Shankar Mahadevan

Shankar Mahadevan's sheer love for music is what makes him get all excited the moment you talk shop. For there are only a lucky few who get to earn serious bucks and call it work, while all they're really doing is what they're in love with passionately.

You may call him an engineer or a singer, composer or performer, or the extremely down-to-earth person that he comes across as. Born and raised in Mumbai, Shankar's association with music goes back to the age of five, when he learnt to play the veena. At six, he began to learn Carnatic music and by 11, he was rewarding his guru, P R Balamani, by giving his first solo performance.

Having developed a keen sense of music at an early stage, Shankar got influenced by a variety of music - jazz, pop, ghazals and even bhajans. This seems to reflect in his choice of favourite artists. "I enjoy listening to Miles Davis, Bobby McFerren, Stevie Wonder, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Ghulam Ali," says the popular artist.

So drawn was he towards this art, that despite a degree in software engineering and having worked with a team that revolutionized the development of fourth-generation computer languages, Shankar chose to opt out and plunged into his first love, full time. Beginning by singing jingles, Shankar got his big breakthrough Ranjit Barot in Pepsi's Yehi Hai Right Choice Baby campaign. The move to composing was a natural extension. He says, "Initially I never composed music for jingles, but then I did a lot of co-production. I would help out in the Indian element of fusion music and slowly started getting offers to compose on my own."

Besides jingles, Shankar sang a ghazal for close friend, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain in the Merchant-Ivory production In Custody. The first commercial film that he lent his voice to was Oh Darling Yeh Hai India and has since sung alaaps and bried passages in dozens of hit films including Pardes and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.

One of his biggest hits, Hindustani, which was released as a music video with film stars Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt, happened as a lark. "Ehsaan (Noorani) and Loy (Mendonca) had done a lot of jingles for the late Mukul Anand's production house (MAD). Mukul once casually told Ehsaan that he'd like him to compose music for Dus. Ehsaan suggested my name, saying he'd like me to be involved in the project. And so I was on board," he says.

Shankar's album Breathless is another success story. Speaking about how it was conceived, he says, "Javed Akhtar had this vague concept in his head of doing a song which just goes on and on. I added my bit by incorporating an Indian classical raga and we took it from there."

The video of the title track caught on, as everyone seemed to take Breathless rather literally. When you ask him if he did breathe during the rendition, he laughs, "Of course! I'm as much a human being as you are." Once the laughter subsides, he reveals, "My training in classical music enabled me to sing that number without it seeming to appear that I did indeed breathe."

Shankar is part of a six-member world music band based in Sweden called Mynta, besides the Indian group Silk. He absolutely loves the twice-a-year live shows experience that he's able to share with Fazal Qureishi (Ustad Allah Rakha's son) and other musicians from different countries. Mynta travels across Europe, where the band performs anywhere as a jazz ensemble or in hard rock festivals. Says the prolific artist dreamily, "Given a chance, I'd love to work on an album with Quincy Jones."

Shankar is closely associated with A R Rehman, who he considers to be a humble genius. Having worked with the composer on the score of ace director Ram Gopal Verma's Shool, Shankar remembers how with Rehman being a nocturnal person, he would have to fly down south in the evenings to do recordings at night and return to Mumbai next morning!

Shankar's idea of leisure is spending time with his wife and son. The young kid, according to Shankar, is turning out to be a musician in his own right. He takes music lessons and does live shows regularly. Shankar doesn't want to push him into any particular direction though, saying, "Let him enjoy what he's doing and if he does eventually want to take it up as a profession, that'll be his decision entirely."

As for Shankar, his ultimate goal was admittedly achieved the day he joined the music industry. To vary his music, he keeps his outlook fresh and varies his musical activities. As Shankar puts it, "Working on a film for 20 days, doing an ad film the next five and then perhaps leaving for a concert tour of fusion music is the kind of 'routine' that I'd like to maintain for some years at least."

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