Waiting for celebrities can be boring. But the mood changes the minute Shankar Mahadevan and Bharatbala enter. Their exuberance is infectious. Over the years, Shankar has moved seamlessly between singing, composing and stage shows, while Bala has sailed successfully through different streams – music albums, ad commercials and film making. Shankar continues to make waves with partners Ehsaan and Loy, while Bala, of “Vande Mataram” fame reinforces patriotism with yet another album – this time exclusive renderings of the National Anthem by music maestros of the country. (“Jana Gana Mana” has music by A. R. Rahman and is conceived and directed by Bala and wife Kanika Myer). As “Breathless” Shankar and patriot Bala settle for a Take Two they hit several high notes. All charged up, T. KRITHIKA REDDY listens in…
Shankar: ‘Bharat’ Bala. Only you can do something like “Jana Gana Mana.” Your intention and vision came through in “Vande Mataram.” Now “Jana Gana…” puts you in a different league. Bala: Thanks. We were overwhelmed by the response to “Vande Mataram”. There’s such rich musical talent in the country. It was nice to record the voices of our veterans for a work like “Jana Gana…”. Both the DVD and the audio CD present our culture in a capsule. We showed it across 300 screens in the country. I was there when they played it during “Sivaji” and “Chakde! India” shows. It was a moving experience.
Shankar: By the way, have you seen “Chakde!”?” It’s fantastic. Imagine a star like Shah Rukh playing such a role – that too with non-stars!
Bala: Yes, but that’s when a new cinema emerges. A deglamorised star in a fresh narrative.
Shankar: It is such a relief to watch stars play ‘normal’ roles. We connect immediately.
Bala: Okay Shankar, have you ever thought a film can survive sans songs?
Shankar: In India, it is a culture. Songs and dances are integral to cinema. Everybody likes to sing. Even the man on the street is a singer. (Breaks into a song) Bala: But most often, songs don’t seem integrated well into films. Right now, I’m working with Gulzarji. Since he handles both the script and the lyrics, they flow seamlessly.
Shankar: Yes. But veterans ask for a few scenes that precede and follow a song before writing it. They try to integrate the song with the script.
Bala: It is amazing to work with people that we grew up admiring. Our generation is so fortunate to have worked with many legends and imbibed from them.
Shankar: True. When I first met Javed for ‘Breathless’, I was speechless for the first few minutes –— totally in awe of the man.
Bala: So you were ‘Breathless!’ (Laughter). By the way, when did your association with Rahman start?
Shankar: It was in Mumbai during his recording for “Bombay.” I helped organise an instrument for him. We got chatting and I knew he would reach where he has reached today. His association with you is so strong.
Bala: We do few projects together, but they are special.
Shankar: You guys brought back patriotism in a different way – through music – with so much energy and force.
Bala: That way, I totally agree with you. Songs are vital to this country. There’s a song in every heart. There’s this tiny karaoke shop in Mumbai. My friends go there, record their own songs and pass it on to me with funny notes – —‘Here’s the next singing sensation.’ (Laughter) Okay, you are a singer and a composer. When you create a tune, how do you give it away to another singer?
Shankar: I think that detachment is necessary. Singers add their own contribution to a piece.
Bala: But most often the scratch disc is unmatched.
Shankar: I agree. The composer is the mother of the tune. So there’s more emotion. There have been instances when singers don’t match up. At the same time, there are instances when they have enhanced compositions. It’s an industry, you have to give people a chance.
Bala: So you are constantly looking for new voices?
Shankar: Rahman started the trend. There was a time when composers used just three or four singers. Rahman came and offered a bouquet of singers. I feel sorry sometimes. There is so much talent languishing here. Yesterday, a girl came for recording. I was stunned by her talent. Apparently, she has been calling my office for five years!
Bala: So if I want to do an album with you, must I wait for five years? (Laughter)Shankar: Excuse me, do you have the time for me? By the way, you’ve done a lot of ads, I still remember some of them.
Bala: Advertisments moulded us, hai na? It taught us discipline, detail and speed.
Shankar: And precision to pack in everything in 30 seconds. Now, tell me about your films.
Bala: I have “Taj Mahal” (IMAX) coming up. Being a monument with awesome architecture, you can’t shoot it like a Films Division reel. We have to embrace it with emotion. So we had to go to court, close the Taj for two days, clean up the litter, take care of the details and shoot it in splendid lighting. Fifty per cent of the shoot is complete. I have “Hari Om” scheduled for release shortly. The film was shown in 40 film fests. It’s a cross-over film in Hindi and English. It won the audience award in eight festivals. It also fetched me the award for best directorial debut at Bangkok. People don’t bother about the language anymore — as long as the emotion is deep. That’s not all. I have another Indo-Japanese film coming up (produced by a Hollywood studio) The script is by M. T. Vasudevan Nair. It’s about a blood-thirsty Samurai’s journey to the land of Kalari.
Shankar: Now, that’s something to watch out for. Do it fast.
Bala: No, tell me do it well.
Shankar: Okay, do it fast, do it well.
Bala: Tell me Shankar, why not do an album together. Just take an alap or a composition to singers across the globe and make them interpret it in their own way. Voices resonating seamlessly from different parts of the world will form a great jugalbandi. It’s a simple idea. But think of the larger picture. It will be great. Simple ideas can make an indelible impact.
Shankar: Sounds superb. Let me get cracking.
Bala: Now, can I say do it fast, and do it well? (Laughter)