Film director Shyamaprasad and playback singer Gayathri bond over music
F or the tenth anniversary issue, I go back to meet two celebrities – playback singer Gayathri and film director Shyamaprasad – who had featured in the first and second Take Two column from Thiruvananthapuram. The popular column had us recording celebrities chatting about various things ranging from music, films and children to career, books and fashion.
Both Shyamaprasad and Gayathri tuned in easily as they knew the format of Take Two. Shyamaprasad's many awards (national and international) for his films and his signature style of filmmaking have made him a much-sought-after director in India. Gayathri's dulcet voice continue to enchant us with her melodious numbers, including classical songs, bhajans and ghazals.
As soon as the two settle down in a comfortable corner at S.P. Grand Days, both of them talk shop. The music buffs quizzed each other about their kind of music and exchanged notes about compositions, background scores and music experiences. Gayathri has sung a melodic song ‘Pularumo' in Shayamprasad's latest film, Ritu and so they begin on that note.
Shyamaprasad:Surprisingly, initially, that song was not there in the film. It came as an after thought but then the situation became so important and I thought of connecting a couple of things over that song. Eventually, it became an intrinsic part of the film.
Gayathri:You have a very good feel when it comes to music. What kind of music do you listen to?
Shyamaprasad:All kinds. Any beautiful combination of notes, voices, orchestral tones… Gayathri:I have heard that you have an affinity for Western classical. When did you develop a taste for it?
Shyamaprasad: As a producer in Doordarshan, I had to do a programme called Rainbow, which had Western elements in it. It had lots of choral music, some pop and classical music too. For a Christian devotional programme, we traced the story of Christ through music. Moreover, I have always felt that it is Western music that is close to the medium of films because there is a flow of harmony in Western classical music that is native to the film medium. Gayathri:Indian instruments provide melodic accompaniment more than harmony. Instruments like the veena and the sitar are mainly solo instruments while the violin and the harmonium, which are used for accompaniment, are of Western origin.
Shyamaprasad:Another thing is that many Indian instruments have clear cultural connotations. For instance, if there is a veena, it is immediately connected to a lot of traditional images and ideas. If it is the edakka, suddenly you are transported to another ambience. On the other hand, Western music, especially the New age sound, is largely free of this. So it only aids the narrative of the visual.
Gayathri:Your favourite sound track?
Shyamaprasad: (laughs) Well, you might think I am fibbing but it is actually ‘Pularumo…'
Gayathri:(smiling from ear to ear) Thanks… but your favourite score from world cinema?
Shyamaprasad:Any day it is a composer called Zbigniew Preisner who has composed the music for almost all the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski. In fact, there is a similar pattern in his music for all the films. There is a progression and an evolution from one film to the other in his usuage of phrases, melody and so on.
Gayathri:In those days, much before the Internet and downloadable music, where did you find such compositions? Shyamaprasad:Whenever I travelled abroad, I made it a point to hunt for these. I got some from a flea market in Bulgaria when I went there for a film festival. My wealth is my music collection and books.
Gayathri:(taking a peek at the photos clicked by our photographer) I want to look serious and intelligent like him (pointing to Shyamaprasad).
Shyamaprasad:(laughing loudly) I am flattered… To go back to background scores… In those days, there were a few people in the city with a vast collection of Western music and I used to get a lot of records from them. Bach, Mozart… new-age collections like Narada and so on. Gayathri:Did you listen to trance music and Buddha Bar…
Shyamaprasad:Yes, but that did not move me that much. I prefer mellow music…
Gayathri:You sing like that also. I have heard you humming at a recording session… Shyamaprasad:Thank God, you can't print my singing.
Gayathri:But you sing very well. You are such a big fan of Bhimsen Joshi! Have you learnt music?
Shyamaprasad:I did learn music when I was in class VI. A teacher from Kalpathy used to come home to teach me. But, then, like most children, I was more interested in playing cricket. So I used to play a lot of pranks on him to stop the classes. But I really regret that now.
Gayathri:Even I used to be like that. My mother was very keen that I learn music. The music teacher used to come on Sunday mornings when the Famous Five serial used to be telecast. I used to cry and make a scene. But Amma was very strict. I had to get up in the morning and practise… I never used to do that. I was very lazy as a kid.
Shyamaprasad:The initial music lessons are quite monotonous and repetitive. So how did you get through to that to reach that stage when music begins to touch your soul…
Gayathri:Some are very focussed and those are the music prodigies. It must be something to do with their karma. In my case, I used to love music. As a teenager I was tuned to Bryan Adams, Michael Jackson… I used to enjoy Carnatic music. But the serious involvement with music happened after my graduation.
Shyamaprasad:But why did you choose to learn Hindustani ?
Gayathri:Because, I feel, in Hindustani music you are able to enjoy the progression of the music; you are able to enjoy and feel each and every micro tone of the music. It is almost like a meditation. I reach that state when I listen to Hindustani music. I feel that Carnatic music is more kriti pradhanam. Hindustani musicians are much more into alaap. In Carnatic music, the progression in the alaap is too fast. I feel that I have not had enough. But Hindustani music gives me the space to explore and savour the facets of a raga.
Shyamaprasad:Do you feel that singing film songs regularly affects the musical purity of that classical music.
Gayathri:No, it is a completely different genre of music. Moreover, things have changed. Singers have to be multi-faceted. Every one is into so many things. You are multifaceted too. You have a strong theatre background…
Shyamaprasad:Classical literature, especially dramatic literature, has survived for centuries because they talk about eternal truths. For instance, I am working on Electra, how it works out in a modern context. I am leaving for the United States to work on my script.
Gayathri:It is time for my shoot.
The two friends wind up the interview as Gayathri rushes for the shoot of her programme while Shyamaprasad leaves to pack for his trip.SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN