2023 is the year Hesham Abdul Wahab debuted in Telugu cinema. The Malayalam composer, who rose to prominence with his work in Hridayam (2022), made his debut with Kushi recently and his latest work is Hi Nanna, an emotional relationship drama that offers him ample space to flaunt his skills. Being a Malayali, Telugu is a new language to Hesham but he says this distance plays an important role in his compositions. Speaking about the way he composes a song in Telugu, Hesham says, "When I compose in Telugu, I'm thinking about the response of non-native Telugu speakers. That's my number one catch since I'm not a native speaker. I'm sure there are a lot of composers who have already cracked this and I'm just learning from them. Music-wise, my job doesn't change because it's the same Hesham who's working. The only thing I look forward to is whether the song excites me or not."
Hesham is a self-confessed AR Rahman fan and shares that an artist needs inspiration to drive them. But how does one balance inspiration and originality? "It's a think line. It depends on what the filmmaker wants from you. When I was working on Hridayam, I remember sending a zillion links to Vineeth sir for reference, asking him whether we could create something like this and that. That itself says that I'm being inspired by a lot of tracks around me and I'm waiting for an opportunity. And when I'm given one, I put them into the work. It happens with every film. It happened with Hi Nanna too. It's the director who channels my work. He or she has to direct me on a path, for that film. After we go on that path, we decide what works best for the film and carve out something unique with all these inspirations. That's my job."
But it's a transparent process, Hesham assures. "If you ask people around me, they'll tell you that we all sit together and compose. Everybody's involved in it. It's a team work, ultimately."
Mainstream films are known for their excessive reliance on background score to elicit and sometimes, spell out emotions. It is even used to manipulate the viewer into feeling the emotion that the scene isn't succeeding in communicating by itself. How did he ensure that his score in Hi Nanna, which is an emotional drama, doesn't go into a melodramatic space? "It all depends on the film we are working on. Especially with Hi Nanna, it has to do with the entire filmmaking. There are moments in the film where everyone--from Shoryuv to Nani sir, Mrunal, Baby Kiara and cinematographer Sanu sir--come together to land something. Everyone complements each other. I might score in a space when Nani sir stops talking or Sanu sir's frame is shown... all these factors matter. It is something I have always wished to see doing. If a filmmaker is confident about his writing and his filmmaking, that confidence translates to the audience as well. When he is not confident, he tries to fill it with music and sound effects. I myself have seen films that use music more than what is needed. Shouryuv and I have always discussed scoring background music only where it is required for the story. We never diluted the story."