Music has given him a new lease of life, says composer Ratheesh Vega

Ratheesh Vega lives in the present. He’d rather not talk about his unhappy childhood when he was more of a loner or his student days when he had to struggle for survival. “It will hurt many people…,” he pauses, and continues, “I’m happy now. That’s important.” The 31-year-old composer who has become a name to reckon with in the Malayalam film music industry is confident that he would “certainly not go back to those days again.”

Coming from a broken family, he never had the chance to nurture a dream. “Music was there in me, but I never had the opportunity to learn. After finishing school, my only aim was to find a job,” he says. However his talent was encouragement by Campus Crusade, a student organisation. “Friends like Jainson and Usha, members of that group, and P.N. Unnirajan, now working as a police officer supported me,” he says. He stayed in a hostel in Thrissur and learnt music from Thrissur R. Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. “I didn’t do anything else other than learning music with the money I saved from the music programmes,” he says. He then moved to Bangalore, to do his graduation in music from the University of Madras.

After returning to Kerala, he produced and anchored a show, ‘Music Talk’ on Asianet (2006), which took a behind-the-scenes look at music in films. The turning point was his meeting with composer Gopi Sunder who firmly believed that Ratheesh could become a composer.

The scene then shifts to Mumbai and the ad world. His tryst with ad filmmakers – the Anthikad brothers – Shibu, Shabu and Deepu – got him into ad jingles. “My first ad was for Roshni churidhar. The jingle, ‘Poovinu poombatta pole…’ was noticed,” he says. Then came a flood of jingles (Kalyan Silks, Joy Alukkas, RMKV, Chennai Silks…); he is still making jingles, such as the ones for Joy Alukkas, Jolly Silks, Vivel and Asian Paints. “Sometimes it is just an instrumental. It is very challenging to make a jingle, but then that experience counts a lot when you are working in films.”

‘Café Love’ (2009), his album, paved his entry into the film industry. “All thanks to Mani, a businessman in Thrissur, who has been more like a brother for me. He is producer Milan Jaleel’s friend. It was Milan sir who gave me a song in Cocktail (‘Neeyam thanalinu…’) and the background score,” he says. As they say, the rest is history. In fact, Alphons had composed all the songs for Cocktail by then. But the crew needed a melody and since Alphons wasn’t around, Ratheesh was asked to do it.

Then came Beautiful and with it the alluring ‘Mazhaneerthullikal…’. He vroomed to fame and is still going strong. “The song has a nostalgic feel, but the orchestration is new. I’ve always tried blending Western arrangements in my songs. The inspiration is of course A.R.Rahman,” he says.

Talking about experiments, he did the re-recording of the songs in Run Baby Run in Austria and even used new musical instruments in the movie. In Lucky Star, the background score had the feel of country music. In fact, Ratheesh has done a promotional album for the film – “a Sufi rock number”, featuring himself and his band, Band Cocktail.

The journey in tinsel town has had it own set of high and low notes. “In fact, after Beautiful I was supposed to do the music for a Mammootty-starrer and the songs were ready. But they were all rejected on the ground that I did not have the stuff to make good songs. It was heart-breaking and I’d almost given up my career. But Milan sir came to my help and introduced me to Joshiy sir, who gave me Run Baby Run. The bond I share with him and Lal [Mohanlal] sir is very special. Such relationships are what I cherish.”

He adds: “I have faced rejection at many phases of my life. Had music not been there, I would not have survived. But music has given me everything.”

FACT FILE

Ratheesh Vega is actually Ratheesh Menon. Vega means a star. He is married to Anu, a veterinary doctor, whom he “met through friends”.

They’ve a two-year-old son, Nadhin.

Over 15 films old, Ratheesh’s forthcoming releases are Siddique’s Ladies and Gentleman and Padmakumar’s Orissa.

He makes debut in Tamil – a multi-starrer by Thyagarajan.

He is writing a screenplay for a V.K. Prakash movie. “It will be a realistic police story.” He turned lyricist with the song ‘Mazha Mazha’ in Poppins and has sung the title track of Run Baby Run. Actors Mohanlal (Run Baby Run), Kavya Madhavan (Matinee) and Nithya Menen (Poppins) have sung for him.

His seven-piece band, Band Cocktail, is planning a show featuring songs of Mohanlal, titled Musical Journey with Mohanlal. Ratheesh has also worked with the international band Suns of Arqa as its Indian arranger.