Hesham Abdul Wahab, the music composer whose name movie buffs would immediately associate with the Malayalam musical Hridayam, does not limit himself to a recording studio to work. The composer who is making his debut in Telugu cinema with director Shiva Nirvana’s romance drama Kushi starring Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha Ruth Prabhu says, “I tell my assistants that those days of composing in isolation in a recording studio are over; only a small section of composers work that way today.” Hesham, who is also on board for Shouryuv’s debut film starring Nani and Mrunal Thakur and Sriram Adittya’s film with Sharwanand, took time out for an interview during his brief visit to Hyderabad recently.
“I barely slept the past week with all the travelling,” he says, having returned from Mumbai where he was on the sets of Nani’s film. In Hyderabad, his schedule includes watching the rushes of Sharwanand’s film and fine-tuning the work for Kushi.
Vineeth Sreenivasan’sHridayam got Hesham notice from Telugu filmmakers. “It opened new doors for me and I am thankful to Vineeth sir,” he says, pointing out how the 15 songs were deftly used to move the story forward. The Riyadh-bred, Kochi-based Hesham has primarily worked in Malayalam cinema.
Kushi’s first song, the breezy ‘Naa roja nuvve’, is being received warmly by listeners. Hesham recalls how he was offered the film: “The production house asked if I can fly down to Hyderabad the very next day and compose a song to confirm my commitment to the film.” He was game, “Music is a God-given gift and I was confident that I could deliver.”
Hesham was not aware that Shiva Nirvana also doubled up as a lyricist. “He told me the first few lines of ‘Naa roja nuvve’ which I immediately set to tune. We vibed well and an easy jam session followed. I requested him to write the other songs as well.” Hesham sang the Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam versions of ‘Naa roja’ and Javed Ali stepped in for Hindi. “All this happened within a week. Kushi’s music is familiar yet new. My aim is to make listeners get the vibe of a song and groove within the first 10 seconds.”
Hesham says the three films he has accepted in Telugu have given him new wings to dream. “Every Telugu film personality I meet talks highly of Malayalam cinema. I am proud of our cinema. At the same time, I am also aware of the strides that Telugu films have been making. If a Malayalam film is set in a small place in Kerala and narrates a story of human relationships, for example, Joji or Kumbalangi Nights, the music has to be appropriate to that region. Kushi unfolds in Kashmir and Visakhapatnam while Nani’s film happens in Goa, Mumbai and Coonoor. Both these films have been planned like a larger musical feast; so I can dream.”
Hesham spent a few days on the sets of Kushi in Kashmir, “composing looking at the mountains.” The soundscape, he says, is Asian. He met Kashmir musicians and used local instruments for a song. “I met a group that uses rabab (a Kashmiri string instrument) only for spiritual music. It was fascinating.”
There are times he had music-related discussions with the respective directors, Shiva Nirvana and Shouryuv, on the sets. Other times, he quietly observed their work. “When I watch how a scene they narrated takes shape, it helps me understand the film better and crack the music. Once you get the songs right, the background score becomes easier.”
The 2015 independent album Qadam Badha, steeped in Sufi music, had helped Hesham get noticed by Vineeth Sreenivasan. He has not been able to work on another indie album since then, but hopes to do one soon. “Right now there is no window to think outside of my film commitments. If I get free, I spend time with my wife, or catch up on sleep or simply try to be in a zen mode.”
Before we end the conversation, I ask him about making singer-composer Anirudh Ravichander sing in Malayalam for the first time for the ‘Tatta tattara’ song from the film Sesham Mike-II Fathima starring Kalyani Priyadarshan. “I sang the dummy version. When I listened to it, I felt there was no fire in it. I like the energy and strength Anirudh brings to a song and asked the director (Manu C Kumar) if we can approach him.” Once Anirudh obliged, Hesham discloses that the song was recorded in a day: “It was nice of him to make time for this in between all his commitments. Anirudh’s Malayalam sounds different and that is the song’s USP.”