Stephen O’Malley


Posted: Feb 19, 2014

Thank you ROOTBLOG


Director: Mani Kaul
Year: 1982

rudraveena: Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar
vocal: Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar and Bahauddin Mohiuddin Dagar

A nostalgic sepia-toned wonder, right from the opening shot of a very skinny little boy learning to play the rudraveena - let’s put it this way, if a total beginner practicing his scales sounds this good, wait until you hear what’s next.

Sunset jugalbandi on the walls of Gwalior fort, Mohiuddin Dagar’s hands, Fatehpur Sikri, sun-faded forests and birdsongs climb the ruins at Mandu, a mustachioed Raja Man Singh stand-in stalks through a fortress reciting poetry; there are medieval astronomical observatories, music and sandstone, and drone. Mani Kaul understands that presenting dhrupad — for the most part — means getting out of the way, leaving the camera still — beautifully still — and letting the musicians speak (and sing and play) for themselves. Resolutely emic in its orientation (perhaps to a fault, I can imagine some saying), I find it refreshingly devoid of musicological talking heads explaining things; instead get ready for a full dose of dhrupad lore from deep inside.

Because this is Mani Kaul, the film closes with a long, sad, aimlessly drifting shot of Bombay chawls set to Zia Fariduddin Dagar’s vocals. It’s as though the camera — so still and disciplined for the last hour and six minutes — has become unmoored, unhinged by the modern city. We are left wondering at the contemporary fragility of the dhrupad tradition, and its inescapable modernity.

Of all the many excellent FDI documentaries about music and musicians, this one is, hands down, my favorite. enjoy.

“The idol and the Christian child are the manifest light, 
The source of light is the face of the idol. 
It charms every heart, and 
Sometimes it is a singer, sometimes a sāqī.” 

Mir ‘Abdul Wahid Bilgrami’s Haqā’iq-i Hindī (1566) (“Indian Truths”)

special bonus: the name of the bearded american seen playing the tanpura at several points in film is Jeff Lewis, who was ZM Dagar’s senior disciple for many years, and was in India with him from 1981 to 1983. He now teaches in Seattle.