Anoushka Shankar; Sitarist, Now Composing for Classic Silent Film Shiraz

Tuesday 28th March 2017 12:20 EDT

This is a look at the surprise fact that Anoushka Shankar (daughter of late maestro Ravi Shankar) turns out to be not just an accomplished musician, she is also a talented composer.

Anoushka was one of the star guests at the recent launch at the British Film Institute of a special season of films to mark the 70th anniversary.

She revealed then that her father Ravi composed the enitire soundtrack for Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali over one eight hour night, after being played each scene one by one by Ray.

Anoushka Shankar was delighted to tell us afterwards in interview about how she came to composing.

“I started composing my own music back in 2005 and my albums since then have been either self composed or in collaboration. I am used to writing, and that is something I love very much, it's creative and it's fulfilling.

But I've never written for film before and that's something I've been looking forward to for a while.”

Anoushka was just about to take a first look at Shiraz, the 1928 silent film by Himanshu Rai in which Rai plays the architect who designed the Taj Mahal. The film has been restored and Anoushka Shankar will be composing the score which will premiere in October 2017 at the BFI as well as in front of the Taj Mahal in India later on.

Anoushka says she has been wanting to find “the right first project. Nothing could be more ideal than Shiraz. It's such a beauty of a film, such a rare and historic piece, that it feels like it's the right place to begin. I'm looking forward to it, very much.”

With children, a husband and an illustrious career, how does she plan her work? How does she create a performing/composing schedule?

“It varies as I am working all the time. When I'm touring, that's much more about performing every day. It's not so much about composing.

Whereas when I'm home, I'm in my home studio a lot more. I'm writing more and I've also got two little boys. Sometimes it's all about family and not work, so every day is different. Routine is really helpful but it's hard to have any kind of daily schedule as a touring performer because not every day is the same. One day I'm in Nevada. One day I'm in Switzerland and one day I'm in London so you can't have a routine that way.

It becomes much more about the discipline of having to work when I work, and be really focussed and really efficient. And to allow the creative process to happen as it will.

So how does she make that space for the creative process to flow?

“For me it's about staying in contact with it as much as possible. I mean just playing. When I'm playing I'm in tune with my instrument and therefore I'm more deeply connected to music. So I can be more creative more easily because if I think of something my hands are kind of in tune with one process and so the creative idea can come out very easily. Whereas if I've been disconnected I can sit with a pen and paper for ages and nothing will come. It just feels like I have to put myself in the position to receive an idea and listen out for it, really.

Composing is different because obviously we are playing in response to something but for me it is stll the same process of trying to stay connected to that intuitive voice while also applying that to the scale of composing for a film.”

I test Anoushka with question about challenges in her life, some of which she has been quite open about in the press. She sums it up this way.

“My life has had a lot of opportunites and challenges. One can't pick out one challenge through a lifetime but it's been a wonderful and rich life, like any other, I guess.

I'm a big fan of leaning into challenges. It feels like when something is dificult I've got to go through it. I can be an avoider sometimes if something's scary. But I've learnt, the older I get, that if  I avoid something, it's still there. And it doesn't go away so I'm going to have to face it at some point. So if something's a challenge I try and face it. And I do that with support. I'm not afraid to ask for help any more. That used to be hard. I've got a really good support system of people I love and trust. I hold people's hands and I take support and I bulldoze through, I guess.

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