When the late Hindustani vocalist, Firoz Dastur, once wanted to learn a
new bandish, he visited his guru Sawai Gandharva's home in Girgaum's
Khetwadi neighbourhood. The Kirana gharana exponent, relaxing outside
his house, decided to sing a few notes for his disciple. Minutes after
the master began the bandish, the bustling chawl ground to a halt. And
then turned into a mehfil. Residents lined the balconies, spilled over
into the courtyard and gathered around Sawai Gandharva. The Hindustani
classical maestro's impromptu bandish was now an outdoor concert of
Elsewhere, sangeet natak troupes travelled to
competitions across Maharashtra in buses provided by the BEST union,
three singing siblings from Uttar Pradesh set up the Bhendi Bazaar
gharana, and a pokey room at a Girgaum chawl became the hub for musical
performances. While each of these narratives unfolded at a different
point in time, together they created Mumbai's rich heritage of
Hindustani classical music.
Today, they are also part of Making
Music Making Space, an ongoing collaborative project by documentary
filmmaker Surabhi Sharma, cultural theorist Tejaswini Niranjana and
architect Kaiwan Mehta. It looks at how Hindustani classical music
flourished in colonial and post-colonial Mumbai, and how its growth was
interlinked with that of the city. Through interviews, archival material
and biographies, the project chronicles almost a century of the city's
"A lot of the research we did was from
the 1860s to the 1950s," Niranjana said. "The idea isn't to document the
history of Hindustani music in Bombay, but to show what its
significance was." At a talk on Friday, the team took the audience on a
tour of sorts, across landmarks such as Girgaum's Laxmi Baug, which was
among the most prominent performance venues, the neighbouring Trinity
Club— a chawl room where musicians lived and practised— and institutes
like the Deodhar School of Indian Music where Kumar Gandharva studied.
Wagle Hall at Gaiwadi, Girgaum's Muzaffarabad Hall, and Capitol Cinema
in CST too provided space for the genre to flourish.
a kind of mapping that happened," said Sharma. "The people we
interviewed would point us to places where they had attended
performances, buildings where they learnt music. Layers of history
emerged in a single neighbourhood."
While the patronage was
earlier clustered in the lanes around Girgaum, the action
movednorthwards after the 1950s. "As people migrated to the
Dadar-Matunga side, performance venues and music circles came up there,"
said Niranjana. "This also happened in places like Thane, Vile Parle
and Santa Cruz."
Hindustani also seeped into Parsi theatre
around the 1870s, said Niranjana, when playwrights began using it more
than Gujarati. "Since not many knew the language, there were playwrights
brought in from Uttar Pradesh," she said. Marathi sangeet nataks were
influenced in turn and incorporated raga-based songs.
also looked at how the advent of recording studios and technically
superior venues impacted the genre. The art of fitting an entire raga
within a recording-friendly span of three minutes also had to be
mastered. As the city shape-shifted, the way Hindustani classical music
was practised kept pace. "It's a project that can be added to
constantly," said Niranjana. "The more we research the subject of
Hindustani classical music, the more stories we keep finding."