The only Indian films you worked on are Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (1988) and Mississippi Masala (1991). What made you take up Gour Hari Dastaan?
I met Anant Mahadevan (the director) during a film screening when he told me about Gour Hari Dastaan (GHD). I was immediately taken by the passion with which he explained the film. It’s about a man who spent 30 years of his life trying to prove that he was a freedom fighter. While he would do the rounds of government offices, no one would take him seriously, including people who knew him. I was moved by this struggle. And much like Salaam Bombay, this was a real story. Real stories move me more than fantasies.
Films that you have given music to such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha (1993) or Missisippi Masala are few and far between. What does it take in a film to get you on board?
I don’t take up film offers unless I am really interested. Most of the time that I get between playing concerts around the world and recording is taken up by creating orchestral pieces. The only time I watch movies are during long flights. I am not interested in a typical Bollywood commercial film that follows a formula of four-five songs with an item number. I like film music that is used as background score. For example, in the scene in GHD where Gour Hari is finally acknowledged, he has no dialogues. The music in that scene had to express the emotions. During Little Buddha, for example, Bertolucci showed me the scene where Buddha is attaining self-realisation under the Bodhi tree. He asked me to play whatever I wanted. Those kind of visuals inspire me.
Tell us something about the music of your latest film.
It is a background score except for a bar song, an English pop-rock crossover number. Then we have reinterpreted Raghupati raghav in Western arrangements to give it a global feel. We have also completely modified Vaishnava janato. I have noticed that the song is somehow not that popular among those who aren’t trained in classical music. Cinema is a mass medium and I’m trying to make this song more accessible. It has a western orchestral arrangement and is sung by Pandit Jasraj and Kavita Krishnamurthy.
The music tradition in your family began with your father V Lakshminarayana’s vision. And now you have your children and wife collaborating with you?
My daughter Bindu and son Ambi have worked as my assistants in GHD. Bindu has written the English song while my other son Narayana has sung a song. The Bangalore-based Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts (SAPA) is handled by both of them. Kavita contributes to the institute by giving artistic suggestions.
I get the credit for taking Indian violin to the global stage. But it is my father who is behind making it a solo instrument from an accompanying instrument. It was his dream that foreigners shouldn’t think that the Indian violin is a folk or ethnic instrument and can’t be included in classical music. He is the originator of the whole force.
How has your music festival and music academy shaped up over the years?
SAPA was founded to make music a viable career option like medicine, engineering and computer science, for children. We admit children from the age of three. The Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival was started only for classical music in Chennai in the honour of my father in 1992. Gradually, it became one of the most respected global music festivals in the world. On one hand, you have Indian classical greats such as Bismillah Khan, Jasraj and MS Subbulakshmi playing, and on the other hand, there is western symphony orchestra and jazz.
Who are you collaborating with?
Currently I am working on two major tribute concerts for Yehudi Menuhin, one at Trinity college, London, and another with Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany. I just finished a fusion album with Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and others. I am also doing a full Hindi song album with Kavita. I have composed the songs written by Javed Akhtar and Sameer.