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Bharat Bala and Kanika Myer discuss the making of the Jana Gana Mana album.
What was the origin for the Jana Gana Mana album?
Bharat: It was a natural transition. In 1996 we started creating these big India ideas; so we did Vande Mataram. In 1998 we did Vande Mataram-II. In 1999 we did an idea called Desh Ka Salaam. It was during this time we realised there was not a single cassette of a good version of the National Anthem. We decided it was important that we bring, create or render the National Anthem again.
How do you work as a team?
Kanika: All the big ideas come spontaneously, and yes, we are on call 24 hours. Whenever some things excite us we just go for it, literally. It is very passion-based. One doesn't look at and get frightened at the logistics. We look and say what is interesting to create a large India idea, which will reach maximum Indians worldwide.
For instance, during Jana Gana Mana, when we found out that what was available was a very simple version of the anthem, not something that was inspiring for young people to listen to, we thought let us do a 2000 version of the anthem. So it's very hard to define, as a team, how it works. It's a very passed on activity. It's a shared passion.
Bharat: We have a big army called Team Bharat Bala Productions which gets immediately into the excitement, and it is a major effort of the whole team put together.
Kanika: Plus A R Rahman!
Kanika: I should also say that he voluntarily comes in these big ideas. He believes in them; he never questions them. It has a lot to do with his passion. And the time he spares from his other work! He put his heart and soul into this and is a part of the team with us. So it becomes almost, as Bala says, a Team Bharat Bala production!
Is it true that you and Rahman were the only people in the studio while recording Vande Mataram, the first album?
Bharat: Yes, that is absolutely true. It so happened that there was not a sound engineer or anybody (during the lunch break). So I was the sound engineer and he was the artiste recording and the artiste performing. And that's how it (Maa Tujhe Salaam) happened!
Jana Gana Mana has the distinction of being released by the President. How did that happen?
Bharat: It's about the concept, it's about the product. It had the collection of the greatest musical maestros of India. And it is the 50th year of India's Republic. So it was a great honour when the product was seen by the prime minister and the President's offices. They decided this would be released in the Central Hall of Parliament. And that's how it happened. It was a great honour.
And for you, Kanika?
Kanika: I think it was overwhelming because they had all the artistes there! The President released it to the prime minister and in a sense it made our work credible. I would not say it officially, but in a sense it became the Official Version because there was not much questioning. So many maestros wouldn't have come together unless it was a properly rendered version. We tried to retain the sanctity to the maximum. You can't change the tune of the National Anthem. You can't change the lyrics of the National Anthem. But you can bring a lot of soul into it.
What were the recording sessions of the album like? There must have been fireworks out there.
Bharat: (laughs) It was.
Kanika: It was more than fireworks. I think that (amongst) all of the senior artistes, from Lata Mangeshkar to Pandit Jasraj to Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, there was no feeling of who they were or where they came from. A lot of people have asked us, 'Wasn't there a clash of egos?' The concept did not exist. They all literally came together and gave time for the recording and for the filming.
In fact, we took 60 artistes up to Ladakh to film the video of the National Anthem, the instrumental version. It was a 40-piece string section along with Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Vikku Vinayakram and all of the other instrumental maestros. And nobody questioned or said why is A R Rahman producing it? There were two generations of maestros, there were fathers and sons. It was a huge musical unification, which I think is one of the main reasons this anthem has so much of soul.
What brought about the vision for the entire series?
Kanika: It started out because Bala is from a very nationalistic background. His father was a freedom fighter and he had worked very closely with Kamaraj and Gandhiji. And somewhere Bala's father used to feel that the youth of today take a lot of things for granted. They are born into freedom. So there isn't a realisation what India was in the past. There is no connection. There was something that was needed to bridge the gap.
We used to make television commercials for many years and Bala was directing ad films. His father once said to Bala why not create communications as a big India idea which will include the youth of today? He also said there has to be something that you do in your youth that will make a difference. With that, I think, Bala kind of broke out of his spell of television commercial making. I took a while to catch up, but then Bala kinda broke out if it and said let's do big India ideas. And let's make a beginning. The beginning was that big Maa Tujhe Salaam song.
