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'Why must it be my father's legacy? Why can't it be mine?'

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September 29, 2004 17:12 IST

Anoushka ShankarWhile most girls her age are focused on dating and shades of lip-gloss, Anoushka Shankar has a cultural legacy to carry forward.

Being Pandit Ravi Shankar's daughter isn't as tough as it may seem to outsiders.

Remarkably easygoing, poised, shrewd and articulate, the superstar sitarist's daughter, reveals in an interview with Subhash K Jha, that she is capable of bearing the family torch while being her own person.

What prompted you to turn actress for Pamela Rooks' Dance Like A Man?

Well, several things, really. It seemed like fun, and the role was simple.

I had learnt Bharat Natyam till I was 13. Then, for 12 years, I lost practice. So I had to learn it again for three months before facing the camera. The acting felt comfortable. I deliberately didn't want the role or my first film to be big. I did it for the experience of it, and not to launch a career in acting.

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I liked the experience. And yes, acting is definitely an option.

Did you feel close to the role because of its classical overtones?

Though I play the daughter of two classical artistes, I didn't see any similarity between life and my character. She certainly doesn't say the things I'd say. Dancing is what attracted me to Dance Like A Man.

I don't think films about the classical heritage are made in Indian cinema any more. Being a part of such an endeavour was lovely. I knew [director] Pamela Rooks from before, am a close friend of her son. I also knew my co-star Shobana whom I've become close to. She's absolutely wonderful.

My work was mostly with Samir Soni who was really helpful, discussing scenes beforehand. It was fun. I've been getting other acting offers. But I haven't been able to look at them seriously because the timing isn't working out.

At the moment, I'm booked for my concert tours until 2005. I'll be touring both with dad and solo.

Which concerts do you enjoy more? With dad or solo?

They are both different experiences. Music with my father is obviously more incredible, so that takes the concerts to another level. We really bond together on stage.

When it's a solo performance I get to pull my own strings, go where I wish to go. And that's a different experience.

Are you trying to find out what you're good at besides playing the sitar?

It's not a question of what I'm good at but what I enjoy doing. I'm a musician, but I'm also other things. If there are opportunities to learn and grow in other avenues, why not? Taking a language class, working with a charitable organisation or acting -- it's all about growing.

How do you respond to your multicultural upbringing?

It's hardly a problem for me. It's not like some big migration that happened in the later part of my life. I've been exposed to various cultures and places from childhood.

Cultures shape you on an unconscious level. I'm not sold on cultural habits and norms. But cultural identity is another thing. I'm a mix of all my influences. I am Indian, but I haven't lived in India all my life. I've a number of impressions within me. I don't think it's easy for any person to define herself that easily. I am an Indian, no two ways about that, but that doesn't define my personality.

I've had a home in Delhi, and in the US, for the last twelve years. But two years ago, we opened the Ravi Shankar Centre in Delhi. So we're living here now.

Anoushka Shankar, Samir Soni in Dance Like A ManDo you look after it personally?

I'm not here that often. So there are people to take care of it while I'm gone. Right now, my parents are not here. I'm here taking care of the Centre.

Do you see enough of your father?

Quite a lot! I tour with him. For the last ten years, I've been part of all his concerts. So, yes, I'm a very integral part of his shows. Last year has been different; I took a sabbatical from touring. I needed time off. This year he's travelling without me, accompanied by his students.

Is it easy being your father's daughter?

That's as vague as asking me what culture I belong to. A father's presence is never all-good or all-bad. Whatever I've got in terms of international exposure comes from being his daughter. I've often been criticised that I'm known only because of who I am and not for my work.

But now you have a following among the younger generation.

I appreciate that. And yes, it does put its own pressures on me. At the moment, I'm focusing on achieving my goals, working towards things I want to do. My long-term plan definitely includes exposing newer people to our music. A lot of younger people who may not listen to our music, listen to me because they identify with me.

Do you like carrying your father's legacy forward?

I don't see it as my father's legacy. It's music that has passed on to me just as it was passed on to him. Even if I was to play the sitar my whole life, why must it be my father's legacy? Why can't it be mine? I'd like to grow in other ways as well. I'd like to grow deep into my music. But I'd also to expand my horizons in other ways; there is so much I want to do.

You belong to that extinct group known as the female sitarist…

I wouldn't call it extinct. But it's rare. There're some wonderful female sitar players. Unfortunately, they end up housewives even if they are fantastic musicians. They don't get to tour and make a name like men do, as though by right.

Once I'm married, I'd definitely have to think about this issue. I can't be the kind of mother who stays at home.

Is there anyone whom you want to marry?

Possibly. But I'm really not getting married right now, for all the reasons I just mentioned. If my father is a romantic at heart, so am I. But I'm also capable of getting all worked up, landing myself in a realistic mess.

Children of other classical artistes have a tough time since their performances are constantly compared with their fathers.

Don't you think that happens to me? No one has a clue what I go through when I'm on stage. People will always compare me with my father. I work so hard, yet people say I'm not good enough. But there is no point in whining about it. All of us have to deal with comparisons all the time. It's very difficult to prove oneself.

But we had the easiest start possible because of our parents. We're getting exceptional fame. So, in many ways, the family name is a great impetus. In other ways, it sucks (laughs)! But detractors don't make a difference. I don't have to prove anything to them.

Are you satisfied with life so far?

There's much more to do. But I wouldn't change anything so far. Not a thing.

Dance Like A Man will release on October 1.

Subhash K Jha