Jayashri’s Pi lullaby in race for Oscar
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As the opening credits of Life of Pi appear on the screen, the soothing voice of Bombay Jayashri Ramnath lets viewers into the world of a zookeeper's family in idyllic Puducherry. The song plays again at the end, bringing the curtain down on the older Pi's story — of his family meeting a tragic end in a shipwreck, his struggle to stay alive at sea, and his quest for spirituality.
This lilting, tender, song in Tamil, called Pi's Lullaby, is now in the race for the Best Music (Original Song) at the Oscars 2013. Life of Pi has been nominated in 11 categories, including Best Picture and Best Director (Ang Lee), one fewer than Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.
The nominations list credits Jayashri with the lyrics of the song, and Mychael Danna for composing it. Danna has also been nominated for Best Original Score.
On Thursday, Jayashri described the song's lyrics as "very simple and tender", but "nothing great". "The lyrics are something a mother in any part of the world tells her child," she said. The brief from Danna and Lee to her was to keep the song simple and soft — "A child sleeps not because he is sleepy, but because he feels safe," Jayashri recalled having been told by Lee during one of their initial interactions.
Danna and Lee came across the music of Jayashri — a celebrated Carnatic music vocalist — while looking for an Indian voice for Life of Pi's track, and asked her to both write and sing the lullaby. "Danna would want to know the meaning of each word that I used. He would prod me to come up with even simpler and soft-sounding words, making me go over all the words in my vocabulary," Jayashri said.
She described the experience of working with Danna and Lee as "rare and unique". "Danna, Lee and I were more like co-workers," she said. As far as the melody for the song goes, it came "thanks to the years of listening to Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle and Md Rafi", she said.