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The Pancham week that started with a bang with Nithin Shankar’s team of percussion players and Jolly Mukherjee’s vocal on 27th June in Kala Mandir culminated on 30th June in the same venue with some of them who were present in the earlier show and some more from the luminous constellation of Pancham stars. It turned out to be one of the most fascinating evening for which hundreds of Pancham devotees long for months and once they are there, the memories get etched in the most enshrined corner of their heart.

Unlike the other day when the curtain rose with the Abdullah genie coming out of the magic lantern, 30th June evening pushed off with Jalpari, the Muse of Pancham, creating ripples in the audience streaming in the house. In comes Mr Ankush Chinchankar, the indispensable sutradhar to bind the effulgent strands of Panchamda’s music in a ridiculously pithy span of 3 hours. But sometimes, a 3 hour can be timeless and indeed it was so.

There is nothing more to speak about the king of trumpet or in other words, nothing much of vocabulary left to portray the amazement that Mr Kishore Sodha holds over us. And then his elder Mr Raj Sodha in whom the breath of late Manohari Singh is felt when his alto sax starts blowing. There are occasions galore where Raj ji’s saxophone muted a spectator in wishful reverie. But like the third vortex of a triangle, the man who gave a total form to this triumvirate is Mr Rajendra Singh Sodha. The city witnessed for the first time when the trio took the stage and mesmerized the audiences with their respective instruments do all the talking. The evening started with Rajendra Ji’s favorite tune ‘Raina Beeti Jain’. The gentle caressing of the bow on the strings of violin churned out the melancholia of a lovelorn heart. Raj ji’s sax picked up the trail of Rajendraji’s violin when the same pangs of the persona found its refuge in the resonant blowing of ‘Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon Phir Bhi Mera Man Pyaasa’. The continual waves of higher and lower notes seem to inundate the auditorium. Perfect beginning for the king of trumpet to carry forward the dreaminess of music with ‘Phir Wohi Raat Hain Khwab Ki’.

As soon as the music settled in the head as elixir to a numbed soul, a demure, poised lady stepped in barefoot, offered her pronam to the LoRD, her respected Pancham kaka and took the stage to weave nostalgia and pleasure. Sushma Shreshtha, the child prodigy of the yesteryear has crossed five decades of her life but the energy, the enthusiasm and the effervescence still match that little girl who had walked in the studio of Panchamda to sing ‘Tera Mujhse Hain Pahle’ and some years later, ‘ Kya Hua Tera Vada’. The elongated vocal prelude that Poornima di added to ‘Tera Mujhse’ signified that passage of time and how her 1st musical hit remained her pilgrimage where she would visit and revisit in different ways. As she started ‘Aao Na Gale Lagao Na’ as her tribute to Asha Bhosle, someone as ebullient as ever was spotted in the audience being draped in a gorgeous red saree. The lady was none other than Usha Uthup without whom any Pancham show in the city remains awfully incomplete. It was a rare treat of eyes and ears when Poornima di walked down in to the audience, hugged Usha di and standing in front of the audience from down below, started singing together ‘Nisha a ha ha ha’. This was as amazing as an unexpected moment of happiness. None of them rehearsed but they took seconds to break out in an instantaneous duet of ‘I Love You/Dum Maro Dum’ and Usha di happily complied with audience’s roaring demand of ‘ Doston se Pyar Kiya’. And when you have Kishore ji on trumpet and Nithin Sankar on thumba and the great Franco Vaz on drums to recreate that 70s psychedelia audience would naturally go berserk. Sushmadi’s show was interspersed with some never heard anecdotes of Pancham da’s magnanimity and that spoke volumes of the cordial and treasured relationship she shared with him. Poignance came back with her soulful rendition of ‘ Kya Janoon Sajan’ and ‘Tum Bin Jaun Kahan’.

That mood of pathos continued with Rajendra ji’s classy violin on ‘ Ae Re Pawan’ and Raj ji’s ‘ Zindagi Ke Safar Mein Guzar Jaate Hain’. As the gentle and modesty personified eldest brother of Sodha brothers preferred remain silent, Ankush ji offered a glimpse of his past. His association with RDB was not only as a violin player but also as a flutist in Love Story and 1942ALS. Even as a keyboardist he left his mark in SHAAN. The first half drew to a close with a trailer of an explosive second half. Audience was rocked back with Kishore Sodha’s ‘ Aise Na Mujhe Tum Dekho’ and the splendid Sodhas casting a spell with ‘Kya Yehi Pyaar Hain’ and finally with the famous father-son duet of Nepal Shaw-Rhythm Shaw in ‘Azar Baijan’.

