Chennai may be the centre for Carnatic music, but the city is equally accommodative of Hindustani music, says internationally-acclaimed Sitar player Anupama Bhagwat.
When Anupama Bhagwat moved to Chennai a little over a year ago, she only hoped that she could gradually convert the shift into an opportunity in the coming years. But, to her surprise, it took her no time to gain a footing in the city that reverberated with Carnatic music in every inch of its space.
“I had a very good season during my first margazhi here, with about 12 concerts. I was pleasantly surprised by the encouragement and acceptance in Chennai, in the first season,” she says, adding that though she assumed Hindustani music would be an unfamiliar topic for Chennaiiites, the acceptance was heartening.
“The musicians here too have always welcomed various styles of music with open arms,” she adds.
And Bhagwat is no alien to Carnatic music. “S Balachander, the legendary veena player and musician, was a very good friend of my guruji Bimalendu Mukherjee. He had a great understanding of Hindustani music. I am familiar with the many exchanges they had as artistes,” she says.
At present, stationed in Chennai, Bhagwat’s Sitar concerts have taken her across the globe, including countries like the US, Canada, UK, Italy, France and Brazil. Touring extensively for close to two decades now, Bhagwat has also been teaching music in Europe, where her guruji’s son has established an Indian classical music environment.
Today, Bhagwat is an international name to reckon with. But her journey as an artiste is nothing short of tantalising than her accomplishments.
Born into an academically and musically inclined family in Madhya Pradesh, Bhagwat began training under R N Verma at the age of nine. After four years, at the age of 13, she started tutelage under the famous Bimalendu Mukherjee, a doyen of the famous Imdadkhani Gharana, in Bhilai.
“Guruji had told my father specifically that I needed to ascertain how serious I was about music. Later when he accepted me as his student, it was a plunge for me into the ocean of music. The lessons weren’t basic and they demanded a lot from me. The progress was comparatively slow, but very effective. Till the age of 18, the training involved improvisation and absorption of features. It was no longer learning, instead I was evolving as a sitar player,” she says.
Winning the AIR (All India Radio) competition in 1994 boosted Bhagwat’s confidence, while she simultaneous completed her graduation, keeping in line with the academic legacy of her family.
After marriage, when she was 23, Bhagwat shifted base to the US, where she began performing extensively, apart from frequent tours to India. However, it is hard not to deliberate the difficulties a woman as an artiste goes through. Bhagwat maintains that the challenge is not restricted to Indian artistes. “It is a common test that every woman artiste faces: overcoming prejudices. I have consciously avoided feeling victimised and only looked at opportunities that have come my way. For my performance, my guruji has trained me in physical strength that is important for an instrumentalist. The biggest compliment I received from him was that he once told that listening to me play, none would say it is a woman artiste,” she adds.
Bhagwat says that there are bigger challenges that she has worked with. “Many artistes choose a base for themselves. But, I have overcome the barrier of constant shifting to make them work in my favour,” she says.