Drums Shivamani talks about turning composer for his first Hindi film, Atkan Chatkan, and remembers his mentor SP Balasubrahmanyam
It's a different kind of energy you experience when you watch percussionist Shivamani aka Drums Shivamani play on stage. The renowned drummer now uses that energy for the musical score of Atkan Chatkan. The musician who is known for his reverberating beats in the soundtracks of films such as Roja, Taal, Lagaan, Dil Se, Rang De Basanti and Rockstar, has now composed the entire background score and music for Atkan Chatkan, his first Hindi film.
The movie is about children living in the slums, particularly one boy, who wants to be a musician and ends up forming a band with his friends. Shivamani says the story, in a way, reflects his own journey and that’s what drew him to it. “The story touched my heart and I saw my childhood in it,” he says, adding, “Music is my life and this film is based on percussion. I got a chance to work on melodies without using any electronic synthesisers. The entire soundtrack has earthy tunes composed with raw sounds of the harmonium and flute.”
The narrative follows 13-year-old Guddu played by Lydian Nadhaswaram. Guddu’s father is an ex-musician and his mother, a singer, has left them. It is up to Guddu to earn money for the family and so he works at a tea stall. During his tea delivery rounds, he watches a wedding band practise, and dreams of joining them one day. But his father isn’t keen on this idea. Recollecting his childhood, Shivamani says, his father too wasn’t supportive of him learning music. “I think I had already started my riyaz (practice) while I was in my mother’s womb. As a child I spent my time learning the harmonium and violin. Appa didn’t allow me to touch his drum kit. But whenever I watched him play I used to get goosebumps. Gradually, he realised that I love music and introduced me to the work of percussionists such as Billy Cobham, Noel Grant, Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain and Lewis Prakasam,” recalls the artiste.
As a child, Shivamani used to go to the studio after school where his father, SM Anandan, the well-known drummer from Tamil cinema, would be playing with renowned musicians. Once when his dad met with an accident, the young boy was asked to substitute. Composer KV Mahadevan gave Shivamani his first break at the age of 11. During one of the live shows, he got a chance to play the drums for a song from Sholay that was being sung by SP Balasubrahmanyam.
“Balu sir saw me play and asked my father to allow me to go with him on tour. He showed the world to me. He guided me and taught me to be disciplined. I picked up his quality of respecting others. He was like an institution to me. He was my Godfather,” reminisces the percussionist who was then roped in to play for many renowned music directors such as Ilaiyaraaja and MS Viswanathan, because he was performing as part of the legendary singer’s ensemble.
On the right note
Since then, the percussionist has played for memorable songs not just in the South Indian film industries but also for Hindi cinema. But Shivamani’s journey came with its own set of troubles. In the 1980s when the drum machine was introduced, the percussionist says he went through a difficult phase. “I would call friends, and they would all be busy making music on the drum machine. I didn’t want to do that. I was not getting any work. But I just kept practising, I would play for eight hours or more.”
It was during that period that Zakir Hussain invited him for a fusion concert in Mumbai. Louis Bank spotted Shivamani and took him along to Russia on a tour. It’s this serendipity that Shivamani remembers fondly and says, “Music is like a banyan tree and this tree has Pancham Da (RD Burman), Ilaiyaraaja, Ranjit Barot, Zakir (Hussain) bhai, AR Rahman and I am also there. We all are like different notes of this tree. We have never thought of ourselves as South Indian or North Indian musicians. Music has no language. When Chinna Chinna Aasai from Roja released, everyone loved the song irrespective of the language.”
Roja was one of the first films in which Shivamani played for Rahman. As the maestro’s lead percussionist, the artiste’s repertoire of work includes hits such as Bombay Dreams, Kadhal Desam, Taal, Rockstar and Dil Se. “AR Rahman is a genius, I have seen him play music since he was very young and his programming skills even at that age were commendable. He is my friend and my teacher. The fact that he remains shy and humble just like he was in childhood is what makes him special,” offers the musician. The fact that Rahman is also the co-producer of Atkan Chatkan stands as a testimony to the relationship the duo shares.
Now, Shivamani is looking forward to his second Hindi film, details of which are under wraps. At the same time, he is working on an album of Sufi songs by his wife Runa Shivamani and on a sequel to a previous album. “The album, Mahaleela 2, captures my journey as a musician,” says the artiste who dreams of teaching children eventually.
Atkan Chatkan is streaming on Zee5
ayeshatabassum@ newindianexpress. com