Special: Indian drummer Sivamani on his new beats
The veteran Indian musician tells City Times about his debut as a Bollywood composer in the new music drama
Fans will remember him for his pumped-up beats whenever his home team Chennai Super Kings played in the Indian Premier League (IPL). One of India's best percussionists, Sivamani makes his debut as a Bollywood music composer with the ZEE5 music drama Atkan Chatkan, currently streaming on ZEE5 Global.
"I'm a huge supporter of the Chennai Super Kings cricket team, but I have no plans to come to Dubai to support my team this year due to the Covid restrictions. But I will surely be supporting them from back home," Sivamani told City Times over a Zoom call.
Atkan Chatkan is a rags-to-riches tale of a tea delivery boy Guddu (played by AR Rahman protege Lydian Nadhaswaram). Guddu aspires to be a musician but has no means to follow his passion for music. However, he manages to form a band with a bunch of other street kids and uses broken pipes, plastic drums etc as instruments. The life of these kids change when they get a chance to perform at a competition. Though Guddu's journey is tough, his yearning for music does not diminish due to lack of resources.
Sivamani shared that there are many similarities between his and Guddu's journeys. "About 12 years ago, dance director Ganesh Acharya narrated the story of a percussionist to me. It touched me deeply because it had a lot of similarities with my journey as a musician and what I went through as a child. I agreed to compose the music for the film. I've put my heart and soul into the songs in this movie."
"Even when director Shiv Hare was reading out the story to me, I was in tears because I could relate to it. I too had a tough time as a kid, like the protagonist of this story. I recollect playing percussions on the streets during festivals using broken drums and congas and cymbals. I couldn't even afford a stand for the snare drum or a decent pair of cymbals. I used to make Rs1-2 for each performance. So that's how it all began for me, but I'm still learning," Sivamani said.
Explaining the meaning of the movie's title, Atkan Chatkan, he said, "It is a percussion term we use. In the olden days, we used to call it 'kitty kitty'. It's the sound of the drums. The film starts and ends with this sound."
Sivamani is the son of drummer, SM Anandan, from K. Mahadevan's orchestra in Chennai. "My father was dead against me playing the drums, even though I had so much talent. He never allowed me to touch his drums. But it was my mum who saw my passion and supported me. She would allow me to use her pots and pans to practice on."
Bachchan's soulful voice in Atkan Chatkan
Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan has been roped in to sing a track in Atkan Chatkan. The song Daata Shakti De, written by Sivamani's wife Runa, is a soulful track where Bachchan's voice asks God to give strength to deal with tough times. Sivamani said, "I was wondering how to reach out to Bachchan ji, then a mutual friend, Dr Bhujang Pai, helped me and I sent him an email requesting him to sing the song. I was thrilled when he wrote back and said 'Please send the track'. He told me he liked it very much and would like to sing the track. When I asked his manager how much I would have to pay him, he said Bachchan ji would get very angry if I ever suggested anything like that. He told me the actor sang the song purely because he respected me as a musician."
It was Sivamani who suggested Lydian's name for the lead role of Guddu and he was also instrumental in bringing AR Rahman on board to present the movie. "For the grown-up version of Guddu, I thought AR (Rahman) would be perfect. Then I approached him and showed him the film. He liked the story very much, but said he wouldn't be able to make time to work in the film due to his busy work schedule. However, he told us that he would support us by presenting the film. It was very kind of the maestro to support this children's musical."
The movie has a motivational message for kids interested in becoming musicians, reckons Sivamani. "It will motivate anyone aspiring to be a musician. It will teach them the importance of doing daily riyaz to perfect the art. Without that, how can you go on stage? You can't fool the audience! Also artistes should get rid of their ego. Only then will they be liked and appreciated by everybody. Youngsters can learn a lot by watching Atkan Chatkan."
Most memorable performances
Sivamani has been performing for four decades and relishes the experience of sharing the stage with some top artistes. "There are a few performances in my career that I treasure most. The first one was in 1990 in Rang Bhavan, Mumbai. I was playing alongside the legendary American drummer Billy Cobham, Ustad Alla Rakha, Ustad Zakir Husain and the renowned ghatam player TH Vikku Vinayakram. Sharing the stage with these legends was an unforgettable experience. The second one was on Robben Island when I was invited to play at the inauguration ceremony when the Robben Island prison where being converted into a museum by the late South African President Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years as an inmate there. I had requested his managers and security guards to allow me to meet him, but the permission was refused. After the concert we were all waiting outside where Mandela was supposed to board a helicopter. On the way, he was waving out to everybody, suddenly he started walking towards me. He came over and shook my hands saying, 'you played very well'. I introduced myself and told him I'm from India and he replied, 'I have learnt a lot from Gandhi.' I felt so proud at that moment. Another beautiful memory I want to recollect is from the NAMM festival in Los Angeles. I happened to be performing at the event, and I didn't now that Stevie Wonder was around. He heard me and told me that he wanted to jam with me. That was quite an experience. I also had an amazing moment at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi. We were playing for a concert where the late Indian President Abdul Kalam was present. Suddenly, in middle of the performance, Kalam got up, came on stage and started playing on my drum kit. He said he couldn't control himself sitting there and watching me play. 'I want to learn from you' he told me and I will never forget that moment in my life."