Rahman Sir’s Studio Is Like A Factory Of Innovations: Thumbi Thullal Singer Nakul Abhyankar

Last week, the makers of Ajay Gnanamuthu‘s Vikram-starrer Cobra released the first single from the movie, Thumbi Thullal. The song composed by AR Rahman has Shreya Ghoshal and Nakul Abhyankar singing a lyrical Tamil-Malayalam medley. Nakul has earlier collaborated with Rahman for Sarkar and Jai Hind India. Excerpts from an interview with the singer:

People have really taken to Thumbi Thullal, which seems to be about a celebration of love and is festive. What’s your take on it? 

Since the song has Malayalam and Tamil lyrics, you know that one character is Tamil and the other a Malayali. It’s clearly a wedding song and it’s connected to both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, because the chorus is in Malayalam and the rest is in Tamil. (Rahman) Sir is a genius in bringing in Western elements along with folk of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Thumbi Thullal is a dance form performed in Kerala during Onam. The way he has brought in romance into this song, along with the fun element, I think it’s way too beautiful.

I think the song is super romantic yet groovy. Neethane (Mersal)is also a romantic song, but emotional too. This one is a lot of fun as well. You can dance to it. The vibe is romantic yet peppy, and if you check the charanam, it goes into a very melodious portion where Shreya sings ‘Kan thoongum nerathil’. That’s an emotional journey there and then again ‘Thumbi Thumbi’ and again that very groovy thing comes in. It’s like an amalgamation — the Nadaswaram comes, then the classical beat that represents the wedding, and this leads into the very modern section where I sing. From the Nadaswaram, it goes into a very future-based texture. It’s filled with surprises and it is constantly evolving around the lines ‘Thumbi Thumbi’.

Rahman Sir’s Studio Is Like A Factory Of Innovations: Thumbi Thullal Singer Nakul Abhyankar

People seem to have welcomed it with open arms.

The response has been great, and it’s almost like people were waiting for a good song. The song is so engaging, and the feedback is detailed — they don’t stop with saying the regular things. Everyone feels it is fresh, nice, romantic and that they haven’t heard a song like this in a long time, they feel Rahman Sir’s 90’s vibe is back… There weren’t many songs released since lockdown began, and I think even people were bored and this came like a breath of fresh air.  

You have collaborated with some well-known names in the industry. How has your experience been collaborating with AR Rahman and Shreya Ghoshal? How does the experience stand out?

Rahman sir’s studio doesn’t feel like an ordinary studio. It’s like a factory of innovations. Every time we go in, there’s something new to learn, there will be a new gadget in the studio every day, and we’re like ‘Where did this come from?’ When something comes to that studio, we get so excited, try to sit down and learn it, crack it. It’s an atmosphere filled with curiosity, enthusiasm and filled with the drive to do something different. That sort of a vibe is there even when you’re around (Rahman) sir; you constantly want to get better.

This was my first time working with Shreya Ghoshal and recording her, and it was amazing. Shreya had come to Chennai in November to record the song and Sir had asked me to record her voice. I have recorded singers before — Benny Dayal, Karthik, Jonita Gandhi, Shashaa Tirupati — and I didn’t know how to react to Shreya. To my surprise, she was so humble that after five or 10 minutes, it almost felt like we knew each other for a long time and were just two friends having fun in the studio. One night I was in the same room where Shreya Ghoshal, Rahman sir and Mani Ratnam were talking, and I was like ‘Where am I stuck?’. It was very awkward at first, but these people are so sweet that you never feel you are standing next to legends.

Could you describe your experience working with Shreya Ghoshal?

She is a master, she learnt the song in half an hour, finished the song in 1.5 hours. If there was some lyrical error, I would tell her ‘Ma’am, can we do this once again? I think it can get better’ and she would happily do it. She sang around two songs that day, came to the studio around noon and was there till 11 pm. 

How challenging is collaboration in the current environment?

I’m trying to work on an album with six to seven songs. I’m collaborating with some of my favourite singers now — if that happens, it will be a dream come true. I’ve spoken to Jonita, Shashaa, Haricharan and Karthik, and nothing is confirmed as of now. I am also doing an English album, more like an acoustic, chill vibe album and I’m doing it in collaboration with John, one of my friends from Bengal. Our first song should be out by the end of the year, hopefully.

Usually, the trend is to call the singer and record face-to-face, but I think music directors are learning to record in other ways now. I’m singing two songs and programming some songs for other music directors and also composing music for the Kannada film Rowdy Fellow. I also release a tutorial video every Sunday. I teach how to record or how to make music sitting at home, because most people have started learning music software because of the lockdown. 

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