Many people might come and tell you their favourite song of yours. Among those, which song if they say you will feel the happiest?
Probably, it will be 'Ranam Title Track' (Ranam, 2018). It is because I have a special liking for it and there are also positive responses and comments for the song even now. I am saying it because you asked, but otherwise, if people appreciate any song of mine, I feel happy about it.
Now, there's a generation of people who know most background scores and are avid fans, so what do you think about this culture coming up in Malayalam cinema?
That general awareness about cinema and technical awareness has increased and I think with the exposure to world cinema, and OTT platforms, people are listening to everything and are now aware of background scores and their nuance, style and finesse. You can't cheat anyone because people are well aware of those. Earlier we knew only about the actors, now people know about all technicians and crew and they are keenly following them. They know how much editing, camera, music and components are important in cinema. So it's a welcoming thing and it only increases the bar of responsibility of the technicians.
For songs, generally, a director pitches a situation to you, say love at first sight or break up and that song is for five minutes. But when we talk about theme music, it is not just about the two and a half hours, it is about the mood of the film, the setting and the mindset of the protagonist right? How do you kind of compress all of it into one theme?
I haven't thought so much about it. First of all, when we hear a script, we get a mood of it and we have an idea of how to approach it. So we will get a basic theme. Say it is an investigative thriller, then there will be a killer and based on that we will get the theme and our primary work is done.
Then, we get a theme for the investigation. We see the investigative movies, so we think about how we can bring something new and how we approach that, it will be more of an instrumental thing. Once you start playing something, it becomes easier. If you understand the cinema and what it demands, then it is all about the musician's musicality and his exposure that drive things forward.
Playing instruments is one thing. But at what point did you kind of realize that you want to become a composer? Like it's not about emulating something, it's about creating something by yourself. How would you describe that journey?
The journey started during my school time. I was part of a lot of plays of Shakespeare and others, and we were very active in school. I was in charge of arranging the background music at that time. I had to cut and paste things from different places. I used to assemble music from different places, like just small arrangements and background score arrangements. So, I used to get a kick out of doing that and people used to come and tell me it was really good. That's how it started.
We used to record and play in real-time. We have to perform in sync. So I remember we did a drama on man's evolution in school. It was so powerful and it was played on parents' day. I remember going to Salem (I used to study in Yercaud), going to the studio, hiring lots of musicians, recording there and bringing it back.
At that time unconsciously it was easy. That's when I realized I really love doing this. It's giving me an identity. In school also, I was only known for music and things like that. That translated into college and post-college and like that, everywhere I was involved in this. There were both original scores and mix-ups. Ultimately, it is about the difference music adds to the picture. Say your uncle walks into a family function, it will be nothing, but if you had a KGF music kind of thing, that is the difference. Imagine you have a well-shot scene, when you add rightly scored music, it will be so powerful. And people are realizing it now.
Do you remember the scores and tunes you composed back then?
I have said this in many instances, I have used many of those tunes. For example, the song 'Rosie' in Monsoon Mangoes was a tune I composed back in school.
Say a cinema is playing on your screen and you have a deadline to score it. But has it ever happened to you that when you're watching that movie, it's not at all inspiring you?
Very rarely. When it happened in the past, I abandoned the movie. The moment you start, you will understand it is a forced process. So I make sure that at least that movie or the script has to really work for me. The moment you start the work, you understand it's a forced process and more uninspiring work. So, I want to make sure that I should streamline it and be a part of movies that really works. Most important is I should like it, I should have a connection. I should like the process of working on it. Even when it doesn't work for the audience, if I'm happy with it, I'm okay.
You can keep working on a song, when do you kind of know that the song is over?
Never, songs are never over, it's based on the deadline. I'm always tweaking until the last minute. Everybody knows that. I have learnt to call it once it is okay to some extent. You have to call it, I've learned to do that. Otherwise, you can work on a song for eternity and tweak things. It's important to put it out.
When films are going to OTT, most of the time we only talk about the visual side. It is a theatre kind of film, but what gets lost in translation is of course the sound side, but also the music. When music goes to OTT but you have composed for a theatre experience, how do you kind of feel about that?
I think it depends on the content. For some content, it will be good and enough for the experience on the small screen. But when you are making a big, mass, high octane entertainer, it is very saddening. I can guarantee that if they watch the same cinema in a home theatre or theatre, the difference will be huge. The theatrical experience and the euphoria are different, when that kind of cinema comes on OTT, it is very saddening.