12 April 2011

The Music Room

Bindu Subramaniam, the talented young daughter of violinist L Subramaniam and singer Kavita Krishnamurthy speaks to Sandhya Iyer about her debut music album, her rapport with her mom, and why she prefers singing and composing in English

Bindu Subramaniam belongs to a family that appears to encompass the entire ocean of musical traditions within itself. She's the talented daughter of Indian violinist L Subramaniam and singer Kavita Krishnamurthy. Her brother Ambi is a violinist and has been performing regularly at concerts with his father, while her second brother Dr Narayan is into ghazals. Bindu's heart leans towards western music, though her roots are very much entrenched in Indian carnatic traditions. She was all of seven when she wrote and composed her first song and by the time she hit her teens, she was a bonafide performer on stage. "As a kid, I remember I would create something Western and my brother Ambi would immediately try to covert it to Indian classical and I would be very annoyed. But over the time, I think we have all found our peaceful ground at home and can appreciate what the other does," says the singer, who also has her Bangalore-based music band.

Today, as a bright, vivacious youngster in her twenties, Bindu is just out with her maiden music album, Surrender, brought out by Times Music, where she has not just sung and composed but also written the lyrics. The album is in English, and blends her love for soft rock, jazz and Indian classical music to create a set of fresh, original music tracks. Why English, we ask? "Well, for starters, that's the language I think in and express myself best in. When I came up with this, a lot of people suggested that I should do the album in Hindi which would make it more mainstream. But it's not about syllables for me. I need to feel my music. Not everyone can be like mom (Kavita Krishnamurthy) who has sung in dozens of languages. People come to her and start talking in Nepali or Kannada, believing her to know these languages. It's one thing to say the lines as they are, and another thing to convince the listener. I don't have that special talent, and let's say, I need to know and feel what I sing," she smiles.

She also believes that English is a fairly viable option. "For a lot of people, English has become their first language. There is a huge English-speaking population out there who listen to all kinds of music," she says. But desis singing in English vis a vis international artisits doing the same could be perceived very differently, isn't it?. "That's like saying, what business does Salman Rushdie have writing in English? I don't mean to compare myself to him, but I don't think people will make that sort of distinction," is her crisp repartee.

Music albums that once thrived have completely gone out of circulation in the last decade or so in India, and the only real platform that remains is Bollywood. Bindu nods in agreement. "That's true. And If I say I don't care about who listens to my music, I wouldn't be honest. I do want people to hear what I compose and sing. The thing is I have been on the stage for a long time, and I really wanted to do this - bring out my own product. As for movies, I think they are lovely too."
Bindu is already onto her second album, so does that mean popular cinema is out of question for now? "Oh, I wouldn't shut any doors, which haven't even opened yet," she laughs. "It's just that the album was my honest, truest expression and I wanted to do it."

She warmly refers to step-mom Kavita Krishnamurthy as the one who opened up a whole new world for her. "We kids grew up in US with hardly any exposure to Bollywood. It was she who introduced us to it, and we realised that it's a lot of hard work. One might think, how much work is a three minute song going to take, but to start from scratch and realise it in a certain way is tremendous," she says. Incidentally, her debut album has been produced by both her parents. "My father may be into Carnatic music, but he has always been open about Western music and has for long been collaborating with foreign artists, so it is nothing really new," she tells us.

For the articulate and well-spoken Bindu, music has been a huge passion, but there was another calling that held her interest for a while. "Music was something that I grew up on 24/7. We didn't know a different world. It's only later when we grew a little older that we saw that people were into different professions and mostly had a 9-5 job. But to begin with, I didn't want to be just into music. I was interested to be a lawyer and even pursued my law studies. But there came a stage where I had to decide and make a choice. I couldn't be studying and performing. That is when I went with my first love, which is music. And I decided to keep law as a hobby," she says.
Without much doubt then, Bindu holds the promise of being the new-age musical talent to look out for.

04 April 2011

How the job got Dhon - thoughts on Indian's big World Cup win

The winning of cricket world cup has expectedly thrown our nation of billion plus people into a surreal wave of emotional frenzy. High on potential, but frequently low on execution, discipline and mental toughness, Indians have been far too used to crumbling on the world stage in competitive team sports. Which is why, most of us thought the game was up and went into a familiar loop of depression when Virender Sehwag and Sachin got out in quick succession in the finals. We’ve seen enough of Indian cricket – and sports always mirrors a society’s character – that persistence and self-belief are not traits that come easily to us. For long, our reputation as a country of ‘gestures’ than ‘doers’ has made us far too skeptical about our chances on the big occasions. Which is why Saturday’s victory proved to be such an epochal moment for every cricket-loving Indian. In that one event, there was a strange relief and redemption. It exorcised our past ghosts. While Gautam Gambhir held his nerves and solidly anchored the innings, it was M S Dhoni who played like a man possessed. The captain’s fiery eyes gave way to a heart-melting smile as he lofted his bat for a mighty, match-winning six, and in that one stroke, gave the nation and its people the courage to dream and importantly achieve it. It’s no exaggeration to say that younger generations who have witnessed the event will be hugely influenced and inspired by this momentous victory and this no doubt will play a role in the country’s cricketing future. In fact, events such as these tend to have a subliminal impact on every aspect of our life, so here’s hoping it makes way for more dynamic leaders and go-getters.

We preened, we celebrated, we partied hard. All fair. But there was another serious aspect that casted some serious doubts on our maturity as a nation. Did India, like Shahid Afridi says, not show enough grace and large-heartedness towards the Pakistani team? The media could go hoarse calling him a sore loser. Fact is, most of the channels behaved in the most belligerent, propogandist manner ahead of the Indo-Pak contest. Images of bloodshed and battle on the field were unnecessarily evoked through headlines. Afridi’s statements about Sachin were twisted and presented. The average man on the street too could be heard stating he didn’t mind India losing the finals if only the team could win against Pakistan.

This whole idea of political revenge through sports is wholly tasteless and crude. The channels went on and on, and it was embarassing to imagine that the Pak team had already arrived in Mohali and could well be stunned to see so much hatred around them. Why then criticise Afridi for speaking his mind? The Pak captain showed great dignity post the Mohali match, generously complimenting the Indian team. His words were like chilled water on those who were letting off noxious steam over the clash. Our victory is no doubt special and denotes we are a nation that could well have acquired some much needed spunk and chutzpah. But we’re also a nation which needs to grow up sometimes.
Sandhya Iyer