The Man,The Maverick,The Musician
"*Shailja Kotru Sharma
s the director of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases and an eminent entomologist who consulted with WHO on communicable disease, the late father perhaps saw his son Jawahar Wattal as a potential pioneer in managed healthcare industry. The patriarch had established guideposts for young Jawahar, one leading to a degree in zoology and the other to an MBA. That was perhaps what Dr. B. L. Wattal wished for. But parental wishes, even as they find compliance in a child’s adolescent effort in the school don’t include dreams designed only for the next generation. The guideposts hadn’t anticipated these dreams and Jawahar took a detour.
Instead of a noxious bureaucratic or corporate environment JW embraced the romance of music and its manifestations, both popular and classical. As a music impressario who knew the nuances of it well enough to try and shift the center of gravity of the industry from Mumbai to Delhi, he risked not relocating to Mumbai, the hub of Bollywood film production,as well as music.
The origins of a new breed of chartbusting pop stars like Daler Mehndi, Shuba Mudgil and Baba Sehgal clearly read as "Made in Delhi,and produced by a maverick with a unique talent". JW sought and carved a new identity for Delhi, the city he grew up in. Yet ‘new’ wasn’t good enough. The culture of Mumbai must migrate to Delhi for him to be happy. He had commissioned a parallel industry in Delhi. JW is unique in that he sat at the beach like King Canute ordering the tide to not come in, and, guess what, it didn’t. But the artists from Mumbai did flock to delhi to sing songs in praise of soap and cereal, record public service announcements and a host of other allied things. Not only did he put Delhi on top artists' travel itinerary; he made Delhi a musical hot spot that rocked to his own music delivered by Daler Mehndi, as did the rest of the global diaspora of indians. The dance floors of every major western city exploded to the pulse of Daler’s "Bolo tar ra ra ra"-and guess what, almost 20 years later, they still do !. I remember Krish, a cousin born and brought up in New York,, telling me how he practised driving as a 13 year old outside the palace gates of Versailles in Paris listening to Daler Mehndi’s "Main dardi rub rub kardi".Such was the global reach of Jwahar's music! Even a classical diva like Shoba Mudgil made a move from the saturnine contentment of ragas to the seductive beat of JW’s compositions-in fact with her chart busting"Ali more angana",JW introduced the Indian subcontinent to Sufi pop music,a category that has become firmly established as numero uno in the world of Pop today.. Those were the heady days of JW’s feel good music. It felt so good that his dad’s preference for the western classical surrendered to a giddy mix of his son’s folk, disco and classical compositions. Once again, JW was the first composer to give a young Pakistani singer Ali Hyder his first big super hit album with 'Sayonee'.Hyder never looked back since.
With his Padma Shree award for the year 2007 in the category 'Arts' award ,a lot of press has expectedly heaped unabashed praise on the ‘maverick’ who defies the mould. A family friend once told me that Jawahar is such an egotist that he doesn’t watch TV because it takes his mind off himself. But this is my advice to her: JW is too good looking[his personality is really that of a rock star,a fact that he deliberately plays down so that you judge him by his work, not by his looks!]] to be worried about his intelligence and too talented to need the compliments of an arm chair critic. And, here’s the kicker. When I congratulated him about Padma Shree, he disclaimed the credit unless it was shared by the biradari, the inner circle, the extended family.
I must add that he certainly isn’t one to suffer mediocrity gladly.Those who have worked with him say that he is a hard task master who insists on perfection from himself and his artists.He is not the type to finish a recording and be done with it.He re-records everthing till it is absolutely flawless,and then spends hours in his studio painstakingly balancing and mixing the sound till he is satisfied that it cant get any better. He is not modest because he has nothing to be modest about.
Jawahar Wattal, like most music greats is truly blessed by success,of course every bit of it is well deserved. And his success is too well recorded by newspapers for me to regurgitate. JW as the pragmatist reinvents himself periodically and craves newness, the central thrust of his quest. Anyone with any interest in Hindustani music knows names like Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan, Hari Prasad Chaurasia,Lata Mangeshkar et al. He has been there and done it...with them all, and more. The most productive and popular phase of his career came with his innovation of new genre of indi pop in the 90’s along with its icons Daler Mehndi, Baba Sehgal and Shubha Mudgil.
They called him"The wonder kid","The Quincy Jones of Indian Pop music" etc.etc.for producing those ‘genre’ sounds and introducing these new talents to the world.. But a seeking JW will never ‘rust’ on his laurels.
He breaks new ground with his latest foray into the unknown or forgotten category of 'Nirgun bhajans'.After his enormously soothing "Hari Om Tatsat" in which he introduced an MTNL engineer,he is now ready with 'Upasana', an album of bhajans sung by an unlikely Income Tax Commissioner of Delhi.'Upasana', the bhajan album,which I have been privileged to get a preview of, is perhaps indicative of JW’s evolving introspection and a sobering tribute to both his parents who died within few years of each other not in too distant a past.
Jawahar has also recently recorded a bhajan album for the Amarnath trust with Suresh Wadekar, and is presently working on an album for the Sabarimala Trust.
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