Excerpts from a freewheeling conversation between Vishal Menon and Lydian Nadhaswaram, who won CBS’ The World’s Best.
What is your lockdown schedule? How does your day start and how does it end?
It’s my usual routine. I homeschool, and the entire day is spent with music. I practice and compose.
So how many hours of practice do you put in on a regular day?
It really depends on what song I’m playing on which instrument. It depends upon how tough the song is and how many hours I take. So, it changes every day.
By now, with all the shows and concerts that you’ve done, I’m pretty sure you’re comfortable around cameras. But how different was it when you faced an actual movie camera?
It wasn’t difficult because I am used to cameras. The part that was difficult was that I had to speak in Hindi. It’s a new language. The first two days, I struggled a little bit. The Atkan Chatkan team treated me like family. They taught me Hindi, and then the third day, I started to speak fluently in the takes.
You just took three days?
Yes. Before every shot, we used to revise the script so that was very helpful.
When you signed up for the film, did you think that learning Hindi would be the most difficult part?
I was actually very happy when I accepted this. My dad told me to do this. And I took it up as a challenge to act and to also speak in Hindi. So, it was interesting. I also felt responsible because I’m doing the lead role, and I did not want to waste anyone’s time and use up many takes.
When you watch yourself in the trailer and in parts of the movie, how do you feel? Is there any awkwardness when you see yourself on screen?
I am comfortable seeing myself on screen, because I’ve seen myself on many screens, recordings and TV shows.
So, speaking about playing music for the camera, is everything live or do you have to prepare for a particular musical piece and act it out when the cameras roll?
In the movie, my character Guddu is interested in rhythmic instruments. So, the director would tell me to improvise on the spot and I would play. Sivamani uncle composed a few pieces that I played. A few were his compositions and few were my improvisations.
Which ones do you prefer?
I like both.
When they pitched the script and said you would play a percussionist and drummer in the film, what were your thoughts? Are those instruments something you love just as much as the piano and guitar?
When I was two years old, I started to play drums. So, I was happy when I came to know that Guddu is a percussionist and is interested in percussion and rhythmic sounds. I was really happy to play that character.
You say your entire day is spent with music. Do you have to create time every day for every instrument you play? If you don’t play one instrument enough, do you think you’re missing out on something?
It depends upon what song I’m doing. I don’t play all the instruments every single day. If I sit on the piano, I’ll play immersed for six to seven hours.
When you listened to the story of the film, what was your first thought?
It is a musical story and when the director narrated it to me, I (and my father) were really happy with the script. There are a lot of nuances in Guddu’s character.
Is there any particular scene or dialogue you really connected with? Anything you related to real life?
This is like a motivational movie. Even my life has been like that… practising, struggling. So, in a lot of scenes, I could relate what was in the script to my real life.
Do you have a favourite musical/musical movie you keep watching for inspiration or motivation?
There’s this film Whiplash. I like that movie very much and the way he plays the drums. Even the main role in that movie is a rhythm player. It was very nice.
Do you feel some kind of connection to that character?
Yeah, of course. He also struggles a lot to get a stage, a platform. Even in this movie I struggle a lot, so you might see that in the film.
Tell me a little bit about your first musical memory. Who are some of your favourite artistes and songs?
I love listening to Jacob Collier. And in Indian composers, I like Ilaiyaraaja uncle and AR Rahman uncle. These two are my favourites. There are a lot of Hollywood composers and Western classical composers who I listen to a lot. And their music is very inspirational.
During the lockdown, what kind of music have you been listening to?
Now I’ve been listening to a lot of Jazz; I’m also learning it.
When you’re practising, do you get time to work on your own compositions or creating music by yourself?
When I practice, if some tune strikes my mind, I’ll move to composing. It keeps changing.
When you compose, do you visualise a complete song?
Sometimes, it might be a small bit, sometimes, it will be a complete song. But, even a small bit can be developed into a complete song.
AR Rahman is presenting the film. And even in other ways, he’s your mentor. Very few people get somebody like that in their lives. What do you feel about him?
He wished me “Good luck buddy” for this film. I was really happy. He saw the full movie. He was really happy with the film and he said he would present it.
You’re supposed to be working on a big film, Barroz. Have you been preparing or composing for that?
Yes, I’ve been preparing myself for Barroz, directed by Mohanlal uncle. He’s also acting it in, along with other international stars. It’s a children’s fantasy film in 3D, and I’m glad to be a part of it. Composing is going on, but shooting has stopped because of the lockdown, and it will begin soon.