Deva interview: ‘Kushi’ proved that I could do more than just ‘gaana’

How the Vijay-Jyotika starrer, which turns 20 this week, helped the veteran music composer break listeners’ notions

The gaana is a popular musical genre in Tamil film music. Usually consisting of lyrics in the Madras baashai, this genre, comprising songs set to foot-tapping local beats, was most popular in the 90s.

Deva is well known as the master of the gaana.

It is a title that the veteran music director acknowledges with pride, but it is also something that he is a little concerned about. “Take my superhits: Baasha, Panchathanthiram, Avvai Shanmughi... where is the gaana song in them?” he asks.

Which brings us to another superhit Kushi, starring Vijay and Jyotika, that completes 20 years this week. “I consider it a milestone in my career,” he recalls, “It’s an album that helped me break from the image of being a gaana composer and come up with a set of melodies and tunes that were the result of some excellent teamwork.”

By that, he is predominantly referring to SJ Suryah, the maker of the Kushi universe, one in which characters like Shiva (Vijay) and Jenny (Jyotika) would inhabit. Revolving around the ego clash between the two, the film would go on to become a superhit and be a major career-booster for both leads.

The songs became chartbusters. If ‘Macarena Macarena’, with Vijay’s zingy and Shilpa Shetty’s cutesy dance moves, captured the imagination of the youngsters, the beats-driven ‘Megham Karukuthu’ featured Jyotika dancing with a waterfall in the backdrop.

“SJ Surya's narration skills were exemplary. He would narrate a situation so vividly that I would feel like being present in a cinema hall and watching it play out,” says Deva.

But they would actually be in Vadapalani’s Hotel Maurya International, which is where all the tunes of Kushi were composed. “With Surya, the composition sessions would be full of fun and laughter. Never did I feel a pinch of strain.”

The only time, probably, was when the two worked on ‘Megham Karukuthu’, which the filmmaker pitched as: A girl is returning to her village after studies and she becomes ecstatic at the sight of greenery and rain. The result was a “tepid, ordinary tune”, as Deva chooses to describe it. “I came up with the tune,” he admits, “But somehow, it felt very normal. I thought I could do much better.”

But SJ Surya would have none of that. The filmmaker loved it, and thanks to his gut instinct with a few numbers in their previous collaboration Vaali, Deva let it be. The audiences loved it. “He just knows the audiences' pulse. Even today, if I sign a film, I have this strong urge to call SJ Surya in for the composing session. Somehow, what he thinks works, works best with listeners too.”

Surya not only spearheaded the script of Kushi, but also contributed in other departments. “He sang the ‘sexy effects’ that we included in the ‘Kattipudi Kattipudida’ number,” says Deva, who also credits lyricist Vairamuthu and the singers (Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Harini and Anuradha Sriram, among others) for the album’s success.

Kushi also contains ‘Mottu Ondru’ and ‘Oh Vennila’, songs that reportedly drew inspiration from a Michael Jackson number and a Portuguese song. Deva is not too keen to elaborate on them. “No composer would want to replicate a tune made by someone else; they would rather work on something of their own. But sometimes, there are directors who quote certain inspirations or some other factors at play.: He cites the example of the ‘Pathinettu Vayadhu’ number from the Sarath Kumar-starrer Suriyan. “People say that the stock tune is a replica of ‘Kanda Shashti Kavacham’. That’s true, but there is a strong reason to that. The sequence leading to this number has the hero listening to ‘Kanda Shashti Kavacham’ on radio, and the heroine telling him that she will recite it for him. That whole sequence was, unfortunately, edited out due to length constraints and so, you’re left with just the song which people easily term as a ‘copy’.”

Deva might not be the busiest composer in town today, but he is still held in high regard among popular younger music directors. GV Prakash roped him in to sing the ‘Jithu Jilladi’ number in Vijay’s 2016 hit Theri. More recently, Anirudh got him to oversee his work in Rajinikanth’s Darbar, in which he re-used the famous theme track from Annamalai.

Deva’s 90s gaana songs, especially the ones that feature in Sivasakthi Pandian’s films, are still top draw and get a good number views on YouTube. “The journey has been quite eventful and filled with great memories,” signs off the composer, known as ‘Thenisai Thendral’ among fans for his many melodies.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 8:23:10 AM |

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