A musical makeover

Sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee has broken new ground by giving the sitar a new look and creating a super-cool instrument called the See-Tar, says Sushmita Biswas

  • Published 22.11.15
Purbayan Chatterjee playing his electric See-Tar, his innovative reinvention of the sitar. Photo: Gajanan Dudhalkar

Sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee has always been one step ahead of other musicians. He loved playing the sitar but he felt its looks didn’t match the wonderful sounds it made. So, he decided to reinvent it as a transparent electric sitar and called it the See-Tar.

Chatterjee, 39, who’s one of the stars of the Maihar Gharana, moved quickly to convert thoughts into action. He shared his design concepts with Belgium-based sitar-maker Klaas Janssens, who runs a shop called Sitar Factory. “The result is a Plexiglas (acrylic glass) electric sitar which has a lightweight body that changes colours when played and emits a resonant sound,” he says.

The main parts of this See-Tar — the taardan and jawari — are made with buffalo horn while the steel strings are silver-plated. It is 1,070mm long and comes minus the traditional sitar’s hemispherical shape at the bottom and the neck.

Another difference between the traditional sitar and the See-Tar is that it can also be played in a standing position and not just sitting down as it is traditionally played.

“My new See-Tar is four or five concerts old now,” says Purbayan. His most recent See-Tar performance was in Mumbai’s Blue Frog in September in collaboration with tabla player Suphala. He has been playing the See-Tar at corporate shows and at live performances.

Purbayan, who’s constantly on the lookout for new sounds, wants to make the sitar the focal point of instrumental music. He says: “In India, while we have very good instrumental music we lack visual elements and theatrics in a performance. So, I want to link technology and traditional classical instrumental music to enhance the listening experience.”

Besides his solo concerts, he’s also busy with #lifeismusic, an online music reality show in which he has teamed up with percussionist Taufiq Qureshi and jazz maestro Louiz Banks to select one winning band. While he’s shooting for Season 2 of the show, very soon the series will be shot for television as well. “I want to create a portal for instrumental music, making the sitar the brand ambassador for this genre,” says Purbayan, who continues to play with his classical band String Struck. “I bring classical, Bollywood and folk elements in music for the band,” he says.

From playing the interlude for a non-film album for Shantanu Moitra and Gulzar to playing for Salim-Suleiman in a crossover film, UNindian, Purbayan has many musical projects lined up. In Bollywood, he has also played the sitar for Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy’s rock musical drama Rock On 2.

He says, “I am aiming big to try out new sounds in the experimental music genre. I maintain certain standards and, at the same time, don’t want to lose my classical identity.”