I experienced the majestic visual poetry and epic storytelling of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi just the other evening. For the little over 2 hours that I sat in the theatre, I felt I was living through a fairy tale and the music of the film further coaxed me towards that belief. But not completely so, because as a student of music my attention is in constant pendular motion between hearing and seeing. Possibly, other students of music also react in a similar fashion to film, and experience a similar wrenching of attention from visuals and riveting narrative to focus intently on an instrument or a voice, melody or rhythm. Who is that singing? Or, is that a bamboo flute playing there, or some other wind instrument? The Turkish ney, perhaps? As one watches a film, the mind fleetingly recognizes familiar sounds, melodies, styles and rhythms, simultaneously tucking away questions about the music for a time when answers can be sought.
The soundtrack of Life of Pi brought for me similar moments of recognition accompanied by many questions, for which simple, straightforward answers will undoubtedly be impossible to find. Ang Lee chose to work with composer Mychael Danna, with whom he has successfully collaborated on previous projects as well. Indeed, Danna’s music is splendid, and perfectly matched with the director’s sensibility and magic touch. Unabashedly attracted to Indian music, Danna often works with Indian musicians, and as Pi’s life unfolds I hear the same influences in Pi’s Lullaby, sung brilliantly by Bombay Jayashri. Her voice has an unmistakable texture that tells me it has to be her and no one else. I don’t have to wait for the end credits to confirm that it is indeed her voice. It is a haunting track, gentle without being mushy or coochie coo as often filmi lullabies tend to be. The musical arrangement of the track is in Danna’s signature style, in some ways reminiscent of the theme from Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. Note that I say reminiscent and not repetitive.
But it also makes me wonder who composed the track in Tamil. Does Danna know Tamil? He could well have mastered it, given his love of India and Indian music. The track and mystery of its composition travel back home with me from the theatre, and I find myself purchasing the track on iTunes. For those who wish to save themselves the bother of purchasing the track, this link could be helpful.
I find that the Internet as well as reviews of the soundtrack acknowledge Danna as having “co-written” the lullaby with Jayashri. However, her name does not appear anywhere in the almost never-ending list of musicians credited on the iTunes album as follows: Mychael Danna, Mike Nowak, Bruce Dukov, Aruna Kalle, Anwar Khurshid, Jeetu Prakesh, Rajesh Srinivasan, Jatinder Jeetu, Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, V. Selvaganesh, Ulhas Bapat, Courtney Grueschow, Nick Ariondo, George Doering, Glen Holmen, Jeff Da. I believe that it could be an incomplete list restricted by formatting issues on iTunes or just another example of careless ID tagging. But I am disappointed to see that the composers for the track on my iTunes purchase are the following: Mychael Danna and Rob Simonsen. What could be the reason? Before jumping to conclusions, I would need to speak to Jayashri perhaps, and if she agrees to grant me an interview, her answers may provide clues to the mystery of missing credits that so often plague Indian musicians participating in grand film projects by award-winning firangi (foreign) directors and composers.
Also Read | Shubha’s previous Lounge columns