It’s been a couple of weeks since the release of the series but its director Sruti Harihara Subramanian admits that she’s desperately in need of a holiday. The five-part documentary series, produced by K Balachander’s legendary Kavithalayaa Productions, has taken a lot out of the National Award-winning director, but it’s what the show has given to her that matters more. She talks about what went in during its making. Excerpts:
The show has not just been getting great reviews but it has also gained widespread popularity. Were you worried a documentary series might not get the reach of a feature film?
When Kavithalayaa approached me for a non-fiction project about rare musical instruments, I was immediately excited. This was even before Rahman sir was roped in. The concept worked for me, but I was sure that we shouldn’t make it like those typically dry documentaries which fail to entertain. Since I come from a mainstream film background, and with Rahman sir on board, I knew we needed to make it entertaining to reach out to a lot of people. The only way we could do that was by making it a human story; the musicians were being given as much importance as the instrument.
How did you arrive at the four musicians (Kalamandalam Sajith Vijayan, Ustad Mohi Baha’uddin Dagar, Lourembam Bedabati, Mickma Tshering Lepcha) and the instruments (Mizhavu, Rudra Veena, Pangthong Palith) featured in the show?
We had a research team led by art researcher and friend Vaishnavi Ramanathan. We started with a set of interesting instruments; we were looking for one voice, a wind instrument, percussion and a string instrument. Geography was another factor because we wanted to make it as diverse as possible. It’s after that, that we found the musicians, each with a wonderful story to them. It’s only after a lot of meetings that we picked the final four.
These instruments and musicians also needed to come together for the final song ‘Man Mauj Mein’, right? Was that something you left to Rahman?
We took our research to Rahman sir after we short-listed the final four. He was keen, and when he heard their stories, he was kicked about it and just wanted us to get started as soon as we could, especially with Lourembam Bedabati’s story.
What about the idea of the jamming sessions, where Rahman matches an old instrument with one of his newest ones?
That happened organically. When we started shooting in Mumbai with Dagar sir and rudra veena, we had already discussed a format. That’s when Rahman sir said he would get his Continuum Fingerboard for the jamming session. Which instrument he would be using was always left to him. The Continuum was an obvious choice because it could match the gamakam of the rudra veena. And by the third and fourth episode, we wanted to stick to this format, where a new instrument would balance an old one. It gave it a new dimension.
As its director, you’ve been entrusted with one really tough task; to visually translate a piece of art that is very musical. How did you manage that?
I come from mainstream films where it’s all about making the frames look good. But these frames shouldn’t be beautiful just for the sake of it… it should also narrate a story. We were just lucky that we shot at the most beautiful places across the country. Viraj (Sinh Gohil) is one who can always think on his feet. In a sense, we treated the doc like it’s a feature film.
Can you explain this with an example?
Even the background music is a bit more dramatic than the usual documentaries. We could have used the music from the instruments we were featuring for each episode, but I realised the audiences are used to cinematic scores and we needed that to trigger emotions. For instance, the moment we added a moving score to the portions where both Rahman sir and Dagar sir were talking about their fathers, it just became such a special moment. We even treated an instrument like it’s a person, a character… like they are just listening to what we were talking about.
You have Rahman working with you, much like the star of a film. How did you plan to feature him in the film?
I’m a Rahman fangirl. Whenever a new album of his releases, I would take it to a closed room, shut myself up, listen to it a dozen times and only then come outside. It took eight months to research the instruments but I knew quite a bit about Rahman sir even before starting. He was like a subject in school. As a fangirl, I wanted to show Rahman in a new manner. Once you get to know him, he is hilarious and there’s a child-like fascination to him. When he’s with a music instrument, it’s like he’s in a toy store. I wanted to capture that side of him. In fact, he suggested that he could cycle around in one of the episodes. I wanted fans like me to see this whole new side to him, a side I was getting to see because I got the chance to make Harmony.
Article Credits: Vishal Menon from The Hindu