powerful, but with the limitation of time they cannot do 100% justice to the story and present us only a summary. As fate would have it, even though I own the VCD of Basant Bahar, I have not been able to lay my hands on the same and have not been able to see it again before writing. So I am writing mostly from memory and on viewing the songs on Youtube. If there are any errors, the group members may please point it out so that it can be corrected.
Following is the summary of the story of Basant Bahar.
The film starts out with an excellent chorus song “Gao ri basant bahar” as the title music. As indicated in the list of songs, this is a traditional song. The composition with all the classical instruments playing is a promise of the treat of classical fare that is going to be provided by Shankar Jaikishan in the movie.
The story is about a son not following in the footsteps of his father. Gopal (Bharat Bhushan) is the son of the Raj Jyotshi (Om Prakash) of a kingdom of Chitradurg. The role of the king is played by the actor Chandrashekar. Gopal’s father had always sought to have his son follow in his footsteps. Instead, Gopal does not have any interest in Astrology/Jyotish and develops an interest in music. Even his teacher appreciates Gopal more than his own son Mallaiah. There are some nice classical vocal pieces that are shown as a part of the learning of music by Gopal from the music teacher. He also falls in love with Gopi (Nimmi), the daughter of famous singer/dancer Neela Sani; both of these facts do not go down well with his father. However, Gopal continues on his path of learning music, until one day a rival tampers with his voice on the day of an upcoming performance in front of the King. Gopal is not able to perform and Mallaiah is able to win the grace of the King. Gopal is disheartened by this and the only person who tries to keep up his spirits is Gopi. She sings “Main Piya Teri” to the nice flute interludes played by Gopal. These flute interludes were actually played by the famous Pannalal Ghosh. Later on, he regains his voice by the grace of God. Gopi is singing “Nain mile chain kahan” when Gopal enters the scene with an alaap followed by the lines “chup chup rehake lutaya dil tujh pe” on hearing which Gopi becomes very happy that her Gopal has regained his voice. The lovers spend a pleasant time. There is a scene in which Gopal and Gopi are in the forest and they hear the cuckoo singing. On hearing the cuckoo, Gopal tells Gopi that one can make a wish to the cuckoo and if the cuckoo answers, then it means that the wish is fulfilled. Gopal makes his wish (of becoming a famous singer/musician) to which the cuckoo answers in the affirmative. Gopi makes her wish ( of having a long/happy life with Gopal) but the cuckoo does not give any answer. Maybe this is a foreboding of the trials and tribulations that both have to undergo in their love. Gopi, who is being reared by a courtesan, wants to leave the place and get married to Gopal. Both of them plan a tryst wherein they plan to get married.
There is a turn of events that estranges Gopal from Gopi instead of getting married to her. He goes in search of a beggar, Lehari Baba (Manmohan Krishna) in the middle of a stormy night, instead to pursue his learning of music. Manmohan Krishna is singing “Badi Dher bhayee, kab loge khabar more ram”. The use of the bells in the song is quite enchanting. Mohd Rafi renders this song in his own inimitable way reaching a crescendo at the end of the antara. Lehari Baba was a big musician, but has been betrayed for the sake of money and is angry at the world and wants to end his life. The betrayal that Lehari Baba feels is brought out very well in the lyrics of this song. During this song, Gopal moved by the music tries to trace the singer, whereas Gopi is waiting for Gopal, trying to safeguard the lamp in the storm (the lamp symbolising the love which can never be extinguished). The beggar tries to avoid Gopal, but Gopal keeps pursuing him. In order not to lose Lehari Baba while sleeping, Gopal ties a rope to the leg of the beggar before going to sleep so that Lehari Baba cannot run away. Lehari Baba anyway removes the rope and walks away from Gopal in the middle of the night. Gopal wakes up and finds Lehari Baba gone and is distraught. He does now know what to do and starts singing “Sur na saje, kya gaoon main, sur ke bina jivan soona soona”. This shows how Shailendra understood the situation of the singer and has written apt lyrics for the situation. “Dono jahan mujhse roote, tere bina yeh geet bhi jhoote” sings Gopal signifying that both his love Gopi and his hope Lehari Baba have deserted him. In another antara he sings, “Is raat ka na hoga savera” Gopal finally sings “Sangeet man ko pankh lagaye, geeton ke rimjhim ras barsaye, Swar ki sadhana parameshwar ki” showing that getting immersed in music itself could lead to salvation/mukti. This aspect of music leading to salvation has been demonstrated in our history by various great personalities like Sant Kabir, Tulsidas, Tansen, Baiju Bawra, Purandaradasa, Kanakadasa, Thyagaraja, Bhadrachalam Ramadas, etc Lehari Baba is moved by the singing of Gopal and agrees to accept him as his disciple. Not only Lehari Baba, but we the listeners are also moved whenever we hear this song sung by Mannadey. He then teaches Gopal the aspects of music. As Lehari Baba’s end approaches, he tells Gopal of his past story wherein he was a big musician, but was betrayed by a lady, Neela Sani with whom he was infatuated. Neela Sani milked Lehari Baba of all his earnings and later on takes away his own daughter. He requests Gopal to trace out and marry his daughter. With this promise from the student, Lehari Baba breathes his last.
Gopal comes back and wins the favor of the King by walking into a music competition wherein his old rival Mallaiah is singing (voice of Bhimsen Joshi) the song “Ketaki Gulab Juhi Champak”. There are some very nice taans (i hope it is the right word) by Bhimsen Joshi in this classical rendition. Gopal (voice of Mannadey) enters the palace with a nice alaap. He sings further and this song also ends with nice taan exchange between the singers with a final long taan/alaap by Gopal. Gopal’s singing is appreciated as better than Mallaiah by the King and becomes a royal musician in the court. Much has been mentioned by Mannadey himself about this song, wherein he was initially feeling frightened to perform with Bhimsen Joshi, but practised hard to match the classical maestro. This is also one of the few songs sung by real classical musicians in hindi movies.
