Singer and music composer Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy won this year’s National Award in the category of the best female singer. The National Film Awards jury announced the winners on August 9. The classical singer won the award for her song Maayavi Manave from the Kannada film Nathicharami. The Kannada song became a huge hit with the jury as she won the award in the singing category while her colleague Manjunatha S (Manasor) also won an award in the best lyrics category. Bindhumalini is one of the few rare artists who have pursued training in both Carnatic and Hindustani classical forms.

Her singing masterpieces consist of deeply spiritual renditions of the poetry and songs of the mystic saints and poets belonging to different eras and parts of the subcontinent. We caught up with her to chat about her experience through the making of Mayavi Manave, women’s space in the music industry and the arrival of the MeToo movement in the entertainment industry.

What does the National Award for Playback Singing mean to you?   

It is lovely recognition for the work that is slightly different from the mainstream. It is indeed super special for me that a song that I have created as the Music Director wins the award. It is not an everyday occurrence. And thanks to this, now many in the country would have heard a song that is based on a Carnatic raga called Varali. Not that anyone needs to know it, but that thought makes me smile to myself. It is very satisfying.

National Award Kannada Singer Bindhumalini
Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy during one of her performances (Pic by Humanfuelfestival)

Did you ever anticipate winning a National award?

Let’s say I was secretly dreaming. And the few projects that I have worked on, I have been happy with what I got to create and the awareness that I have done complete justice to the best of my abilities. Doing the work with satisfaction is my focus, and if it does win an award, it is a wonderful acknowledgment but that is not my end goal.

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Tell us any poignant incident that makes Maayavi Manave special for you?

The battle of physical desire and mental and social constructs is always there for each and every one of us. It is about how each of us wants to play it out. The mind-body split challenges all of us all the time. Mayavi Manave is about that.

As a singer, I knew what exactly I needed the song to sound like. I like it when the lyrics are strong and the melody or song by itself conveys/holds/evokes the emotion. I sang it after internalizing the emotion and did not modulate my phrases too much deliberately.

Do you believe that it is your best work to date?

I do not know about the best, but it is surely unique. The interpretation of the brief/scene/situation is what steered the creative process to arrive at this composition as a music director. And as a singer, I knew what exactly I needed the song to sound like. I like it when the lyrics are strong and the melody or song by itself conveys/holds/evokes the emotion. I sang it after internalizing the emotion and did not modulate my phrases too much deliberately. But I allowed the emotion to guide it from within. I like many of the other works I have done for films and also outside of films too.

The song has a strong feminine character to it. Was it intentional, tell us more about its formation?

If you want to be the inner voice of a woman who is having an intense battle within, knowing that the one who is struggling is you and the one who is witnessing is also you. How then would one make that inner voice still sound like an inner voice? When I had to put myself in Gouri’s shoes, I felt intense heaviness a feeling of being trapped within oneself and one’s conditioning, and deep prayer and yearning to become free from this? whom to pray to? but to oneself. It is a dialogue with oneself.

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I imagined Gouri accessing her core strength, courage and compassion towards herself. It felt like a more primordial source, and surely like reaching to a higher self. With all this in mind, I knew the feel I wanted the song to have. I chose the raga Varali because personally, when I sing any song in that Raga, it takes me deeper within myself and it holds a meditative sway in its nature. It feels like a deeply rooted huge ancient tree swaying gently when a big wind with force pushes through it. Gouri’s heart, to me, was like that.

It was the last day of Kabir Yatra in Malwa and my musician friend Vedanth was there with his Banjo. I asked him to just jam with me while I sing. I kept singing for ten minutes or so to just keep moving around this mood I wanted to create. I recorded that Jam and sent it to Mansore. He loved what it evoked. It still did not have any structure like a song, but we knew we got the mood right.

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Do you have plans to venture into Bollywood and have projects in the Hindi language as that would mean a broader audience base?

Language is not a concern for me. Taking up work that I feel I like is the most important take for me.

National Award Kannada Singer Bindhumalini
Bindhumalini Narayanaswamy (Picture Credit: Madhuri Aggarwal)

How do you see women singers evolving over the years in terms of pay parity and do you think women today have equal space in the industry as men?

If I take my own example, then it is wonderful, isn’t it? Pay-wise, I took what according to me was reasonable. There are high paid male and female singers. Be it a man or a woman, they need not take up work that they feel is undermining their value. If the payment does not seem to justify the work, one should consider whether to take it or not. I suppose even here some sort of a demand-supply rule seems to exist. I am not a hardcore industry person. Making music for films in one part of the larger umbrella that is MUSIC for me.

“Equal” is when we all get together and create it. “Equal” is when all of us are on the same side. Today I am here as a music director, maybe yesterday there was no one. So, we are witnessing and are part of the change already and I would like to acknowledge that.

I was approached because of a basic faith in my skill and capability that I will be adding value to the film in a way that could/might be different from another director or artist, not because I could be paid less. I think that already shows that we are already getting to a better place as a society. Women or men need not accept work that they feel is not doing justice to the work that they are doing.

Thanks to this, now many in the country would have heard a song that is based on a Carnatic raga called Varali. Not that anyone needs to know it, but that thought makes me smile to myself. It is very satisfying.

The entertainment industry was impacted by the MeToo Movement last year. What are your thoughts on it? Will the impact be tangible or short-lived?

It is absolutely tangible. It is smoke from the fire. Whirlwind-y, because of the momentum that is gathered and a general assumption that it will never come out like this.  I say tangible because we all know it exists. Any kind of powerplay in all forms ends up happening in any kind of competitive environment. Entertainment Industry, too right?  But I am happy it happened. To talk about it is surely a possibility now. How each one plays it out, well…are we simple beings or what?

What are the future projects you are working on?

I am working on a couple of more films. I am basically an independent musician working solo on some collaborations with other fantastic musicians. I am working on putting some of these materials in the digital format soon.

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