Vishnu Sutar – Master Tabla Craftsman from Maharashtra

The art and craft of tabla-making has over decades been handed down to succeeding generations of apprentice instrument makers by their seniors. While there is no standardised method of tabla-making, several steps in the highly complex procedure are universally accepted by different craftspeople. There is, however, no doubt that each maker has his own time-tested method. This method is painstakingly developed over a lifetime, and involves keeping pace with the changing musical needs of the era as well as in certain instances, working as a catalyst in the music-making process. Yet, instrument-makers in India seldom receive the recognition they deserve. There is a strong need to document their contribution for posterity. This film documents the journey of Vishnu Sutar, a master craftsman based in Maharashtra with an experience of over forty years in the field.   Born in Sanbur, Patan Taluka, Maharashtra, in 1942, Vishnu Sutar belongs to a family of hereditary carpenters. At the age of a year and half, he moved to Mumbai along with his mother Krishnabai and elder brother Dattatreya. He started working in tabla shops at the age of eleven or twelve. Starting at Magan Jeevan’s shop at Null Bazaar, Vishnu took up employment at various points of time at shops run by Magan Gopal, Ambalal, Gajanan Kalidas, Ajitbhai and Bhagwandas Chhotalal. Over the years that he worked at these shops, he learned several aspects of tabla repairing. He did not receive any formal training in the art of tabla making and learned entirely by way of observation. During his time at these shops, Vishnu repaired the tablas of leading tabla players in the city like Shamsuddin Khan, Ahmed Jan Thirakwa, Amir Hussein Khan, Ghulam Rasool Khan and Nikhil Ghosh. Later, Vishnu established himself as an independent craftsman. In addition to the normal repair work, he began repairing tablas for music institutions in the city like Vallabh Sangeet Vidyalaya and Sangeet Mahabharati. He also supplied tablas to instrument dealers like Haribhau Vishwanath, D.S. Ramsingh and Bhargava Musik. Vishnu also made tablas for artistes in the film industry like Laxmikant Pyarelal, Mohammad Rafi, Cawas Lord and Mahendra Kapoor.  A widely acclaimed craftsman in Mumbai, Vishnu’s expertise in the art of tabla- making is sought after even by tabla players from overseas. He was the recipient of the Manohar Muley Instrument Makers’ Award for the year 1998.

Produced by Aneesh Pradhan (Camera, Editing, and Subtitles)

Assistant Editor: Sudev Sheth

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