6 Films of Growing into North Indian Art Music

Beyond Text: Growing into Music films by Nicolas Magriel. Researched, filmed and edited by Nicolas Magriel.  Part of the Growing into Music in North India series. All films ©Nicolas Magriel and SOAS, University of London 2012.

1) Talim aur Riyaz (Instruction and Practice): Pundalik Bhagwat and his Sons 2009, 2010, 2011

Pundalik Bhagwat is a Maharashtrian Brahman whose family has been settled in Banaras (Varanasi) for four generations. He is an excellent tabla player and singer and is teaching both tabla and vocal music to his sons Purnish and Pushkar. 

This film is about a thoughtful, articulate and intensive approach to childhood musical transmission—a well-rounded and relatively linear approach which contrasts with the conventions of the hereditary milieu.

2) Talim aur Riyaz (Instruction and Practice): Ravi Shankar Mishra and his Sons 2009, 2010, 2011

Ravi Shankar is one of the formost Kathak dancers of Banaras (Varanasi) and also an excellent tabla player. He learnt tabla from his father Panch Maharaj and dance from the great Alakananda Devi (elder sister of Sitara Devi) and her brother Durga Prasad Mishra (Pande Mahraj). The film depicts him teaching his sons Aditya (tabla) and Abijit (dance) and discussing the teaching process and his own growing into music and dance. We view the passionate intensity of  practice sessions in one of the great musical households of Banaras.

3) Sangeet ka Khel (Music as Play): Sarwar Hussain and his sons 2009, 2010, 2011

Sarwar Hussain Khan is the grandson of the renowned sarangi player Ustad Abdul Latif Khan. This film is about Sarwar and his sons Amaan and Arman, 3 and 4 at the beginning of the film. It follows their massive exposure to music in the home, and their spontanious imbibing of a wide variety of musical behaviours. The fun element of early learning is highlighted. This is the hereditary musical tradition, alive and vibrant, a prime example of growing into music in North India. UPDATE 2019: see Amaan in September 2018. At the age of 12, he’s now a budding virtuoso: 

3a) Amaan Hussain, age 12, plays raga Todi


4) Dukh ki Talim (Transmission in the Wake of Suffering): Vidya Sahai Mishra and his Grandsons 2010 and 2011

This film is about Vinayak and Krishna, the grandsons of Vidya Sahai Mishra, a senior sarangi player of Banaras (Varanasi). They are learning sarangi and tabla respectively—from their grandfather—as their father Prabhu Sahai Mishra, to whom the film is dedicated, met his end tragically on railroad tracks in 2009.

The film offers ambiguous insights into the prevaling attitudes and methods of music transmission in the hereditary musical community of Banaras.

5) The Guru-shishya Parampara: Kanhaiyalal Mishra and his Students

Kanhaiyalal Mishra is the senior disciple of the illustrious Pandit Hanuman Prasad Mishra of Banaras (Varanasi). He is one of the most prominent living sarangi players of Banaras. This film shows him teaching sarangi to his students and talking about the teaching process. It juxtaposes discussion of his disciplinarian approach to teaching (probably with considerable exaggeration) with one student's unreserved expressions of devotion and gratitude towards Kanhaiyalal. Riyaz (practice) is a focal point of discourse; both its necessity and the obstacles to actually doing it are discussed. 

6) Dekhiye, Sikhiye, Parakhiye (Watch, Learn and Understand), Islamic mysticism and musical enculturation

The Nizami Brothers are one of the foremost Qawwali groups of South Asia. Ghulam Sabir, Ghulam Waris, Mohammad Akbar and Mohammad Yusuf, are the four sons of Abdul Aziz Nizami, who was 104 when I met him in 2011. This film is about the intense interplay between faith and music in the Qawwali tradition. Sufism, Islamic mysticism, sees music as a spiritual path. In this family, the children learn Qawwali while also studying the holy Koran and attending school. I filmed them in January 2010 and July 2011. Since that time, Faisan and Nishan, the stars of this film, have gone on to become distinguished young Qawwals.

Most of the songs in this film are devotional—praising great Sufi saints such as Moinuddin Chisti (1141-1236 ce), Lal Shabhaz Qalandar (1177-1274 ce), Nizamuddin Aulia (1238-1325 ce) and Amir Khusro (1253-1325 ce). In their day-to-day discourse the Nizamis identify deeply with this tradition. Their practice room is suffused with history and faith. 

The film depicts Ghulam Sabir and Mohammed Akbar Nizami teaching several boys of the family interspersed with Interview footage of the two brothers which gives an intense glimpse of how their Sufi faith and a sense of musical and spiritual history inform their life and music.

© Lucy Durán, Nicolas Magriel, Geoff Baker 2011