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`Good music emanates from the story'

HE IS a popular music director and she an up and coming singer. He had just returned from successful shows in the US, and she was on her way to Malaysia for yet another music concert with husband Lakshman Sruthi's music troupe. He is a veteran of over 350 films (that includes the 250 films he had partnered with Raj) and she's the new talent in the musical firmament. Just one song made her a sensation not just in Tamil but in its recent Telugu version too (hear the song Manmadha Raja and you will agree). Her repertoire in Telugu include Anandamananda Maye, Donga Dongadi, Shiv Sankar, etc., M.L.Narasimham records their conversation.

Koti: I call it a `forever song' for you. I mean the Manmatha Raja number from Donga Dongadi. I heard the original Tamil version's song Manmatha Rasa when the audio was released last year. I immediately felt here is a new voice. I congratulated music director Dina and then got hold of your number and called you in Chennai.

Malati: How can I forget that sir, you were the first to congratulate me. I felt so I happy and took it as a blessing. By then I have not seen you. But heard all of Raj-Koti numbers and even sang your hits in stage show. I was surprised to see you the first time I met you for the recording of Anandamananda Maye.

Koti: (stops her) why you thought I am an old man (smiles).

Malati: (with an awkward smile) I have been listening to your songs since over two decades. So I thought...

Koti: I started my career much earlier, in fact even while I was in high school. For eight years I worked with V. Kumar and with Chakravathy. I have been composing for films for the past 21 years. You must have started your career as a school kid?

Malati: As a child I used to croon songs listening to the radio. My mother found my voice fascinating that whenever some relative or friends came she would ask me to render a film song. That's how the interest developed. Later at a brother's marriage I sang a couple of songs at the reception with the Ravi Orchestra. They were in search of a female singer and asked whether I would sing for them. I said yes. But my singing career took a new turn only at Lakshman Sruthi. I joined the troupe 16 years ago and gave over five thousand shows in India and abroad. In 1991 I married Lakshman Which composer influenced you most?

Koti: The works of S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman and the rhythm pattern in Lakshmikant-Pyarelal's music inspired me. Of course my father's (Saluri Rajeswara Rao) influence is there on me too. But I will not blindly copy anyone. Much earlier in my career, I worked as a guitarist for R.D.Burman, Lakshmikant-Pyarelal and Bappi Lahari.

Malati: How do you write music for films?

Koti: Whenever I compose a melody, I feel as if my father is next to me watching my work. May be music is in my genes. Good music always emanates from the story. You have started off well. Now it is time for you to bring out private albums too.

Malati: My devotional albums in Tamil are popular. I will soon render them in Telugu too.

I do not want to be restricted to a particular image. As a singer I would like to sing melody too.

Koti: I have consciously avoided this tag of being branded. I composed music combining melody with the beat without missing on the nativity aspect. Even when I take Western music, I combine it with our rhythm so that even the common man can understand its nuances.

Malati: (smiles) hope I can sing one such song for you.

Koti: Of course, I'll give you. It is a promise.

Malati: This feeling that I have no Carnatic base is haunting me. Do you have such base?

Koti: Neither do I have, apart from the knowledge of basic ragas. A film singer need not necessarily be a pundit of Carnatic music, just the basics will do. You have a very distinct and original voice that has no comparison. So don't worry.

Malati: What would you have been had you not been into this profession?

Koti: My father wished that I should become a police officer. By the way, why did you wait for thousands of stage shows before stepping into films?

Malati: I felt I was not that talented. But I made my entry five years ago through a Tamil film, Saathisanam under the baton of Deva. But it went unnoticed. Tell me about your favourite song.

Koti: There are many. My best mass number is the title song for Chiranjeevi's Mutha Maistry. But the song that won us (Raj-Koti) much applause was Priyaraagale... ' from Hello Brother.

Malati: (enthusiastically) I sang that song many times on stage. It is such a lovely melody.

Koti: Thanks. I heard your daughter is also into singing.

Malati: Sruthi is just 12. She is learning Carnatic music from Nityasri. I am fulfilling my ambition of learning classical music through her (laughs).

Koti: Get rid of that feeling. You have arrived on the music scene. I found your diction in Telugu perfect.

I still remember how conscious you were while singing your first song, Kannulloni Gundelloni... in Andamananda Maye. Such dedication will certainly take you places.

Malati: Thank you. Are your children into music?

Koti: I have a daughter Babita and two sons Rajeev and Roshan.

For a year and half they learnt the basics of classical music. Right now they are concentrating on studies. But they do compose and feed music in their leisure.

They do it among themselves without my involvement. I do not want to force music on them. I give a free hand to decide their future.

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