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Dr L Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurthy on music and more

It's not everyday that one gets to see violinist-composer Dr L Subramaniam and singer Kavita Krishnamurthy be part of a Hindi film music album. Married for 15 years now, the couple opens up about their long-term musical partnership, touring for concerts with family and collaborating for the upcoming film, 'Gour Hari Dastaan'

Songstress Kavita Krishnamurthy first met the acclaimed violinist and Carnatic musician Dr L Subramaniam at a song recording for the latter’s Global Fusion Project back in the 1990s. “He wanted to hear my voice for a track that he was recording. I was very nervous. He was quiet but did make me sing one line many times until I got it right,” she recalls with a laugh.

Violinist Dr L Subramaniam (second from left) performs with wife and singer Kavita Krishnamurthy (third from left) and Shankar Mahadevan (right) at Nation in Solidarity, an event supporting India’s stand  against terrorism, on the lawns of the India Gate in New Delhi in 2009. pic/Afp
Violinist Dr L Subramaniam (second from left) performs with wife and singer Kavita Krishnamurthy (third from left) and Shankar Mahadevan (right) at Nation in Solidarity, an event supporting India’s stand  against terrorism, on the lawns of the India Gate in New Delhi in 2009. Pic/AFP

The Bengaluru-based couple, who tied the knot in 1999, have been married for 15 years. Oft-missing from the Hindi film music circuit, the duo have their hands full, performing at individual and collaborative concerts tours across the world, running a music institute — Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts in Bengaluru, and hosting the annual, The Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, in the honour of the violin virtuoso’s late father, V Lakshminarayana.

Violinist Dr L Subramaniam (left) performing with singer and wife Kavita Krishnamurthy at the Lincoln Centre, New York in 2004
Violinist Dr L Subramaniam (left) performing with singer and wife Kavita Krishnamurthy at the Lincoln Centre, New York in 2004

Now, post a decade-long sabbatical from Hindi films, Subramaniam has donned the music composer’s hat again for Ananth Mahadevan’s 'Gour Hari Dastaan' that hits the Indian screens on August 14. He recorded a version of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous bhajan, Vaishnav Jana To, with Krishnamurthy and Pandit Jasraj for this film. Excerpts from an interview with the couple:

Q. It’s rare to see your credits on the music albums of Hindi films. Why?
A. Dr L Subramaniam (LS): Post 'Salaam Bombay' (1988), I composed music selectively for films like 'Mississippi Masala' (1991) and 'Little Buddha' (1993). Due to my hectic schedule, I have been unable to devote time to music compositions. I travel for eight months in a year, performing at Indian Classical and Western Fusion concerts. Kavita and I will begin our six-weeks international tour in August, performing across Europe and USA. I also write compositions for international symphony orchestras. For instance, in the next sixth months, I will be preparing four orchestral works, one of them being for a Spanish symphony orchestra. That takes a lot of time because you have to write for each instrument separately and then, collectively for the orchestra.
Kavita Krishnamurthy (KK): I used to sing a lot for Hindi films (last being 'Rockstar' in 2011); trends have changed now. Reality shows have thrown up many singers with Sufi and Western style of singing. We were traditional playback singers. I haven’t had many good offers in the last few years, so there is no point in singing inconsequential songs. I am quite into singing for concerts and I try different things.

MUSIC IN THEIR GENES: Kavita Krishnamurthy (second from left) and Dr L Subramaniam (second from right) with their children, Narayana, Bindu and Ambi
MUSIC IN THEIR GENES: Kavita Krishnamurthy (second from left) and Dr L Subramaniam (second from right) with their children, Narayana, Bindu and Ambi

Q. What made you sign up for 'Gour Hari Dastaan'?
A. LS: For a film of this nature, the background score is used to enhance the characters’ emotions. In many pivotal scenes, where there’s no dialogue, music plays a major role to highlight the character’s emotions. That gives me more scope as a music composer.

Q. Being your wife, was she the obvious choice to give vocals for the composition, Vaishnav Jana To, along with Pandit Jasraj?
A. LS: No. She is a versatile singer with a Classical music background, and comes with a lot of experience. So, I thought she would be the perfect combination with Pandit Jasraj for this track.

Q. How has the shift been from playback singing to performing for live shows with your husband?
A. KK: Earlier, when I would get on stage and see so many faces in the audience, my hands would get cold. Only after my marriage and being with my husband, I could finally get over that fear. Now, I still get a little nervous but I have overcome my stage fright. Thanks to my husband, I have tried to push my boundaries on stage. He has made me sing songs that are not my traditional style, for instance, a Jazz number.

Dr L Subramaniam and Kavita Krishnamurthy
Dr L Subramaniam and Kavita Krishnamurthy

Q. Which have been your most memorable performances together?
A. LS: In 2004, we performed at the Lincoln Centre (New York) with Jazz legends, George Duke and Stanley Clarke. While we were performing Jazz and Opera, suddenly, Kavita sang her own Hindi pieces, they were kind of blown away.
KK: We started with my husband’s composition, Gypsy Trail; the manner in which George Duke and Stanley Clarke improvised on it was amazing. So, I had to improvise too, and that was scary. To be let loose on stage with these Jazz experts; I feel like a lamb out for slaughter. But I managed, and they were pleased.

Q. How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
A. LS: It’s an advantage to have a wife who is a musician. Whenever I write or compose something, I immediately approach her for feedback, even before heading to the studio. Due to her immense experience, I get to hear different variations for what I’ve composed.
KK: We don’t end up keeping our lives separate. In fact, our children — Ambi, Bindu and Narayana — are also musicians and when they join us at dinner; we end up talking about music a lot. Music keeps us together.
LS: Yes, the entire family will be performing in our next USA tour. It’s enjoyable to travel as a family and share the same interests. If somebody doesn’t share the same interest in the family, they will feel that we are wasting too much time. In fact, our granddaughter, Mahati, is four-and-a-half years old but she too likes to sing.
KK: Yes! She wants to sit and practise with us.

Q. What’s next on the radar?
A. KK: Besides the tours, he has composed an album of Hindi songs that I have sung as solos. I have also sung duets with Hariharan and Sonu Nigam for the same album. We hope to release it early next year.

With new names cropping up every year in the music industry, do you face any insecurities?
A. LS: Not at all, there is enough room for everybody. At a given time, Kavita and I can perform only one show in one city. It is good that people get to hear many different voices.

With modern instruments and tech-savvy GenY, does Indian Classical music still hold the same charm for younger audiences?
A. LS: No, in fact, at our school, we have a waiting list for students who wish to learn Indian Classical music. That’s very refreshing.
KS: Though it has a niche audience, Classical music is still going very strong. In fact, youngsters in parts of South India, West Bengal and Maharashtra are more keen to pick up an Indian instrument.

About the film
Featuring Vinay Pathak and Konkona Sen Sharma in lead roles, 'Gour Hari Dastaan' is a biopic by Ananth Mahadevan on the Odisha freedom fighter, Gour Hari Das, who had to fight for three decades to obtain a certificate recognising his work as a freedom fighter, from the government. His saga was reported extensively in mid-day. Later, scenes from this film were also shot at mid-day’s office in Parel.

Did you know?
Besides concerts in parts of UK and the US, the duo has also performed Indian Classical music concerts in Iceland, New Zealand, Australia and even Oman.

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