When Shahir Sambhaji Bhagat, a Mumbai-based powada singer and artiste, was studying in a school at Mahu village near Panchgani, he got acquainted with the genre of Marathi poetry unknowingly. To reach his school in Panchgani from his village, 12-year-old Bhagat had to walk six kilometres every day. Since his village was situated in Sahyadris, in order to take a short cut, he had to cross a lake and a mountain , too. "Whenever I got late, my teacher used to spank me with a stick. One day, I wrote a song in protest and started singing as he was about to hit me. The poem portrayed the emotions and plight of village students who struggle for education. My teacher was angry and surprised but he laughed at the same time. He appreciated my singing and writing skills," recalls Bhagat, adding that there onwards, the teacher stopped raising the stick.
However, Bhagat did not know what he did in genuine ignorance would become his way of life. It was when he reached in high school that he learned that his singing style was on the lines of powada, a genre of Marathi poetry that emerged in the 17th century. The powada is a type of ballad that recount s historical events in a stirring style. People who compose and sing powadas are called shahirs. After his graduation from Ambedkar College, Mumbai, Shahir Bhagat, now 52, joined Avhan Natya Manch in 1981 and started giving issue-based powada performances across India, primarily in villages. And now, for the very first time, he has composed music and sung for the upcoming Marathi film Sarpanch Bhagirath. In fact, it is also the first instance in the history of Marathi cinema that a shahir is composing and singing for a film. Directed by Ramdas Phutane and produced by Shivkumar Lad, the film is currently being shot in Pune.