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Sitar-y night: Anoushka Shankar performs score she composed for silent film in Mumbai

Artiste was in city for last leg of the multi-city concert; the 90-minute show blended the story of the old film and music seamlessly

mumbai Updated: Nov 06, 2017 10:58 IST
Jayati Bhola
Jayati Bhola
Hindustan Times
Anoushka Shankar,Pandit Ravi Shankar,Shanmukhananda Hall
Anoushka Shankar at Shanmukhananda Hall in Mubai on Sunday.(Kunal Patil/HT )

Anoushka Shankar’s debut as a film composer is a rather unconventional one. The five-time Grammy-nominated sitarist and daughter of the legendary late Pandit Ravi Shankar composed the live score for Shiraz, a 1928 silent film directed by Frank Ostin and restored by the British Film Institute.

The show had a multi-city tour, from Hyderabad and Kolkata to New Delhi, with its final leg in Mumbai on Sunday.

This concert is special. The live score, a seven-piece orchestra, plays out in front of the screen. Shiraz: A romance of India is a rare gem that the BFI decided to remaster for the UK-India Year 2017, in collaboration with the British Council.

“There were so few silent films in India. Anything that survived is important to me,” says Robin Baker, head curator at BFI.

The film stars Himanshu Rai and Seeta Devi, icons of that era. It brings Indian and British creative talents together, says Alan Gemmell OBE, director of British Council India. “The director was, of course, German. So Shiraz is, in its true sense, an international production,” Gemmell adds.

The 90-minute staging saw story and music blend seamlessly. “It’s a special feeling to be composing for my first-ever film,” says Shankar.

Composing for a silent film is challenging enough. But composing for a film set in the 17th century? “I went back and watched the Apu Trilogy, which my father worked on, for inspiration. It’s a perfect marriage between music and film-making and I wanted to find my own magical ingredient,” she adds.

The resulting music score is universal, while being wrapped up in a warm, classical Indian nostalgia. Ahead of the show at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Sion, everyone seemed excited, yet unsure of what to expect.

For Aakanksha Nanda, 42, a Prabhadevi resident and freelance writer, the show offered an interesting mix of her two loves — Shankar’s music and old black-and-white films.

Sachin Joshi, 34, a graphic designer from Worli, left a family event to catch his favourite sitar player. The movie, he wasn’t so sure about.

Then began the show. People took their seats to a slow sitar composition. Then came a brief talk on the restoration and digitisation of the film. The 90 minutes after Shankar and ensemble took the stage were gripping.

The film, in its own remarkable way, tells us how the world famous Taj Mahal at Agra came to life. A monument, which is currently at the centre of controversy in India, shines bright in the film.

No cellphones flashed; there was no talking in the audience. As the delicate notes and exquisite cinematography came together, there were occasional gasps from the audience. And then it was over, to thunderous applause.

Vivek Mishra, 29, a corporate lawyer from Wadala, said he was ‘taken aback’. “I’m taking home a lot more than I expected,” he said.

First Published: Nov 06, 2017 10:57 IST