HIS fingers flawlessly glide on the Carnatic veena as he renders soulful ragas. Each note is steeped in Bhakti rasa. With equal dexterity, he renders speedy taans on the Hindustani sarangi. Deepak Paramashivan is an artiste who has delved into diverse streams of creative expression — right from two distinct Indian classical musical streams to acting, he executes all with ease.
Deepak recently acted in the Sanskrit-Kannada bilingual ‘Ekachakram’, which won the best jury award at the Rajasthan International Film festival. “It was the first Sanskrit movie to be made after 40 years. All the shows were sold out when it was screened in North America,” he shares. Deepak’s other stint is a Kannada film titled ‘Maavu-Bevu’, which was released on April 24. Deepak also composed the entire film score for the former and background music for the latter.
Along with his mother, Jayalakshmi, a sociology professor who had a profound influence on him, it was his father, the late R Paramashivan, a noted Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee actor, theatre personality and composer, who introduced him to various streams of classical and folk music, cinema music and Bharatnatyam. He trained Deepak in the Mysore Bidaram Krishnappa tradition of music, which was based on the principle ‘Avval gaana duyyam bajaana’ (First sing, then play the musical instruments).
“It is a tradition followed in our system to learn vocal music along with a melodic and a percussion instrument. My father taught me vocal and veena at home and sent me to Vasudeva Rao, C Cheluvaraju and BC Manjunath for mridangam lessons,” says Deepak.
Deepak was drawn to sarangi when exponent Faiyaz Khan played the instrument for his father’s ballet, ‘Buddha Amrapali’. He later studied sarangi under veterans like Pt Ram Narayan, Pt Dhruba Ghosh and Pt Nayan Ghosh, and vocal from Prasad Khaparde. “Between Hindustani and Carnatic styles, the similarities are very subtle, but the differences are more evident. I feel the northern and southern systems are like two beautiful rivers that share the same origin, but follow different paths, acquiring distinct tastes, colours and currents in due course, coming together occasionally and separating again to maintain their distinctness,” he explains.
How does he do justice to the musical diversity of both streams? “When my father taught me different styles, he always insisted that I treat each system in water-tight containers. In fact, Pt Ram Narayan, too, said, ‘I will teach you in such a way that you do not have to sacrifice one system for the other.’ I think it is the old school approach to learning and teaching. I don’t even have to think when I juggle between different styles,” Deepak says.
Having acted in many classical Kannada dramas such as ‘Sangita Subhadra’, ‘Bhishma Pratignye’ and ‘Sadarame’, which his father revived after seven decades, Deepak, after moving to Canada, learnt drama performance and production, Shakespearean acting from David Barnett and physical comedy and movement theatre from Michael Kennard. He even performed in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Richard IV’, to name a few.
Being an ethnomusicologist and associated with the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Deepak shares his unique experience of relating Indian music to Westerners. “They say, ‘Kos kos par badle paani, chaar kos par baani.’ It is especially true in the case of music. Quite contrary to the popular notion, music is not accepted as a universal language by scholars of ethnomusicology. Leave alone westerners, even within India there are many musicians and connoisseurs who have strong biases towards southern and northern Indian music.”
Westerners, he believes, listen to Indian music for its sheer exoticism and meditative appeal. After having studied western music theory, orchestration and composition for many years during his doctoral study and having performed with music ensembles and artistes internationally, he feels that it requires many years of acculturation to be able to appreciate and relish the subtle musicality of styles that are not one’s own.
Is it challenging for this artiste to juggle between so many fields? “It isn’t, though many find it hard to believe that it is possible to be a successful performer in more than one art form!” Deepak smiles. With two PhDs, one in energy and climate modelling with a gold medal from the Indian Institute of Science, and one in ethnomusicology from the University of Alberta, Deepak’s mantra is: “My core interests form a part of my daily routine, and I visit my other interests at regular intervals to broaden my horizon and add perspective.”
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