Behind the scenes with Karen David
This radio play is adapted from an earlier stage version of the Baiju Bawra story, and both feature Karen David from BBC1’s Waterloo Road and CBBC’s Pixelface.
Ruth Hobbs from BBC Radio Drama asked Karen about the differences in working for radio, stage and screen, and her own hugely varied career...
Working across the media
RH: You were in the original stage version of Baiju Bawra, from which this radio play was adapted, and you now star in BBC1’s Waterloo Road. How is it different working for radio? Do you prepare differently for these different kinds of roles?
KD: This is my first radio play, and I had so much fun recording this version of Baiju Bawra. From having to record new music all the time, I really felt at home. With my music, I like the lyrics to tell a story or for the music to be expressive in its own way. Even though you're in front of a microphone, I was still acting as if I was in front of a camera. It all helps with giving the right delivery. When I do ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) for film and TV, your vocal energy has to match the energy of what you're doing on screen. It's a wonderful challenge but the more you do it, the better you become at it. I had to do about 7 hours of ADR for Scorpion King 2, as a lot of our outdoor scenes were inaudible. I had to jump up and down as if I was in an arena sword fighting with thousands of people, shouting at the top of my lungs!
Stage to Radio
RH: Reviews of the stage play all comment on how visually impressive it was, so how do you think the radio can compete? Do you think the medium affects how an audience might understand the play?
KD: The colours were so vivid and striking. But this is a radio play, so it would be unfair for anyone to start comparing. Saying that, with the adapted version for radio you can hear a lot more story telling, which I think makes it even more intriguing. I was tickled to see the process of how you create atmosphere and ambience to set the right tone for each of the scenes in the audio play. It really does add to the beauty of the story line, taking listeners to another place. And isn't that the magic of radio plays?
The story of Baiju Bawra - universal appeal
RH: Why do you think the Baiju Bawra story has such wide appeal and translates so well to different forms?
KD: Love is a universal language. The themes of passion and love for life, our callings in life, family, friends and loved ones...all of which people can relate to, from all walks of the earth. In this case, two childhood sweethearts, who are torn apart by unforeseen events in their lives, and how they choose to deal with it. The lost soul, travelling in and out of the past and present, is so refreshingly different and poignant at the same time. I really hope Baiju Bawra fans will enjoy this new twist in the story.
The Baiju soundtrack
RH: Indian classical music obviously plays an important role in the story, but for both the stage and radio version Niraj Chag has produced a sound track that merges the traditional styles with a more modern sound. Why do you think this works so well? Is this something that inspires your own music career?
KD: I think the storyline dipping in and out of these sequences that take us to the past, 'another life', and then back to the future, marries really well with the music going back and forth from classical to modern. The music really helps establish the past and present tenses of scenes, and I think Niraj did a brilliant job making the two contrasting styles in music appealing for not only the storyline but also for the listeners. I have always loved the idea of marrying East and West musically.
The music I have written in the past, especially with my collaborations with A. R. Rahman or the Bombay Dub Orchestra, certainly celebrates the exotic sounds of my mixed heritage with mainstream pop influences. It was a creatively meaningful chapter in my music career.
Contemporary resonance of the story
RH: What do you think the contemporary context within which the tale is told adds to the story?Karen David on the BBC Music website
KD: When I first read the radio play, the 'new twist' to the storyline really tugged at my heart. It was so much more bittersweet and tragic to see a grown man who is utterly lost and displaced, caught in between two worlds, and haunted by memories of long ago, which come flooding in when he incidentally meets his Gauri/Meena. It's such a joyous and yet poignant moment which just 'happens', when they meet by chance. You almost really want them to get together after finding each other in 'this present life'. That's what really excited me - knowing their past history, and the possibilities of history repeating itself.
Stephen Rahman-Hughes (Baiju)
Stephen Rahman-Hughes stars as Baiju in the drama.
