Interview Bombay Jayashri on the experience of penning and singing theOscar-nominated‘Pi’s Lullaby’
The prefix to her name refers to India’s thriving cosmopolitan megapolis from where she hails but it’s hard to contain the appeal of her music to a region, not even to the country. Over the past few years, Bombay Jayashri, with her cross-cultural collaborations has been making her voice heard globally. Now, her Oscar nomination for writing the Tamil song ‘Pi’s Lullaby’ (which she also sang) for director Ang Lee’s Life of Pi bears out her skill to blend populist instincts into the aesthetic.
The well-trained Carnatic vocalist, despite her staunch belief in the classical tenets, has never been undemonstrative of her open-minded approach, magnifying them for the world to be able to showcase the deep and versatile imageries of the genre.
“I am overwhelmed. The nomination reflects upon the profound influence of music and literature in a shrinking world. Somebody asked me how could the jury that had no Tamil-speaking member appreciate the lullaby? And I said you do not need to understand the meaning of the words to experience the emotion,” says Jayashri, who has sung many hit Tamil film songs.
The announcement has taken the classical world by surprise, since she is the first Carnatic artiste to win this prestigious nomination. “That creativity is about unrestricted imagination and multi-cultural alliances came through in this composition that was written by a Tamilian and a Carnatic musician, set to music by a Canadian Mychael Danna (nominated for Best Original Score) and visualised by a Taiwanese, Ang Lee.” Jayashri says it’s more during such rewarding moments that she feels closer to her guru violin wizard Lalgudi Jayaraman and his eclectic outlook. “He would tell me how it is important to understand and analyse music beyond performances.” Every such inventive outing makes you refreshed and energised for further creative challenges, says Jayashri, who recorded the lullaby a year ago in Mumbai. “It was before the beginning of the Margazhi kutcheri season in Chennai yet I didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. It took about four days to put together the small number ‘Kanne kanmanniye’. Lee was very clear about what he wanted. Though he does not understand Tamil, he would ask if I could replace a particular word with something else. It was amazing. He told me ‘let it sound the way you would sing to your son. I want a mother’s love in it, not a literary piece. A child sleeps not because he is sleepy, but because he feels safe.’ He handheld me through every line and the result is there for everyone to hear. It was equally fun interacting with Danna, who has a fine understanding of Indian culture.”
The lullaby that helped Pi sleep and soothed the souls of lakhs of moviegoers has awakened the world to the universality of music, language and culture.