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Raag Malkauns

April 2018 celebrates the Centenary of
Swami Vijnananand (P.R. Bhide) —

In September 2010, an unusual video was posted on YouTube, by Mr. Bharat Upadhyay of Lata Mangeshkar singing Raag Malkauns. During the past seven odd years, 250K viewers have seen it and commented. I have had in my possession, for many years, a copy of this film that was more or less the same except for very last frame that had been severed in the above mentioned YouTube post. Hence began my search for the origin of this unusual film.

Sometime around 2003, a friend sent me a DVD, with two folders. Both had Lata Mangeshkar singing Raag Malkauns for ten minutes. One was a digital version from audio tape, and the other was from a video tape, with words of the song – Peer na jaani. I watched it repeatedly on my computer. At the centre of the stage, an early twenty’s something, Lata Mangeshkar held a taanpura in her hands, with her long, black plaits hanging at the front from her shoulders; behind her on a large curtain was an image of the moon and two crossed taanpuras were placed for a nice setting. On her right was a Sarangi player and on the left was a Tabla player. Both male accompanists wore dhotis and black jackets. There was only one microphone for the three artistes on the stage. Only one camera was used to shoot the entire film. Their faces seen in this digital version were bit out of focus, but the audio recording was sharp and clear. At the end of the recording, someone said in a loud voice, “Cut it.” A young man rolled over stage, appreciating the event by raising his left hand and the film ended.

The youth is visible only for a second or so. When I held the frame firm, I noticed that he wore a shirt, pant, black sweater, muffler around his neck, and a wrist watch in his hand. He had curly hair.  No one could identify him. I could identify Sarangi player. He was young Ram Narayan. Around 1995, he had come to my home to listen to his recording of 78-rpm discs cut in 1955 in Bombay. We both chatted and as we saw Lataji’s film, he relived his old memories, and said, “That youth is none other than our Annasaheb Chitalkar, who is famous now as C. Ramchandra,”.

In 2011, an additional fan of this video uploaded it on YouTube. In 2014, another fan edited the video, making the images more sharp. However, from all the three videos, Anna-ji, that is C. Ramchandra appearance in the very last frame was absent. A bad luck for Annaji and for his fans too. As per the information from Ram Narayan, the film was shot at Famous Studio in Mumbai under the direction of Mr. Vasantrao Joglekar. It was Ram Narayan who got Lataji to rehearse Malkauns for Peer na jaani. However, he could not recall the name of the tabla player. But he remembered that someone called Mr. Bhide wearing a coat and a Gandhi cap was busy running hellter-skelter.

In order to confirm this information, I decided to find it out from C. Ramchandra’s biography Majhya Jeevanachi Sargam published in 1977. It had disappeared from the market, bookshops, etc, but through intense search I found a copy of the two hundred-odd page Marathi book. It is very rare for a composer to write a biography and publish it as a book. Obviously, Annaji narrated his memoirs and some author/poet penned them down. Upon reading and study of the autobiography I concluded that the book was far too transparent and controversial for it’s time.

Majhya Jeevanachi Sargam  reveals “For the first time actor Bhagwan displayed my name C. Ramchandra on screen, in place of Annasaheb Chitalkar. Those were the days of the super hit movie Albela (1951) and its lullaby Dheere se aajari ankhiyan mein nindiya… was being hummed by millions all over the country. The friendship between Rajinder Krishan, Lata Mangeshkar and me was something to be envied. During that period, a stranger walked into my life. He was fair, medium height, wore khadi dress, spoke sweetly and his conduct very refined. He seemed to be highly educated. While talking, he pouted his lips. He introduced himself as, ‘I am P. R. Bhide.’ ”

“He had a project in mind, to record and film the songs of India’s well-known classical singers and to screen the 16-mm films in theatres all over India. For that he wanted to run an institute in which I (C. Ramchandra) should participate. I gave him my approval. Then he added meekly, ‘It would be good to have Lataji’s support, too’. I said without hesitation, ‘She will also support’. I took keen interest in his project, and donated Rs 1,000; Lata too donated same amount. The institute was founded, with Lata Mangeshkar as President; C. Ramchandra and P. R. Bhide as two Secretaries. We were busy with our work and so was Bhide. But he would suddenly meet us and take mine and Lata’s signatures. He told us they were minutes of the meetings. I never really read them. One of those signatures caused a great mental strain for both me and Lata. I will explain this in later chapters.”

One should read C. Ramchandra’s book to fully understand what trouble Bhide brought in to C. Ramachandra and Lata Mangeshkar. But the book has no reference to the filming of Malkauns Raag. Only two sentences mention: “Lata’s voice was echoing clearly all over. Bhide wanted to show her singing classical raag on the screen.”

The Raag Malkuans play a very specific roll in classical Indian music. As described by Wikipedia, Malkauns is a serious, meditative raga, and is developed mostly in the lower octave (mandra saptak) and in a slow tempo (vilambit laya). The best time for this raga is late night. The effect of the raga is soothing and intoxicating. It is developed mostly in the lower octave (mandra saptak) and in a slow tempo (vilambit laya). Ornaments such as meend, gamak and andolan are used rather than ‘lighter’ ornaments such as murki and khatka. Komal Ni is generally considered the starting note (graha swara), and the notes komal Ga and komal Dha are performed with vibrato (andolit). All five swaras can function as pausing notes.

