Award-winning filmmaker Shabnam Virmani’s discovery of Kabir began when she heard him through renowned classical singer Pandit Kumar Gandharva. While she assimilated it musically, it was still not time for her to absorb the works of the 15th century saint, philosophically.
However, it was a deeper plunge into the vast ocean of Kabir and his philosophy when she began the Kabir project in 2003 that led her on a journey in many directions across India.
At the launch of 136.1 Yoga Studio’s Anna Nagar branch recently, Shabnam and writer Vipul Rikhi presented ‘Songs of the Saint’ curated by Alaap that traversed the far flung lands of Malwa, Kutch and Bengal.
“I met folk artistes who would say, ‘hum hi Kabir hai; hum Kabir ki vani ko kha gaye’ (We are Kabir, we have swallowed his voice). I used to think how strange that image was,” she told City Express.
During the making of the films, writer Vipul Rikhi met Shabnam in Mussorie and they began presenting the songs and the philosophy as heard from artistes and minstrels from various regions.
Talking about his discovery of Kabir and the rasas of wisdom, Rikhi says that to know and learn, one needs to be ready for it.
He adds, “There are different rasas and something strikes you and you get deeper into it. Then you hear songs you have heard many times, but then they strike in a new way. Songs open up to you when you are ready.”
During the last few years, Shabnam has also been exploring Baul songs with the guidance of one of the most foremost voices in the genre, Parvathy Baul.
The Kabir project too has the repertoire of Parvathy Baul that can be found on our website, adds Shabnam. The project has many extensions through communications between bhakti, sufi and baul traditions.
“We have done a lot of integration. Ajabshehar, a web portal that is part of the project is full of poetry and footage. I am translating these songs into English. We are also exploring how the bhakti, sufi and baul traditions speak to each other,” says Rikhi.
Shabnam concedes that she has given up the grand idea of mapping Kabir completely.
“When we started travelling in search of Kabir, I had a delusional idea that I was going to map Kabir. I realised I am just one swimmer in this ocean,” she says.
The duo adds that the songs of the saint can have varied impact on people. “You have to be ready to receive this. Some may be affected by that arrow of wisdom, and for another it just may not make a difference. We have a lack of heat in the current times. We are mind oriented and intellect-oriented. One drop of love can move people,” he says.