Her famous father might have composed music for films even before she was born, but Anoushka Shankar took her time. The Grammy-nominated musician and global icon is in India to showcase her debut film as a film composer. And the film she has chosen to do is the restored version of Frank Oztin’s Shiraz (1928) starring Himanshu Rai and Seeta Devi.
The 61st British Film Institute London Film Festival world saw the premiere of the restored Shiraz: A Romance of India at the Barbican earlier this month and now the film will tour four Indian cities — Hyderabad, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai, where its screening will be accompanied by live performance by the noted sitar player and an orchestral ensemble. But the timing seems intriguing as the film tells the love story of the 17th century princess who inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal — a monument that is in news these days because of the political slugfest surrounding it. “It is a complete coincidence that we are in India with this film at this time (when the controversy is on) but I am glad to be here and celebrate the iconic Taj Mahal. Both the monument and the film are beautiful pieces of work and hopefully the music as well. It’s important for me to celebrate art from across borders and fostering cultures and people who appear very different from each other through dialogue and empathy,” she explains.
She says that she never saw her father Ravi Shankar compose for films but she have grown up watching those films and his teaching is the biggest influence in her life. About her work in the film, she says, “This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done but tantamount to how much it has been difficult, it has also been rewarding. I had seen the film in its un-restored form and saw the journey of it coming out in all its glory with music being part of it. It’s incredible what we all have achieved. When I first saw the movie a year back, I found it very moving, as I had not seen anything from that time period. I was watching moving images of real people who lived about 100 years ago in the form of epic scenes with huge cast. It’s a piece of our history and it’s lovely to share that again. However, it wasn’t engaging to watch the film without music and I have done the music score to the best of my ability to bring the film back to life.”
She found the whole process very intense as the music was meant to be performed live too. “I had to choose an ensemble with which I will be performing in concerts. My music had to stand alone as well,” she says. “The whole film needed to be filled with music as there are no dialogues. That was quite terrifying. Love, power and destiny are the big themes of the film and I wrote melodies that symbolised those emotions. However, the first performance of playing to a film was very intense, as I couldn’t relax. The film sort of goes ahead without you,” she laughs.