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Govind Vasantha to recreate Thaikkudam Bridge original for Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’

Govind Vasantha

Govind Vasantha   | Photo Credit: Harrison Newton

The composer swears by his feminist ideals, explains why he supports singer Chinmayi, and how working with new directors brings out the best in him

Inside a packed elevator, somewhere far from Tamil Nadu, a mobile phone rings.

The people inside are not familiar with Tamil, yet they recognise the words of the ring tone, ‘Kaathalae... Kaathalae’. The theme music of 96 connects with them, reviving memories from long ago.

Govind Vasantha to recreate Thaikkudam Bridge original for Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’

This, and Seethakaathi, is the calling card of Govind Vasantha, formerly Govind Menon, the violinist and frontman of rock band Thaikkudam Bridge.

For many in Tamil Nadu, Vasantha’s introduction happened through his band, which he founded in 2013, when they performed an Ilaiyaraaja medley on Kappa TV.

He went on to compose for a handful of Malayalam films, and two Tamil films, before 96 happened.

His debut Tamil movie, Oru Pakka Kathai, remains unreleased; the second, Asuravadham, did not make a mark. In 2019, he composed for Uriyadi 2.

Like son, like father
  • It was Vasantha’s idea to push his father, Peethambaran Menon, into joining the band. “I never knew this side of accha (father). He was a regular government employee, who managed to hide the rockstar inside him. Now he’s our trump card,” he says, adding, how the introduction of his father midway through a gig takes the show to another level. “People go crazy when they see him. He heralds the fast numbers, and is our fifth gear. When I saw him dance on stage for the first time, I was super surprised. That was not the father I knew. Now, he’s friends with my friends, and that can be an inconvenience! I did not see that coming,” he laughs.

Vasantha, 30, is now busy with a handful of projects, like the Jeethu Joseph directorial that has actors Karthi and Jyothika playing siblings, an untitled Mani Ratnam production to be directed by Dhana Sekaran, and the Vijay Sethupathi film, Thuglak.

Most of these films share a similar theme — and that is melody, says the soft-spoken musician, taking time off to speak in between prepping for his band’s shows in Delhi and Kasauli.

Voice of authority

Vasantha made headlines recently, when he publicly took a stand supporting singer Chinmayi.

Following her accusation of sexual harassment against lyricist Vairamuthu in the #MeToo movement, she has been ostracised by the film industry, and deprived work.

In his tweet, Vasantha said that unless she refused, he would always seek Chinmayi to sing for his films.

“I wanted everyone to know that some people still want to work with her. I understand a recommendation asking me to work with someone; I don’t understand one that tells me to not work with someone,” he says.

Govind Vasantha to recreate Thaikkudam Bridge original for Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’

Going by his track record, taking a stand comes easily for the composer who had, a few years ago, dropped his caste surname, and took on his mother’s name instead.

“I’d been wanting to do this for a long time, and finally used 96 to announce it to the world,” he says, adding that it was a random post on Facebook, on how names propagate patriarchy and casteism, that struck a chord with him.

Powerin’ up!
  • On his Instagram (@govindh001), you’ll see a number of workout posts. These are part of Vasantha’s “grand plan” to take part in a bodybuilding contest! “That is my goal. At my heaviest, I weighed 109 kg. When I started working out 10 months ago, I was 106 kg. Now I’m at 80 kg. Wherever I am, I work out every single day. I do cardio, crossfit and weight training to build muscle. If I land in a place with no gym, I’ll run, and do some ground exercises,” he says.

“While I did not make much of the Menon in my name, I knew that it was used as a privilege by some others. I changed it on Facebook to Govind Peethambaran, and then to Vasantha. I wanted people to ask me why I’d changed it, so that it would initiate a dialogue,” he says.

Chasing silence

This can be surprising from someone who insists he’s an introvert. His stage avatar belies this tag, too.

