Noted flautist Rupak Kulkarni will be playing with his guru, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, at the eighth edition of Citi-NCPA Aadi Anant: From Here to Eternity Music Festival beginning November 18. Spread across four cities: Pune, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, the three-month long festival is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year and will give concert goers the opportunity to engage with Indian culture through some of our country’s oldest forms of music.
We had a chat with the flautist to know more about him, his journey and his achievements…
You come from a musical background. Please share more about your family, especially your father, late Malharrao Kulkarni.
I was very fortunate to have my first guru as my father late Pt Malharrao Kulkarni because he taught me first, the tabla and then, the flute. I don’t know when and how I started to play tabla because my first tabla solo concert was when I was hardly 18 months old. I played for about 10 to 15 minutes (which I came to know later from my parents). So for me, it was a good thing to know the nuances of the tabla and I learnt it till the age of nine.
My father had around 200 students in his class and used to teach from 6 am to 12 noon and 3 pm to 9 pm so it was obvious for me to get infused with music. In 1977, my father had organised a concert of Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia in Borivali and I was mesmerised by his flute and decided to play it. My father had many flutes at home because he used to teach it to his students. I just picked up one of them and in first attempt, I was able to blow it properly, without any efforts. So I thought why don’t I pursue flute instead of the table because my elder brother was already playing the tabla.
But I was afraid of my father that he may not agree with that so I used to practice on our terrace. One day a very close friend of my father heard my flute and asked me why don’t I learn it properly from my father. I told him I was afraid of my father and he promised to talk to my father and made him listen my flute. When I played it in front of my father, he had tears in his eyes and said he will teach me. So the very next moment, my taalim started. I was a quick learner and my father was very happy with my progress. He used to teach me with other students and always discussed the technical aspects of the flute and the raagas.
How supportive has been the family with respect to your picking up the flute? Was it out of choice or was it because your father a flautist too?
My family always supported me to take up flute as a profession and it was very easy for me to choose it because my father was already into it. The icing on the cake was that my father was very close to Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia who accepted me as his disciple. I want to mention one thing about my father here that one need a big heart to send his own son to another guru to learn. My father was nine years older than guruji but had no hesitation to send me to learn from him. It also helps if your wife is also in the same field. My wife Rupali is a professional singer and has worked as station director in Vividh Bharati, All India Radio, Mumbai. She left her career as she thought if both of us go out for performances, who will take care of home. She looks after me religiously and ensures I get proper food, rest and do my riyaaz regularly. She also makes sure my son Rananjay, a budding singer, does his riyaaz religiously.
You must have played the flute with the masters of the music world. Can you share an interesting onstage incident involving one of them?
I have had the honour shared the stage with the likes of Ustad Rashid Khan and U Shrinivas in a Trio concert, with Louis Banks, Trilok Gurtu, CC Krausch, Sivamani, Taufiq Qureshi, Henri Tournier and many more. It’s always a learning experience when we share a stage with the maestros. In NCPA Mumbai, I did fusion music with Pt Rajan-Sajan Mishra and Trilok Gurtu. We had to play a composed music in which in some parts had to be improvised in odd number bars like 17 & half bars etc. It was a tough job to do but by god’s grace and my guru’s blessings, everything went well and the audience enjoyed it thoroughly.
Will this be the first time for you at the Citi-NCPA Aadi Anant: From Here to Eternity?
Yes, this is my first Citi-NCPA Adi Anant concert and I am very much excited for the same.
In your opinion, do such events help people to get closer to our country’s oldest forms of music?
Definitely, it’s a good initiative and people are rest assured about the integrity of the guru-shishya tradition and it will help people to get first-hand experience about the same. In my case, I am performing for the last 39 years while my guruji has been performing for 65 years so we have such a unique bond that people will experience our chemistry on stage and our love for each other.
How does it feel when you share the same stage and sing the same ragas with someone you have learnt from? Also, who do you think is feeling prouder – you as a student or your guru as your teacher?
I first shared the stage with my guruji at the age of 13. But then I was a child and fearless. As you grow mature as a musician and share the stage with your guru, you are more experienced and more confident, and instead of trying to copy the guru, you try to create your own style. I think both the guru and the shishya would feel proud because, as a performer, the guru has already proven his class but when you produce an able performer in the form of your student, the guru gets contented and a student feels proud because once your guru brings you to a certain level, he can pass on the torch to his student with certain authority.
If you were to rate the crowd of cities in terms of understanding music during a show, which will be the top three cities in the world and why?
If it is Indian classical music, then it is Pune, Kolkata and Varanasi. Because in all these cities, audience has tremendous knowledge and children in these cities are exposed to classical music from a very early age.
Please throw some light on acceptability of Indian music abroad…
Indian music is being accepted by open heart abroad, especially in Europe and North America. More and more concerts are being organised there throughout the year and we are also getting better performers from these countries.
Maintaining the purity of the raag however complex it may be.
Who has been the most inspirational person in your life and why/ how?
Obviously, my guru Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. He has never scolded me, I always get positive vibes from him, he always motivates me in all my endeavours and has been my pillar of strength and support.
A day in the life of Rupak Kulkarni
Riyaaz before the riyaaz, riyaaz after the riyaaz. Also, chintan throughout the day. But I also help my family in marketing and shopping. I love shopping. I don’t run away from my family duties and try to devote maximum time to my family. I also keep touch regularly with my students, if not physically, then through social media.
What is Rupak Kulkarni doing when he is not playing the flute?
Cricket is my passion and I love watching cricket, doesn’t matter which country or team is playing. Also I am a foodie, and love watching comedy movies.
Anything you would want to share with the readers that we missed out on…
I believe in maintaining the purity of the raag. Then only the effect of the raag will be long-lasting. One needs to think music 24 hours, also during sleep.