A devotee of arts

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Sangeet Natak Akademi chairman Shekhar Sen, who will be speaking in the city on Friday, shares his thoughts on pursuing different art forms

I have been doing multiple things,” says Shekhar Sen. It’s only when we talk further that we realise, that it’s an understatement. The current chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) is a music composer, poet, lyricist and actor.  Sen, who is unafraid of testing new waters, will be in interaction with Dr Rajendraprasad Shinde on Friday evening. In the programme, which has been organised by sitarist Sahana Banerjee under Swarasudha banner, Sen will talk about his journey as an artist.

Artistic roots
The Padmashri award winner says, “Sahana, who is like my younger sister, said, ‘Dada, we want to know more about you. Let us have a sanwad’. I will be talking about my journey as a musician and how a chance discussion led me to acting and directing mono-act plays. My parents were wonderful Gwalior gharana artists, poets and academicians. I can say that I was very, very fortunate to be born in such a wonderful family, where I could soak in literature, music, dance.”

Sen’s mother was a Telugu and his father a Bengali and to this day he remains in awe of their love marriage. “My parents complemented each other. I think it is one of the finest love marriages I have seen. As an artist, my mother wanted me to learn everything — we made mud house, played doll’s house, she taught me how to cook, make pickles and so on. She made me learn dance for five years. I also had to learn sitar, violin and painting. I was very fed up. My friends were playing football, hockey and I was learning to dance and play violin! But today, when I remember my parents, I always thank them and thank god, that I was so fortunate.” 

From music to acting
He came to Mumbai from Raipur when he was 18. Sen’s aim was to make music. And he had released some 227 audio CDs to his credit and sung at concerts all over the globe, including countries like West Indies, The Netherlands, USA, Canada, before he turned to mono-acting. 

“I thought I should do something that would leave an impact on audience’s minds or hearts. Music or literature or any fine art form is supposed to make one a better person and the society, a better society. Otherwise what is the relevance of becoming an artist? That was the time in 1997, when I began writing a play on Swami Tulsidas. Tulsidasji has written Ramcharitmanas. I had written about 30 per cent of the play, but I was excited and I wanted to take advice and blessings of someone learned who could tell me if I was on the right path. I called up Dr Dharmaveer Bharati, great Hindi playwright and poet. I told him, ‘Maine kuch likha hai...’ He replied, ‘Accha? To aajao’. He was from a village near Allahabad (now Prayagraj). His mother tongue was Awadhi, which was the dialect of Ramcharitmanas,” reminisces Sen.

“When he learnt that I had not completed it, he asked me to finish it. His words were, ‘Nahi Shekhar..koi bhi rachna jab tak kagaz pe nahi utarti tab tak woh rachna nahi hoti. Woh ek kalpana hoti hai’. After one week, I met him again with the complete play and at the end of the narration, Dr Bharati and his wife Pushpa were in tears. His first reaction was, ‘Shekhar, only you should act in this play’. I told him that I am not an actor. But he insisted and two days later he also called up to say that I should direct it. Thus in 1998, I had my first show of Goswami Tulsidas. A year later, I did Kabeer and in 2004, I did Swami Vivekanand. Six years later, I did Sahab and in 2013, I did Soordas. All the plays are mono-acts and two hours long,” he adds. 

His stint in Sangeet Natak Akademi 
Sen is a great believer in Satsang, in meeting people with deep interest in arts and experiencing life. “I was always fortunate to meet wonderful scholars of music and literature like Pt Narendra Sharma, Kamaleshwarji. I could spend time in their company and I always had a question or two to ask. That’s my Satsang. You can learn acting, music. But who’s going to teach you life? That you have to figure out on your own. Life, for many, starts after college. Bagging a job, buying veggies, paying bills,” he says. 

He applies the same principles to his work as SNA chairman, reaching out to as many people as he can, garnering knowledge and expertise that had eluded him hitherto. “The chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi is a huge responsibility. When I joined, someone told me, ‘Yahan par bahut halla gulla hota hai’. Mere aane se kisi ne koi jhagda nahi kiya, kisine unchi awaj me baat nahi ki. Every meeting starts with a music, dance or theatre performance by the members. Believe me, the proceedings run smoothly after that,” he says. 

In his tenure, Sen has tried to take SNA programmes and workshops to different parts of the country.  Says he, “We have shows in different parts of the country, small towns. We are also streaming the shows now, doing audio-visual proceedings of selection processes. A couple of changes that we have made include self-recommendation by the artist to apply for an award. Earlier, artists had to approach the awardees to recommend their name. But there were glitches in it, like a tabla artist won’t recommend another tabla artist. We then decided that the artist could self-recommend himself/herself. We now get 4,000 applications for 32 awards. Another thing we did was to give medical aid for all the artists.
Previously, only awardees could avail of this. But then we thought artists on the lower rung like harmonium tuner, tanpura player, make-up artists also need help, they too are artists. We have to help them climb up. So we get local artists to perform when we have shows in different states. To mention our work in Maharashtra, we had two festivals in Mumbai, five festivals in Pune, one festival in Aurangabad and one in Wardha, one Bhakti Mahotsav in Pandharpur. We also had a tabla workshop in Solapur. Desh bahut bada hai...talent is wasted in small towns. We had one workshop in Kathia, in Uttar Pradesh. The total population is 5,000 in Kathia. And, the audience that turned up was 12,000. They came in from neighbouring villages. In metros, if you have an audience of 200, you think, ‘Show superhit ho gaya’. My reasoning is this, ‘Jo pyaase hai unko pani pilayein. Jo bhar pet hai, unko thoda kam khilayien-pilayien’. We have to use the resources and taxpayer’s money carefully. We have to reach out to the last man. In this pursuit, I have learnt so many things that I was ignorant of...” A student never stops learning, does he?

ST Reader Service
Swarasudha is hosting an interaction with artist Shekhar Sen on Friday, April 19, at Pt Bhimsen Joshi Kalamandir, Aundh, 5 pm onwards

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