As a Carnatic musician, she was always a purist’s delight. However, it was ‘Bombay’ Jayashri’s filmi number Vaseegara, which made her a household name across India. Today this Mumbai girl who has made Chennai her home is a global name, after her song in Life of Pi went and got an Oscar nomination. The vocalist opens up to Bhama Devi Ravi on music and Chennai and everything else that makes sense in life.
Carnatic music which enthralls the sabha crowd seeking pure rendition, fusion music wherein musicians like you collaborate with western instrumentalists, then the popular culture of cinema. How does a musician prep herself for such a diverse audience?
Indian Classical music trains a musician completely from the roots. Growing up in an eclectic background, being blessed with teachers who have a very broad view of music has helped me widen my horizons.
What are your memories of defining concerts that shaped you as a singer? Also, who are your favourite musicians - Balamuralai/MS/ MLV/ Veena Balachander etc whose film songs / work you have enjoyed.
In my growing up years, I have been inspired by great musicians like, Pt. Ravishankar, M.S Subbulakshmi, Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hasan and my guru Shri. Lalgudi G Jayaraman. Even a slice of their life is enough to inspire a student like me.
How did you react to the 'Oscar 'moment in your life -- your work in Life of Pi. In your opinion, what do you think you have brought to the song with which this film opens? How did you stamp it with your individuality?
One feels fortunate that a Hollywood film gave me the opportunity to sing and keep the Indian-ness in the song and I think that creates the definition for this song. I think the all pervading and unconditional love of a mother is what I was able to contribute to the song.
Among all the rich Indian music, how did you hone in on the one aspect that you came out with in this film, which has merited nearly a dozen Oscar nominations? Did you go by the situational narrative as explained to you? Or, was it triggered by the thought that you were performing for a global audience?
Growing up, I learnt different kinds of music and that has helped me nurture my music.
How has your family, including your sishyas, responded to the nomination? I am sure they are praying for your victory. At this moment, what are your prayers for?
It's all god's grace and guru's blessings.
Have you been invited to the big day at Dolby Theatre? Will you be attending?
What is the toughest challenge for a singer who has been on the top for decades now?
In my opinion the toughest challenge for a singer is to keep the mind fresh and not get complacent.
How different or difficult is it for an artiste to sing in films?
It is a totally different experience and always one that I learn and draw from.
Who is the one person you want to thank for your journey so far? Why?
My mother and my Guru, Shri. Lalgudi G Jayaraman for everything that I am.
Tell us a bit about your family? As a mother, are you also torn between providing your child with a professional education, at the same time wanting to avoid the rut?
Yes there are challenges, but god is great.
What is the one thing you want to achieve?
That Carnatic music should reach every nook and corner of the world.
What is your one favourite meal and beverage?
People have this image of you as a dignified, purist, classy performer. How do you unwind?
By listening to music.
Your favourite place in Chennai.
My mother's house.
The one venue where you want to give a Carnatic music performance?
On the Rocks in Kanyakumari where the three oceans meet.