For National award-winning music director Bijibal composing is a natural process. He tells that he from draws his inspiration personal interactions
Stray notes from a keyboard escape out of the thick doors of Bijibal’s studio at Mamangalam in Kochi. Before one realises, they have melded into a hooking melody. Bijibal is composing the background score for Aashiq Abu’s Idukki Gold.Later, inside the studio, he says a tune just takes a few minutes to be born. Most of his compositions, in fact, have happened in less than 15 minutes.
Bijibal, who has made several popular Malayalam film songs and is busy, making more, oversimplifies his craft. The process of creation does not lend itself to reams of prose. “It just comes. It is difficult to pick out that one instance that leads to it. It is not an inexplicable moment of greatness or anything,” he says.
At times, he seems a reticent conversationalist, retreating into the silent spaces often, but when he does speak, words flow in charming Malayalam. Bijibal’s music has been around since 2007, slowly creeping into the melody-obsessed Malayali’s sensibilities. Even his debut Arabikatha did not become an instant chart-topper. The songs slowly sank in and remained there. The nostalgic Thirike njan varumenna… and the revolutionary Chora veena mannu…from the film became hugely popular. He was flooded with congratulatory calls, many of them from Malayalis settled in the Gulf. The unexpected response was extremely encouraging, Bijibal says. He had earlier done a jingle for Lal Jose’s Classmates’s promo. The acquaintance led to friendship and later, Arabikatha.
Bonds with people
Bijibal draws his musical inspiration from personal interactions. “It is important to have a bond with people who you deal with. It feeds the imagination. It feeds creativity.” It helps, especially when projects happen simultaneously. “When I see Aashiq, I remember the track for Idukki Gold. When it is Ranjith Shankar, Punyalan Agarbathis pops into mind immediately.” Bijibal believes he is a director’s composer. “Cinema is a director’s medium and if he has a clear idea about what he wants, everything just falls in place,” he says. But cinema has its share of meddlesome directors, too, who tinker with the tune a bit too much. “I don’t mean I need absolute freedom. Music is far too vast. What does one do with freedom? You need a certain boundary to be able to create something.”
Boundaries, however, don’t apply to genres. Bijibal experiments with varied styles, mixing different schools of thought. From the mind-melting Premikkumbol neeyum njaanum…to the quirky Enthaanu bhai…, he insists on toying with possibilities that don’t sound the same. “Premikkumbol…(Salt N’ Pepper) was conceived with ghazal singer Umbayi in mind. His voice is truly amazing. I thought it would match the actor’s (Lal) style of appreciation and suit the colour of the music. But, it went to P. Jayachandran, a veteran who gave the song exactly what it needed.”
Growing up in Kochi, in a family in which everybody sang, music was a natural interest for the composer. He started learning the violin from the age of nine and believes he has been shaped by all that he heard at home as well as on radio and outside. “I used to wait for this radio show called Ranjini. There was music that could be easily decoded and music that pulled you towards it.”
During his school days, he was fascinated by Alleppey Ranganath’s light and folk music. Kathakali was a cultivated interest. “My father used to take me to Kathakali performances. I did not get most of it. I guess only the music stayed on. In college, I went back in search of Kathakali. I revere Kalamandalam Hyder Ali. The battles he fought for the sake of music are phenomenal.” These influences formed the connecting links for his work for Kaliyachan, a film on a Kathakali artiste, which won him the National Award and the Kerala State Film Award for the best background score 2012. Ozhimuri too won him the State Award (2012) for the best background score. “It is not very different from creating a song. But the background lies closer to the emotional content of the film.”
He has never had to look outside of his head for inspiration, except perhaps for the Chinese ditty in Arabikatha. “I had the Chinese actress write down and teach me the lyrics. Then I went online to listen to some Chinese music,” he says.
Bijibal started composing his own songs and singing them at college youth festivals. “That is when it dawned on me that I could create music.” But when he unselfconsciously breaks into a song to corroborate a point, his singing abilities surface. He brushes it aside, calling himself a “casual singer”, but Bijibal’s vocals form the backbone of Down to Earth; a band he set up with his musician friends. “The songs are a simple expression of the most enduring things in life — the earth, the river, the rain, the woman….”
The success of a music director, he feels, depends on his ability to interpret a situation. “You have to carry an entire drama inside your head and see it through to its logical end, musically.” In the case of reinterpreting an old song, the challenge is of a different kind. His ‘Alliyambal kadavil…’ for Loudspeaker was appreciated and ‘Kannum kannum…’ for Venicile Vyapari, too, did not leave a bad taste, but Bijibal is not game for more experiments. “The old songs are pretty as they are. They do not need a new life,” he says. His wife, Shanti, is a professional dancer and his children are Devadutt and Daya.
For a post-graduate in Commerce, Bijibal is too “emotional” a composer. “I may not be an easily excitable person. But music for me is a purely emotional exercise.” Technique is good, but heart sounds better, right?