A contemporary romance to evoke nostalgia is how director Sai Rajesh describes his new Telugu film Baby, starring Anand Deverakonda, Vaishnavi Chaitanya and Viraj Ashwin. Expected to release in theatres in the first quarter of 2023, the film has already caught the attention of film buffs with its charming music that stokes memories of Ilaiyaraaja melodies, both in its teaser and the first single ‘O rendu prema meghaalila’, composed by Vijai Bulganin. Sai Rajesh, who penned the story and co-produced the National Award-winning Telugu film Colour Photo, is admittedly a devout fan of Ilaiyaraaja and says he wanted music stripped off techno plugins for Baby.
‘O rendu prema meghaalila’, the first single of Baby with lyrics by Anantha Sriram and vocals by Sreerama Chandra, is an extension of the music that featured in the teaser. Getting a bunch of children to sing the chorus was Rajesh’s idea, says Vijai. “A generation of music composers, including me, grew up listening to the maestro’s compositions and its ethos is ingrained in us. When Rajesh narrated the story of Baby over a Zoom call during the pandemic, and said he wanted music that would resonate with those who love Ilaiyaraaja’s music, I took it up as a challenge. In the ‘O rendu prema meghaalila’ song, a reference point for the children’s chorus was ‘Anjali Anjali Anjali’ from Mani Ratnam’s Anjali.”
Sai Rajesh had the story of Baby even before he set out to produce Colour Photo. “Sometime in 2015 or 16, I came across a news clipping about an incident in Salem, Tamil Nadu. I kept thinking of the girl involved in it and wrote a story, fictionalising the incidents.”
In Colour Photo, the romance was set in the 1990s before the use of mobile phones. “If you had to impress a girl, you could not send a text message. You ended up making the rounds near her residence hoping she would notice you. The term breakup was not thrown around so casually,” Rajesh recounts. He was keen to narrate a contemporary romance with a similar mood in Baby. The story unfolds in a basti in Padmarao Nagar, Secunderabad.
He signed Anand Deverakonda and Vaishnavi Chaitanya as the lead characters. “Anand goes through different looks in the film and for over a year and a half, did everything that was necessary for this project,” says Rajesh. He spotted Vaishnavi in the YouTube series Software DevLoveper. “The story begins when she is in Class 10 and continues till engineering college. I wanted a Telugu-speaking girl who could go through a transformation.”
Rajesh asserts that the music is the soul of the romance drama. A brief violin composition by Kaala Bhairava for the ‘Tharagathi gadhi’ song drew wide attention to Colour Photo. He wanted Baby’s music also to get noticed in a similar manner. Having known Vijai Bulganin since the days he composed for Sapthagiri Express, he says, “Vijai’s talent wasn’t tapped back then. He has done a wonderful job with Baby. We recorded live for violin, flute and string instruments and avoided techno sounds. We were also particular to have singers with good Telugu pronunciation.”
Vijai, who recently composed for the Telugu web series Meet Cute, says composing for Baby turned out to be a passion project. “After the first Zoom meeting, Rajesh said they required a rough cut of a song to be sent to the producer (Skn). I chose the toughest situation in the film that would require a song. I composed a rough track sung by Pvns Rohit, and the director and the producer liked it.”
The album will have six full-fledged songs and two smaller compositions.
In recent times, Baby is the second significant Telugu film for which music has been composed with the intention of celebrating the Ilaiyaraaja flavour of melodies, after Sita Ramam. In an earlier interview with The Hindu, director Hanu Raghavapudi had stated that he wanted the film to have music that stands the test of time, just like Ilaiyaraaja’s melodies. Vishal Chandrashekhar’s compositions helped position Sita Ramam as a musical romance drama and it went on to be one of the biggest hits of 2022.