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Challenges Anoushka Shankar faced while scoring music for restored silent film Shiraz

Shankar needed to strike a balance between music that would appeal to the modern audience and music contemporary to the period - 17th century - in which the film is set.


 When sitarist and composer Anoushka Shankar was tasked to score music for the restored late 1920s silent film Shiraz: A Romance of India, she was up against at least three challenges.

Firstly, Shankar needed to strike a balance between music that would appeal to the modern audience and music contemporary to the period - 17th century - in which the film is set.

Her second test lay in the fact that while scoring for the film, that tells the love story of a princess who inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal, Shankar had to simultaneously prepare for the live concert that would accompany the screenings.

"I was very much aware of the musical choices that needed to be made. I could try and be faithful to the period it is set in, the period it was made, or the period I am living in today. And in the end, it's a mixture of all those things. It was indeed a multi-layered scoring. I tried to keep my commitment to the period that the film dealt with, and at the same time introduce elements of modern music that would appeal to the modern audience," the 36-year-old told the media on Thursday, 2 November.

Daughter of legendary sitarist and music composer Pandit Ravi Shankar, she said she had no problems coping with the pressure of working on her first film score.

"Any big piece of work brings with it a great amount of responsibility. I obviously have been working under pressure the whole of my career. So I am accustomed to that," said Shankar, who has been nominated for Grammy Awards six times so far.

Her first Grammy nomination came in 2003 in the World Music category. At 22 years, she was the youngest ever nominee and the first woman in the category.

Shankar was asked to give her take on the fundamental differences between composing music for films and for her albums.

"The journey of the film controls the piece of music. But as a completely independent composer, I am free in my journey. I control the journey of the music", she said.

Shankar also said she did not do much research before composing the music for Shiraz.

"First of all, there is not much record regarding Hindusthani music in the 17th century. I wanted to score the music for the film in the way music can be made today. I felt the experience that we can create with music would accentuate the experience of watching a silent movie. And yes, there are records that some of the ragas existed then. But I moved beyond that," she said.

The experience, she says, was "very rewarding".

"I believe in bringing forward our legacy and sharing it with our people. I had seen only one film from that period before scoring the film music. I was fascinated by the beautiful kisses the lead actors and actresses of Shiraz share. It's a great story, really well made and beautifully shot. I think restoring such a film is a great act," she noted.

To a query about the instruments she had used, Shankar said "it was a fascinating experience scoring the music and at the same time preparing for the live concert. I designed it as a show".

Among the instruments used are sitar, bansuri (bamboo flute), and varied Indian percussions to provide authenticity, violin, clarinet, cello and piano to add depth and breadth.

Shankar, set to hold her second live scoring alongside the screening of the film in Kolkata today, 3 November, has made use of an 8-member orchestra. The first screening was organized at Hyderabad on Wednesday, 1 November. The other two shows would be held in New Delhi and Mumbai.

The restored film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival Archive Gala earlier this month.