Niladri Kumar: Jolly good fellow, musician par excellence

An evening of music with Niladari Kumar is an experience. Not merely a musical one. He is a star. Possesses a great sense of humour, enjoys engaging with audiences and seems to be a jolly good fellow. 

Shikhar Naad Qureshi at Kalaa Utsavam 2018 Photo courtesy: Shikhar Naad Qureshi FB Page
Shikhar Naad Qureshi at Kalaa Utsavam 2018 Photo courtesy: Shikhar Naad Qureshi FB Page

Performing at Kalaa Utsavam 2018, Niladari Kumar mesmerised the audience in Esplanade's Concert Hall with effortless fast-moving, agile and magical fingers playing popular raags,  including raag 'Jhinjhoti', taught to him by his late Grandfather when he was 15 years old. On occasions smoothly mixing the raags with 'Smoke in the Water', 'Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram' and other tunes.

His introductions were not mere roll calls but delivered with due respect and naturally fitting humour. Introducing the young percussionist Shikhar Naad Qureshi as the grandson of great Allah Rakha, nephew of Ustad Zakir Hussien, he stopped the clapping audience, "Wait till you hear all the names and you can clap at one go." Further on he went, "Just look at the build-up to Shikhar's introduction" making the audience to laugh.   

Agnelo Fernandes was introduced as the man who makes the "Khans of Bollywood" look good in their "200 crores films."

The show started with Niladri brilliantly accompanied by Satyajit Talwalkar on the tabla. Shikhar Naad Qureshi and Agnelo Fernandes joined him later in the show. 

Renowned sitar maestro Niladri Kumar applying his dexterous, agile and magical fingers on the fiery red electric 'zitar' to create soul-stirring compositions during his performance at Kalaa Utsavam in Singapore. He is accompanied with Satyajit Talwalkar on the tabla. Photo courtesy: Esplanade Theatres on the Bay
Renowned sitar maestro Niladri Kumar applying his dexterous, agile and magical fingers on the fiery red electric 'zitar' to create soul-stirring compositions during his performance at Kalaa Utsavam in Singapore. He is accompanied with Satyajit Talwalkar on the tabla. Photo courtesy: Esplanade Theatres on the Bay

Niladri is a fifth-generation sitar player in his family, trained both under his father, the famous sitarist and classical musician Pandit Kartick Kumar, and the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar. He has also worked with Zakir Hussain, and Pandit Jasraj and collaborated internationally with maestros like John McLaughlin.

Niladri is a fifth-generation sitar player in his family, trained both under his father, the famous sitarist and classical musician Pandit Kartick Kumar, and the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar. Photo courtesy: Esplanade Theatres on the Bay
Niladri Kumar is a fifth-generation sitar player in his family, trained both under his father, the famous sitarist and classical musician Pandit Kartick Kumar, and the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar. Photo courtesy: Esplanade Theatres on the Bay

Swearing by a very important lesson that he has learned from his father, Niladri said, “When it comes to making music, the three things that you need to have, irrespective of any era or generation, are knowledge, honesty, and discipline.”

Listening to Niladri Kumar proves that he is one of the leading icons that have been able to strike a balance between the classical space on one hand and the contemporary Modern / World Music Space on the other. His music infuses interest and respect for the traditional art form in the hearts, minds and play-lists of the younger generation, by making it accessible to them in a form they are more familiar with and better attuned to.

This maverick has played his instruments for Bollywood biggies like A.R. Rahman, Vishal Bhardwaj, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy on tracks in films like Dil To Pagal Hai, Bunty Aur Babli, Omkara, Dhoom 2, Bahubali.

Niladri’s recent collaboration with Sajid Ali and Imtiaz Ali for their latest film, Laila Majnu, has received an overwhelming response.

On his experience of composing music for the film, he says, “For me, music should be such that it evokes a sentiment and touches the listener in a way that it allows them to paint their own visual picture in their mind. This film is retelling one of the greatest love stories known.”

Thus far Niladari has produced more than 15 albums, all stylistically different from each other. Niladri believes that it is extremely important for a musician to reinvent his style to meet the expectations of the present era.

Author
Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.

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