CHANDRA LAYOUT:After playing for about 1,000 movies, Bengaluru’s most famous sessions flautist Butto has won an award for his overall contribution to the industry.
A child prodigy and student of Hariprasad Chaurasia, he was recently honoured at the Mirchi Music Awards South for his contribution to the Kannada film industry.
His stint with Kannada movies industry began by accident. Sushant, a friend who owned a studio in Bengaluru, once called him down from Odisha for a session.
He recalls, “After I finished and left the studio, (actor and composer) Sadhu Kokila came to play the keyboard, and asked Sushant who had played the flute.” So the two were introduced.
That was the starting point. He met and worked with nearly every music director in Kannada, including Hamsalekha, “whose team was the most organised.”
This was in the early 1990s. An Odissi dancer soon asked him to join her on a Europe tour. “When I played there, the love with which people listened to me made me feel I was doing injustice to music,” he says. That was because he had little formal training.
But you could say Butto, named Annada Prasanna Pattanaik by his parents, was born with a flute. When he was three, in 1971, he was gifted one, and the very next day, he played Chal chal chal mere haathi from the Rajesh Khanna hit Hathi Mere Sathi.
“Luckily for me, it was noticed,” he says. “And from then on, I grew up with a flute. If my father took me to the market with him, he would put me down in one place, and I would be playing the flute till he finished shopping and was ready to take me home.”
If someone was going to the ‘city’ and asked what treats they should bring back for him, his answer would always be “A flute!”
So he had a collection of over 100 flutes even as a child. In the hilly, ore-rich village of Kiriburu on the border of what was then Orissa and Bihar, he was something of a crowd-puller. “If there was an announcement to be made or a group from elsewhere was to perform, they would put me on a table and tell me to play. Then people would gather,” he says.
If his talent stood out in this sylvan setting, it also meant that he was largely self-taught. “My mother used to sing a little, so she was my first guru,” he says. But it was only around the time of his graduation that he took a few lessons from M M Patnaik, who taught music at a university in Bhubaneswar.
But looking back, in 1992, he felt it wasn’t enough. “Whatever I do, I do it fully,” he says. “I was always good at studies too.”
Butto gave up the opportunity of pursuing an honours degree, to the surprise of his lecturers. “I knew that I wanted to do music, and there were others whose careers depended on the degree. Even during the exam, I studied just 40 per cent of the syllabus, got 40 per cent and handed my proud father the certificate,” he says.
So the desire to train more in music took him, on his return to India after his first European tour, to flute maestro Chaurasia’s gurukul in Mumbai.
“It was a great time because that was the year he was just stepping back from Bollywood, and would only agree for recordings that he felt his music was essential for,” he says. “So it was just for a year, but it was four hours every day.”
They would begin at 10 in the morning and go on till 2 in the afternoon. “He would play a raga for 15 to 20 minutes, and then would ask you to play,” says Butto. “If you played something different, with your own improvisations, he would feel happy.”
And it is this nurturing quality he thinks Western music misses. “They ask you to develop creativity, but at the highest levels. Until then, the ability to follow written music is better appreciated,” says the musician, who has experimented with various styles of music. He has played Mozart symphonies with an Indian touch and worked with great names in music, from nearly all Kannada music directors to pianist Paul Erhard. And he picks up the best from each style-- the harmony and mic technique from Western, rhythm from South Indian, and feeling from North Indian.
When, a year after he became a disciple of Chaurasia, his teacher left for a Europe tour, Butto made Bengaluru his home, following which many members of his extended family shifted here too. “I liked the way people respected your talent here. And the weather is great,” he says.
His name originates from Butu, a common Oriya nickname. “By and by, once I came here, the second ‘u’ became an ‘o’, and later the ‘t’ doubled,” he says. Some people even call him Bhutto, bringing to mind the Pakistani political family.
Butto has sung about 50 songs and played the flute for Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Oriya, Bengali, Assamese and Tulu numbers, with Kannada topping the list.
And he now wants to create his own music, and has been working an album, playing the guitar and flute. He expects it to be out in a month.
“It doesn’t matter whether people appreciate my compositions or not. I think it’s something I have to do for a sense of fulfillment,” he says.
Even with his 15-year-old son, who is learning to play the flute and the guitar, Butto emphasises improvisation. “From what I see, he too wants to make a career of music. And unlike my father, I won’t insist he continue studying. He’s in Class 10 now,” he says.