Musical Maestro Raashi Kulkarni

Nov/18/2021 / by ABHIJIT MASIH
Music composer and pianist Raashi Kulkarni
Music composer and pianist Raashi Kulkarni

A composer and pianist based in Los Angeles, Raashi Kulkarni has produced music for television series, such as The CW’s “Supergirl,” DC’s “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “The Flash.” She has also composed and orchestrated the music for DC Universe’s first Bollywood-inspired musical, which was featured on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”

Kulkarni has not only been instrumental in the music compositions for a variety of film and television projects, but is also a globally recognized musical artist. Her two independent music albums, hybrids of Indian and Western music, debuted at the top of the iTunes World Music Charts.

Kulkarni, a second-generation Indian American, relies on her heritage to create a diversified sound palette that gives an edge to her musical scores. She grew up in a small town in western Maryland, part of a close-knit family that was incredibly musically inclined. Speaking about her family’s love for music, she says, “Although I’m the only one who’s doing music professionally, my entire family loves music. Both Indian and Western music, were instrumental in my upbringing.”

Raashi Kulkarni as a child with her mother

She realized pretty early in life that she wanted to pursue a career in music.

She recalls, “I actually have a journal entry saved, where I wrote, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a pianist.’ And I worked from age seven to now to get where I wanted to be.”

At age 7, Kulkarni began taking piano lessons, and started composing shortly thereafter. At 10, she arranged and performed the background score to her school play. Slowly, through notable performances, her passion for music grew. She recalls her early years of learning music and what it meant to her.

“I realized that it just makes me happy being able to play and think of ideas and just go to the piano to express myself,” she says. “It became my outlet. And when I was about maybe 15 or 16, I started taking it very seriously.”

That seriousness towards her craft helped her to acquire a piano scholarship at George Washington University. While in college and later, when she briefly did a corporate job, she continued to teach and do live gigs, gradually building a film scoring reel that helped her gain admission in the University of Southern California’s film scoring program. It became her ticket out of the corporate world. Looking back at her decision on giving up a job to pursue her dream, she says, “I put all my eggs in one basket and ended up quitting my corporate job, when I had the means to do so. I applied, and I got in. I have never looked back.”

Kulkarni earned her Master of Music degree, and won the Joe and Alice Harnell Scholar Award for Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television.

Thanks to her heritage, her musical pieces rely on both Eastern and Western traditions.

Kulkarni admits, “I grew up with Indian music, Bollywood, Western classical music… Everything was playing in our household. So it’s very much in the fiber of my being that I would create fusions that kind of encompass both my American and Indian side.”

Capitol Records.
At Capitol Records

One can be super talented and armed with professional degrees, and yet not be able to break into Hollywood. Kulkarni relied on three things: passion, perseverance, and patience.

“That is the mantra that has gotten me to this point. It is the work ethic and persistence,” she declares. At USC, she used every opportunity that came her way to ensure her success.

Kulkarni’s works transcend genres and establishes her compositional voice, which can be heard in productions involving drama, comedy, adventure, animation and action.

A voting member of the Television and Recording Academy, she is also one of eight composers selected for the Universal Composers Initiative. This is a development program for composers from underrepresented backgrounds that set up by NBC Universal and the Global Talent Development and Inclusion Group. In fact, Kulkarni is the first Indian-American composer chosen for this initiative. In 2018, the initiative began to amplify and elevate underrepresented voices in the industry. As one of the composers selected, her compositions will be a part of Universal film, TV, and DreamWorks.

Kulkarni’s two albums have made waves, and she has performed in concert tours across the globe with several prominent artists from the U.S. and India. These artists include Bollywood composer duo Vishal and Shekhar.

Raashi Kulkarni at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Raashi Kulkarni at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

“I realized that I was writing music to picture and helping to tell other people’s stories,” she says.” I realized that I need to tell my story, too. So when I wasn’t writing for television shows or scoring films, I would gather all these ideas inside me … and I would record on my phone. Slowly I started putting together these songs.”

Both the self released albums were hugely successful and debuted at number one and number two on the iTunes world music charts, respectively. She has no favorites amongst her tracks, but she says that when she writes a composition for herself, it is solely for personal pleasure and totally dependent on the mood that she is in at that time.

Kulkarni has also dabbled in Bollywood music. She lends her unique style in her cover versions of popular Hindi film songs — both old and new. She started covering these songs out of her love for  Bollywood, but admits she has no basis of her selection.

“I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for selecting any specific song,” she says. “It was just whatever song is really inspiring me and to which I could kind of add my own personal twist to.”

Raashi Kulkarni at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.
Raashi Kulkarni at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

Her current favorite amongst them is Sun Saathiya from the Prabhu Deva directed film “ABCD -2.”

As a minority twice over — being a woman and then as a woman of color in the music and film industry — Kulkarni focuses on lack of representation within her industry. She highlights a USC study that found that female composers are the most underrepresented group in Hollywood. It showed that there were only 16 female composers from 2007 through 2017, compared to 1,200 men around the same time. Kulkarni has made her mark against all odds.

“There are organizations like the Alliance for Women Film Composers and The Composers Diversity Collective, which are amplifying underrepresented voices. I’m really grateful to be part of both these organizations. But there is still a lot of work to be done, as there are only 5% women composers being hired for the top-grossing films of the year.”

BLINDSPOT scoring session composed by Blake Neely and Sherri Chung

Hurdles withstanding, Kulkarni is forging ahead. She has performed as a featured pianist at the Shrine Auditorium, Kennedy Center, Smithsonian Museum, Patriot Center, Warner Theatre, Kodak Hall, and other prominent venues.

Kulkarni offers inspiration to millions of young girls who would like to give a solid chance to their musical talent while making it a successful career.

To them, she says, “You can be anything that you want to be. I didn’t really have someone who looked like me growing up, that I could emulate. I’m hoping that through the Universal initiative and the work that I’m doing in mainstream media, young kids will someone who looks like them, and that they can gain confidence that they can do it, too.”