Actor, award winning choreographer and veteran of musical theatre, Stephen is an artist of many talents. He took the lead role, Akaash, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's hugely successfull Bombay Dreams. He also has numerous TV credits, including BBC1's Doctors.
Fact or Fiction?
Baiju is a mysterious figure. We know he was a real person living in India in the second half of the sixteenth century, and that he was a great Dhrupad singer, but that’s where the certainty ends. So much of Baiju’s life is shrouded in legend that we don’t even know his last name – ‘Bawra’ actually means something along the lines of ‘crazy’ or ‘mad’. Nobody really knows what it was that sent Baiju mad. Some say it was for love of a beautiful girl, some that he was overcome with religious fervour, and others that he was so wrapped up in his music that he simply didn’t follow the rules and conventions of ordinary life. In this version of the tale, it is Gauri who first calls Baiju ‘Baiju Bawra’ when he abandons their relationship in order to avenge his father’s death through music. According to the history books, Baiju was a highly skilled court musician, and possessed the power to light lamps, make rain fall and make flowers bloom just by singing certain raags. Baiju was also a contemporary of Mia Tansen, perhaps the most legendary of all Indian musicians, and is said to have defeated him in a musical duel – this battle (along with the parallel love story between Baiju and Gauri) is the main subject of both this adaptation and the 1952 film ‘Baiju Bawra’, directed by Vijay Bhatt.More about Tansen from the BBC
Music old and new - Niraj Chag
The music for Baiju Bawra was written by Niraj Chag, marking his first excursion into the world of musical theatre. The songs demonstrate Chag’s skill in balancing the features and techniques of Indian classical music with a more contemporary sound, providing a musical counterpart to the clash of old and new we see in the play, as Meena struggles to understand the full implications of Baiju’s tale.Niraj Chag's BBC Music page
Radio, stage and screen
The Asian Network adaptation of Baiju Bawra is considerably shorter than the original Theatre Royal Stratford East production, and so focuses mainly on the thwarted romance between Baiju and Gauri, Baiju’s triumphant contest with Tansen, and the modern context that is unique to this version of the story. However, both the film and theatrical production had space for some further interesting story strands; some were comical while others added further drama and suspense. One of these strands involved a Bandit Princess who, along with her gang, besieged the village where Baiju and Gauri lived. Through his beautiful singing Baiju was able to persuade the villains to leave the village without trouble, but the power of his voice also caused their female leader to fall head over heels in love with him. The Princess then demanded that in return for sparing the village, Baiju must abandon Gauri and follow her instead. However, when the Bandit Princess explained that she was seeking revenge on behalf of her father, Baiju was reminded of his promise to avenge his own father’s death, and ran away to plan his attack on Tansen. Another more darkly humorous storyline featured a wealthy landowner who threatened the couple’s happiness by wanting to marry Gauri, but his attempts to woo her (always accompanied by his faithful sidekick) were, for the most part, comically unsuccessful. In Ultz’s interpretation of the play, this comic duo was played by none other than Asian Network’s own Raj and Pablo!Raj and Pablo’s regular radio show
Some key terms for understanding Indian classical music
DHRUPAD: a genre of Indian classical singing, still practised today. It is usually performed by a soloist or small group singing in unison, in time to the beat of a pakhavaj or mridang (types of drums).
RAGA / RAAG: a series of five or more notes upon which a melody is based. Different ragas are associated with different times of day or seasons. In Sanskrit the word literally means “colour or hue” but is often understood as “beauty or melody”.
TALA / TAAL: a rhythmic pattern – often 16 beats long – which is used as the basis of Indian classical music, and is usually played on the tabla (a pair of hand drums)
Indian Classical music for GCSE
Indian Classical music is part of the GCSE music syllabus. Here’s some further information from the BBCIndian music on the BBC
Indian music on the BBC - GCSE Bitesize
You can also check out the BBC's GCSE Bitesize website, which features a more interactive approach to World music.GCSE Bitesize