Devi Sri Prasad is upbeat. As “Singam” rocks the box office, the music composer talks about his passion-turned-profession.
Devi Sri Prasad is smiling from ear to ear. The musician, who is back after a frenzied round of theatre-hopping to gauge the audience pulse at the “Singam” shows, breaks into song. “Stole My Heart…tran tran tran…” he mock-strums ecstatically.
The number is one of Devi a.k.a DSP's current favourites from a spice-spangled oeuvre that covers 40 films in Telugu, Tamil and Kannada. At his tech-tuned studio on the backstreets of Vadapalani, the buoyant musician, famous for some recent sonic adventures, is living out his dream. And guess what, a larger-than-life portrait of the maestro he respects most — Ilayaraja — in his trademark pensive mood, watches over the proceedings!
For someone who did his school homework listening to “Ilayaraja's plaintive ‘Solai pushpangalae en sogam kaelungalae…' from a tiny transistor, and grew up on a steady diet of Michael Jackson's head bobbing beats, Devi says he's lucky because his passion is his profession. “It's like a beautiful paid holiday! I'm having fun composing tunes. To be a composer, you have to be a die-hard music lover — which I am.”
He breaks into another song — “Excuse Me Mr. Kanthasamy” — this time with a mock keyboard, to explain that it isn't easy to compose songs for commercial films. “Any song has to be catchy. People think class films are tough and mass films come easy. But that's not true. Not many know I'm a disciple of Mandolin U. Shrinivas. The Prabhu Deva-directed ‘Pournami' has many songs with classical influences. The biggest test is to bring freshness to any proven format.”
In the same vein, the composer whose cheeriness is so much in tune with his sunshine tracks such as ‘Adada Adada Adada' (“Santhosh Subramaniam”) and ‘Daddy Mummy Veetil Illa' (“Villu”), says, “I believe in breaking rules. You can succeed even without breaking rules. But only if you look beyond preset notions, you can get to the next level. Look at Mani Ratnam or Ram Gopal Varma. They are not judged by their latest hit or flop. They will always be respected because they paved new paths. I'm inspired by such people. I'm trying too — in my own way to be individualistic, even while alchemising varied influences — from folk and kuthu to pop and hip-hop.”
Talk about directors he's worked with and the creative freedom he enjoys, and Devi says, “It's the director who holds the key to the success of a film. To begin with, he is the source of my inspiration for any score. Thankfully, whether it is Susi Ganesan (‘Kanthasamy'), Hari (‘Aaru', ‘Singam') or K.S. Ravi Kumar (RR for ‘Dasavatharam'), I've enjoyed freedom. And music happens in a very casual atmosphere — in the course of a conversation. Or over a cup of coffee. Filmmaking is based on trust between many creative people. I'm conscious of the fact that a good film can become a super hit if the music strikes a chord with the audience and that even a fantastic score cannot save a poorly made film!”
Born in Andhra Pradesh and bred in Tamil Nadu, Devi undoubtedly has an edge. The musician who made his debut at the age of 17 with the Telugu runaway success “Devi” (don't miss the happy coincidence), and didn't have to hit the pause button since, says, “I'm totally clued in when it comes to Tamil and Telugu films. I can even write lyrics in Tamil! Knowing the languages and understanding local sensibilities are a big advantage because music is an important form of expression. From my school days at Venkata Subba Rao in T. Nagar, I've participated in culturals and straddled many passions — music, dance and photography.”
Devi is hopeful of cutting a non-film disc too. “I feel sad when I go back in time to the days of good old desi pop. Channels and music companies that once promoted the genre are today out of business. In my teens, I did ‘Dance Party' and ‘Mr. Devi'. Non-film albums are a great avenue for music aspirants. Not all wanting to get into films realise their dreams.”
With a clutch of big banners in Telugu and Tamil (upcoming works of K.S. Ravikumar-Kamal Haasan, Bhoopathy Pandiyan-Vikram and Hari), there's a lot to sing about on Devi's career front. “The past few years have been a whirl. It's a capricious industry. So you feel mighty responsible about the work you take on. But despite the frenetic schedules and cancelled vacation plans, I don't feel I've missed anything. Because I'm composing music not by force, but by choice,” he smiles and returns to mock strumming — this time it's throaty Baba Sehgal's ‘Kadhal Vandhale' from “Singam”.
ROCK N ROLE!
It’s not just Devi’s jig-worthy compositions that have got producers queueing up to him. Big banners have approached him to play lead roles following his much-talked about showmanship at audio launches. “During the shoot of ‘Kadhal Vandhale’ (“Singam”), Suriya called me thrice. Knowing my flair for dance, he jocularly remarked, ‘You must have conceived of some steps while composing the tune!’ That was a huge compliment. I can dance and interact with the audience spontaneously. Production houses from Tamil and Telugu have approached me. But I’m not in a hurry. I’m waiting for an interesting script.”
Not many know that crooner Devi was called by A. R. Rahman to sing a number for the Telugu version of “Raavan”. “It came as a big surprise. Rahman has watched me perform at functions. And I didn’t realise I had made an impact. So when I got the call, I was like ‘Are you sure, it’s me?’”
THE BIG PIC
If not a musician, Devi would have become a photographer. His studio has all the facilities for professional shoots. An array of cameras and a flowing, flawless white backdrop. “I’ve shot aspiring models and many pictures during my travels. I don’t like going on composing trips abroad because I get busy enjoying the place from a photographer’s perspective. Once I followed a chubby baby staring angrily at the world from his dad’s shoulder for three hours! To me, painting, photography, music and dance are like one integrated big picture. When I see photos, I see music in them. It’s like a composition!”