Sitar maestro Budhaditya Mukherjee’s spectacular rendition of the rain-bringing Raag Mian Ki Malhar, live from an Indian thunderstorm.
Darbar doesn't usually share what goes on behind the scenes of our shoots, but on this occasion the events that we witnessed were too spectacular to keep to ourselves:
The team, made up of Sandeep Virdee (artistic director), Jagdeep Shah (operations director) and Rehmat Rayatt (filmmaker) welcome Budhaditya Mukherjee to the Rajbari boutique hotel near Kolkata, West Bengal, one cloudy March afternoon. A stroke of luck means that we are the only ones staying at the hotel, and get free rein over where to film; though it has been raining every day since we arrived in Kolkata (an abnormality for this time of year), a combination of wishful thinking and resentment for the miserable forecast leads us to choose the magnificent open courtyard for our evening shoot. The last remains of afternoon are fading, thankfully taking with them the humid air that everyone who has travelled to India has cursed at least a few times. We pray for the forecast to be wrong; we are even brash enough to set up all our equipment on the grass in preparation.
Quite obviously, it begins to rain. Drenched and shivering in the grand entrance we have been forced to relocate to, we have received our reprimand loud and clear. Not quite as loud as the thunder rumbling through the black sky, and the drumming of the rain on the ground. We surreptitiously wipe our soaking cameras and faces dry with our kurta sleeves. The wind is beginning to pick up and the tiny flames from the clay lamps go out faster than I can re-light them. We remain optimistic though my hands are clammy; I wonder if we will pull off the shoot this time. Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee tunes his sitar, undisturbed by the roaring of the rain and thunder. I notice that the rain is beginning to descend with such force that it is splashing inside, soaking the corner of Pandit ji's rug. I decide after some thought not to mention this; time is of the essence. We are determined to somehow use the beautifully lit courtyard as a backdrop, and as we position our cameras meticulously to fill the background with the warm lights and pillars behind, the electricity cuts out. Pandit ji is swimming in darkness, but he seems not to have noticed. I glance at Sandeep and he shrugs his shoulders with a half-grin. I am slightly concerned that the now cascading water and roaring thunder mean we are straining to hear one another and Pandit ji is at risk of playing his piece from a puddle if the rain continues at this ferocity. Pandit ji, entirely unphased, announces that he will play Miyan ki Malhar, a powerful monsoon raag, and we submit in the knowledge that whatever happens next will be by virtue of the force of nature.
He begins to play.
Nature takes pity on us and orchestrates the most magnificent light show we have ever witnessed, illuminating the courtyard for us. We exchange incredulous glances as we bear witness to one of the most magical moments we have ever experienced.
Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee is revered for his extraordinary command of the sitar and surbahar - at age 22 veena maestro S Balachander described him as the ‘sitar artist of the century’. He first started learning from his father Bimalendu, and takes strong influence from Vilayat Khan. He is among India’s most respected sitar gurus, and has held academic positions in Europe. Today he tours the world, enrapturing audiences of newcomers and old connoisseurs alike.
The Malhar family of ragas are associated with rejuvenation, heroism, and growth, and are said to summon monsoon rains if sung correctly. Legend has it that Emperor Akbar once asked Miyan Tansen to sing Deepak, the light-bringing raga, which caused all the lamps near him to ignite and burn so brightly that Tansen’s body began to be scorched. He went to the river to cool himself, but the water started to boil around him, forcing him to set out on a search for someone who could sing Raag Malhar to cure him. He eventually met two sisters, Tana and Riri, whose evocation of the raga caused a great storm to break, finally cooling him.
Recorded by Darbar in 2017, on location at The Rajbari Bawali, India:
-Budhaditya Mukherjee (sitar)
-Soumen Nandy (tabla)