'Athidhi' is your latest release. But the audio hasn't done well...
Mahesh is a popular hero. Also, we have given hit music in our combination earlier in films like Okkadu. Naturally, the expectations were high. When we try new things, we fail at times and succeed at times. Otherwise, success too becomes monotonous! So, it becomes necessary to try something different. At the same time, it is important to understand that with the increasing number of TV channels and FM stations, music is all over the place Ė be it in the toilet, car, home, work, on board a plane. Given such demand for music, the limitation comes in the form of being able to come up with unique tunes from the seven swaras in every effort. Like I said earlier, itís a gamble as to what would work when.
When it comes to big budget mass films like Athithi or Chiruta, do the film-makers expect you to change or make music a certain way due to the hero's image or market constraints?
Yeah. For example, if we take the case of Athithi, I had offered to do two melody tunes after listening to the story. There were two situations where I could have scored a beautiful song on the lines of Cheppave chirugali. But the makers insisted on mass beats and I had to give in. These are the times when the heroís image and the on-going trend take precedence over melody. It will be a life-long regret that I couldnít do those songs.
Your other release recently was Ram Charan Teja's debut film Chiruta. Was there added pressure to come up with something different?
Speaking of Chiruta, it was like a huge machine given to me. It was a mega production as it was the introduction film of Chiranjeeviís son. I had given music for Chiranjeeviís blockbusters like Choodalani Undi and I feel I am lucky to have scored the music for his sonís first film. Itís a fact that Ram Charanís was the most awaited debut of a star son in the industry. In fact, I am considered lucky as I did the music for Maheshís first film, Gopichandís first film and NTRís second film. We tried a lot of new things, fresh tunes for Chiruta. But I think the credit goes to the producer Ashwini Dutt as he really knows what he wants and the kind of music he wants for his film. His films are known to have good music and Chiruta is no exception.
Given this scenario, which producers or actors do you think have a genuine passion for music?
Like I had already mentioned, Ashwini Dutt has a good sense of music. No matter which music director he has worked with, all his films have good music. M S Raju is another producer who knows his music. ĎDilí Raju is another guy who has a lot of passion for music. He is interested in the music and the lyrics and makes sure he is present at the sittings. Among the heroes, Chiranjeevi likes good music, but does not get involved in the making process. Mahesh is very involved on the other hand. We discuss the sound, type of music, the situations, et al. Balakrishna simply enjoys his music. He is totally involved, be it a mass number or an item song. Pawan is another guy who has a fantastic taste of music.
Mani Sarma is associated with melodious music. With Pokiri suddenly you have done something totally mass...
We have to mould ourselves according to the audienceís tastes. But I strongly believe melody has to be real strong for any track to top the charts. In Pokiri, I tried the same thing. Like the saying goes, it has to be the old wine poured into a new bottle. Older the melody, the better it is for a song.
Post Tamil Pokiri, you have done Vishal's new film Malia Kottam. Any more Tamil offers?
For Tamil Pokiri, I composed four new tracks. Surprisingly, all of them became huge hits. So it felt really good. I did Bhayya with Vishal. Its audio is did well too.
You started out with Shahjahan. After a gap of six years, you did Pokiri. Despite your talent, why do you think you haven't been doing more Tamil films?
Honestly, I donít know the reason why I am not given regular opportunities there. I did three films for Vijay, all of which did well. Of course, Shahjahan was a huge hit musically. But I am not given the respect that I deserve in Tamil Nadu.
Are you open to composing in Tamil or any other language?
I think I am capable of composing music in all languages. As a keyboard player, I travelled all over India. I worked with R D Burman, Anu Malik as a freelance keyboard player. From Oriya to Kannada to Malayalam, I think I could score music in almost any Indian language.
Sounds seem to dominate the music these days. How do you feel when melody gets sidetracked vis-a-vis a mass beat?
I must confess the music these days is actually good. The sound quality is improving, instrumentation is good and new sound tracks are coming, but definitely sounds dominate the scene. Itís the case with all music directors, including me. People want music in their cars and they want something fast and peppy. And I think being a part of the industry, we have to supply what the audience demand.
Do you blame the NRI markets?
I donít think the NRI markets affect the creative side of music. The market sales are more of a business concern.
Who are the contemporary singers you enjoy working with?
