The music album of Dear Comrade, the Telugu language film dubbed into Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada is the toast of the town. Composed by Justin Prabhakaran, the album is pulsating with romance and revolution. Prabhakaran’s Twitter bio reads “music composer at film industry”, neither specifying language nor films. We discussed the pressure of producing an album in four languages, roping in big names like Vijay Sethupathi and Dulquer Salmaan behind the mic, and what’s next.
The Dear Comrade music album has garnered rave reviews. What are you feeling right now?
I am overjoyed. Working on this album had given me the confidence that each song would reach the audience, no matter what. The film inherently had the scope and space for that to happen. Each of my compositions blended into the film beautifully and it makes me so happy that listeners hailed each single to its true essence.
The fact that Dear Comrade was releasing in 4 albums was both a blessing and a challenge because I needed to be sure that nothing was lost in translation.
Kadallale, the Canteen Song and the Anthem have all done really well. Tell us how you approached this album.
I was sure that it would touch everyone’s heart. The fact that Dear Comrade was releasing in 4 albums was both a blessing and a challenge because I needed to be sure that nothing was lost in translation. Hence, the lyrics required conscious effort. Having said that, we did not create imaginary assumptions for each language per se – it just flowed. It was not a literal translation from one language to the next, but we had writers who comprehended what the situation required and simply let their words take its own course. I personally think that had a lot to do with why this album in particular struck with the audience.
Would you say that Dear Comrade is a crucial turning point in your career?
Without a doubt, yes. I considered it a big deal, right from day one. The entire team saw the potential of this movie to become a sensation, and it so rightly did. The minimalistic essence that this film demanded was a great learning process for me. It was a big responsibility to shoulder, but there was no pressure on me from any side. The creative freedom that they accorded me with drove me to give my best for this album.
How different was working on Dear Comrade after having done music for a movie like Monster?
Both movies belonged to two very different genres. The only mutual aspect between the two was the presence of silent shots. Now, this is where the music director’s job kicks in, to fill these silent shots with music that would complement and enhance the scene. To rightly recognise at which points there is a need for music and which ones do not is crucial. The background score has the ability to make a particular scene 10 times better but can also ruin it in entirety. Some shots are best left silent, and a musician should have the ears for it.
How do you go about comprehending the essence of a movie? Is there a process?
I believe that the experience from the several short film music I’ve composed has helped me nurture that ability. I say this because short films convey a particular message or a meaning in hardly 10 minutes. So working on the musical side of it is equally challenging. Working with Harris Jayaraj sir was insightful because it honed my background music scoring skills to the next level.
When do you know for sure that you’ve met the director’s expectations?
For an album to work, the rapport the composer shares with the film director is of paramount importance. Bharat Kamma is someone whom I’ve known for a very long time now and he is gifted with a great music sense.
I was able to envisage his vision the minute he put it forward and that was a great bonus. Interestingly, I don’t think a musician has to reflect a filmmaker’s point of view to get the job done. As long as we all do what we’re best at, we’re good to go.
My composition for Kadallale happened in a span of 15-20 minutes, whereas some tunes may take up to a week’s time or more. You may be out on a morning walk or a drive when a tune comes to your head
Take us through your experience of roping in Vijay Sethupathi and Dulquer Salmaan for the Tamil and Malayalam anthem respectively.
It was fantastic. The crux of the film is the idea of a ‘comrade’ and the over riding spirit we wished to convey through the anthem was how fellow comrades lift each other. For the same reason, no actor we approached denied to take it up. But I personally went through a slight fear of how it would all pan out. To my delight, both of them were extremely cool and dedicated a lot of their time for me. I have high regard for both them and consider myself lucky to have worked with them.
While composing do you ensure that listeners groove to the beats but at the same time try and preserve the originality of the piece?
I focus on a song’s tune first and then it’s all about improvisation. Processing a track might sound good to our ears but the final output might deem inadequate. I don’t sit down and work a perfect blend or anything. I’ve noticed that every time I try to plan it, it goes awry. It’s all mostly impromptu. My composition for Kadallale happened in a span of 15-20 minutes, whereas some tunes may take up to a week’s time or more. You may be out on a morning walk or a drive when a tune comes to your head, and I immediately make a note of it. It’s a lot to do with what comes from the heart and how well you listen to your instincts.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to struggling musicians?
All of us face our struggles. I’m no exception because I’ve also had my share of downs. But I don’t think we should see it as a struggle and just accept it as a part of the process. Dear Comrade has instilled a strong hope, thanks to the delightful career turn it has been for me. The key is to just stay persistent and pay minimum heed to what others say to bring you down. Just work towards proving yourself when the opportunity comes.
What’s next for you?
Raavana Koottam directed by Vikram Sukumar is in the making now. Another one of Samuthrakani sir’s project is running parallely. A few other Tamil and Telugu projects are under discussion at the moment.