Singer Shakthishree Gopalan On How Female Voice Is Stereotyped In Films
- IWB Post
- September 24, 2018
In Mani Ratnam’s upcoming film, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, set to release on 27th September, singer Shakthisree Gopalan has given her voice to the title track, Bhoomi Bhoomi, of the film. She is also singing the track in the Telugu version, Nawab, and has sung another song Kalla Kalavaani in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, expertly matching AR Rahman’s trademark musicianship in the song.
Based in Chennai, Shakthisree Gopalan is trained in Carnatic tradition and sings for Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films, produces her own music and, wait for it, is trained as an architect, as well! The KM College of Music and Technology, the music school set up by Rahman in Chennai in 2008 was designed by her. She is also the voice behind such tracks as En Uchimandai from Vettaikkaran (2009), Makkayala from Naan (2011) and the title track of Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012).
In a recent interview with Scroll, she shares her experience of working with Mani Ratnam, the stereotypical and conventional projection of the female voice in movie soundtracks and much more.
On singing ‘Bhoomi Bhoomi’ and ‘Kalla Kalavaani’ and working with A R Rahman
“I think Rahman sir definitely pushes boundaries, not just for himself, but for the people he’s working with as well. That’s also why he’s always doing new things. I don’t think he is ever complacent. With Bhoomi Bhoomi and Kalavaani, I got the opportunity to explore vocal spaces that I’ve never got to explore to this extent with other compositions.
Before Nenjukkule (a song in the film Kadal directed by Mani Ratnam), a lot of the tracks that I had the opportunity to sing lead vocals for were mostly in the lower registers, closer to my speaking range and funnily enough, mostly oomph songs. Because most people tend to size up my singing range by my speaking voice.”
On female playback singers in Tamil cinema depicted as having ultra-feminine, tremulous voices
“I’ve wondered why there is a stereotypical, conventional projection of the female voice in movie soundtracks. But maybe I should also think about why female characters are being projected this way, right? That’s what sets the parameters. In general, if you look at how female characters are being portrayed in movies, there is a certain conventional idea of the female lead character. So it sets the template for what their voice in a song should sound like. Because these songs are made for these characters in these scripts. So for this to change, that should also change.
Back in the day, LR Eshwari songs like Palinginal Oru Maligai had the vibe of old-school jazz songs. I loved that. It is an oomph song in its own way, and it is so beautiful. That’s also a great way to project voices that are bold and bass-heavy. Because there is no one type of woman. There seems to be a general idea of what the ideal woman should be like, and that comes across even in terms of the preferred skin colour for the screen. I wish more diversity would be showcased. But I think things are certainly starting to change.”
On how she got involved in designing Rahman’s music school, the KM Music Conservatory
“AR sir was on the lookout for a young architect to design the music school at the time. He had spoken to Abe Thomas in California about it, who connected us. He knew I was a musician and that I was also an architect. I had also done a lot of extensive research into music schools and spaces that involved music for my thesis in college. The building used to be a textile warehouse. We did away with all the internal walls and retained the basic framework. I redesigned the layouts because the pattern of moving through a space is important to experience the space. I also designed the interiors. Emmy Paul was the acoustic consultant.
I wanted to retain the spirit of what the building used to be, so all the common spaces have an industrial treatment with pop-art inspired vibes. The interior spaces are minimal, modern and have a clean design kind of aesthetic, very functional. Music, when you study, has a huge clinical aspect to it but there’s also a sense of play that is vital to the learning process. I wanted the space to be able to reflect that. For me, designing a music school is a dream. Period. Designing one for AR Rahman sir was a mega, mega dream come true.”
On making her own compositions
“As a ’90s kid, I remember a time when Indi-pop music videos started appearing on TV. I remember how a Lucky Ali video would pop up and I would stop whatever I was doing and stay glued to the screen. I love music videos and I remember being fascinated with all the Hindi-pop independent music videos of the ’90s – Alisha Chinai’s Made in India, Colonial Cousins’ Krishna, Silk Route’s Dooba Dooba. I was definitely inspired and influenced by that era, and in some ways, we did consciously try to incorporate a sense of that vibe in the music video.
Phir Wahin is a song I wrote some time ago. It was an interesting process for me to record and release the song earlier this year because I had evolved so much in my personal and artistic journey. But I could still relate to the spirit of the song and the story it tells. So I went about producing it. I feel songs are like snapshots of a certain time and a certain frame of mind.
This was also my first time writing lyrics in Hindi. So it’s special. It also features some additional lyrics by the very talented Bollywood singer and friend, Nakash Aziz. This song was also released in Tamil as Neeyaai Naan and was written by the talented Madhan Karky – another first for me as this was my first ever independent Tamil release.”
On her singing style
“Honestly, I don’t know how I would define or describe my musical style on the whole. To me, it’s more like I’ve been traveling through different phases at different times, incorporating varying degrees of various musical influences, sometimes revisiting some spaces, but at other times just moving past them. I think I’m an explorer at heart trying to find different ways of expression, and I will keep exploring. I have been in the process of discovering a balance – of different sounds, vocal styles and musical treatments that bring together my musical influences – for the songs that I have currently been working on.
‘Voices’ (2012) was the first of the few solo projects that I had independently produced at the time. I used to play the song on the guitar and sing along for almost two years before I finally hit the studio and recorded the song.”