On July 22, singer Prithvi Gandharv and his sister Kalpana appeared on Utsaah, the daily online home concert series organized by Durga Jasraj’s Art And Artistes. Prithvi focused on Mehdi Hassan gems, and his rendition of the Ahmed Faraaz-penned Shola Tha Jal Bujha Hoon was simply brilliant.
While Kalpana sang classics by Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum, the siblings combined marvelously on the Asha Bhosle-Ghulam Ali song Dayaar-e-Dil, penned by Nasir Kazmi.
A few weeks ago, singer Pratibha Singh Baghel had also enchanted those who tuned in to Utsaah, which besides ghazals, has been having some wonderful Hindustani, Carnatic, Folk and Dance recitals too.
Prithvi, Kalpana, and Baghel are three singers whose names have been doing the rounds as ghazal artistes to look out for.
And there have been other avenues like Ghazal Platform, and connoisseur Rajiv Sethi’s YouTube channel which are showcasing young artistes online.
In fact, the genre is filled with so much talent, and every other day, one spots some promising singer.
Ghazal in Time of Corona
Following the lockdown, many young or lesser-heard singers have appeared on such online shows. Vidhya Gopal, Aishwarya Majumdar, Prajakta Sawarkar Shinde, and Dev Rathour come to mind.
On Sethi’s show, which has had senior artistes too, the rendition of Hafeez Hoshiarpuri’s Mohabbat Karne Wale by Prithvi Gandharv and Pratibha Singh Baghel is huge, with 4.3 lakh views.
Last December, Anupama Roy self-released an amazing rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Imkaan. The Faiz masterpiece Hum Dekhenge became a protest statement for the youth, and singer Sonam Kalra did a distinct version interspersed by Sunil Mehra reciting Rabindranath Tagore’s Where the Mind is Without Fear.
The popularity of ghazals among young singers can be gauged from the fact that at this year’s Khazana Artist Aloud Talent Hunt contest, 360 entries have been shortlisted from among 1,000 applications. The jury, comprising Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz, Anup Jalota, Sudeep Banerjee, and Rekha Bhardwaj, will further shortlist 20 entrants from where the final two will be selected a month later.
Khazana, an annual festival held at the Trident in Mumbai but postponed this year, has been giving a platform to young artists since its inception, and its Talent Hunt is much awaited. Once, they even chose Varenyam Pandya, who was 10 and 11-year-old Rashi Harmalkar. One also hears young singers at the Ghazal Bahaar festival, besides many one-off events.
Over the past decade, young singers like Pooja Gaitonde, Yashraj Kapil, Archita Bhattacharya, Gayatri Asokan, and Jazim Sharma have come up, with Gaitonde even singing Sufiana tunes. Artistes who have been performing for a longer period, like Tauseef Akhtar, Amrita Chatterjee, Sraboni Chaudhuri, Runa, and Neha Rizvi, Anurag Sharma and Smita Bellur, have also been doing regular shows, and Sharmistha Chatterjee sings different genres including ghazals.
All this sounds fantastic on paper. Yet, the overall audience for ghazals remains limited. While the 1980s had a ghazal wave with a limited number of artistes, the opposite is the case today – too many artistes, but no sign of a wave. The labels and corporate sponsors are not backing the genre adequately, going in more for what they consider to be popular fare.
Labels are more focussed on non-film music and hip-hop these days, often at the cost of ghazals. Even playlists of streaming platforms are inclined towards independent music, where the quality fluctuates.
In pre-COVID times, there was an underground “mehfil” culture. Singers would do recitals at private gatherings, and address the right audience which understood ghazals and which helped in getting more breaks. However, many mehfils doubled up as cocktail parties, and unless the host decided not to serve any beverages while a recital was on, guests were often seen networking around the bar.
Today, in the era of Zoom, Facebook, or Instagram home concerts, singers are again reaching out to the right target audience. But the challenge remains on how to attract newer audiences. More or less the same people log in to these shows.
In fact, even when live auditorium concerts took place, one noticed that a sizeable section of the audience belonged to the older generation. Because their interests are different, young listeners never got exposed to ghazals. There is a general impression that ghazals are a niche genre. That may be true with a lot of ghazals written by older poets like Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Ahmed Faraaz, and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. But if one hears the contemporary poets, one can relate to the words more easily.
The challenge thus remains to educate more young listeners about how to understand poetry and the nuances of ghazal structure and presentation. With online initiation courses and masterclasses being the order of the day, maybe there should be more on ghazal appreciation too.