Striking the right chord

Music composer Sivatmikha speaks about the choice of genre for her latest release Burqa, her signature style, her working process and more
Striking the right chord

In the recent past, the entertainment industry, predominantly occupied by men, is witnessing a phase of change with the emergence of women behind the camera and in technical spaces. Although it's an appreciable change, the numbers are still very scanty, especially in the mainstream music composing field. As a beacon of hope and inspiration, the 25-year-old Sivatmikha, who got her breakthrough in Vetri Maaran's episode (Oor Iravu) in the Paava Kadhaigal series, is once again in the news for her impressive composition in the recently released Burqa, directed by KM Sarjun.

"This male-dominated workspace is gradually changing. Now, we have some notable directors like Sudha Kongara, Zoya Akthar and Anjali Menon, among others. Likewise, in the coming days, we will hopefully see many more musicians like me making a mark. After all, I am a change, myself," says a hopeful Sivatmikha.

One of the most impressive facets of Burqa, starring Kalaiyarasan and Mirnaa, is its meditative background score and soulful tracks. It elevates this heavily conversational film that touches on topics like religion, societal conditioning, regressive norms directed at women and the detrimental effects of clutching one's autonomy.

About the choice of the music genre, Sivatmikha says, "Since the two protagonists, Kalaiyarasan's Suriya and Mirnaa's Najma come from two different cultural backgrounds, I decided to blend Sufi, Arabic and Hindustani for the film's soundscape." She also shares that the film's climax portion, in which Najma takes off her Burqa to show her face to Suriya, was the first theme she composed for the film.

"I always prefer reading the script or watching the film rather than listening to the narration. For Burqa, I composed the song after going through the script. That apart, I researched to understand the film's concept and the culture showed in it to get a better understanding of the required mood and tonality," she adds, noting that she also ensures to be emotionally stimulated as it helps her compositions to strike the right chords with the audiences.

Oh Meri Kwabidha song from Burqa has been receiving lots of love from the audiences for its freshness in the tone, and Sivatmika shares that she took inspiration from a memory close to her heart to create this track. "I believe in staying emotionally connected during the composition process. For Kanne Kanmaniye in Paava Kadhaigal, I was crying throughout, reliving some painful memories. Likewise, for Oh Meri Kwabidha, I took inspiration from a person who was once so close to me and the beautiful moments we shared back then. And I think, my signature style--playing with silence in between and then hitting the crescendo at the end-- has enhanced the song," she shares, crooning a couple of lines.

Sivatmikha studied music production at AR Rahman's KM Conservatory and considers it a game-changer in her career. Although her first film, Antony (2018), did not do great, the musician decided to do an indie single The Gaana Song, to get some engagement. However, what she received was trolling, unfortunately. "When I did The Gaana Song, I knew a portion of the audience might not like it. But I did not expect I will face extreme trolling. Although I was depressed for a few months, I learnt to ascertain audiences' dynamic tastes and preferences. I also understood that my job is to satisfy and entertain my audiences rather than cribbing about my failure," she adds.

One of the most important aspects of her process is a social experiment that helps her in understanding the audience that she has been following since her first film. After the track is ready, she gets strangers in public places to listen to her songs and records their feedback in a spreadsheet.

Recalling how her experiment has worked, over the years, she says, "For my first film and The Gaana Song I got middling responses. For Kanne Kanmaniye, I got favourable responses from people, above the age bracket of 30. And for Burqa, the response was unanimously positive. Hence, we decided to retain the duration-- 5 plus minutes. Through this, I also realised that idea of audiences' attention span, which is very less these days, wouldn't matter if a song or content can thoroughly entertain them."

While striding into the industry is certainly an arduous task for women, Sivatmikha also draws attention to another obstacle they face: A stereotype that women who are composers are only capable of composing music for romantic or light-hearted films. "I want to explore all genres of films. In fact, I also have sample tracks for a potential action film ready to pitch. This mindset of typecasting based on gender should change," she states.

Meanwhile, Sivatmikha also believes in not confining herself to one field and yearns to explore varied creative horizons. "I have now donned the writer's hat. I have signed a Tamil film as a screenwriter and I am looking forward to embarking on this new journey," she signs off, beaming with an optimistic smile.

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