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When the company heard the first tune they completely freaked out. They said either make it more Indian or do an English album, don't mash it up
Malleswaram is an old locality that
 still loves to shop at old-fashioned flower and fruit markets, although big departmental stores have in recent years set up their businesses in newly done-up buildings



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A cool guy, an artist
and a freedom jam

For Meri Jaan , Vasundhara Das worked with two people who were so different they could have killed each other. The inside story, in her own words      


Among the new Indipop albums in the market is Magnasound's Meri Jaan , Vasundhara Das's debut effort. The Bangalore girl has sung for A R Rahman in Mudhalvan, and played the role of Kamala Hasan's second wife in Hey Ram. We met her at her Malleswaram home for a chat, and she described how it all came about.

In Vasundhara's words:

I've been training for quite a few years now, but then I was also involved in quite a few other activities, so it's not been a steady growth. So there was college, and I was also involved in Western music. I had two bands during my college days, but not in college. I was also into organising a monthly concert called the Freedom Jam. All that didn't give me that much time to practise. After I competed my degree in maths and statatics, I planned to take a year off my studies. I decided to do my studies in Europe, for which I did one exam and subsequently decided to check out the commercial music scene. Bombay was too far away, so I tried Madras. I went to Madras and was there for three days and I still had no plan of what I would be doing. Magnasound was an option. I went to them and it so happened that this guy was a friend of my father's.

And so all these recommendations were immediately sent from Bangalore and he decided to take me to this music composer called Pravin Mani who had come from Canada. I met Pravin. He had his entire equipment set up in his house. He said why don't you just plug in and sing. So I sang a song. And at the end of it ... Pravin had been intrigued to meet me in the first place because I sang in Spanish. So that was the attraction in this meeting. And having lived in Canada he hadn't realized that people of our age sing pretty well in English, like them. Then he said, "Wow, you are singing R&B... Forget about Spanish, let's do some demos". We decided to do an album in English. So we sat down and worked together. We came up with three songs in three days -- one song a day in three hours sessions each, and they were pretty decent. 

Then Magnasound heard the demo. Now the question was whether I should sign a contract or no. Took me a while and I signed the contract in 1999. But the thing with Praveen is that he is into Western music a lot and he hasn't had that much of a base in any sort of Indian music, and my problem was that my market was an Indian market and we were trying to do a Hindi album. Praveen is Tamil and I am from Bangalore. To hit a Delhi audience or a Lucknow audience we needed some inputs from the north. We were heading in very tangential directions. It was going into all kinds of quaint sounding Indian music. When the company heard the first tune they completely freaked out. They said either make it more Indian or do an English album, don't mash it up.

Somebody put me in touch with this man in Delhi called Piyush Mishra. He is a theatre actor and he has done a lot of theatre music. He is very well known. I met him and stayed in Delhi for a month in April 2000 and sat down and ironed out everything ... made each sound Indian and then took it to Praveen in Madras to work out the arrangement and composition. It was a really a combined effort among the three of us.

We didn't change every tune that we had already done, just made them a little more Indian. There is a qawwali, Meri jaan. That's a completely spontaneous composition by Piyush and Pravini. Shaped up after Piyush came in, on the basis of the framework we had worked out. I wasn't even there when they composed it.

I had met both of them separately spent loads of time with each of them.
They were completely different. Pravin is a cool, modern, commercial guy. Piyush is an artist, he writes very beautiful stuff. So I didn't see a connection and I was very nervous about their first meeting. I had a recording to run to and I introduced them and vanished, not knowing at the end of three or four hours if they might have killed each other. But when I came back they had Meri Jaan ready. I sang it and it was too good to be true.

In the other tunes also we've tried to bring in our own influences. For me as a singer I have some exposure to Spanish, a little bit of Arabic music and Indian music. Influences I picked up along the way, as I was organising the Freedom Jam. I met two guys from Columbia who were interested in Indian music, and I was interested in their music. Had a kind of workshop among the three of us and so that's where I began to explore Spanish music.

The Malleswaram 'hudugi'

Vasundhara Das is a Malleswaram girl. Her grandmother on her father's side used to sing Karnatak music. For those not familiar with Bangalore, Malleswaram is an old locality, like Basavangudi, where some of the city's most distinguished people live.

The Kannada writer G P Rajarathnam and Veena Doreswamy Iyengar were famous Malleswaram residents, and Vasundhara like them is an Iyengar. This is one of those localities that still loves to shop at old-fashioned flower and fruit markets, although big departmental stores have in recent years set up their businesses in remodelled buildings. 

Malleswaram gets its name from the Kadu Malleswara temple, an ancient Shiva shrine whose beautiful granite tank was unearthed five or six years ago. It is also a locality that loves traditional music. Malleswaram Sangeeta Sabha and Ananya conduct classical music concerts regularly.

Vasundhara is a new generation Malleswaram-ite, singing pop and rock, and perhaps more comfortable in the "hip-hep-hyped" parts of Bangalore than in old Bangalore. She was a star performer at Channel V's road show on 2 March. But her links with the old Bangalore remain: she has been a student of Pandit Parameshwar Hegde (a student of Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru), incidentally also a Malleswaram resident.

In a chat with The Music Magazine, from which we have transcribed the earlier narrative, she said her present acting and singing assignments don't allow her the time to catch up with her classical music lessons. Although she would like to sing Hindustani music professionally, she feels she hasn't had enough practice to do it. The really touching part was when she spoke  about her desire to remain with music even after all the glamour stuff was done. She described A R Rahman as "an intelligent man", and recalled the experience of recording the Mudhalvan song Shakalaka baby. Once that song became a hit, she was called for several Tamil recordings, and one producer gave her songs she found utterly distasteful. She firmly refused to sing them and flew back.

Vasundhara's father is into various businesses, including real estate, and works from home. (He filled his pipe and went out to have a smoke while we chatted). Her mother works at the Indian Institute of Science, which is close by. They live in an old-fashioned house (one of the that few that hasn't been demolished to make way for an apartment block) on a main road.

Amritamati S  

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