Interview Movies

Lokesh Kanagaraj wanted ‘The Dark Knight’ feel in ‘Kaithi’: Sam CS

Sam CS has been unanimously praised for his work in ‘Kaithi’

Sam CS has been unanimously praised for his work in ‘Kaithi’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Music composer Sam CS discusses the challenges that were involved in the recently-released 'Kaithi', and explains in detail about writing film score

Sam CS’ studio in Arumbakkam comes across more like a movie buff’s paradise. The walls of the dimly-lit studio are adorned with movie posters — from The Shining, Fight Club, The Dark Knight to Raavanan. “These are some of my favourite movies,” says Sam, sitting in front of a piano-like instrument, which he calls “expressive equipment”. Sam has a distinct way of writing his notes; he prefers composing for the “script”. This process, sort of, paid off when Vikram Vedha hit screens in 2017. Two years and a couple of movies later, Sam is once again on cloud nine. This time, because of Kaithi, directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj. Excerpts from an interview:

There seems to be an unwritten rule in the industry that music is all about songs. Don’t you think composers are under-appreciated for background scores? In the sense, Kaithi had no songs...

It is true. I am not a fan of the song scene of Indian cinema. I wish to treat music as a character, and background score is definitely my forte. Which is why I was relieved when Lokesh said the script had no songs.

Did Lokesh give you any specific reference for the film’s background score?

Yes. He keeps a tab on Hollywood movies and writes his scripts with an element of music. In fact, he gave me a couple of musical references. One such was The Dark Knight, whose crescendo keeps increasing after a low-key start. He wanted that feel. Kaithi, at the end of the day, is a mass film. The sounds, however, should not come across as ‘mass’, but have to retain the mass-y emotion. You know what happens in a typical mass film — the score makes you squirm because of its loudness. I wanted to avoid that and Lokesh trusted my abilities.

A James Bond-like theme song plays over the opening credits. What was the idea behind it?

It was initially a Tamil song. We wanted to give a Guy Ritchie kind of an introduction, just to show the contrasting narratives. In all of my films, I make sure that there is a five-minute break before the forthcoming score. If you noticed George Maryan’s portions, I had given lighter notes with flamenco guitar. Plus, there was a lot happening in the first 20 minutes. So, I thought the audience needed a breather and hence the track.

How musically aware are Kollywood directors? For instance, I remember reading an interview where Mani Ratnam said that he wanted tango music for a sequence in Kaatru Veliyidai.

Fifty percent of them have sound knowledge on the significance of music. The other half treats background score as a filler to loosen the dullness of the scene. There have been instances where I have been asked to rehash some popular tunes. What really gets on my nerves is when directors add sample tunes while editing the film. If they are impressed, they ask me to deliver a similar-sounding tune for that scene.

How do you identify the overall theme for a movie?

There are two ways by which you can do this; either identify the movie’s theme or character’s. Take the title track of Mission Impossible, for instance. It is a classic example of a movie’s theme. Likewise, the Vedha score in Vikram Vedha was created for the character. In that sense, I should have ideally composed a theme for Kaithi. Instead, I created two themes — one to show the emotional heftiness of the father-daughter relationship, and another for Dilli. My job is to make sure that audiences are in sync with the film’s narrative flow. For example, think of two friends-turned-foes bumping into each other at some point in the movie. I like to add a layer of music to that scene. When they meet for the second time or in the flashback, I would reuse the track as a call back.

Something similar to that metal clanging sound in Kaithi?

Exactly. It was used in four-five places. What you saw is just 50% of the movie. Lokesh does not simply narrate what is there on paper. He began with Dilli’s backstory — who he was before his prison time and what he had been doing. Since I knew the complete picture of Kaithi, I kept thinking about his life in prison. I somehow wanted to give a metal score for Dilli, which, in fact, is a call back to his past life. If the prequel materialises, I will be using this as the main theme.

Sam CS at his recording studio

Sam CS at his recording studio   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Do you think the audience will make this connect?

They need not, but this is how I work. I wrote a separate track for the scene where Karthi savours biriyani. The music conveys his mindspace in that particular stretch. I try to communicate with the audience through music. But it depends on how they perceive it.

There were delicate scenes in Kaithi that made more sense without the background score. How do you determine these warm, silent moments?

Silence has to be handled carefully, and it is also something that should not be taken for granted. For example, I felt Adanga Maru was too noisy in the second half, when I watched it. If I, as a composer, felt exhausted, then think of the audience. But, the movie needed that kind of score, to amp up heroism.

What elevates a ‘mass’ scene is the coming together of the music and sound design. How does that process work?

I have been working with Sync Cinema for a long time. Both of us are in semma sync (laughs). We generally divided our work. They create effects and ambient noises for a scene, and hand over the end product. This is where I add another layer of music. There is something called frequency clash. If both our tracks are of the same frequency, then it becomes inaudible.

As much as you are known for background score, you have also given beautiful songs. How do you write your songs?

To be honest, there is nothing new. There are about seven to eight ‘song’ situations in Indian cinema. All of our songs will invariably fall into one of these. I grew up listening to Ilaiyaraaja sir’s songs. He has done everything and I would be lying if I said I am creating music. That said, I make sure I do not copy his tunes.

What about montage songs? Do you change the structure depending on the visual cue?

Definitely. I ask the director beforehand if the song is a montage or not. First of all, your songs need to have a purpose. It is very difficult to sustain the audience’s interest when a song pops up. I compose two versions of the same song. It is up to the directors to select the appropriate one. ‘Saayaali’ was a love song, but it also had family sentiment. Which is why I minimised the beats and made it into a melody.

Most of your hits songs are sung by Anirudh Ravichander, with whom you will be reuniting in Jada. Is this collaboration primarily for marketing or?

There is a bit of marketing, yes. But that alone is not the reason. Anirudh is a good friend of mine and he understands me, since he is a music composer himself. I sent a rough sample of the song for Jada. He has improvised a bit and that has come out really well.

How different was it to score for Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, since it is a biopic?

Madhavan sir wanted me to score for the trailer. But he liked what I did and that is how I came on board. Unlike my previous movies, I have used heavy orchestration for Rocketry. The movie does not have songs and has an English and a French track. I am certain that the movie will be a game-changer for me.

What’s coming up after Rocketry?

I have Jada and a Vietnamese film directed by stunt choreographer Peter Hein.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 12:43:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/interview-with-composer-sam-cs/article29992327.ece

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