Composing a ‘thillana’ to a Santana track

Classical musician Vedanth Bharadwaj is on a high.

Since making a name for himself in the mainstream movie business with his soulful score for Aruvi, he has kept busy.

Last week, an indie musical, His Father’s Voice, which features classical Indian dance, and for which he had scored the music, premiered in Hollywood.

Still from His Father’s Voice

Musicians like Anil Srinivasan, Navin Chandar, Jeremy Roske (who also plays the titular father in the film), Bindhu Malini Narayanaswamy, Akshay Ananthapadmanabhan, and orchestrator Prashanth Techno, among others have collaborated on the film’s music. Excerpts from an interview.

How did you go about composing the music?

I met Kaarthikheyan (Kirubhakaran, the film’s director) at his house, and composed six songs in five hours straight. I’d requested that he give me the lyrics first, as I prefer making music to lyrics when it comes to songs.

[The lyrics] were so beautiful and inspiring that when I read them, the music just flowed like a river. Kaarthikheyan said the tunes were perfect. It was as if the music and lyrics were made for each other.

Composing a ‘thillana’ to a Santana track

You are particular about lyrics…

The music I perform on stage is mostly for lyrics written by saint poets from the Bhakti and Sufi tradition. I like to keep this free of any musical complications and layering. Several musicians have interpreted it in their own way for centuries, but it’s the lyrics that lives on.

The music in ‘His Father’s Voice’ is an interesting blend of classical, folk and Western music.

It was the script [that influenced]. The film is set inside a dance school, which is like a temple for art. The lead actors, Ashwini [Pratap Pawar], P T Narendran, Sudharma Vaithiyanathan, and Christopher Guruswamy are all professional dancers. Jeremy [Roske] is a professional musician.

Since the film is rich in terms of cast, ethnicity, and storyline, the music had to be a blend of classical, folk and western music. For me, it was an exciting challenge to weave all these genres with each other. It’s something I love doing.

Composing a ‘thillana’ to a Santana track

One of the tracks, ‘Santana Thillana’, went up on Carlos Santana’s page! How did that happen?

The song has a hint of Santana’s masterpiece ‘Black Magic Woman’ in it. It was also the first time I composed a thillana. How it went up on Santana’s page, we’re still in the dark about it!

I tried sending him a message. I really don’t know how it worked, and what really happened. But the song was on the musician’s official page for a few hours.

What was the most challenging track to compose?

The Marathi song ‘Liquid Light’, written by Neeta Patil from Pune. It was challenging because the song is set in a mystical forest, with apsaras who sing and dance for a pregnant woman, like a baby shower.

So the music had to be dance inspiring, yet lilting enough not to wake the baby sleeping inside his mother’s womb. Bindhu Malini’s honey-soaked voice was the perfect medium between this celebration and gentleness.

Composing a ‘thillana’ to a Santana track

Can films based on classical arts attract an audience?

Yes, no doubt. Classical art forms are much older than films as a medium of expression and storytelling. In this film, the relationships, and the drama that unfolds, weave around one central thing that binds all the characters — classical arts.

It is a young crew that made ‘His Father’s Voice’. Did you have a lot of fun?

Yes, we had fun, but composing for the dancers was challenging too. While composing for Bhavabhuti’s Ramayana, the lead actors and I sat in a circle and sang these songs together till we got the perfect feel.

You’ve composed music for a few films now. How different is it to creating music that you perform?

The soul is the same. Only the treatment is different. The music I make for theatre or a dance production comes alive on stage. The music for a film has to engage the audience, yet not let them lose track of the story. It has to be raw, fresh and true.

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