spend a night with a family of folk, ghazal and classical singers who have found an unlikely audience in orchestra bar customers
Photographer: Raju Shinde
Yunhi Pehlu Mein Baithe Raho,
Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Naa Karo,
Haye Mar Jaayenge,
Hum To Lut Jaayenge,
Aisi Baatein… THUD!
A table tumbles over as an inebriated rotund customer stumbles across to leave the orchestra bar (once a dance bar). He doesn’t like the fact that the buxom bar girls crooning item numbers have given up the stage to a short bespectacled man and his conservatively dressed wife, who’re more concerned with the undertone of Farida Khanum’s classical Khayal than with that of pelvic gyrations. But two other customers prod the singers on, with wah-wahs uttered to equally loud thigh thumps. Anil and Naina Pawar continue. Their son Sanjay, playing the keyboard behind them, carefully compliments the undertone.
Pawar learnt Marathi folk or Bhav Geet from his uncle when in school. Then, he worked with groups like Geet Sadhna and Melody Rhythm, which performed folk and popular Hindi film hits, to finally perform solo at age 27. His wife Naina was inducted into Indian classical music at age five, by her mother’s ustad. She rendered her first ghazal when she had but completed her 1st standard. Her training under many ustads includes a two-month period with Ustad Allah Rakha Khan. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who had once performed in a hall next to hers, came to hear her and later commended her.
They met while performing at a Pali Hill restaurant. “I’d decided earlier on I’d marry a singer, so he could understand my career and support it,” says Naina. Pawar, in turn, found in Naina his guru, and voraciously absorbed Indian classical and ghazal nuances.
But attempts to land a record or movie music contract, remained thwarted throughout. “I waited for long hours outside Gulshan Kumar’s office, after which I was only allowed to leave my cassette there,” Pawar narrates. “After such experiences we decided not to approach anyone anymore but continue singing on available platforms. If someone had to launch us, they would see us there and decide for themselves.” So they served ghazal nights at Holiday Inn, The Club and Hotel Ashoka. Appreciation followed from people like Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas, and Pawar also got an opportunity to perform abroad. Slowly however the demand for ghazals in the leisure industry withered. With big hotels and bigger budgets conquering the recreation scene, those that held such shows started featuring only established names from across the country and globe, running over small time musicians. And so it happened, that the couple sought solace for their refined voices in a Bhayender orchestra bar.
Two heavily made up bar girls replace the couple on the floor, rendering in terrible tones ‘Yeh Mera Dil Pyaar Ka Deewana’ from Don. They sway slightly, smiling at particularly fond patrons, occasionally walking up to them to express counter fondness. The next Himesh Reshammiya number is a duet between Pawar and one of these girls, which is a challenge because he has to keep bringing her back into tune. This doesn’t prevent one particularly drunken customer from appointing himself Pawar’s alter ego, standing up to lip sync his words while unleashing a complex gamut of Rajesh Khanna mannerisms. With the song ending and Pawar going solo with
‘Duniya Banaane Waale, Kya Tune Duniya Banaayee’ from Teesri Manzil, the man continues mouthing the words, now slumping back in his chair to reflect weepily on it’s lyrics.
“We have unexpectedly found a large audience in orchestra bars for ghazals and classical music,” Naina remarks. “The ratio of these to those who prefer pop is actually about 50-50.” So, at the three bars the family has been contracted in yet, the owners have alternated the two genres proportionately.
The family resides in a small simply furnished flat. It converts this into its “retreat from mainstream music” on weekends by rehearsing classical recitals. The clock, one of the few living room adornments, displays, “3 am”. “This is the time we usually get back from work,” they tell us. Pawar, who’s taken up an office job to make ends meet, leaves for work at seven in the morning. He catches up on sleep on train and bus. “A doctor told me once, that as long as you can sing, you’ll live,” Pawar grins. “So that’s my only health guideline. I originally took to music on seeing the respect legends like Pankaj Udhas accorded my parents,” adds Sanjay, who taught himself the keyboard and drum pad to join the orchestra. “But now, I’m trying to understand it as an end in itself.”