Bala and Rahman have been childhood friends. Rahman, in fact, started doing feature films five years ago. After five years of creating music for feature films and doing that quite brilliantly, he was also looking for something new. So Bala went to him and said I'd like to do a big India album. With the kind of passion it was related, Rahman immediately understood the feel of it. He came on board and that was the beginning.
Bala then went to this big artist in Madras called Thota Tharini and got a painting done, which is today the Vande Mataram logo. From there, there was no looking back.
Bharat: From my childhood, when I was five years old itself, I had direct access to one of the greatest leaders of India called Kamaraj. I knew him personally. He used to call me "thambi" as they say in Tamil. I was exposed to Gandhism, not knowing what it was. I got introduced to it and got naturally involved in it.
In Jana Gana Mana each artiste has presented their own unique style in each rendition. Whose idea was that?
Kanika: It was something that we wanted to do. We wanted to have two big platforms -- one for the vocalists and the other for the instrumental maestros of India. That was the most important idea. It also gives each of them their independent expression of the anthem. Because when a person owns a CD, which we hope will be a collector's item, they can listen to their favourite version of the anthem. They can sometimes listen to all of the artistes together; they can sometimes pick Lata Mangeshkar or Bhimsen Joshi. It was good to record their expression of the anthem in the year 2000.
Bharat: Also if you look at it, you will find a great combination or a treat of Indian music. You have artistes from Hindustani classical, Carnatic, folk, mainstream, and ghazal. All of them rendering their own version! So we have got streams of influence of say Carnatic to ghazals to folk represented in it. So that way, it's a collection of Indian music
As creators of this series you have created a celebratory tone to patriotismů
Kanika: I think the new generation understands respect and reverence, but not to the extent of which distances us from our national symbols. So to bring back the emotion to especially young Indians you have give it to them in the form they enjoy. Music and film they enjoy. Yes, you are right, there is a celebratory mood to patriotism if you like, to Indianism. It's got a lot to do with Indian pride. There is a great joy in it.
There isn't a need to stand up and salute and be rigid about it -- but to feel with it. The anthem is yours as much as it is mine. So it is coming together to celebrate that.
Bharat: What it is reflecting is a new positive energy, what this new India is all about.
Do you see a new India?
Bharat: I think there is so much confidence in this new Indian, this young Indian. Entrepreneurship, confidence, his thinking is so much fresh and new. And still it is very Indian. So his dynamism is reflected as an Indian. I think it is a great step ahead for India.
How did you manage Rabindranath Tagore's rendition of the National Anthem?
Bharat: Gurudev's rendition makes it complete; without that it would not be complete. So it was important for us to bridge from Gurudev's voice to present day India in it. That's how we got everything packed together.
Any interesting experiences while making the album?
Bharat: It was really an emotional moment while we were filming in Ladakh. Both onward and on our return at the airport in Leh bodies of the jawans were coming in, for dispatch to their respective villages. It was a shocking and a moving moment emotionally for all the artistes performing for the film. It was a very emotional moment.
Another interesting moment was when we were shooting with the Ladakh Scouts. They had a lot of jawans who fought during the Kargil war. There were about 500 of them there, while we were filming the video. We hoisted a huge flag, it was about 40 feet long. We had a huge pole erected specially. Every time we hoisted the flag, there was an amazing India emotion. They would say 'Bharat Mata ki Jai!' Then they requested us, 'Can you leave this flag for us?' We gave it to them.
It is there within each one of them. They are really there to fight for the nation. It's an amazing spirit. We feel nothing compared to them. So this is a very humble contribution from all the music fraternity of India.
What is the next step?
Bharat: We set ourselves that we would do some exciting India ideas. So far they were linked to patriotism and pride. In the last three-and-a-half years we have done work which has been shown within India. Now we want to project India globally, an India which will work within India, but the major thrust is to say "let people in Japan see India, let people in America see India, let people in South East Asia see India!'
So we are working on a film which will have a worldwide release, which is on the largest format of visual entertainment called the IMAX. We are making the first Indian film on IMAX. Hopefully, that should trigger a new India look across the world.
Produced by Soundpicture Communications