‘At Woodstock, who was listening to music? They were all stoned’
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Pt Ravi Shankar: Absolutely — this isn't pure Indian music, I had to take a lot of that. But you know, we play a single raga for three hours. But it's very difficult while you have one or two in the audience to understand, the others will start climbing walls.
Shekhar Gupta: So guruji, let me take you back now. You finish your training. The World War ends and then you come back as a sitar player. And then you become an international citizen.
Pt Ravi Shankar: This was also a combination of two things — my dada Uday Shankar who revolutionised the whole thing.
Shekhar Gupta: You say Dada — not many people realise that you're actually Bengali.
Pt Ravi Shankar: (laughs) Ami toh Bengali — Actually, how to present things — he typically said that if someone can eat 10 rotis, don't give him 10. Give him three to keep him hungry. Stage, lighting, presentation, punctuality... all these things he brought for the first time, it wasn't there earlier.
Shekhar Gupta: You have done so much in your life, people are aware of so little. How many people would know that you also composed the original Saare Jahan Se Achha?
Pt Ravi Shankar: See, this is what happens, there was so much plagiarism too.
Shekhar Gupta: But how did that happen, in 1945?
Pt Ravi Shankar: At that time I was with Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA). For one year I was a music director. And I did some ballet — 'India Immortal' — and many other things. Ahmad Abbas made Dharti Ke Lal and Chetan Anand made Neecha Nagar. I did the music for these two films. Let me tell you a story.
Shekhar Gupta: Tell me.
Pt Ravi Shankar: I feel ashamed to say it, because I am afraid it will be misunderstood. In the music of Neecha Nagar, there was a chorus. This poet, Vishwamitra Aadil, had written the songs, so it was a very communist theme — hum rukenge nahin, hum jhukenge bhi nahin. We were searching for a male voice. A musician brought a young fellow who just came from Lahore. Very nice looking, fair. And we asked him to give an audition. And I showed him the tune and the feeling. And he sang hum rukenge bhi nahin hum jhukenge bhi nahin in a classical tone. And I was like, please try to be more powerful. He tried, but it wasn't happening. He had a wonderful voice, so tuneful... Anyhow, we could not use him. That was Mohd Rafi.