Not many remember that Ustad Bismillah Khan, who died in the wee hours of Monday had played the shehnai for a Kannada film titled Sanadi Appanna (Shehnai is Sanadi in Kannada). The movie, which was based on the life of a rural shehnai artiste, was released in August 1977. It was the Kannada icon Dr Raj Kumar who played the title role in the film produced by Vikram Sreenivas, a confidant of Dr Raj Kumar. Jayaprada was his heroine of this film, and the late G K Venkatesh was its music director.
Bismillah Khan flew down to the Prasad Studio in Chennai (it was Madras then) some time in early 1977 for the recording work of Sanadi Appanna. He was in the city for nine days all of which time he spent working for the film.
"His shehnai rendering was recorded for one song, Karedaroo Kelade by singer S Janaki and also for some few important sequences in the film," remembered K C N Chandrashekhar, the then president of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, who also helped in the production work of the film as a friend of Vikram Sreenivas. He was also the distributor of the film.
The film celebrated a 100-day run in many centres of the state and the Ustad came to Bangalore to attend the film's centenary day function. Both Dr Raj Kumar and Ustad Bismillah Khan were the centres of attention at the function which was held at the Urvashi theatre in Bangalore in the last week of November in 1977. 'I just acted in the role but Ustad Bismillah Khan is the real soul of the film. He gave life to the character I played in the film,' Dr Raj Kumar paid tributes to the giant at the function.
In reply, the Ustad was highly appreciative of the humility shown by Dr Raj Kumar when he came to the studios to do the recording for the film.
During his stay in Chennai for the recording work of Sanadi Appanna, the Ustad also took some time off to visit the residence of Dr Raj Kumar, who was staying in that city at that time. Dr Raj Kumar was a regular visitor to the Prasad Studios on all the nine days just to listen to the Ustad rendering his shehnai for the film. He also wanted to watch the Ustad's facial expressions and body language closely so that he could play the character in the film convincingly.