Rajeev Chaurasia on what it took a son to condense 74 years of his maestro father’s life into an hour

Gitanjali.Chandrasekharan @timesgroup.com

On April 12, Rajeev Chaurasia will figure if he passed the “agneepariksha”. The 43-year-old son of flautist Padma Vibhushan Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia excitedly awaits the release of Bansuri Guru, a film he directed on his father, which is the Films Division’s first project to release commercially under the PVR Director’s Rare banner.
He landed the job accidentally, when he realised that the directors proposed by Films Division knew little about the maestro’s life. “They’d ask him fairly basic questions about his performances and work in Bollywood. I thought, main kya kar raha hoon?” Rajeev says in Hindi reminiscent of his Allahabad roots.
The hour-long documentary, that features interviews of Panditji and his students, traces his journey from the akhadas of Allahabad (Panditji was born into a family of wrestlers for whom a profession in music was unthinkable) through Cuttack (where he landed his first job as an artiste), to Mumbai, ending at the Vrindavan gurukul he set up.
It wasn’t easy convincing Films Division, Rajeev says in a candid moment. “The first proposal I took was on one sheet of paper. They asked me to come back with an 80-page script.” Rajeev spent three months reworking the script, and the next three years filming the docu. Although it was a familiar subject, he realised serious research awaited him. Details that had receded into obscurity over the years began to surface, like the story behind Panditji’s first flute.
“He was around 10. I am not sure if it was a mela, but my father spotted a man selling flutes. When he stopped for a drink of water, Panditji picked it up.”
Among those voicing the musician’s journey is 90-yearold P V Krishnamoorthy, AIR’s station director in Cuttack who gave Panditji his first music job in 1957. “He said Panditji was popular with the ladies,” laughs Rajeev.
Being family didn’t always help, though. Rajeev says he was pushing his father to do things he hadn’t been asked to pull off. “There was some friction. Anybody else would have been shown the door. I could take liberties,” he smiles.
Among those Rajeev was keen to include in the film but couldn’t is Annapurna Devi, late Pandit Ravi Shankar’s first wife, and his father’s guru. “It took him three years to convince her to teach him. An exponent of the Sur Bahar, she asked him how she could teach him since he was a flautist. He said all he wanted to learn from her was music; instruments didn’t entertain boundaries.”
Although Panditji visits his guru at her south Mumbai residence every Gurupurnima, the reclusive artiste asked to be excused from the film.
The toughest task awaited Rajeev once shooting had wound up. A hundred hours of footage had to be trimmed to an hour.
Panditji’s Bollywood connection — he composed songs for Chandni, Darr, Lamhe and Silsila among other blockbusters with santoor maestro Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma — is evident as Amitabh Bachchan lends his voice as narrator. Popular tunes (the haunting melody from Jackie Shroff-Meenakshi Sheshadri-starrer Hero), are welded into the background score. “These tunes would comfort me when I was homesick in America,” adds Rajeev, a student of finance from the University of Texas. His career in media which started with Sony TV in the 1990s before he took over as MTV’s programming head, and finally launched a travel channel three years ago, made the job a bit easier.
Do Panditji’s sons, Vinay and Ajay, from his first marriage to late Kamala Chaurasia find space in the film? “Only those people connected to Panditji’s musical journey are featured,” Rajeev says, adding that the family — Panditji’s second wife Anuradha, Rajeev’s wife Pushpanjali and their two children — is also seen in one solitary scene.

A picture from the 1970s with kathak exponent Sitara Devi, at a common friend’s wedding
At riyaz with wife Anuradha ‘Angurbala’, a classical vocalist
With Lata and Usha Mangeshkar at Tirupati temple in the 1960s
Rajeev Chaurasia