Shruti Haasan’s ‘Monster Machine’ is about finding the ‘monster’ within

From her choice of style to her voice, Shruti Haasan is a cut above the rest. From being told to ‘not wear black’ to embracing the dark in her English single Monster Machine, there's no stopping her
Finding the 'monster' within with Shruti's Monster Machine
Finding the 'monster' within with Shruti's Monster Machine

We think it helps that you are an actor and a singer — we tell Shruti Haasan, as she shows us the clip of her latest English single Monster Machine ahead of its release on October 26. She laughs, agreeing, “Yes, it does.” The video is nothing like what we’ve seen of Shruti before. While it is powerful in its theme and with an emphatic voice, the singer-actor uses her acting skills to her best to bring out the story behind the lyrics. The video is bold, powerful, strong, hard hitting and above all — dark — with a beautiful emotional thread of lyrics binding it all together… in a voice that echoes and lingers in the corridors of the head and the heart long after one listens to the track. 

Shruti isn’t new to music. At the age of six, she sang her first song in her father’s Tamil film Thevar Magan (1992) and made her singing debut in the Hindi film Chachi 420 (1997). Always inclined to the sounds and syntax of music, Shruti went on to learn music at the Musicians Institute, California. Apart from forming her alternative rock band, The Extramentals, Shruti has earlier released two original songs Edge and She Is A Hero, which have received a lot of love from music enthusiasts.

With Monster Machine, Shruti says she is, “addressing the dark feminine and also the fact that the monsters aren’t under your bed, they’re in your head; and your reflection is the biggest monster you will face.” It is about, “finding the monster within me, to find that matches mine,” she adds.

The track is special to Shruti as it brings to the fore the many kinds of women within her. It also includes references to women of the past who have paved the way for the women of the future. The song is really much more than a single and can be more aptly described as a short film. “Some of us choose to play in the shadows; we don’t try to heal or cure or destroy our monsters, we actually befriend them,” says Shruti, and continues, “and some of us own that monster energy, that dark energy and I think that requires discipline — to play in the shadows; to be your shadow walker requires discipline; obviously like a machine, hence I have titled this track Monster Machine.”

Shruti embraces the ‘dark’
Shruti embraces the ‘dark’

Excerpts from our conversation. 

The way you have explained Monster Machine requires a lot of maturity and an understanding about the ‘darkness.’ Since when have you been conceptualising this?

I can’t put a finger on it. It’s been a process. I don’t believe in angels and demons, as much as I believe in our ability to be monsters. I’ve also had a perception of the world, which made me feel a little left out, like a misfit and extremely misunderstood. I just couldn’t align for many years. And then, of course, I joined the movie business, which puts more scrutiny on someone who is already awkward! But yeah, I think this has been in my head for a while. And then it kind of just manifested like this, as it is today, which is addressing sexuality, my strength; past moments — that’s why I’m referencing the ‘witch’ because we’ve all been burnt on some metaphorical stake at some point of time. And the ones before us have sacrificed a lot for us to have what we have today.

So, you didn’t really sit down one fine day and pen the lyrics? Like you said, it’s been a process? 
I was humming one day and was in the middle of writing; I was with my partner and suddenly I told him, “I don’t need you to be a boring man, I need a monster to match mine.” Around that time, he was working on a painting and the painting, by the way, is in the video — where it’s like this huge monstrous creature with this mouth and the most cherubic, calm, beautiful face and one would go, “Oh my god! This is the monster consuming innocence; but you don’t know if the innocence is controlling the monster or the other way around. I found that so fascinating! Even in terms of psychology, we have so many triggers from our childhood and other such personal experiences… 

Please tell us more about the many avatars you don in the video?
The video begins with a silhouette of each of the avatars. There is the Hero, the Actor, which I really relate to, where I was expected to be a certain way. Not to say that my experience in films has been disingenuous, because it allowed me to become so many things; to be tended to, to be presented to the world. But then I also have like a broken disco ball in this painting behind it, because as actors, we know that this isn’t real and the reality we create is not real. We live in between these places. I wanted to show that; I wanted to show how many times I’ve had to keep quiet and not share my ideas and wait; and there is a mirror right there where I have to face myself every time and when I look at myself, I am like, “Where is Shruti?” But then, it’s also my job to lose Shruti (as an actor). So, that is one character which I have referenced to — waiting for ‘the shot’ to be taken. And then there is the archetype of the witch, living in the fear of what we’re going to do that’s going to get us burnt. She says nothing, she watches, so it’s like history watching everything we’re doing today. Then there is the Narrator, as I call her, who’s hammering the point in, which is why she carries a hammer and then we have the Monster. My monster looks like that.

Don’t you think that in real life too, as humans, we role-play? Have you incorporated that too in Monster Machine?
I don’t play roles once the cameras are off. I have scripts for my movies. I can’t let other people give me scripts for my life! 

Are you happy with how the video has turned out?
I think all of us when we look at our work are like, “I could have done this better.” I see my performances in the movies and I feel the same. With music, I’m actually very controlling. I mean, you look at anything and feel that could have been done better. Sure. But you could also just be really honest about the process and the authenticity will always come through. And I think when I see this video, I’m sure people will have opinions. But we have put in an honest effort and that’s enough. 

What is the kind of response you’re expecting?
I don’t prep for good or bad. I just know that this is a part of me and I’m going to show it to you. It’s not about whether you like it or not. It’s more like, this is me. I like it and I want to share it. 

Do you draw inspiration from other musicians?
I draw inspiration from my experiences. Having said that, a lot of musicians, writers, actors and filmmakers have had influences on me. A lot from rock ’n’ roll and Chris Cornell — I have always loved him. I take a lot of inspiration from metal and new metal too.

You started your musical journey really young. When you look back, how does that make you feel?
I feel like I should have done more!

What stopped you?
Movies! I was so busy doing films. 

But you don’t regret that, right?
I don’t. However, let’s say six to seven years ago, I was categorically told, “how nice you should sing but playback, don’t do that other stuff, you will confuse people.” When I joined the business, I was straight up told by a bunch of people, including someone I was with at the time, who was also an actor, to stop wearing black! They said, “Stop doing this weird music stuff like in this way! Why don’t you sing in a way that’s more appealing to people?” And I am like, whatever work you’re getting, you want to get up to the next game. I was young and they confused me! I hadn’t proven myself as an actor, so while people were super encouraging of my music, they would usually also add, “but only that much and not more.” It was very confusing!

Have you understood why they insisted on playback and not ‘other stuff’?
Because it was more appealing to them. It’s easier to digest. But I’m happy to cause creative indigestion! (laughs)

Is this a good time for independent music? 
I think it’s a really good time for independent music. The last time independent music was shining, I think was in the ’90s with the likes of Lucky Ali and Raageshwari. Now, we have the most incredible musicians who are independent rappers, singer songwriters, electronic musicians — people who are mixing genres without rules, which I love. Also, now you see films and advertisements imbibing such songs and social media being the conduit for people — this is the best time!

Finally, moving on to films — what’s happening there?
Well, I have The Eye, which is my international film, coming out soon; it’s currently on festival circuits and doing extremely well. I am so happy for the team. Then, of course, there is Salaar, which is super special, coming to you on December 22; I think people are going to love it. And then I have a few more 
that are yet to be announced.

Monster Machine is now streaming 
on all major audio platforms. 

Twitter: @rupsjain

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