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Mind-blowing talent hunt

Statesman News Service |

meena banerjee participated as a member of the jury
Voice of Kolkata
NINE-YEAR-OLD wonder boy Saagnik Sen lifted The State Bank Classical Voice of Kolkata trophy on 23 June at the ITC SRA auditorium. He gave a soul-stirring recital as a junior contestant – invited by Sangeet Milon, a Lucknow-based organisation, which was in Kolkata as it has launched an ambitious project to identify the “Classical Voice of India”, the finals of which will be organised in Lucknow after identifying talents from all over India.
The State Bank of India and ITC Sangeet Research Academy sponsored the Kolkata chapter of this classical music contest which was held on 22-23 June and assessed by judges like Sangeet Milon&’s beacon, Milon Debnath, Kolkata&’s renowned veteran musicians, Samar Saha (tabla) and Jyoti Goho (harmonium), ITC SRA&’s junior gurus and brilliant vocalists, Wasim Ahmed Khan and Omkar Dadarkar, and yours truly. After the contest, there was a prize distribution ceremony on the final day. The guests of honour were Ravi Mathur, executive director, ITC Sangeet Research Academy, and R Arumuga Pandi, general manager, State Bank of India. They gave away the trophies to the winners who once again presented their recitals for the audience.

This was an eye-opener! People who lament that Indian classical music is a dwindling art should have been there to witness this Young Bengal with its genuine passion for this genre. While skeptics doubted there would be participation of a good standard, there were around 68 contestants in all, with 20 in the Junior group, 30 in the Middle group and 12 in the Senior group (khayal) and five participants in the Dhrupad category. It was a wonderfully successful programme with the entire environment reverberating with strains of popular ragas like Madhuwanti, Bhimpalasi, Miyan ki Todi and Yaman. Each contestant had to perform vilambit khayal and drut khayal, replete with vistar and tans, within 10 minutes. Most did this with superb dexterity. Contestants within the nine-23 age groups delighted the judges and organisers alike with their mellifluous melodies – most of which was innovative and improvised and not by rote only! This, according to me, was the most heartening aspect as there was a group of contestants that, apparently, was groomed together in one particular raga with the same compositions. Under the circumstances, mugged up performances would have been terribly tedious to assess.
Among the three categories, the Junior group was the most impressive, with amazing prodigious talents adorning the stage. It came as a wonderful surprise because this kind of matured participation was least expected from these children. Also, this was the only group that was totally dominated by young boys! It was a very difficult task to choose winners from such gifted children, but Saagnik Sen won the first prize and the Kolkata trophy hands down. He stood out for the unusually matured emotional contents in his delineation of raga Todi. He sang “Ab morey Ram” (slow ektal) and “Ab mori naiya paar” (fast teental) with peaceful vistar, neat sargams and thrilling taans interspersed with heart-rending pukars. One rarely finds such depth in such a small child.
On the other hand, Koulik Bhattacharya, another gifted child who also sang Todi, displayed stunning virtuosity as a “complete” performer with all the khayal elements at display. He stood third. The second position was a tie, shared by Ishan Ghosh and Arka Seal, while consolation prizes went to Tuhin Roy and Vedatrayi Bhattacharya.
Almost half the contestants flocked in the Middle group. The reason, probably, is less pressure from academics. Also, very few boys participated in this category as singing takes a back seat because most go through a change of voice in their early teens. So, this was captured by girls, entirely. Mayuri Saha stood first in this category with her brilliant recital in raga Madhuwanti (vilambit ektal, drut teental). Banhi Roy won the second position and third position was shared by Ankita Chowdhury and Shreya Mazumdar. Consolation prizes went to Rishita Saha and Sumedha Dey.
Among the Seniors, Iman Biswas gave a very convincing recital in raga Bhimpalasi and bagged the first prize. Tanula Chakraborty stood second and Sayan Sikdar third. But the latter appeared far too confident as a performer and commands attention. Reshmi Bhattacharya and Ankita Chakraborty won consolation prizes.
In comparison, as is evident from the numbers, there were very few contestants in the Dhrupad category – and with good a reason. According to masters, the maximum age limit (23 years) is too challenging for a dhrupad singer and this should be relaxed to encourage more dhrupad students to come forward. But one was pleasantly surprised to find budding dhrupad singers like Sneha Chakraborty and Aparajita Bhattacharya. While Sneha enchanted all with her aesthetically pleasing recital and won the first prize, Aparajita got noticed for her forceful singing. She shared the consolation prize with Dipanita Sharma, who displayed talent but her high-pitched voice was very unlike dhrupad&’s.

Sangeet Milon
The judges, led by Milon Debnath, gave suggestions to the contestants on how they could improve their performances. In fact, Debnath&’s sole intent, behind this mega project, is to instill a serious sense of responsibility in young minds while handling a particular raga and its compositions. “The raga should be delineated according to the path shown in the bandish chosen for the day,” he stressed. “There are different compositions focusing on different angles of the raga. The same angle should get the top priority. Or else the raga will be confusing.”
Debnath, a disciple of Ustads Nyaz Ahmed and Fyaz Ahmed Khan, worked on this logic for years and, based on this, reorganised the “Kramik Pustak Malika” – compiled by Bhatkhandeji. After this monumental work, he penned “Sangeet Milon” in the same light. Arundhati Choudhuri, a dedicated disciple of this Lucknow-based guru took this logical way of looking at a raga rather seriously and went ahead to propagate this among the learners who are young, receptive and, fortunately, believe in logic. She also believes that it is every parent&’s duty to introduce their children to classical arts as these help them to give vent to pent-up feelings in a positive manner and make them complete human beings. According to her, it is better to mug up certain phrases of ragas than reproduce the cheap lyrics of film songs.
This belief was strong enough to inspire her small like-minded group, headed by her guru, to kindle an interest for classical music in young talents and started a classical vocal competition in the music-starved region of Uttar Pradesh in 2010. They, under the banner of “Sangeet Milon”, inspired children from 50 Lucknow schools to participate in “Classical Voice of Lucknow”.
The next year saw them holding competitions at different cities of Uttar Pradesh to identify the singing geniuses as the “Classical Voice of Uttar Pradesh”. The success inspired them to take the big leap and organise competitions all over India to identify the “Classical Voice of India”.  The inaugural session was held here in Kolkata. Come November, the finals will be held in Lucknow.

Coming up
12 July: Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad presents “RagaRasaSahitya”, an ongoing melodic literature-based series, featuring brilliant thumri and ghazal exponent Santa Kundu (disciple of Vidushi Purnima Chaudhuri and Ustad Sabir Khan) with Prashanta De Roy (tabla) and Sanatan Goswami (harmonium); Parishad Hall, 36 A, Shakespeare Sarani; 6.30-8 pm; all are welcome.
13 July: Sangeet Ashram presents vocal recital by Pandit Lachhman Dass Sandhu of Patiala gharana; Birla Sabhagar; 6.30 pm; for invitations contact: 22830210.
13 July: ITC Sangeet Research Academy presents kathak recital by Mitul Sengupta; choreography: Ronnie Shambik Ghosh; ITC SRA Hall; 1, NSC Bose Road; 6 pm; all are