Singer Priyadarshini documents 100 years of film music

The first Indian playback singer to present the longest doctoral thesis on ‘100 years of film music’, also considered a sourcebook for the film music study

September 24, 2021 03:44 pm | Updated 03:55 pm IST

Playback and classical singer Priyadarshini received her Doctorate on ‘100 years of Tamil and Kannada film music’

Playback and classical singer Priyadarshini received her Doctorate on ‘100 years of Tamil and Kannada film music’

Priyadarshini’s playback career began in 2004 with the Tamil film Kadhal Dot Com and was followed by opportunities to sing in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam film industries. A B Tech graduate in Electrical and Electronics from Nanyang University in Singapore, Priyadarshini’s interests in music and academics ran parallel. Her 5-year long research on film music earned her a doctorate from the Mysore University at its 101st convocation recently.

While pursuing MA in music in Chennai, she realised there are numerous books on Indian inema, but only a handful on film music. On what triggered her PhD, Priyadarshini says, “As a playback singer, I did not want to limit myself to only sing and perform but also to contribute to the film industry by creating an indigenous resource to preserve, create awareness of Indian film music’s legacy.”

Under the guidance of C.A. Sreedhara of the Mysore University, Priyadarshini pursued her research study from the period 1917-2020 in the Tamil industry and 1931-2020 in the Kannada film Industry.

A trained lassical singer, she handpicked songs from different periods of cinema, classified and analysed them on different lines like folk, Carnatic, Hindustani, western, mass numbers and dance-based. Her thesis briefly delves into background scores and studies music creation, recording, production, marketing, business and consumption.

Getting a nod from the university to go ahead with a 1000-pages thesis that created a sourcebook was no mean achievement. “have much more data and resources, so I am planning to include them in my publication later, in different volumes,” says Priyadarshini.

Overcoming challenges

Despite being a playback singer in both Kannada and Tamil cinema industries, establishing communication and interviewing artists — from yesteryear to present-day — posed a challenge. “It was difficult to match their schedules with mine because they were in different parts of India, some were abroad. To collect information on late film artists, I had to establish contacts with their sons/daughters/grandchildren who are not in Cinema.”

She utilised her break time during recording sessions and music shows to enter into conversations to gather details and collect information related to her study. “I was fortunate to hear many living legends share their experiences with me.” she smiles.

Since her topic is relatively new and rare, no references were readily available to Priyadarshini. The collection of song data of the early talkie era was a challenge due to the missing reels. “I had to find old songbooks to extract the titles of songs in the movies. Another difficulty encountered was acquiring details about technology used in music recordings in that era, as the equipment was phased out. No old newspapers are available, so collecting the posters and advertisements of the audio releases was also tough,” she adds.

Priyadarshini feels that the industry is now at the cusp of a technological revolution that has improved the quality of film music. “I feel every period had its style and trends. There is a decline in live recording sessions, but we can see many composers still use them in their songs.”

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