Nandini Srikar‘s first encounter with the movie world happened way back in 1997, with the Tamil movie Uyirodu Uyiraga. 7 years later she debuted in Bollywood with the wonderful yet severely under-rated work called Morning Raga. Nandini’s brilliance however took eight more years to come to public attention, until when Vishal Shekhar gave her the beauty called Bhare Naina in Ra.One. Since then the lady has been off and on the movie scene, singing some good songs while also being quite active on the independent scene. We decided to catch up with the lady to have a chat on music, and here is what she said.
A bit about your beginnings to start off? You seem to have learnt a variety of instruments?
The beginning? Well, in the beginning there was God. One day he decided to go for the big bang and everyone including me was born..(just kidding ; ) )..I was born in a music loving family, my mother was a musician. Music came to me quite naturally and so did playing instruments. Although my parents tried very hard to get me to learn from other teachers, I never could sit through any of the classes. I didn’t last a week with them. So whatever I have learnt came from my mother, from listening to a lot of music, reading and figuring things out for myself.
You seem to have collaborated with Ranjit Barot, Trilok Gurtu et al during the time when you weren’t active in movies. What sort of collaborations were these?
I worked on a lot of projects with Ranjit, ads, film background scores and live gigs. With Trilok I worked on his albums and live gigs. Live stuff was essentially jazz-fusion.
How does it feel, to be earning some well deserved spotlight after so much time in the industry?
I think what has been recognized to a small extent is my music and musicality which is what I have worked very hard on in all these years. Listeners have shifted their focus from “looks” (which was the case 15-17yrs back) to “musicianship” and that definitely makes me happy.
Do you think it helped your case to have worked in the indie scene for long before getting back to the movie scene?
While movies weren’t happening for a long time I was busy working as a music director for ad-films and working on my album and doing a few collaborative gigs with Shri (UK). While getting back to movies with Ra.One happened quite by chance, the ad work helped me pay my bills and sustain myself all these years. I learnt a lot along the way and worked on my album “Beete Pal” too.
You came out with your debut solo album Beete Pal last year. Tell us about that? How you went about working on it etc, given that it featured some prominent artists from the world of fusion?
Well, I basically came into the music industry to make my own albums/songs and perform them live. I wasn’t into movies and didn’t know anything about ads. I came in at a time when record labels weren’t signing up any artists and were interested only in re-mixes and sexy videos. The only way for me was to do ads and collaborate with other artists to keep the spirit of music alive. While I kept working on commercials the need to make my album always nagged me. In my free time I’d put down ideas and start composing songs. A few songs came out of ad jingles that were rejected by the clients and I thought they were great ideas for a song. It took me five years to put things together. As I started writing parts in the arrangement I was deciding who would play on which song. I met Atma Anur, Steve Zerlin, Mike Pope and Ed Degenaro at SAM (Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music) and Kai Eckhardt, Prasanna, Marc LB, Vivek and Sanjay I knew from before. All agreed to come on board and play on a song each (Kai played on two) and suddenly things just fell into place. I finished the album and released it online for digital download.
You are involved with Guitar Prasanna on multiple projects. Are you involved in Swarnabhoomi Academy too?
I’m not actively involved in the day to day function of SAM but the school is like home to me, mainly because of Prasanna. SAM is Prasanna’s brainchild, I’ve seen it grow from an idea in his head that he discussed with me to what it is now. I’ve been with it every step of the way. As a musician I love to attend their fabulous workshops which they conduct regularly every few months. No matter how much one has learnt there’s no end to learning and I feel invigorated every time I go there.
You worked as arranger with Dhruv Ghanekar for Drona, and more recently for a song in D Day. Movie composing on the cards?
No, I’m not taking up movie projects of my own at the moment.
How was the experience of working on Coke Studio? As compared to say your regular jamming sessions?
Coke Studio was a great experience. MTV was pretty well organized and so was Clinton Cerejo. He had a great tune I was happy to sing. Clinton is not just a wonderful musician, he’s a wonderful human being too. Working with him is loads of fun, no stress and of course there’s some great music. The bunch of musicians he got together for the band were so on the ball that working with them was a breeze. I really enjoy working with musicians who do their homework and come well prepared.
Existing/Upcoming projects? Movies or otherwise? Any more albums on the way? You seem to be sharing updates about new songs?
I’ve just released a new single called ‘Pa Pa Pa9giotis’ with a video on youtube. It features Dhruv Ghanekar, Gino Banks and Sheldon D’Silva. Manoj Yadav wrote the lyrics. I did some collaborations with Pakistan based composer Sahir Ali Bagga, I’ve recorded songs for two Marathi films with young composers Sangeet and Siddharth Haldipur and another talented young composer Gandhar Sangoram. I’ve recorded a few songs for feat. films but I have no idea if and when they will come out. I do intend to release singles from time to time though.
Your daughter seems to have inherited some of your musical genes. Plans to do something with her?
My daughter is quite musical in her mind but I think she is more inclined to be a film maker. Currently that’s what she is studying to become anyway.
Nandini Srikar the singer or Nandini Srikar the composer?
Nandini Srikar the musician.
Thoughts on the way the Indian independent music scene looks now, on how it has changed over time? The effect of social media where you seem to be fairly active, a flurry of new indie-oriented shows on mainstream media et al?
Independent music in India is still struggling to find some ground right now due to lack of platforms. But it is still better than its almost non-existent status a few years ago with just a handful of rock bands. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done by all of us to develop the industry and it needs active support from the listeners too and we need help to create more and better platforms for the music to reach across to the audience. Definitely there are better musicians in the Indie scene today, there’s more variety of music, the music is better and more interesting. The musicians are definitely getting better and better but the platforms need to get better too. As of today, social media is all that Indie artists have to promote themselves besides live gigs. It isn’t enough. With radio stations and TV Channels monopolized by the film industry, a large percentage of young music listening audience isn’t even aware of music that exists outside of film domain. Also we need a self sustaining business model where a musician is able to pay his bills doing just indie music. Music needs to be recognized for what it is, an entity independent of films in India.
A lot of awards seem to be focusing on the independent scene, the latest one to join the fray being Radio City Freedom awards, of which you are a jury member too. Do you think they are helping?
Radio City Freedom awards or any other award that chooses to recognize indie music is contributing in some way to building up the scene. This is a small spark of encouragement indie artists need. This is just the beginning. There’s a lot more that needs to happen but re-building an industry that was successfully flushed down the drain by big record companies a few years back, isn’t going to happen overnight. Moreover, music business has changed the world over. Everyone is figuring out how to revive it.