COLOMBO: When Dinesh Subasinghe discovered the ‘Ravana Hatta’, a one-stringed violin-like instrument associated with Sri Lanka’s legendary king, Ravana, a few years ago, he did know that this simple contraption made out of a coconut shell, would help him realise a passionate dream - to meet Indian music director AR Rahman, learn music from him, and play in his orchestra!
Though trained in the Western classical tradition, young Dinesh was itching to get out of the rut and introduce new instruments and new sounds which would be genuinely Lankan and yet appealing to a global audience.
His battle to make Ravana Hatta a concert instrument attracted attention of a musically-inclined and politically-connected Buddhist monk, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thero, who took him to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa. That encounter proved to be a watershed in his musical life.
“I played the ‘Ravana Hatta’ to the President, and he was very impressed. When I said that I needed a scholarship to study at A R Rahman’s academy in Chennai, he said he would help me. This was when Rahman had grabbed the world’s attention by bagging an Oscar,” he recalled.
At Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory, Dinesh was the only student from Sri Lanka. “But never once was I made to feel ill at ease by fellow students or the staff,” he said.
The students were drawn from various parts of India and the world. But most of the teachers were from the US, and some like Joshua Pollock and George Phillip, were outstanding, Dinesh said. He also benefited a lot from interacting with Chennai-based Western musicians like Narasimhan, Kalyan and Jerry. Rahman chose Dinesh to play the violin and ‘Ravana Hatta’ in his CD of nursery rhymes in which the narrator was Katrina Kaif.
Having joined the South Indian Cine Musicians Union (the first Lankan to do so), he played the violin in Mani Ratnam’s film ‘Raavan’ and some Telugu movies too. Back in Sri Lanka, Dinesh plunged into the production of an Oratorio (for chorus and orchestra) on themes from the life of the Buddha, entitled “Karuna Nadhi” (River of Compassion). “An outstanding feature of this production is the participation of players from Rahman’s orchestra, like John Anthony, Eilidh Catherine Martin, Ashitha Arokiam, Ankana Arokiam, Sahil Jeet Singh, Rachinthan Trivedi and Pranoy Praveen,” he said.
A tense Dinesh was relieved when Rahman said: “Nice music” after listening to the Oratorio, which was a mix of Far Eastern, Sri Lankan, Indian and Western classical styles.