| Ravi Shankar with daughter Anoushka: Ready for a round of applause. Picture by Aloke Mitra
The claps in Calcutta don’t come as loud, or as clear, as they do elsewhere, feels Pandit Ravi Shankar. A sentiment he first articulated during a performance seven years ago at Netaji Indoor Stadium. With daughter Anoushka on the sitar and Zakir Hussain on the tabla, the crowd could not wait to show its appreciation. But the sitar maestro, then just celebrating his 75th birthday, interrupted on mike to say: “Audiences here may clap in the middle of a performance, but at the end, you can barely hear the applause.”
He had much the same thing to say at an interface on Thursday. Across the country — and the rest of the world — audiences came out far stronger in their post-performance support than those in Calcutta, he alleged.
Classical audiences in Calcutta are not drying up — given the full houses at any show, every venue — but has the awareness level dipped and informed appreciation dwindled'
On the contrary, feels sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan. “Calcutta is the best audience. The wah-wah, the sadhu, the taali, all come at the right moments as the people are soaked in music… The audience in Calcutta, and in other places of Bengal, has always inspired me the most. That the interest is growing here is reflected in the fact that Bengal has the maximum number of talented classical artistes,” he observes.
Vocalist Rashid Khan, too, backs the Calcutta concert crowd. “I have been performing here since I was young, and I can’t say the audiences are not aware. Halls are always full and it is not necessary for everyone in the audience to understand deeply what they are hearing… There are no conditions to their enjoyment. It is from the heart.”
For music critic Nilaksha Gupta, however, the “knowledgeable Calcutta audience” is, and always has been, a myth. “Audiences are always talking, and there is an uninterrupted rustle of polythene bags during all-night shows,” he complains. The claps are “inappropriate”, and highly dependent on “music gimmicks”.
There are many music-lovers who remain convinced that the audiences are not supposed to clap at all. At Santiniketan, for instance, anything more than a “sadhu, sadhu”, can still draw withering glances. That the traditional modes of appreciation have given way to applause may be the result of the movement away from baithak-style venues to larger proscenia, feels tabla player Subhankar Banerjee. “But Calcutta remains the cultural capital, and all artistes have to perform here as a kind of a test. The modern generation may not understand hardcore classical music, but we have a responsibility to train them.”
That’s precisely what tabla veteran Shankar Ghosh is doing. Convinced that “it is the responsibility of the musicians themselves to create knowledge and awareness” about the classical forms, he has held workshops and has lined up lecture-demonstrations, too. Ghosh would prefer “smaller, therefore more knowledgeable, audiences” so that the performer can be inspired by the “aha and the kya baat” at the right moments.