Mazhayil nirayum puzhapole… from the film Parankimala, composed by music director Afzal Yusuff, has gone viral.

Whatever be the ultimate verdict on Lal Jose’s Immanuel, the film is sure to be remembered as one that hinged on the innate goodness of mankind in a cut-throat world. And the emphasis on the importance of the central theme was most effectively projected through its music. Through his music Afzal Yusuff, his first attempt at composing the background score, has been able to touch the emotions and the intellect creating a direct link to the ‘goodness’ theme.

What makes it surprising is that Afzal is visually-challenged and each sequence, its mood, had to be detailed to him by the film’s team. But listen to those background scores once again and the music is bound to push all defined concepts to the wall. Afzal, through his music, makes us realise that that there is a musical world which most of us know nothing of.

Immanuel happened at the start of this year. But for Afzal this film has been his ‘identification point'. Though he has been around since 2008 it was through this film that he made people sit up and notice his talent.

Making a mark

Now, his music for Parankimala, the remake of the Bharathan hit, especially the Najeem Arshad-Mridula Warrier duet, Mazhayil nirayum puzhapole… has gone viral. Afzal has certainly made a mark for himself.

“I have always attempted to leave my own musical signature on each of my works irrespective of whether it was for ad films, documentaries, albums or films. In the case of cinema I understand that I cannot compromise on the quality at all. So the responsibility is greater. Immanuel was the turning point. It gave me the confidence to compose the background score which for someone like me is tough,” says Afzal, who belongs to Kodungallur and works out of Kochi where he is settled.

Afzal made his film debut in 2008. He had composed the music for a song that was rendered at a fund-raiser for the Society for the Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged. Among the many celebrities in the audience was film producer Jolly Joseph. He was impressed by Afzal’s talent and invited him to compose the songs for his film Chandranilekkoru Vazhi. The film had just two songs.

It was not a typical ‘commercial’ film and the songs did not get noticed. Both songs had character and Afzal’s choice of singers was spot on. “The songs were the traditional-folk kind and I could find no one better than Kavalam Sreekumar to sing them. I also tried Pushpavathy, whose rustic, raw voice suited the song.”

Choice of singers has perhaps been Afzal’s forte. The right voice for the given situation, the kind of song. In these five years he has had singers like K. J. Yesudas, P. Jayachandran, Sujatha, M. G. Sreekumar, Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher, Sadhana Sargam, Shreya Ghoshal and the young crop singing for him. “At the start of the career I just wanted the ‘stars’ to breathe life into my songs and all of them did full justice to them. In fact, I was stunned to know that Das Sir (Yesudas) considers Chirakaarna Mounam…from the film Calendar, which I composed, as one his top 50 favourite tracks.”

Soon, Afzal began looking out for the right voices rather than the stars. That is how he roped in Jayan (of Jaya-Vijaya fame) and Kannur Sheriff to sing for God for Sale (Daivam Vilpanaykku). “Here again, the situation demanded a typical Ayyappan song. My first choice was Jayan Sir in whose voice we have heard these devotionals for so many years. As a foil to this voice I got Sheriff, who is a popular for his Muslim devotionals. It was his debut in films.”

Afzal has an inborn interest in sounds. His physical disability forced him into listening to a lot of music. When he was in school his parents gifted him a harmonium.

Once given access to the harmonium initially and the keyboard later, Afzal astounded everyone with his amazing dexterity. Soon, he was into keyboard programming; assisting Bijibal right from his debut in Arabikatha to Arjunan Sakshi, before breaking out on his own.

“There are so many people who have played important roles in my life. My parents, my family, of course. Like them, directors Lal Jose, Biju Varkey and Babu Janardanan have been instrumental in giving me the right breaks in films.”

It was for Babu Janardanan’s Bombay March 12 that Afzal had Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher, and Sadhana Sargam singing for him. Biju Varkey, with Chandranilekkoru Vazhi, introduced Afzal to film music, while Lal Jose provided the much- needed impetus to surge ahead with Immanuel.

“Every singer I worked with was so helpful, so cooperative. They have put their soul into their singing. I must tell you I was simply impressed with Shreya Ghoshal for her professionalism. The song in Ithu Paathiramanal was a sort of tongue-twister for her. She insisted on getting her pronunciation right and completed the recording after many hours of effort.”

Many are the singers who either made their film debut with Afzal or became popular with his songs. Najim Arshad, Mridula Warrier, Kannur Sheriff, Pushpavathy and Saptaparna Chakraborthy are some of them. “Saptaparna, who sang for me in Immanuel is a Bengali, born and brought up in Assam. She is a reality show winner and an amazing talent. Now she is a hot favourite of top composers like Illayaraja and is busy singing in so many languages.”

Music for Afzal, who stays with his parents, wife Jishamol, children Hena Fathima, Fida Fathima and Abdul Rahman, is an art of thinking with sounds. And it is through his music that he creates the images and colours, of the world around him.