He admits that he would be stumped if he was asked to differentiate one raga from another. But that has not stopped him from having some of the best singers in India singing his tunes. Many music composers in India might be hampered by the inability to warble complicated sangatis and ragas. Well, not necessarily, it seems; not if you are a maverick called Gopi Sunder. The young composer's impressive soundtrack for Amal Neerad's Anwar, an album that is currently rocking the music charts, speaks for itself, he says.

For the film Gopi Sunder composed seven distinctly different tracks, which can be best described as “new age” urban trance – something not often, if ever, heard in Malayalam. Besides that he has got some of the most hot and happening playback singers such as Sherya Ghosal, Blaaze, Naresh Iyer, Karthik, Suchitra, and so on to lend their voices to the tracks. That's apart from fresh talents from the Malayalam industry such as reality star A.V. Uma (who sang the melodious Kavitha Pol…, which has not been picturised in the film) and of course, Prithviraj and Mamta Mohandas, the stars of the film and well-known singers themselves. The album also marks the Mollywood debut of veteran Punjabi playback singer Sukhwinder Singh, who has given a powerful rendition in Vijnanatheeram…

Something different

“Amal's brief for the soundtrack was simple: ‘Give me something fresh; something different.' I went all out to get that freshness in Anwar. And if using mostly non-Malayali singers raises eyebrows, then all I can say is that I have used the best singers I could find to get the freshness across, literally and figuratively. I went for singers whose voices suited the compositions best and who could take my compositions beyond the obvious,” says Gopi Sunder. “It's not that I have anything against the young crop of singers who have come via reality shows. It's just that most of them tend to imitate rather than create. Playback singing is a different ball game altogether. Yesudas sir, Chitramma [K.S. Chitra], Lata Mangeshkar and Sherya and Co. succeed as playback singers because they create rather than imitate. Where a playback singer succeeds is when he/she takes a composition – the music director's baby – and weaves aural magic with it; gives it something different, if you will,” adds the Chennai-based 33-year-old, whose tryst with composing began with Sibi Malayil's Flash.

Admittedly, his debut album was largely forgettable, but he redeemed himself with what can only be described as a spectacular comeback with Amal's Mohanlal-starrer Sagar Alias Jacky: Reloaded. After all who can forget the incredibly “stylish” hip-hop trance number Sagar alias Jacky… and the unusual Osama…, to name but a few?

Gopi Sunder is, however, renowned in the music industry as a music programmer rather than a composer. He has worked with the likes of music director duo Vishal-Shekar for hits such as Bluffmaster and Om Shanti Om and has also composed over 5,000 jingles, a number of them for ad-director Rajiv Menon. “I am first and foremost a music programmer; it's something I enjoy doing. In fact, I have no dreams of becoming a music director. The relationship between a music director and a programmer is akin to that between a director and his cameraman. What the music director thinks, the programmer sees. It's a mutually beneficial relationship,” says Gopi Sunder, who got his break in Mollywood as the BGM scorer for Roshann Andrews' Notebook, after the director happened to notice his programming for Udayananu Thaaram. “Then the offer for programming Big B happened, and I found myself sought after in Mollywood,” says Gopi Sunder.

Following his dream

Not bad for a high school dropout from Edapally, Kochi? “I was not into studies at all. Ask me not which school I studied in, ask me which all schools in Kochi I did not! I was keener on playing the tabla and the keyboard than studying. In fact, since I was in class six or so, I knew that music was my destiny. After I failed my class 10 exams rather spectacularly, my parents, Suresh Babu and Livi, cottoned on to the fact that it was futile to make me study and gave me their blessing to pursue my dreams,” he says with a laugh. And there began the making of Gopi Sunder, the musician.

“Luckily” for him, his father's classmate was music director Ouseppachan, who became a sort of a mentor to the youngster. When he was 17, his father took him to Ouseppachan and requested him to ‘teach him what you know.' “I started off as a mere assistant, an odd-job boy, and worked my way up through sheer hard work,” recalls Gopi Sunder. What invaluable lesson then did he learn from Ouseppachan? “He instilled in me the importance of hard work and to believe in myself ….and not to depend on cinema alone for livelihood my livelihood!” laughs the composer, who now has a studio in Chennai called Sensa Digital World. Gopi Sunder's compositions will next be heard in Roshann Andrews Casanova and Anwar Rasheed's new film. Rock on.

Filmography

As a composer

Flash

Sagar Alias Jacky

Anwar

As a programmer

Bluffmaster

Om Shanti Om

Tara Rum Pum

Notebook

Big B

Evidam Swargamanu

Travel junkie

And what does he do when he is not “living and breathing music”? “I love to travel, especially driving through forested areas and roads less travelled. Every so often, along with my wife, Priya, and kids, Madhav Sunder and Yadav Sunder, I just take off for long drives in our trusty Scorpio, the CD player blasting music, of course!”