Sangeetha Varma, who makes her debut with 'Cleopatra,' is one of the few women music directors. She talks about her brand of music.

The music industry has generally not been very ‘kind' to women music directors. A cursory look into the history of Indian music will show that only a few intrepid women have persevered in this male-dominated field. Sangeetha Varma is the latest to break this bastion, hoping to establish herself however ‘rough the road' may be.

Sangeetha has composed music for the forthcoming trilingual film ‘Cleopatra,' produced by T.K.R. Nair and directed by Rajan Sankaradi, and has also sung in it. The audio release of the film is slated to be held later this month. If the Malayalam songs, a duet in Miyan ki Malhar and a six-minute song in seven ragas, in the film are any indication then Sangeetha's brand of music is to be impactful.

Double debut

“It is something more than I can ever ask for. My first film and I have had the privilege of K. J. Yesudas, S. P. Balasubramaniam, Madhu Balakrishnan, Manjari, Shwetha, Sayonara, Reetha, Soumya, Anuradha Sriram and others singing for me. The female portion of the duet with Yesudas, SPB and Madhu, in Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil respectively, was intended for Chitrachechi (K. S. Chitra). But she could not because of the personal tragedy. That was when the producer and director of the film decided to retain the track that I had sung. That's how I made a double debut in the film,” explains Sangeetha who has a post-graduate degree in music from Women's College, Thiruvananthapuram.

Though blessed with a lovely voice and trained to be a vocalist composing was always Sangeetha's first love. Initiated into music by her father Kochappan Thampuran, a noted musician, Sangeetha continued her advanced training under Dr. K. Omanakutty, Padma Narayanan and the late Tripunithura S. K. Subramanian. She learnt the ropes of composing while in college. “Composing music for friends who were taking part in various competitions was how I began. This grew on me,” she says.

It took some time for Sangeetha to make the cut. And when the producers of a telefilm contacted her she was ready. ‘Ente Onam' in 2001 had songs and title music by her. Another telefilm ‘Malayala Naadu' followed and Sangeetha had taken first strides into a domain where very few women had trod.

“This is a very competitive field and being a woman certainly has its limitations. Discussions, travelling to meet people, recordings, and long talks with lyricists, singers can be a bit tough. Then you have your family responsibilities. Most of my composing is squeezed in between my busy household chores. What saddens me is the general attitude. If you are too aggressive people tend to think that you are overpowering and don't want you to be so. If you are meek, people take you to be a lightweight,” feels Sangeetha whose husband Rajesh Varma works in a shipping company and daughter Sarangi is a student of Bhavan's Munshi Vidyalayam, Thiruvamkulam.

Sangeetha worked on numerous albums with one of them, ‘Isal Nilavu,' winning her the best music director award at the Drisya Television Awards in 2007. “That was huge encouragement. Another album that gave me immense satisfaction was ‘Monjulla Painkili.' They were typical Muslim songs and I think I must be the first woman composer of songs in this genre.”

The music of Cleopatra

Now Sangeetha is looking forward to the response for the music of ‘Cleopatra,' her dream project. “The singers, especially greats like Yesudas Sir and SPB Sir, told me that the songs have come out well. They also told me what I need to improve on. I was there on location when the songs scenes were being shot. I was thrilled when I found that it has fallen in sync with the songs perfectly.”

Sangeetha has now decided to stick on to this career, come what may. She says that a Tamil and Telugu film are on the anvil. She will also be singing in two Malayalam films, ‘Orkut Oru Ormakoodu' and ‘Dr. Innocentannu.' “The Tamil film, ‘Ingeyum Oru Taj Mahal' is based on a woman ghazal singer. It is a musical and I'm eagerly looking forward to this challenge.

“I have done a 10-minute song ‘Vande Mataram'. It has lines from 23 languages and was broadcast by All India Radio. I wrote the lyrics in Malayalam, got them translated, and also set them to music. I hope someone would come forward to make this into an album or at least include it in one,” says Sangeetha.