They are as comfortable performing a concert as they are composing for a film. Some of the well-known classical instrumentalists who’ve lent their talent to the world of cinema talk to Lakshmi Krupa about the experience

Vikku Vinayakram

Instrument: Ghatam

Films: Thiruvilayadal and Iruvar

What was called a ‘upa pakka vadyam’ turned into a central piece at concerts, thanks to this man. But before he received recognition in the classical world, Thetakudi Harihara Vinayakram performed for sound tracks of several popular Tamil films. “Before my stint in the Carnatic world, I was playing for Tamil music directors such as G. Ramanathan, K.V. Mahadevan and Ghantasala,” says Vikku. He has also played a ‘tani’ in the famous Thiruviyadal song ‘Paatum naane, bhaavamum naane’. “‘Palakkad pakkathile oru appavi raja’ is another famous song I performed in,” he says and quickly adds with a laugh, “Not the new remix, but the original!” But while he performed for these movies, he was not as well recognised as he would be if he were to perform in kutcheris. “So I started playing in Carnatic concerts and accompanied stalwarts such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Aiyengar and M.S. Subbulakshmi.”

“As I got busy with my Carnatic music and fusion work, I stopped playing in films. But A.R. Rahman wanted me to play for him and I agreed. I played for the film Iruvar.” Vikku wasn’t given any situation or told what to play. “Rahman asked me to perform different varieties of beats for an hour and recorded. He was very happy with it. He then edited what I played and used it in the film. I have also performed with Rahman in several live shows.” Similarly, when the ghatam maestro was in the U.S. on a Shakti tour with his son Selva Ganesh, a request was made to him to work on Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love and he obliged.

Kadri Gopalnath

Instrument: Saxophone

Films: Duet and Sangamam

There’s no denying that the film, Duet, turned this musician into a household name, especially in Tamil Nadu. Kadri Gopalnath, who is just as comfortable accompanying Jazz artists as he is at a solo Carnatic recital, hails from a family of musicians — his father, a nadaswaram artiste. Duet “I thoroughly enjoyed performing in Duet,” says Kadri.

“These days I am too busy with kutcheris and do not find time for film recordings.” The saxophone exponent is also all praise for A.R. Rahman, who composed music for Duet. Kadri, in fact, later played for Rahman again for the song ‘Sowkiyama, kanne sowkiyama’ from the film Sangamam. “It doesn’t matter what the medium is, it is important to enjoy what one is doing.”

Embar S. Kannan

Instrument: Violin

Films: Devar Magan and Ejaman

He is a leading accompanist today. But even as a sixth grader, Embar Kannan’s heart longed to play for one of the finest composers of the country — Ilaiyaraja. “My father, Embar Sadagopan, knew G.K. Venkatesh, was close to Ilaiyaraja and requested him to introduce me to Raja sir,” Kannan recollects fondly. “I met Raja sir and told him it was my dream to play for him and he said continue learning and when time comes you can join me.” As a school boy Kannan played the violin for the Tamil film Puli Petra Pillai and a few Kannada movies. “Later, as a Carnatic accompanist, I got a chance to perform in the maestro’s house during Navarathri. I was accompanying Sudha Raghunathan. At the end of the concert, he said ‘Kanna, nalla vaasche! ) and I was in seventh heaven.”

The day he finished school, Kannan watched Thalapathy in the theatre. “What a movie it was, and what music! The next day I went to the studios and told Raja sir I had finished schooling and was ready to join him. He instantly agreed. Ever since June 1991, I treated his studios as my ‘office’. I was there Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It was pure joy,” he says, “People say I missed college as I studied through correspondence but I tell them, ‘Look at what I have gained’. I spent everyday with this genius. That feeling of playing in the orchestra with 25 violins, 8 violas, 3 cellos and keyboards with S.P.B. and S. Janaki singing live, is unparalleled. I have learnt a lot from him. At five in the evening, when I had kutcheris, I would tell him I had to leave — mid-way during a recording — and he would be happy to let me go. Who will do that?” asks Kannan, who has played in movies such as Veera, Ejaman, Pandian, Devar Magan and more.

R. Prasanna

Instrument: Guitar

Films: Pudhiya Mugam, Vazhakku En 18/9, Smile Pinki and Lagaan

‘Guitar Prasanna’, who plays Carnatic music on the guitar is also the man behind the riffs we hear in many popular film songs, including hits such as ‘July maadham vandhaal’ from Pudhiya Mugam. He is also a composer with a track record that’s almost impeccable. He arranged music for Lagaan that went to the Oscars, later he composed for Smile Pinki that won an Oscar and now Vazhakku En 18/9 has won the National award for the Best Tamil Film. “I believe in working with people of quality. If you work with them, half the job is done,” says Prasanna who grew up with Ilaiyaraja’s music more than he did with Carnatic concerts. “For me, music also meant Ilaiyaraja and later, the Beegees and other Western pop bands,” he adds.

“A Brazilian guitarist, who was an admirer of my work, told the director of Smile Pinki Megan Mylan about me,” he says, “She got in touch to ask about classical music CDs from which she could use songs for her film. By the end of the conversation, we both felt that we could perhaps work together on creating an original track for the film. I came up with the music for the film in four days!” With Balaji Sakthivel, director of Vazhakku En…, Prasanna, shares a friendship that spans many years. “We bonded over Iranian films and director Shankar was our mutual friend and it was decided that I would make music for his first film” says Prasanna. There is only one song in Vazhakku En and it was Balaji’s idea to remove the instrumental track and retain just the voice. “A lot of my students from SAM (Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music) have worked in the film. It even has an Argentinean singer. That’s the kind of creative collaborations I enjoy,” he adds.