‘My music symbolises the central themes of Shiraz’

‘My music symbolises the central themes of Shiraz’

By Bulbul Sharma | | 11 November, 2017
Anoushka Shankar.
Internationally acclaimed artist and daughter of the legendary sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar speaks to Bulbul Sharma about composing music for a silent 1920s film.

Globally, we have a huge audience for our music. In fact, I feel the audience outside will probably clap a lot louder than the Indian audience, because the audience doesn’t clap very much here, which is a shame,” said Anoushka Shankar, the internationally-acclaimed sitar player and daughter of the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar. She was recently at the British Council, Delhi to promote the restored version of the film, Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928), as part of a four-city tour in India (Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata), to mark the UK/India 2017 Year of Culture which was celebrated from 1-5 November.

The 36-year-old musician, who performs around 50-60 concerts a year, said that there is a “massive love, appreciation and understanding” for Indian classical music across the world.

Shankar, who has made a rather extraordinary debut as a film composer with Shiraz, a silent film from the 1920s, explained that the music she has made for the film is quite multicultural. “Having a multicultural soundscape, the music is not purely Carnatic and Hindustani,” said the sitar player who, in 2006, was also credited for being the first Indian to have ever played at the Grammy Awards.

Directed by Frank Ostin and restored by the British Film Institute, Shiraz stars Sita Devi, Himansu Rai, and Charu Roy. Shankar performed the live score of the film at the 61st BFI London Film Festival at the Barbican Center in London with a 7-piece orchestra last month. “Love, power and destiny are the big themes of the film and I wrote melodies that symbolised those emotions. However, the first performance of playing to a film was very intense, as I couldn’t relax. The film sort of goes ahead without you,” Shankar said.

The film portrays a love story; it features the 17th-century princess who inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal, which itself is caught amidst a lot of controversies presently.

Shankar has recently made her rather extraordinary debut as a film composer with Shiraz, a silent film from the 1920s, which has now been restored with a special background score composed by Shankar. 

On being asked whether the political storm surrounding the Taj can also impact the art that is associated to the monument, Shankar responded, “It is a complete coincidence that we are here with the film at this time but it wasn’t really our intention. I am glad to be here with this film and to be celebrating the Taj Mahal in this way. It is the most iconic building, the most recognisable building and it is such a beautiful piece of work—as is the film and hopefully the music I have made attempts to be as well. To celebrate the culture, beauty and create something that crosses borders is something very important to me, my life and career. The last piece of music I made is about crossing borders (Land of the Gold), and fostering dialogue between cultures and people who might seem different for various reasons. You can always find a commonality between people through emotions, empathy and dialogue, and that is what I always stand for.”

The late Pandit Ravi Shankar was also known for composing music for movies like Apu Trilogy, Godaan and Anuradha. He had a direct influence on his daughter Anoushka’s life and learning, constantly inspiring her with his own 

I observed my father making music of all kind throughout my life and as you know, I took part in a lot of his creative projects over the last 20 years of his life. However, I wasn’t alive and around when he had done his film scores. So, I have never seen him doing that. But the films obviously exist. I have grown up watching the films he gave music for, and some, as we know, are such iconic pieces of music. Yes, they were an influence for me, but maybe not directly. His music and his teaching is the biggest influence in my life,” she said.

“Obviously, people want to hear the masters, but you also need to give a platform to those artistes who need a platform. There is a responsibility for organisers to come out of that place and I personally know of many who do that.”
Shankar studied Indian classical music exclusively from the age of nine under her father and guru, Pandit Ravi Shankar. She made her professional debut as a sitar player at the age of 13. Learning under her father was an important experience for her. She told Guardian 20, “He was lovely with me that way, but he was strict in the sense that he had high expectations, that I have to be dedicated and sincere towards music.”

Having signed her first exclusive recording contract with Angel Record, Shankar began working as a solo artist when she was just 16 and released her first album, Anoushka, in 1998.  

Presently based in London, she, along with the Ravi Shankar Centre, organises an annual event that gives a fair opportunity to younger artistes to showcase their talent. Emphasising on the need to create a balance between established and newer artists during concerts, she said, “Obviously, people want to hear the masters, but you also need to give a platform to those artistes who need a platform. There is a responsibility for organisers to come out of that place and I personally know of many who do that.”

Shankar, who missed out on a Grammy after being shortlised for the sixth time earlier this year, feels that awards don’t make any artist better. She added, “Awards do add a kind of prestige in the eyes of media and so they write about it and that gives you promotion and that helps an artiste. There’s a whole cycle involved and it is not just an award. Awards matter, but they don’t fundamentally matter. They don’t make you a better artiste.”

Shankar has released eight albums as yet—Anoushka, Anourag, Rise, Breathing Under Water, Traveller, Traces of You, Home, and Land of Gold—with various esteemed labels.

There are 2 Comments

Anushka's khichri or hamburger music is not indian classical music which, in form and substance, has nothing to do with the transient modes of western pop music which she trawls as original creations. She is always referring to her famous father as a kind of blood support for her own sitar playing which still is far from attaining the level of a Vilayat Khan or an Ali Akbar Khan. Despite his long life and all the advantages which came his way Ravi Shankar has produced a limited recorded legacy to which younger, aspiring artists could rely on as a certain standard for their own self-perfection. RS did not record a DURGA raga, for example, though he played it in 1956, at the BHU, on the occasion of a reception in honour of Karan Singh and his Nepali princess wife. I saw him perform an "encore" at a Sangeet Samaroha in Varanasi, which lasted for one hour, at the request of the loving crowd, after he had already played for 2 hours. The encore was a Bhairavi. He had concluded the 4-day Music Conference with a 4-hour performance, from 2 am to 5.45 am. There is no record of a Bhairavi by Ravi Shankar. Besides he comes short when compared with Vilayat Khan. Anushka never mentions other high performing artists in classical music. This silence says something. Mercifully she ought to leave Indian classical music for what it is: classical music, which allows an infinite variety of styles, marked by the personality of the artist, not by producing mongrel music, in the superficial craze of amusing a certain audience like the one cultivated these days by the forgettable "music" directors of Bollywood. Indian classical music does not amuse. It elevates the soul. The mongrel music of AQnushka is lavishly produced in the fillums of Bollywood. She contributes little to that noise-making which does not have even the freshness and vitality of the folk musics of the country.

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