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Play it again, Pallavi

`I would like to experiment and try to get to a point where what I sing will sound pure. Your intentions have to be pure.'

M.D. Pallavi: `Our generation has the most confused minds.' — Photos: K. Murali Kumar

SHE'S GIGGLY, bright, young, dusky, and with eyes that dance. She'd just pass off as yet another college girl.

But don't let the girl-next-door looks delude you. Amazing energy levels and a gung-ho attitude have taken M.D. Pallavi places at the age of 25. She revels in the phrase: "Yeh dil maangey more." And can't but say "Uh-huh".

When you talk to her, you wonder if she's trying to excel is too many things. Dig a little deeper though, and you'll see that she's just another ordinary girl — but one with a great flair for music and a family full of talent she could marinate in it.

Learning Bharatanatya ("It's one of those cultural things you do as a kid.") and Hindustani music, reading Enid Blyton, participating in cultural competitions in school was the stuff her childhood was made of. "It wasn't that I wanted to be a singer. Music seeped into my system because my mother was learning it. She used to make my sister and me practise," says Pallavi, of her childhood days spent in Goa amidst carnivals, festivals, and learning Marathi songs. "Those days, I wanted to be a teacher or a librarian."

Grandfather A.S. Murthy was in the thick of theatre when she landed in Bangalore. Much of her teenage years were spent shuttling between school and stage. Helping backstage and singing for Murthy's Abhinaya Taranga productions, singing for these plays, she found herself drawn deeper into the world of stage.

The 25-year-old today teaches theatre and music at Bimba, her home-run institution for kids. Pallavi initially started her training in Hindustani classical music in Goa, learning from Pandit Ram Rao Naik of the Kirana Gharana. Later, she continued Hindustani classical training in Bangalore with Pandit Rajbhau Sontakke, disciple of the great Pandit Omkarnath Thakur of Gwalior Gharana. Learning Sugama Sangeetha or "light music" from Mysore Ananthaswamy, and from his son Raju Ananthaswamy later, Pallavi is now experimenting with various forms.

"I am very open to experimenting with all kinds of music. Our generation has the most confused minds. I'm one of them. I'm trying to do something... some kind of music that feels complete, something I can identify myself with," she says like any other lost kid just out of college. She is now preparing for her final year degree in Hindustani vocal through Benares University.

Pallavi has sung ad jingles, she's sung for light music albums and theatre productions, and for films. "I haven't had a big hit in films yet," she says rather matter-of-factly. But her voice in Nagabharana's film Singarevva was noticed. And she's been singing at dance recitals of Shobhana Chandrakumar, Padmini Ravi and Nirupama Rajendra. She did an impromptu Sufiana-fusion piece for Attakalari's international festival of movement art. Her latest love is doing jazz fusion concerts with Amit Heri. So with so many forms to dabble in, has she been proven guilty, like Shubha Mudgal, of straying away from the "pure"?

"Classical is a pure form of music, I agree. But it's a pure form because it has been defined. Of course I want to do classical; but there have to be other forms of music that have to be pure as well. And I would like to experiment with them and try to get to a point where what I sing will sound pure. Your intentions have to be pure. What you sing has to have meaning," she says with much savvy.

As someone who had spent much of her life on and behind stage, acting came easy for her. She had done a serial, Mussanje. However, she got her big break on TV when Kannada serial director T.N. Seetharam came scouting for new faces for his mega serial Mayamruga at her grandfather's drama school and spotted her and her sister. "I didn't know how it felt like to be on television till people on the road started recognising me!"

In a way, she was no stranger to TV because earlier, she had got together with friends to write, direct and produce single-episode stories for Doordarshan. After Mayamruga came Garva, which brought her the Arya Bhatta Best Actress Award.

Pallavi the singer has shared the stage with S.P. Balasubramaniam, K.J. Yesudas, C. Ashwath, Ranjit Barot, Keith Peters, Taufiq Qureshi, Amit Heri, Vikram Ghosh, Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangaash, and Rajesh Vaidya. She's lent her voice to the projects of illustrious music directors like Vijay Bhaskar, Hamsalekha, Manohar, Mysore Ananthaswamy, and C. Ashwath. She's also scored music for a number of theatre productions like Tughlaq, Moodha Idu Nambike, Miss Sevanthi, Mooka Bali and Maanishada.

On the theatre scene, she's worked with directors like Basavalingaiah, Ashok Badaradinni, Pramod Shiggaon and Ismail for plays like Hamlet, Maanishaadha, Fire and Rain, Balidaana, My Fair Lady and The Good Woman of Schezuan.

Her next musical project is shlokas of Adi Sankara. Her first independent album is also something she is working on.

One jarring note along the way has been Sanjog, an informal jamming forum for musicians she started with some friends: it didn't work out. Did it have anything to do with egos? No, asserts Pallavi, it was about time: or rather, the lack of it. "Musicians will have their egos till music comes on to the scene. Once good music is there, then they forget everything."

Pallavi also acted in the Indian-English film Stumble that won the National Award in the Best English Film category for the year 2003. Pallavi also had the unique experience of being behind the screen for film, working with the scripting and direction team. "Film is the ultimate thing to do if you are in the visual medium. It's so tough to write for films. It's a different mindset. You don't get anything until you see it on screen. You just have to believe something is there in that dabba (camera)," laughs Pallavi, who works with Prakash Belawadi's 2Streams Media.

Hasn't she got her fingers in way too many pies? "I have accused myself often of not having focus," she proclaims. "But it would be wrong to think that way. If I have talent in something, I should explore it. After all, art is about communication and expression."


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