| 18 Jul 2024
Remembering Sridhar

Sridhar Hariharan Padmanabh or more popularly, H.Sridhar, to the people who would look for his credit either on a CD cover or in the credits of an Indian feature film, was a mathematics graduate whose love for music finally drove him into an area, where he will be remembered as a pioneer of sorts. Like Mangesh Desai and Daman Sood. My association with him was also through the credits as well, especially of albums by the talented AR Rahman. Not only the music but also the sound of Roja had made everyone sit up and take notice. I recall hearing an interview of Sridhar's' where he mentions that while he was mixing some stuff at AR's Panchattan Studio, upstairs AR was making music for Roja. He would hear some interesting music wafting down, whenever the door opened. Finally AR turns up and informs him that he had got a movie score to do and would Sridhar be interested. They both wanted to change the audio quality of Indian film music and were thinking along the same lines. The rest, as they say, is history.

During the making of Chachi420, a Kamal Hasan adaption of the Tamil film. Vishal Bhardwaj, the music director, was going to Chennai to record some stuff and we had booked Media Artist Studio, where Sridhar doubled up as the resident Chief Sound Engineer. I was looking forward to meeting this man in flesh and blood. Due to some booking mess up we could not work there but we shook hands and discovered that he spoke hindi as a true north Indian! Slowly over a period of time we met over emails and phone calls through another friend of mine Rohit Kulkarni, who knew Sivakumar, the other engineer at Panchattan. That is how things work.

In 2003 I got a call from him to say that he was feeling burdened by the upcoming AR Shows, the first in India. I told him to get another engineer. Soon I was in Chennai, discussing the show. Never, for once, did I feel that he seemed threatened by another engineers' presence? He shared openly and took suggestions in his stride.

Together we pulled off one of the biggest show in India and of an Indian artist abroad. We discovered similar taste in music, in the mixes we wanted to do and even in the way tracks were named and color-coded! Soon I was invited by AR to come help mix Rang De Basanti. Sridhar and I would take turns mixing songs. If he stopped I would take over and visa versa. People still ask me as to which song Sridhar had mixed and which were done by me. And the beauty was that no one could tell.

Our telephonic conversations usually began with " Hi. I have a question for you...." or if he was in a relaxed frame of mind, he would ask me "Are u Santa Singh, Milka Singh or Relax-ing?" An engineer with a passion for music and a photographic memory, he would remember intricate details of dates, venues, list of musicians, song mixes, files and even chord progressions of a song. One of his duties, apart from being an FOH engineer for AR's shows was to check AR's keyboard rig by playing all the patches that AR would end up playing on the various keyboards.

A keen guitar player, many a times people would find us roaming the music shops of LA, NY, Singapore or Hong Kong. To our delight we would end up playing all kinds of guitars, especially the ones we could not afford!

He was a stern taskmaster of people who failed to do their job. HE would gladly teach the new engineers at the studios he worked in and then expect them to come up with more relevant questions. His word was the final word for AR. If Sridhar had said that he had heard the master and felt it was fine, AR, when time not permitting, would take his word for it. He would also fight for the musical integrity of the piece that AR had composed, whether it was a song or the background piece for the movie. That was the level of trust and respect he commanded. He was the teacher and virtual guru of so many audio students. His fan site at Orkut is testimony to that. A four time National award winner and a man with only grey and white shirts, as I teased him, he was a techie who was on top of gadgets and emerging technologies.

His musical and engineering skills saw him work with the likes of George Harrison, John Neptune Kaizan, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Zakir Hussain, L.Shankar, John McLaughlin, Louis Banks, Sivamani, U.Srinivas and many more upcoming as well as established artists of India and abroad. I miss the cigarette and coffee breaks we used to have. Time to catch up on new stuff, plan things and bitch, as well! I miss his re-assuring presence that I could turn to him, whenever I needed an answer to a technical problem. Most of all I miss my fixed drop car-ride to my hotel, late after work and then sitting in his car and chatting for another hour or so. I miss you my friend! I know he is mixing his next great work somewhere up there. May his soul rest amongst celestial harmony and peace.

Kanwaarjit Singh Sawhney is a Sound Engineer/Designer who worked closely with H Sridhar