Malkauns belongs to the Bhairavi thaat. In Western classical notation, its notes can be denoted as: tonic, minor third, perfect fourth, minor sixth and minor seventh. In raga Malkauns, Rishabh (Re – second) and Pancham (Pa – perfect fifth) are completely omitted. Its jaati is audav-audav (five-five, that is, pentatonic).

Below is what may be considered a most archetypal example Malkauns.
Man tarpat hari darshan ko aaj 

What part does P.R. Bhide (b. April 23,1918) play within this scenario as described by C. Ramchandra? The film was completed around 1950. In 1957 Bhide metamorphosized upon achieving Sannyasa. He henceforth became known as Swami Vijnananand (S.V.) the Founder, First Thinker and Experimenter of Manashakti Research Centre and Manashakti Trusts, located in vicinity of river Indrayani and Sahyadri Hills, Lonavla, India. Having renounced his many achievements in multiple fields like Literature, Music, Drama, Theatre, Movies, Print Media, Fortune Telling and Freedom Fighting, he put forth a rational New Way Philosophy combining science and spirituality for perpetual happiness and peace of mind. 

While planning to visit the Manashakti Research Centre one day, a few disciples from this center came to my place to discuss some issues on old audio recordings of Raga Malkauns sung by Lata Mangeshkar. They gave me photocopies of three articles on ‘Five amazing experiments on Lata Mangeshkar’s voice’. The articles were in Marathi, published in 1993, and written by S. V. alias Mr. P. R. Bhide. Around 1950, Bhide produced ten-minute duration film on Raag Malkauns in Lataji’s voice. Along with Lataji’s Malkauns, the short films also featured Hirabai Badodekar’s Raag Lalat and Bismillah Khan’s shehanai performance. It was a grand dream of a man who was ahead of his time. But Bhide’s project floundered due to lack of social backing and logistic support. All these short films and their negatives were handed over to ‘Famous Cine Laboratory’, Mumbai, for their preservation. Included in the photocopies of the articles I had received, was the one where the Famous Company informed in a letter to Bhide that in a devastating fire of 1953 all the films and negatives were destroyed. 

However, Lataji’s 10-minute soundtrack was recorded on a tape. Bhide used it for his own study and experiments. The three articles here mention about the outcome of Bhide’s experiments. After listening to the Malkauns, many were relieved of their backaches, headaches, stomach aches, toothache and so on. The cows in their shelters listened to Malkauns, but did not give extra milk. However, the animals became more active.

But while this short film was being shot, Bhide felt, “I can still recall the night of serious, sad tunes.” Raag Malkauns was taking shape from words Peer na jaani. “While the shooting of the film was in progress, one could observe tiny rays of light coming up on the left side of Lataji’s face. Not one but three rays – I rubbed my eyes to make sure they were there. The three rays of light were moving high and low – they had different colors and at the same time, there were no colors. Those three colors became one – and they didn’t. I was so confused, I couldn’t even think properly. However, my severe toothache suddenly stopped.”

After Lataji stopped singing Malkauns, she exclaimed, “Today I sang from the heart.”

There are photos published in the magazine Manashakti (Power of Mind) – published by Bhide’s Manashakti center issue that show light emanating even from Lataji’s brain. Special Diwali issues of Manashakti 1992 and 1993 published three articles and while written twenty-five years ago they continue to be well worth the read. Later on, Bhide left it all to establish the  ‘New Way Ashram’ in Lonavla, near Pune and began a great work by using the power of one’s mind. He renamed himself as Swami Vijnananand and his importance grew. He wrote the third of the Manashakti articles on November 4, 1993 and on November 18 of that same year, he jumped off the terrace of a skyscraper opposite Mantralaya in south Mumbai at sunset, ending his life. At the end of the third article, the editor writes a note that Swamiji had a  “prakash samadhi”.

So, the mystery of surviving copy of film reel remains un-resolved. But someone transferred it using modern digital equipments, it changed several hands and finally landed up as YouTube post.

At last, Mr. P. R. Bhide’s dream was fulfilled after many decades. His video film of Lata Mangeshkar singing ‘Malkauns’ Raag survived. This was one of the films saved from the disastrous fire in Famous Studio in which thirty films were gutted. Maybe other films of this great project are gathering dust in some weird places, awaiting revival.

 

Comments

  1. Bharat Upadhyay says:

    Sureshji,
    Wonderful article. Congrats.
    My friend Arunbhai Deshmukh has this Annasaheb’s Atmakatha, I had borrowed it and read it. Lots of controversies there.
    I could not call you as my old phone and contacts are lost.
    Call me sometimes on 98190 98411 between 06:00 Am to 01:30 Am any day as I am under house-arrest.

  2. Thanks Bharat -ji

    It’s all because of your post on YouiTube – from 2010!
    we both are old TIFR colleagues, so fundamental research in in-built in our systems.

    Yes, I will call and try to meet u soon – to relive our old memories

    Take care
    suresh chandvankar
    9920813336

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