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19.20.21 actress Pallavi MD: ‘I don’t like the bifurcation of commercial and art; a well-written script is what matters’ | Exclusive

The acclaimed Kannada singer-actress has recently released her debut LP album, in collaboration with German composer Andi Otto

19.20.21 actress Pallavi MD: ‘I don’t like the bifurcation of commercial and art; a well-written script is what matters’ | Exclusive
Pallavi MD played a pivotal role in Mansore's film 19.20.21

Last Updated: 10.17 PM, May 22, 2023


Award-winning Kannada artiste Pallavi MD might be more popular as a singer, but she is also a powerhouse performer on screen and on the stage. Last seen in director Mansore’s much talked-about film 19.20.21 - which also starred ​​Shrunga BV and Avinash - Pallavi has previously worked in films like Girish Kasaravalli’s Gulabi Talkies. Recently, she released her debut LP album - titled Songs for Broken Ship - which was created in collaboration with German composer and cellist Andi Otto.

A video song from her new album - featuring movement artiste Ronita Mookerji - is inspired by a 1958 poem written by legendary Kannada poet KS Narasimhaswamy. In an exclusive conversation with OTTplay, Pallavi speaks about her new LP, what she liked the most about working with Mansore and the team of 19.20.21 and why she prefers choosing a film on the basis of its script. Excerpts:

Andi Otto and Pallavi MD
Andi Otto and Pallavi MD

Q. You have previously collaborated with Andi. Tell us how Songs for Broken Ship came about…

A. Andi and I have been collaborating for quite some time now. We released a single that we recorded together in Bengaluru, and he had used a special mic to record it. And so, we called it Bangalore Whispers. And to our great surprise, that single did so well in Germany and in places where people listen a lot to electronic music and these kinds of tracks. It played on the radio in Japan, it played on radios and clubs in Brazil. So, it kind of travelled across. We also went and did a tour in Japan. Then, after that we did a couple more albums. I kind of mixed my vocals with him for his solo album, and we kept collaborating. 

But this time, we thought why not make an album where we use poetry from Kannada, where I come from. So that, we will have all the tracks of the album featuring this language, me as the singer and Andi as the composer and producer of the album. That’s how Songs for Broken Ship started off.

We began by sending each other ideas over Dropbox. Sometime in between, I travelled to Germany and we met and recorded a lot of material. And then, I came back and we continued doing the collaboration online. Then, there was the pandemic that happened in between. Later, I went back again, and we recorded the final tracks of the whole album. We composed and arranged all the 10 tracks that we have now. Following that, Andi mixed and mastered all the songs, and the whole album is released now. It’s an LP, which is available worldwide.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you can actually physically hold the music. LPs are now coming back. In fact, vinyls are making a big comeback in Europe. People would rather have the music on vinyl than stream it online or something.

Q. The new video song - Clockshop - featuring ​​Ronita Mookerji is based on one of legendary Kannada poet KS Narasimhaswamy’s poems. What’s the story behind it?

A. We have this very beautiful vinyl that is out right now. So, we thought let’s make a video for one of the songs. And, that’s how Clockshop was released. It’s a Kannada song, based on an iconic poem by KS Narasimhaswamy. It’s from a selection of poems that he wrote after there was a bit of criticism about him. These verses were absurd and abstract and quite complicated. Anybody who knows Kannada and has studied Kannada literature would know this poem very well. But this is also a poem that has never been sung. So I said, okay, let me be brave enough to take this piece. This poem lends itself to contemporary thought. So, that was great. Honestly, I think I’m very honoured to be working with Andi, because his aesthetic is something which is so fresh. The kind of sounds that he brings and the kind of arrangements that he thinks of are very unique.


Q. Elaborate on the making of the video and your collaboration with Ronita, who is a movement artiste, and theatremaker Abhishek Majumdar…

A. I’ve always wanted to work with movement artistes. I’m fascinated by dance and movement, and I thought this was the perfect project to do that. The thing is that the imagery in the poem is so vivid and absurd that I didn’t want to go down that route of actually literally showing what the imagery was. There’s no way we could do that, unless we used VFX effects or such. So, I decided to go a completely different route for the video. And to do that, I definitely needed some solid people onboard, who could deliver what was needed. Ronita, Pritha Kundu (cinematographer) and I did the shooting of the video. And while doing that we kept bouncing our ideas to Abhishek. 

We discussed the concept, the edit and other details with him, because his strength lies in text and dramaturgy. It was very useful. He’s a really dear friend, and we have collaborated a lot in the past as well. I have done music for his plays and acted in a few too. He has done dramaturgy for one or two of my projects. So it’s easy for us to work together, even by just sending emails to each other. It was useful to have him onboard, because it’s a tricky thing to pull off this video for a poem. For the lyric that is so complicated, we needed that kind of absurd treatment. And I think Ronita got the tone of it very well - like what was required for the video; how to depict the inner world of the person. I think Prutha and her got that right. We shot the video on the streets of Bengaluru.

The psoter of 19.20.21
The psoter of 19.20.21

Q. How was your experience of working with director Mansore and the rest of the 19.20.21 team?

A. It was very good. In fact, I was surprised at how well-organised they all were. Although I’m not a regular film person, I have been in some film shoots before, where there has been a lot of chaos. But these guys were very well prepared. It was a great team. Many of the actors that Mansore had cast in the film were also very good theatre actors. Even Shrunga BV (the lead actor) comes from a theatre background. I played the mother of Shrunga’s character in the film, and it was a very good experience. 

We shot the movie in the forest mostly. While it’s fascinating to be inside the forest, it’s also equally difficult. So it was, in that way, a challenge. However, it was really a fantastic team to work with - both the crew and the cast. After I saw the film, I was so surprised that each one has done their job so well. The director has really got very good performances from all the actors. 

Sometimes what happens is that you know the story, you go and shoot it, and then you go and watch it after it has been edited. And it’s only then you realise that, ‘Oh, what I heard was actually something else, and what you see is something else’. A lot of times that happens. But in this film, I was very happy with the way the choices that were made - be it in terms of the edit or the way they went about with the narrative. There is a lot of restraint in the storytelling, which I deeply admire. And they have kind of tried to tell a very difficult story, walking on a thin line. So, I think the whole team has done a great job, especially Mansore. I was very happy to be a part of it. 

Q. Before 19.20.21 - a film based on true events, the audience loved your performance in Space MOMs, Playgrounds and Gulabi Talkies. Would you call yourself a little choosy when it comes to deciding on a script?

A. The thing is, I do enjoy a good script, whatever kind of a script it is. It’s not that I will only enjoy a certain kind of cinema, like serious or art. It’s not like that. I actually don’t like this bifurcation of commercial and art. That said, I think if you want to call it serious and non-serious cinema, non-serious also can be good. So, as long as it’s good and it’s something that has some great writing that backs it, I’m very keen to work on it. I really look forward to being asked to perform in a well-written film - something that every actor wants. After 19.20.21, I got a couple of film offers, which I was not so keen on doing because of the script. I’m kind of waiting for the right script to come by for my next.

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