Singer Shankar Mahadevan and his wife Sangeetha. (Image: Shankar Mahadevan/Twitter)
Recently, a documentary on musician Shankar Mahadevan by Kochi-based filmmaker Deepti Pillay Sivan won the ‘Best Indian Film’ and ‘Best Biographical Film’ at the Cannes World Film Festival. The 52-minute docu, Decoding Shankar brings to light hitherto unknown facets of the life of this renowned composer, who as a part of the inimitable trio, Shankar-Ehasaan-Loy, gave Bollywood music its cool, new-age vibe.
The film talks about his journey from being a trained Veena artiste and vocalist, to becoming a software engineer with a good job, to working in ad films, to finally, the Hindi film music industry. His special bond with his mother, his childhood sweetheart-wife Sangeetha, his musician sons, his love for food, and talking about how he created the melodies for some of his hit films, make the documentary interesting.
In an interview to Moneycontrol, he spoke about the film, his over two decades long journey in Bollywood and more. Excerpts.
What is special about Deepti Pillay Sivan’s documentary “Decoding Shankar”?
Everything. The way the story was presented, the simplicity, the honesty and the way she beautifully showed an artiste’s emotions, family, basic nature, who is otherwise only seen performing and singing. I think that is what connected with people.
What have been your fondest memories about the film?
This film itself, the whole experience and every single moment we shot, the different aspects of my life that Deepti portrayed beautifully, all of it meant a lot. When we were shooting, I could see my life unfolding itself almost like a flashback. It created memories that I want to remember for the rest of my life.
The film has been appreciated globally. What do you feel has made it a success in the international festivals?
When we started out this journey, we never knew, nor did we anticipate that it would reach so many places and get us accolades. We never realised that people are going to give us so much love for this film. But I don’t take even a single unit of credit for this. It all goes to the director, who had the idea, the vision and her confidence and trust in me, and her love for my work.
I’m glad that I got the correct director who made an honest, simple and a very effective film. I think it is the sincerity of the film and the passionate portrayal of that side of me which is not normally seen. People know my music but they don’t know me, and what influences me musically and otherwise.
People from various walks of life who have made it really big in their own fields – Amitabh Bachchan, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar, Aamir Khan, Zakir Hussain, Shreya Ghoshal, Sachin Tendulkar, Prahlad Kakkar Prasoon Pandey, Ehsaan and Loy – are so lovingly speaking about their experiences with me and that makes this film special.
Also, you get to see my family, my wife, mother, children, dogs, my house and so, get an insight into my world.
You had composed and sung a poem written by Sachin Tendulkar’s father. Sachin and you have a bond and he shared fond memories in the documentary. Tell us about it.
Sachin is special not only to me but to the entire world. He is God’s child and I consider myself really fortunate that I know him, and we meet occasionally to celebrate lovely moments together. The way he, a Bharat Ratna, spoke about me, the simplicity with which he described me, really touched my heart. And that is why he is Sachin Tedulkar; wherever he has reached he has never forgotten his roots, is always grounded and down-to-earth. Every moment I spend with him is special. His wife Anjali, and his entire family has given us so much love and warmth.
At a time when we keep hearing about bands breaking up, the three of you (Shankar Ehsaan Loy; SEL), have set up band goals and friendship goals. It’s been 25 years of SEL. What keeps you guys going?
SEL is something special. Yes, it has been more than 25 years, and people ask us why we haven’t broken up yet! Actually, we are three completely different, strong individuals as far as music is concerned. We also have different temperaments, food choices, and when we come together, we always have three different viewpoints on any one particular aspect of life. One of the good things is that all three of us never look at the smaller things in life, we only look at the bigger picture and what we eventually want to achieve – and that is good music.
Even family members have arguments and fights. How do you handle ego issues?
Of course we have fights and arguments, but it is only our creative differences, never personal fights. We never take each other for granted, we respect each other and our ideas and that is how we have survived so many decades. Even the thought of breaking up has never ever come into our minds.
Working with Gulzar saab has always been special for you guys…
Being in the Indian film industry, even if you just meet Gulzar saab once, that itself is a big achievement, I feel. I remember there was a time when I was new in the industry and I used to just dream of meeting Gulzar saab. And now we work with him so frequently and our relationship is so beautiful. He just holds our hands and takes us into his world. He is so senior at the same time he still is the youngest writer in the industry today. The way he looks at life is just unbelievable. The way he describes nature, the similes he uses, the way he conceives smaller things and describes them in his own poetic words is amazing. I can just pick up the phone and call him anytime and that is one of my biggest achievements I feel.
SEL have worked on many films with Farhan and Zoya Akhtar. What is special about the brother-sister duo?
Farhan and Zoya have been a part of my journey right from the very beginning, right from the time I did ‘Breathless’. In fact, not many know that the first video that Farhan and Zoya directed together was ‘Breathless’.
We have been associated since then. In fact, we realised that time has just flown by and that we have done most of their projects. Both are extremely sincere, very straightforward, no-nonsense, knowledgeable, hard-working, dedicated and funny. These are very strong assets and every time we worked with them it’s been an experience that we remember.