Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Pandit Firoz Dastur: A Tribute

A tribute to Pandit Firoz Dastur, the Kirana gharana maestro, who was born on September 30, 1919

Firoz Dastur’s good looks and sonorous voice were featured first in Lal-e-Yaman, the oriental fantasy film derived from classic Parsi theatre, released in 1933. He was barely 14 years old. As a child artist, he went on to act in 17 more Urdu feature films, such as the iconic Gul-e-Bakawali, Bagh-e-Misar and Vaman Avatar until 1949. This year marks the 100th birth anniversary of Pandit Firoz Dastur. He is remembered today for the immense contribution he made to the Kirana gharana of Hindustani classical gayaki rather than the world of films, where he made his debut under the baton of Jamshedji Wadia, the legendary owner of Wadia Movietone.

By Girish Sanzgiri | Times Of India

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When I first heard Panditji in 1981 at Gharana Sammelan, I remember him singing an enchanting raga called Chandramukhi that he had composed himself. I was instantly drawn by his tuneful mastery and his winsome personality. Here was an impressively accomplished gayak, who was fit to be a mesmerising nayak.

Although it may seem incredible today, Panditji taught me one single raga — Yaman — for three full years. Then came the talim with the raga Bhairav with komal swaras that lasted for a year. Meanwhile, I also used to accompany my Guruji on the tanpura during his concerts. So, my training continued non-stop on stage too.

Dastur himself revered Wadia as his mentor, friend and philosopher, who directed the youngster to the renowned tabla player Kamurao Mangeshkar, who, in turn, took him to the Kirana maestro Sawai Gandharva. In the meeting that Kamurao set up, Dastur, who was already learning from KD Jaokar, a disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, was “tested” by Sawai Gandharva. He sang a film song set to the raga Bhairavi and passed with flying colours. His taalim also began with the raga Bhairavi, which marked a departure from convention.

Sawai Gandharva would teach at Guruji’s residence from Monday to Friday, and on holidays, Dasturji would go to guruji’s residence. This taalim went on from 1933 to 1937. During these four years, Sawai Gandharwa gave him a full insight into the soulful nuances of Kirana gayaki.

For all his immense knowledge and command over swaras and shrutis, Dasturji was an extremely kind-hearted soul. But he could also be a hard taskmaster. He would not stop until his disciple got the music exactly right. That required immense patience and compassion. Yet, he would never lose his temper. He taught many aspiring young vocalists for almost over five decades at Mumbai University as well as at his residence in the rigorous sinabasina tradition.

For him, the swara had to be pitch-perfect. Only then it could capture the audience. Such was his command that while teaching, he would easily demonstrate a faulty note and immediately show how to sing it correctly.

Dasturji was an erudite scholar and well respected among his contemporary singers. Moreover, he never ever criticised other singers. He would often tell us that before forming an opinion about any singer, we had to hear him or her at least thrice. He also excelled as a university pedagogue. He was appointed as the seniormost professor at Mumbai University’s music department since its inception on February 14, 1969. He taught there for almost 35 years till, 2005.

Panditji was also a recipient of many prestigious honours such as the Sangeet Natak Academy Award, the Mian Tansen Award and the Maharashtra State’s Gaurav Puraskar. He passed away on May 9, 2008 at his residence in Grant Road. Today, as we pay homage to Guruji on his 100th birthday, I am still haunted by the immortal melody of his “Gopala mori karuna, and the unforgettable Bhairavi thumri, Jamuna ke teer…”