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Composer Karthik Raja talks about his quest for theoretically-perfect compositions

The burden of expectation is not exactly conducive to a budding composer. But, that's what Karthik Raaja had to go through. As heir apparent to the self-taught maestro Ilaiyaraaja, the world waited to see what the son would come up with. He did not disappoint. His work was original, and you could see the genes at work in the background music (BGM) and the interludes. The world beckoned, but the reluctant star chose to take it one step at a time, which explains his limited body of work in a career spanning almost a decade-and-a-half.

He recently scored for “Rettachchuzhi”, and before that for “Achamundu Achamundu”, which had critics raving about its BGM. “I signed up for ‘Rettachchuzhi' without even seeing the script because it was an S Pictures venture. The music seems to have been received well, and I am happy,” says a content Karthik, whose next score is for Anand Azhagappan's “Anything For You”. “I'm happy about what I've done. Of course, people expect a lot; that gets a bit difficult. But, for me, music, composing or listening, is everything. I want to come up with ‘perfect' music that will hold good theoretically too,” smiles the shy composer. Giving an example, he says that his dad crossed established boundaries, but knew how to break the rules. “I would like to do that too.”

And, the composer is open to criticism. “I love all my songs. But, some experiments work, some don't. I learn from what critics and fans say is wrong with my music.”

So, has his dream project happened as yet? “I'm waiting for it. I have lots of plans, though. Normally, when things get delayed, the fire ebbs, but in my case, it seems to burn bright,” he says, hopefully.

While Karthik loves composing songs, even as he speaks, you know BGM fascinates him. “Play any music for a silent movie, and the audience will not know anything is amiss unless the music is really bad. That's where your ability comes in. I've been with dad for a long time and seen how he works on the BGM; even small details such as the sound of a bell add value to the film. I want to emulate that.”

Does Karthik know he has a winner on his hands even at the composition stage? “No. The process is like magic. You enter a meditative state; the music comes through you, not from you! Even you should be surprised by what you've created.” And, Karthik is ever eager to learn, even from brother Yuvan Shankar Raja, who has seen more commercial success, but insists big brother is the more talented of the two. “My brother is a good composer. It is sweet of him to say that. I'm trying to learn his tricks!” laughs Karthik.

Despite all three siblings being in music (Karthik, Yuvan and sister Bhavatharini), there's only revelry on the home front. “I guess credit for that should go to music. It is infinite, and does away with any ego,” he says.

Karthik works best with those who know how to extract work from him, and understand his pluses. “That way, I vibed well with Mani Ratnam and Azhagam Perumal in ‘Dum Dum Dum' and Shashilal Nair in ‘Grahan' (Hindi),” he says. So, why is he choosy about projects? “I would like to do smaller projects where there is less restriction, where I don't have to succumb to market forces…”

Besides working at his own pace, another thing Karthik loves is recording with a live orchestra. “For one, writing music is an art…one more attempt in my bid to create theoretically-perfect music. And, an orchestra pulsates with life; minor imperfections only add to its ‘live' feel,” explains the composer known for his amazing memory. “Ah, that. Well, I have a great memory for music, and numbers. But names…I often land in trouble because of that,” he rues.

(Photo: Shankar Sathyamurthy)

SUBHA J RAO

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