Play Like a Lion: The Legacy of Maestro Ali Akbar Khan
EXEC PROD Mojib Aimaq
PROD/SCR/CAM/ED Joshua Dylan Mellars
MUS Ali Akbar Khan
PROD CO Abuela Luna Pictures
Ali Akbar Khan’s music "is the sound of singing water…"—Carlos Santana
Ravi Shankar is the great sarodist Ali Akbar Khan’s (1922-2009) only possible rival for the distinction of being the man who brought Indian classical music to the West. Visiting the United States in 1955, he stayed behind to open his own school of music in Berkeley and went on to teach, perform with and influence generations of musicians in all genres, many of whom, including Carlos Santana, Mickey Hart, Derek Trucks and John Handy, are interviewed in Joshua Dylan Mellar’s richly conceived documentary. But John Coltrane and Jerry Garcia could be added to the list. Khan’s longevity and depth of influence make the film a default history of the impact of Indian music on the West, fast-moving but with enough detail for the neophyte.
But the film also concerns Khan’s legacy, as embodied by his 26-year-old son Alam, whom the film follows from musical education to his father’s death to his first tour of India. It is in Alam’s journey, even more than the frequently stunning archival performance footage, that we are able to glimpse the real power of Akbar’s example. We are with him long enough to see him come to terms with what must be a terrifying weight of filial and cultural obligation. Mellar’s melodious documentary attentively captures the process of a musician carefully learning to draw musical strength from his father’s daunting example. Featuring tribute performances from Carlos Santana, Ustad Zakir Hussain and others.