It took seconds for Raj ji and Kishore ji to spellbind the audience after a 10 minute break with their duet on ‘ Tum aa Gaye Ho’. Perhaps the song imperceptibly acknowledges the arrival of someone who brought all the colours in the evening. And then it was a cracker of a show from the man who came for the first time in a Euphony show, took up his instrument on his fractured arm and spun music of supreme bliss for some 20/25 minutes. Yours truly were one of the luckiest few who came in his vicinity for a few never-to-be-forgotten moments in life and forget about the music for which he will be remembered with awe, the humility and gentility of this man touched the deepest core of my heart. Mr Uttam Singh, the man who entered Panchamda’s team perhaps during TEESRI MANZIL days and since then played all the violin solo of His evergreen songs till late 80s, literally took the city by storm. In his own words-“ I knew a soldier who would undergo 3 dialysis a week and still dared to play a blowing instrument with such perfection, then why not I can play violin with just one fractured arm!!’ His conversation with Ankushji was the high watermark of the evening. Every word that he spoke that evening would take a permanent place in our heart. ‘ In musical notation only two notes stand tall. One is ‘sa’ and the other is ‘pa’. and in the HFM, two persons stand tall. Sa-Sachin Dev Burman and pa- Pancham, Rahul Dev Burman’. In a tribute to the man ‘who fed us during HIS lifetime and keep on feeding us after His lifetime’, he sang ‘Chitthi Na Koi Sandesh”, the song he composed for his own film some years back. It was a captivating session of the music of highest kind when he played ‘ Saagar Kinare’, ‘ Bade Acche Lagte Hain’, ‘ Chura Liya’ and a medley of Sholay title and side music. There was a touch of sheer genius at work when he started playing every tune with a small improvised prelude piece gradually merging with the original tune that Panchamda had composed. When he picked up with a small violin piece and asked all other musicians to follow suit in their own style and thereby created a symphony of sounds, we never got an inkling that it would blossom into the delectable rendition of ‘ Chura Liya’. When his bow fiddled over the strings with an elongated long-drawn tune followed by some fast paced brief notes at the genteel backdrop of Nithin da keeping the rhythm in his thumba, audience could hardly foresee that it would evolve into ‘Bade Achchhe Lagte Hain’.

And then there was a magical ensemble of sublime sounds when the enthralled audience witnessed with utter awe and reverence as the man waved his bow at the musicians on stage, gave instant direction to all of them and finally to coalesce one tune with another. Thus the side music of Sholay, the famous sad violin piece composed by Anil Mohile as reminisced by Uttamji, was played in different style by different musicians and finally got fused into an incredible symphony of sounds. Uttam ji started with the delicate violin piece that found its continuation in Kishoreji’s sublime muted sax and then the trail was taken by Rajendra Singh ji and then it got a more resonant continuation in Raj ji’s sax, followed by eclectic and ecstatic solo piece of Franco Vaz and a vibrant bursts of percussion feast on Nithin Shankar’s thumba. It was all improvised then and there on stage and there was simply a mindboggling silence when Uttamji’s bow silenced all instrument but for the lone resso (of Nyapa da) and a side percussion of Abhijit Koli which was allowed to play till Franco Vaz and Nithin Shankar elevated the tempo, only to be carried forward by Kishore ji’s superb insertion of SHOLAY theme music and Raj ji’s brilliant ‘Yeh Dosti’ culminated by a sonorous diminuendo of Uttam ji’s violin. We got a glimpse of how fascinating an arranger he is when he created a Pancham fusion impromptu on stage. It was an experience of a lifetime, a memory that would stay enlivened forever.

The show moved on but the aura of the great Uttam Singh still seemed to linger on the air and the Sodha brothers kept on creating webs of music with ‘Panna Ki Tamanna’, ‘Rimjhim Gire Sawan’, ‘Tu Tu Hain Wahi’, ‘O Meri Soni’, ‘Raju Chal Raju’, ‘Raah Pe Rehten Hain’ and ‘Jaane Jaan’. Apart from the Sodha brothers, Nithin Shankar, accompanied by his brother Anup Shankar and the young and ebullient Abhijit Koli formed a solid percussion brigade (not to forget the unending support of the fantastic team of Kundan da, Suman da and Bapan da from our very own city) that carried the show with supreme elan. The string section, which comprised of Nepal Shaw in rhythm guitar, his prodigious son Rhythm Shaw in lead and Prasanta da on bass guitar, formed the essential backbone to the entire show.

The audience refused to leave the auditorium - despite the show stretching beyond 10:30PM - as the curtain descended with an electrifying medley of ‘Ghulabi Ankhen’ and ‘Duniya Mein’. The show came ended, leaving an insatiable urge for more, more and more, but just as all good things must come to an end, the Pancham festival also ended with an abiding trail.