In the meantime, the priest of the temple is questioned with suspicion by the King as he recives flowers which contain human hair. The priest in his frightened state states that the hair is from God himself and tries to block the King from going inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple to verify this. Gopal starts singing with an alaap the song “Bhay bhanjana vandana sun humari,daras tere mange yeh tera poojari” in the temple. This song is also another tribute to Nadopasana, ie Nada or the practise of music as an Upasana to obtain salvation. Gopal sings “Geeton ke phoolon ki mala banakar, laya hoon dil aarti main sajakar, yeh saanson ki sargam, karoon tere arpan”. The priest is happy with this interruption by Gopal. There is a pause before Gopal enters the sanctum sanctorum and falls at the feet of the God and starts the final antara which reaches crescendo with the words “Jagan talak main palak padharoon, ek jhalak dikhlaja. Mukh pe taras kar ek pal hat jyoti daar barsaja”. The lamps in the temple light themselves up now. Now Gopal continues with “Meri laaj tere haathon pe” and then ends with an alaap, wherein the idol of Shivji starts growing hair. The king and Gopal’s rival Malaiah, who are watching this are flabbergasted.
Gopal tries to meet Gopi again, but to meet the demand of the house of the courteasan, takes a loan of the money required by pawning his favourite raag to meet her. In the meantime, Gopi who was earlier ditched by Gopal, wants to teach him a lesson and spurns him. Gopi on the tanpura with Kum Kum her companion dancing both go about the song “Kar gaya re mujhpe jadoo”. One of the antaras of this song ends with the words “Vaada kar ke mukhar gaya” and in another anatara, they taunt him with “Patthar ke murat ko darshan kara doon”. In the final antara, Gopi sings “Balam yeh sab hai tumhare hi karan”. Kumkum adds to it “mehfil main naache tumhari poojaran” showing that the sorry state of dancing as a courtesan is the result of the betrayal by Gopal. With this spurning by Gopi, Gopal is dejected, however his rival Malaiah who is also present there is quite happy at the turn of events.
In the meantime, Gopi learns of the fact that Gopal has pawned his sangeet and is desperate to help him. The King influence by Malaiah, who speaks highly of Gopi, wants her to perform for his pleasure. However, Kum Kum perform for the King and his companions including Malaiah the song “Ja ja re ja balamwa” which is a song teasing the balam of spending the night with souten and trying to make false pretence. Gopi who had initially spurned such offers by Malaiah and the King, makes a condition of getting the money to redeem the raag/sangeet pawned by Gopal. The king agrees to pay her the money. After receiving the money, Gopi redeems the raag/sangeet pawned by Gopal and asks him to resume his singing, but at the same time gives up her eyes.
Tippu Sultan conquers Chitradurg and has heard of the fame of Gopal. His begum also requests to hear him singing. Tipu requests Gopal to perform for the Begum in his palace, but Gopal refuses. Tipu gives an ultimatum and gives him a day’s time to reconsider his decision. Gopal gives a moving performance at the temple of the Shivji, the same night singing the song “Duniya na bhaye mohe ab to bulale charnon main, tere charnon main”. I beleive that this song is in the raag Basant Bahar itself. Of course all the songs in the movies are based on classical raags, but I am not a trained or learned in Hindustani music to identify the raags. It is a moving performance, where the whole town is supposed to be in attendance at he temple to hear the singer including Tippu Sultan who is in disguise hearing and enjoying the music. Gopal sings “Dil ke yeh tukde kaise bhej doon duniya ke bazaar main” in one of the antaras concluding with “Man ke yeh moti, rakhiyo tu sambhale charnon main”. In another antara, Gopal goes on to mention “Saat suron ke saathon saagar, man ki umangon se jaage. Tu hi bata main kaise gaaoon behari duniya ke aage. Tere yeh beena ab tere hawale, charnon main” indicating that this is going to be his last song. In the meantime, Gopi, who is blind crawls to the temple to be with Gopal. Gopal sings in the final antara to her “Maine tujhe koi sukh na diya, tune daya lutaye donon haathon se. Tere pyar ki yaad jo aaye, dard chalak jaye aankhon se. Jeena nahin aaye mohe ab to chupale charnon main” At the end of the performance of this song, Gopal falls at the feet of the deity and the crowd starts singing with him. The King who is now a underling of Tippu Sultan comes to the temple and makes a sign ot the guards to capture Gopal, but is stopped by Tippu Sultan who is also in the crowd. It is then that the priest comes out of the sanctum sanctorum and informes that Gopal has given up his own tongue.
As mentioned by Chandrasekar, this my dear friends is the final swan song (Hamsa Geethe) by our hero Gopal in the film Basant Bahar.
Basant Bahar was a home production of Bharat Bhooshan who wanted to recreate the success of the superhit Baiju Bawra. The original idea was to sign Anil Biswas for the music, but by then Shankar Jaikishan who had set a trail blazing record of successful and popular music were preferred by the distributors as they were more saleable. There were many skeptics who did not feel that Shankar Jaikishan could deliver results for this subject as it was based entirely on classical music and SJ though had delivered popular music in many films, had no track record of a classical score till then. However, SJ came up with a such a purely classical score that all critics were silenced. Of course if one makes a comparison with Baiju Bawra, the music of this film did not could not achieve the same heights, but the music was still quite popular. I understand that the film also did quite well in the box office. IIRC, Shankar also mentioned in one of the interviews that many people were skeptical about SJ giving score for such a classical based theme. In typical Shankar style he said ‘Didn’t we prove them wrong?’ and boy, I am glad that they proved them wrong.