Pandit Firoz Dastur was born on the 30 September in 1919 into a Parsi family. His father recognised his son’s talent, early on. When the film producer Jamshedji Wadia heard him, he offered him a role in his films. He went on to act in more than 14 Urdu films and was the highest paid child artist of his time, earning at one point a salary of Rs 1500 per month. It was Jamshedji Wadia who insisted that he learn the Kirana gayaki and directed him to Kamurao Mangeshkar, a Tabla player, who in turn introduced him to Sawai Gandharva, the Kirana maestro.
At their first meeting, Dasturji sang a famous Bhairavi composition. After hearing the rendition, Sawai Gandharva decided to start his taleem with that raga instead of the usual ragas taught to beginners. Thus began a relationship that both teacher and student would cherish all their lives. Dasturji embarked on a career as a full time concert musician around 1942, ending a long stint in the film industry around the same time.
He received rigorous training from Sawai Gandharva for four years from the age of 13. Thereafter he performed at the All India music conference held in Karachi at the age of 17 or 18. This was his first major performance with masters such as Ustad Faiyyaz Khan, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur also present. Among the other young artists were Gangubai Hangal and Kumar Gandharva. Ustad Faiyyaz Khan applauded Dasturji’s performance and blessed him.
Dasturji lived on Grant Road in Mumbai which would be heavily water logged in the Monsoon season. One rainy day, as he was standing on the balcony of his house, disappointed that his Guruji would not be able to come and teach him, he saw a figure coming in his direction. Sure enough it was Sawai Gandharva. He said that he would have been bored sitting at home and preferred to teach and sing! After a two hour class as the master made to leave and was handed his slippers, he put his foot in one and jumped out, looking at Dasturji’s mother, who was standing behind a curtain who smiled and turned away. Later when Dasturji asked her, she explained that she had dried the wet slippers on a hot pan!
Pt. Firoz Dastur
Born : 3oth September 1919
Died : 9 May 2008
Gurus : Pt. K. D. Javkar, Pt. Sawai Gandharva
Dastur Ji and Bhimsen Ji in a conversation.
Around 1945 he performed Raga Desi for All India Radio in Pune. Afterwards he went to see his Guruji who was at the time suffering from partial paralysis and was staying with his daughter. Dasturji expressed a wish to hear his Guru’s music. At first Sawai Gandharva told him he was too weak to sing. Then he congratulated him on a good performance and in the flow of the conversation pointed out nuances of Raga Desi, singing for more than half an hour.
As a mark of respect for his Guruji, Dasturji sang at all the Sawai Gandharva Sammelans held in Pune from 1953-2008 despite ill health. After one such Sammelan had concluded, he was seen picking up volunteer badges from the ground commenting that it would have be disgraceful for these badges, with a photograph of Sawai Gandharva on them, to be trodden on.
This photograph was taken on the occasion of Dasturji’s 75th birthday. Pandit K G Ginde, Pandit Vidyadhar Vyas and Yashwant Upadhyaye are seen sharing the stage with him.
Girish Sanzgiri, a long time disciple and a musician in his own right, recalls how Dasturji was a tremendously patient teacher.
He would sing the note as the student was singing it and then show how he wanted them to sing it. Girish was taught Raga Yaman for 3 years followed by Raga Bhairav, having komal swars, for a year. He then accompanied Dasturji on the Tanpura and remembers that the taleem continued on stage too!
He was conferred with many honors and awards including the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy Award, Tansen Puraskar, Maharashtra State Gaurav Puraskar and an Honorary Doctorate of the South Gujarat University.
Dasturji passed away in 2008 in Mumbai.
Down the Memory Lane : Some Archival Pictures
Archival Recordings of Pt. Firoz Dastur
Raga Lalat : Recorded live in 1962 on the occasion of celebrating Maharashtra Din.
Dastur Ji cut many 78 RPM recordings. One can listen to crisp yet emotional renderings of various Ragas. The adjoining playlist has some of his 78 RPM recordings.
Pt. Firoz Dastur singing Raga Jogiya in the year 1962 in Mumbai.
Pt. Firoz Dastur sings Gopala mori karuna kyu nahi aave.