Actor Raakhee Gulzar spent weeks learning how to play the sitar from the maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was for her role of the unfulfilled housewife in the Bengali film, Paroma (1984), directed by Aparna Sen. Recalling the glorious time she had strumming those magical strings under the guidance of the late master sitarist, Raakhee said: “My character was shown to be playing the sitar. And we did not want to fake it. So, Pandit Ravi Shankar was requested to give me sitar lessons.”
What was meant to be just surface-level tips on rudimentary rules of managing the instrument, turned out to be full-fledged lessons in sitar-playing. “Initially, I was afraid the strings would cut my fingers. Panditji first taught me how to hold the sitar. Then when we got down to the strings, and I realised his strings on the sitar were positioned exactly in the opposite way to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s sitar. Having gotten a hand of the strings, Panditji composed a dhun for me to play on the sitar. He hummed it out for me instead of playing it on the sitar,” she said.
Rakhee remembers Ravi Shankar as a lovely teacher, and added: “After I learnt the dhun I began to learn to play it on the sitar. Panditji was softspoken and patient. He would often stop midway during our lessons for a paan and then continue.” After that Raakhee never returned to the instrument. “I brought my sitar back to Mumbai and kept it safely in my home, until one day my daughter Bosky (Meghna Gulzar) broke its base.”
Ravi Shankar died in the US on Tuesday.