Name a sitar player who had her first concert at the tender age of 13, that too with tabla maestro, Zakir Hussain… More clues? She got nominated for her first Grammy at 34, which made her the first woman in the Best Contemporary World Music category. This was followed by five more nominations. Yes, we are talking about the world famous Anoushka Shankar who recently turned composer for a 90-year-old silent film.

At an exclusive FICCI FLO interaction, organized at the Ravi Shankar Centre in New Delhi, Shankar spoke about living with her legendary father and her musical journey. She revealed that she is now “more open to the idea of composing for mainstream cinema”.

ON HER LATEST COMPOSITION FOR SHIRAZ

Shankar composed music for the first time for a silent film made in 1928. It is the love story of a 17th century princess who inspired the Taj Mahal’s construction. The sitarist is currently touring with the film in India in collaboration with The British Council and the British Film Institute (BFI).

Asked what led her to compose for the film, Shankar said, “Last year, I thought how can I feed myself creatively? Get what I need as an artist without having to go away from my kids for like two months. And composition is kind of the perfect match as an extension where I can still do that from home. I can still be able to create and get that fix for myself but be home also. So I was like, I need find a way to start writing for films.”

“I thought how can I feed myself creatively? Get what I need as an artist without having to go away from my kids for like two months. And composition is kind of the perfect match as an extension where I can still do that from home”- Anoushka Shankar

“And literally right then I got this offer to compose for ‘Shiraz’, which is this beautiful silent film from 1920s. I have always been curious to write for films, but the time was really right. And I like that it is a film that is a part of our heritage,” she added.

 

ALSO READ: The queen of Indian, Classical, folk and pop: Shubha Mudgal

So would we ever see her composing for mainstream Bollywood films?

Shankar said, “I must say I really enjoyed this experience of writing for a film. So I would be very open to doing more of it. But which direction of cinema it would be that I do not know at this point.”

“One cannot escape the pressure, but I knew I had the zone of people who cared for me and wanted me to be happy”

GROWING UP WITH A LEGEND

To grow up with a legend like Pandit Ravi Shankar and still choose to play the same instrument is not easy, said Shankar. “At least within the same family nucleus, there was this element of buffering from that huge pressure, which doesn’t mean I was unaware of the pressure. One cannot escape the pressure, but I knew I had the zone of people who cared for me and wanted me to be happy. That was more important for my parents than being a successor to a musical career.”

She said that the moment to make a decision came when she  finished high school “because up until that point I was balancing tour with school. But after that I had to make a decision of whether I wanted to go to university for four years. It is then that I decided to choose music as a career because I had already found what I loved and I already had a career doing it”.

ABOUT HOME, WORK AND GENDER DISPARITY

When asked how she maintains a super successful career and balance her home life as well, she said it is a very dangerous question. She explained, “Right from when I had my first child, I had microphones thrust on my face asking, ‘how do you balance?’ and I feel that it propagates this weird image that certain people can do it all easy. Because it is easy to project someone like me and say that she does it making other women go like, ‘Oh my god, how come I am struggling so much?’ So when people ask me this question I don’t make it sound easier than it is, because it is very hard and it does a disservice to other women.”

 

“When I had my first kid, it left me shocked. I thought I grew up in a pretty feminist environment, but turns out it is not. And I bought into this illusion that I could have everything, but as soon as I had a kid, I realized it is not the same for my husband and me.”

Coming to how the media asks this question more to her than her husband, she said, “When I had my first kid, it left me shocked. I thought I grew up in a pretty feminist environment, but turns out it is not. And I bought into this illusion that I could have everything. But as soon as I had a kid, I realized it is not the same for my husband and me. What people expect of me versus what they expect of him is not the same. And how society is built in to support him as compared to me is not the same.”

“Therefore he can go off and do a film and people don’t ask him any question about work-life balance etc. No one is asking him all these questions because they know I am there at home making it happen. So things are still not set up in a way that it is as easy for women to have kids and have a career as it is for men. So I don’t have an answer other than it is really hard. And that one day at a time, I try to make the best decision.”

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

 

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