“I feed off the audience. There’s this adrenaline rush. Those two hours on stage, we transform into the people they love. Vian Fernandes, our bass guitarist, and the most exuberant on stage, is the quietest of all in real life,” he notes.

Vasantha loves the silence and meditative space that a recording studio offers.

Govind Vasantha

Govind Vasantha   | Photo Credit: Harrison Newton

“While live music is about energy, a recording studio is a more emotional space where you know you’re leaving something for posterity. You have to get the sections, the pronunciation, everything right. You can’t go crazy; those who listen to the music should. Recording is perfection. It should strike a chord among people who might listen to it in different situations and moods,” he says.

Humble beginnings

Currently, Thaikkudam Bridge is working on its ambitious next album, Namah, with 10 tracks.

“This is a dream project with dream artistes,” says Vasantha. Though he’s been making music for long, he first realised the impact of film music at Phoenix MarketCity a couple of months ago, where he performed a 96 medley.

“I’m an indie musician at heart. I did have film dreams, and a list of people I wanted to work with. but the band took over my life. I’ve travelled the world with my team, and I won’t give this up for anything in the world. For five days a month, I surrender to the audience.”

“The 10,000-plus crowd sang along. They even knew ‘Anthaathi’, which was not in the movie. That was a pretty happy shock. Live music is organic, and instils in you a deep sense of pride in what you’ve created,” he says.

He remembers being swayed by music even as a child. An early memory of his is recording background scores.

“When a film played on television, I would wait endlessly for a snatch of my favourite music, and record it on TDK 60 and 90 tapes. When I played them back, it was a medley of background scores, playing like a single song. I then played that on the violin,” he says, adding, “That’s also the genesis of the Ilaiyaraaja medley.”

Among the tracks that impacted him as a teen is ‘Gloomy Sunday’, also referred to as the “Hungarian suicide song”.

Govind Vasantha to recreate Thaikkudam Bridge original for Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’

“I was about 16 when I heard it, and it came with those macabre stories. It was a haunting piece, and did something to me. I lived to tell the tale, though,” he says.

Vasantha prefers to compose for the lyrics. And he admits he has been lucky with lyricists.

“Karthik Netha and Uma Devi improvise within the metre I set. That is a blessing. For ‘Life of Ram’, Karthik managed to create the moving lines... ‘Yaaropol naan ennai paarkiraen’ for a particularly difficult note, when I was half expecting him to ask me to redo that bit. Likewise, ‘Kaathalae’ would not have worked but for the repetition of the word. It rang so true,” he says.

He’s also quick at composing. “ ‘Life of Ram’ was composed in the 45 minutes my wife and friends went out shopping. I played the entire song for them when they returned,” he adds.

Two-way communication

His personal favourite remains the hugely-underrated Seethakaathi.

“When Santhosh Narayanan told me it was good music, I was overjoyed. I’m a stage artiste too, and could connect to the idea of the film, especially the scene where the wife and daughter of ayya sense his presence. The flute took over the scene, and it had to reflect myriad emotions — love, respect, awe… It’s among my favourite BGM moments,” he says.

Govind Vasantha to recreate Thaikkudam Bridge original for Suriya’s ‘Soorarai Pottru’

Vasantha has also worked mostly with new directors, because “I work best when there’s collaboration. I want to share ideas, communicate, argue. I need that space, and they provide me that. I did not know Vijay Kumar (Uriyadi director), but there was an instant connection. That’s what happened with Sudha Kongara too”.

Though Kongara’s Suriya-starrer, Soorarai Pottru, has music by GV Prakash Kumar, Vasantha will compose a track recreated from Thaikkudam Bridge’s original single ‘Urumbu’ from the album Navarasam.

Does he ever see himself do a ‘mass-y’ film? “It won’t be a spontaneous decision. I need to sync with the grammar of the film. Yes, Seethakaathi had a ‘mass’ song, but the film demanded it. The song had me excited, and I need that to do good work,” he concludes.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 12:58:09 PM |

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