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Fame on a platter

The audio hit of "Laysa Laysa" has raised expectations about the film and Harris Jeyaraj is happy. But even otherwise, the young composer's effervescence is infectious, observes MALATHI RANGARAJAN.

Harris Jeyaraj ... handling success with equanimity.

CONVERSING WITH Harris Jeyaraj is a refreshing experience. His cheerful countenance, intermittent chuckles and light-hearted comments punctuated with guffaws make it so. And if you expect to encounter a serious music director relating his struggle to make it big, you would be pleasantly surprised.

Success just happened to Harris and the young man has accepted it with equanimity. "Till I did "Minnalae" I did not even think I could compose," he says. His association with Goutham, director of "Minnalae", that began when he was doing jingles, led him to the offer.

On a quiet afternoon recently, a relaxed Harris fielded questions with caution and candidness at his Trinity Music Wave studio, in K. K. Nagar, Chennai. From a music dominated childhood to his latest projects, he touched upon all...

Working for the much-awaited "Laysa Laysa"...

"Laysa Laysa," is already an audio success and Harris is now looking forward to the re-recording job for the film. The rapport he has with his producer Vikram Singh is obvious. "Composing music for the film was a fantastic experience. The film's director Priyadarshan sat with him for one composition and Vikram Singh for four of the numbers. Vikram's enthusiasm helped a lot. Even if I felt a particular tune could be improved upon, if Vikram liked it he would insist that it was excellent and would go gaga over it," laughs Harris.

The "12B" experience ...

Surely the confused twin plot running on parallel tracks was too much for the lay audience. Harris must have noticed it when working on the film. "Yes ... but when the director explained to me that the new concept would be accepted, I thought it would work. But credit has to be given to producer Vikram Singh. It was the first film from Film Works and he didn't interfere with the director's work at all. The B and C centres did not worry him... and he gave the technicians ample freedom."

Childhood and music...

M. S. Viswanathan's assistant Joseph Krishna first spotted Harris' talent and made him play the guitar for a song in a Malayalam film. It was the first recording for the 12-year old. For the next 12 years, he played for several composers — Rajkoti in Telugu, Sadhu Kokila in Kannada, Karthik Raja, Yuvan Shankar Raja, Sirpi, Mani Sharma and A.R. Rahman — till "Minnalae" came along. The only exception was Ilaiyaraja. "Actually I continued to play the keyboard for others for a few months after the release of my first film. Among the composers, I cannot forget Adityan... he has used me for many of his numbers, films and albums."

Harris could pursue his education only up to the Plus Two level, because even by then he had many recordings a month. "I always had a problem with attendance... " chuckles Harris. Having been trained in Western Classical, Harris passed Grade VIII exam conducted by the Trinity College, London. "I learnt Carnatic music for six months at the age of six. The teacher didn't want me after that... he was furious that I was not serious about music," says the young man. From the guitar to the keyboard, the switchover was smooth. Harris grew up in an atmosphere of music — his father, Jayakumar, was a guitarist himself and had worked under many composers. But slowly when he became more religiously inclined young Harris had to take over the family responsibility. And the family included two younger sisters and mum. His wife Suma, a singer herself, came later and now there is son Nicholas.

Aspirations ...

"I never had any... Of course, I wished to learn a lot about music and play on the keyboard for the best music directors, but that was it. If I had had any great ambition I should have at least tried producing music albums. There is not a single number that I composed till "Minnalae." It is by the grace of God that I have come this far... "

Working for A. R. Rahman...

"I have worked for many composers including Rahman. Most of them would give us the notation... you had to play it ... get your payment and come away. There was nothing more. But Rahman would not expect us to stick to the notes given... he would allow us to improvise and if he liked it he would ask us to play it our way. So I think in a way it was probably working for Rahman that made me realise that there was a composer in me."

Way of working ...

There's no hard and fast rule, insists Harris. "Sometimes you get the tune in a few minutes. At times it could take three or four days." And when at the job, the time of day hardly matters to him.

New voices ...

"I try to use different voices ... there is abundant talent around ... even now I have about 400 cassettes from aspiring singers. Quite a few are promising... so why not give them a chance," he asks. An encouraging view point for many talents out there waiting to make it big. The trend, first begun by Rahman, is now adopted by many composers old and new. However Harris uses voices differently too. That's why you have singers steeped in Carnatic classical, like Bombay Jayashri and Nithyashri Mahadevan, crooning fast and even erotic numbers ("Vaseegara" that Jayashri sang and "Oru Pournami" from Nithyashri, to name a couple) " I feel that such voices bring a little divinity to lustful numbers. The unconventional touch that the voice renders enhances the appeal of the song."

But if you thought older voices have little chance with him, Harris hastens to explain that it can never be so. "I like to experiment with voices but that doesn't mean that I'll use only new voices. For "Vasu", the only Telugu film I've done SPB sang two numbers and I cannot forget the veteran's contribution. And Chitra has sung for me even in "Laysa Laysa". Again the title song of "Laysa ... " is a lilting melody by Anuradha Sriram. She is an excellent singer whose voice I felt could be used differently. And it has worked."

Songs that murder the Tamil language in the name of being

modern ...

The diction and pronunciation in many cases border on the blasphemous ... the "Itukattu ... " song in "12B" is one example. How can one say "Paaacha Paaachayay ... " and call it Tamil? Harris laughs aloud. "I agree that it was a bit too much. But when two directors sitting with me here at that time said it was the highlight of the number, I got carried away."

Today's numbers are too short-lived ...

The old numbers had more of melody and are heard and enjoyed even after three or four decades, but today... " Let's not decide in a hurry. Some new songs may still be popular 20 years from now. There are songs and songs ... some die early while others last long. It's bound to happen always."

When the music does well but the film bombs ...

Harris says with a grimace, "It is sad ... but just as the music of a film could affect its box office status, the vice-versa is also equally true. "12B" is one such case. The audio sales shot up to record levels before the film's release but after the film came there was a marked slump." But when a song is a hit, the film's performance should hardly matter.

His Hindi experience ...

"Rehna Tera Dil Main", the Hindi remake of "Minnalae" was not a happy experience for Harris Jeyaraj. (Incidentally, it was the film that launched Madhavan in Hindi — Diya Mirza was the leading lady.) The film bombed at the box office, but music-wise it did very well. Subhash Ghai called his music a masterpiece... "Dil ko ... " sung by Roopkumar Rathod and "Zara ... Zara" (the Hindi "Vaseegara ... ") again by Bombay Jayashri topped the charts then and Harris was flooded with offers. But he became wary because unfortunately the makers included five other songs in the cassette, for which Harris had not scored the music. ``Subhash Ghai said that he couldn't believe why suddenly five out of the 10 songs sounded so unlike my work. Anyway I am proud and happy to be a part of Tamil film industry. Our technicians here are great," he sums up.

Coming back to "Laysa Laysa"...

"Laysa Laysa" created ripples a few months ago when the title song, "Laysa Laysa... " alone was brought out as a cassette for Rs.9. "The singles idea was Vikram Singh's. It is a western concept where one song of an album in the making is released as a sampler to kindle interest and arouse expectations ... This was the first time it was done in our country," he says and adds, "Vikram Singh and I came together with his "12B" and the bond continues... he is more a friend to me. Hope "Laysa Laysa" does very well."

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