If you consider the male singers, then S P Balasubramanyam tops the list. He was the best and will be the best to come in the next 100 years probably. However, since he has restricted himself these days to give a chance to the newcomers, I can say Shankar Mahadevan has the most versatile and talented male voice for playback. Among the women, it has to be Shreya Ghosal. I am proud that I had introduced her in Telugu with Okkadu. The first time I had heard her, I decided she will sing for me.
You have recently appeared on a single episode of a music show. Do you think such shows really produce good singers or is it a sham?
To become a good singer, one has to be trained in singing. Just participating in a talent show, does not make a good singer. You can simply choose the best one from among the participants, but you cannot make a singer out of such aspirants. The best way to make a good singer is by carefully training him or her. Singers like Balu or Shankar Mahadevan didnít win any competitions, still they are the best.
Within the music fraternity, which composers do you appreciate personally?
Rahman and I worked together for nearly five to six years. We talk regularly. He invited me for Eid to eat biryani. Then, Harris Jayaraj is another good friend, though he is a little younger to us. But all of us have been keyboard players before we started composing.
Music directors have taken to direction in the past, choreographers like Lawrence are turning music directors... What's your take on this trend?
Itís the most unfortunate situation. Everybody should stick to their respective roles in filmmaking. If you choose a music director, then you should trust him with his job. If you meddle with a creative personís work, then it is bound to affect the final product, which is a really sad situation. At one point, you end up feeling that itís after all a business and end up giving simply what the maker wants. Having said that, I am not here to prove that I am a great musician. If thatís what I want to do, then I would go and play live music. Most unfortunate trend is for the choreographers to come to the music studio and decide on a song. Imagine a dance master turning up after a song has been recorded and saying it wouldnít do, after the composer and director have already decided on it. At least, if he does it at the time of the initial sittings, then it is one way of dealing with the situation. But interfering with somebodyís work at the last moment is truly humiliating. Recently, a choreographer whose name I wouldnít like to disclose, did the same with the opening song of Chiruta. He came in just before the shooting and said the song wouldnít do. I had to then sort it out with the producer and director that Charan was a young boy and it would be nicer if we gave him a different tune, contrary to the usual hyped entry. Today, the same song is being played all over. I think such situations are really bad for composers like me. So, if he cannot make a proper decision about someone elseís song, then how capable would he be in deciding on his own work? Here again, I would like to point out that the person giving an opportunity to him should be actually blamed for such unhealthy trends.
When you manage to take time off, how do you enjoy your free time?
Every Sunday, I play cricket with my staff and musicians. Starting at six in the morning, we play galli cricket. I go for short trips to Singapore and Dubai whenever I get the time. Each year, I take a month-long break in May. I just spend the time with my family. I lug around their luggage and do whatever they want me to do. Unfortunately, I donít do that anymore. A couple of years back, I did a show in the US and it became a huge hit. So now I do shows in May in the US. I have to think of sound quality, techinicians and the usual problems of organizing a huge show. But the connection with live audience is worth all the trouble. I have seen old women dance to my numbers and it feels really great to see the kind of response your songs get outside the studios.
Are you planning any major shows in Hyderabad?
Yes. Maybe next year. But I want to plan for a really huge show here. I am waiting for the right opportunity. I want it to be a one of its kind show.
It's the latest fad among music directors and singers to release albums. Do you have any such intentions?
Whenever I meet Rahman, this is what we discuss. He has been telling me to cut an album ever since I started composing. Then, money was a factor. But now, I intend to do some different stuff. I want to do some good spiritual albums, pop and message oriented music in Telugu. And if I get the time, compose some unplugged music, with just instruments. That would be wonderful!
In the coming days, you have a film each with Balakrishna, NTR, Allu Arjun among others...
I have Okka Mogadu lined up for a January release. YVS Choudhary is another guy who really knows his music. We have creative fights, but he is the guy I enjoy working with. I wish I had worked with such directors during my last 100 films. Then I am doing an Allu Arjunís film for the first time. I have a film each with Sumanth and NTR. Kantri is for NTR. He is another guy who has a fantastic memory and a good knowledge of all kinds of music. He was driving me one day and I remember him humming some of my rare songs. The lyricist too would have forgotten the wordings, but NTR sang them all. He is really amazing.