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'Melody is the key to everything'

Trained in Hindustani & Carnatic classical, Shankar Mahadevan is basking in the success of KHNH.

music Updated: Dec 19, 2003 16:42 IST

Trained in Hindustani classical and Carnatic music, Shankar Mahadevan is basking in the success of Kal Ho Na Ho. An engineering graduate with a stint at Oracle Corporation, Shankar Mahadevan had all the markings of an Indian classical musician what with a formal training in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music. He grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder and Bobby McFerin and has been part of a Swedish band. He has dabbled in jazz and fusion music, has cut his own album, (Breathless and more recently come out with an innovatively named album 9 on the nine rasas of life) and is a playback singer. His musical activity also included composing ad jingles, during one such project, he met Ehsaan and Loy, which later formed part of the music director trio - Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy. Presently he is into giving playback for Hindi films. With the success of films like Dil Chahta Hai and Kal Ho Na Ho, Shankar is amongst the forerunners for the coveted best music director of the year award. Here, he indulges in music and sheds light on his future projects in a candid conversation.

You have successfully given hit music from Dil Chahta Hai, Kashmir, to Kal Ho Na Ho. What is the criteria by which you choose a film to make its music score?
In the beginning when you are a struggler, then no criteria works as you are hungry for work. So one tends to pick up whatever is offered or finds approval with the producer or director. And this is what I also went through. But after striking a chord with the audience, who ultimately decide your fate, and proving my talent to takers for my kind music - which is different from the regular Bollywood mix - I do make an effort at picking the right film. And in this, my guidelines are the script and who's making the film. I don't want to feel at the end of the recording, that our talent was wasted when the song turns out differently on screen from what we had in mind when we recorded it.

You are a singer cum music director. What do you feel for all those struggling artists who want to make a career out of singing or composing but never get the break they yearn for?
This is something I feel very strongly about as I myself have gone through that phase of struggle, which is why we - Ehsaan, Loy and myself - have made it a policy to give breaks to at least one talented voice in all our projects that come our way. And we stick by our resolve on this.

So what should a struggling singer do to approach you for the right break?
All he/she has to do is record his song in an audiotape or a CD and send it to my office. And if he/she is up to the mark he will definitely get a call from us.

Your music in Kal Ho Na Ho was very appreciated. What was the source of inspiration or what drives you to score such music?
I was aware of the script like I said earlier, which dealt with a very modern, urbane and contemporary subject, yet not completely westernised. I was also briefed on this aspect of the film, which is probably why we were chosen as we identify with more a contemporary music - a mix of jazz, fusion, classical, folk and the like. There is i, Pretty Woman and the title song Kal Ho Na Ho, which was most appreciated because of its melody. So it was all that put together and luckily audiences liked it. So as far as the source is concerned, it was the effort of a teamwork, which has always worked best for us.

Apart from singing you compose music. How easy or difficult is it for a music director to be a good singer?
It helps - if you are a music director as well as a singer for then, you know what exactly is happening. At the same time it can be disturbing also - like if a singer is singing in front of me and I am the music director of that project, then the singer in me comes forth to give its own inputs. So it's best to keep the singer in you aside and just concentrate on your music direction when you are directing other singers.

What according to you is the key to good music?
Melody is the key to everything. If the melody is good then be it young, old or a child - everyone will appreciate it.

What projects are you working on presently?
I've just finished giving playback for Javed Akhtar's latest album - Shairana where, my dear friend Raju Singh composed the music. It is a very light album with very 'in the mood' poetry, which is light and yet not frivolous. And working for Javedsaab was a different experience altogether. Besides that, I'm presently working on a fusion project with Shivamani on the percussions. It is very different with a classical base and modern touch/treatment to it. I'm sure many will like it.

First Published: Dec 19, 2003 16:39 IST