“The Lijo Jose Pellissery after Angamaly Diaries (AD) is very different from the Lijo Jose Pellissery before the film’s release,” says music director Prashant Pillai, as he ruminates about his working relationship with Malayalam’s master of avant-grade cinema.
“Before AD , Lijo always used to stress about even simple issues and his creative output started getting affected. Post AD though, there is a radical boldness in his personality and lifestyle and a noticeable change in his approach to people and issues. He’s a hippie at heart and that's shining through now. His sensibilities have changed and he is now more open to taking creative liberties. It has transformed him and thus transformed all of us, his collaborators, as well, as he continues to define new paths for Malayalam cinema,” adds the Bengaluru-based composer, over the phone, while vacationing in Goa.
That’s what, he says, makes Lijo different from most other directors whom he has worked with. “While working on City of God , for example, Lijo was under huge pressure, partly, because of the star cast. It affected everything and consequently, it was a huge effort for me to compose even one song, let alone an entire album. After he got settled, he really let his creativity loose and now it’s as if the universe opened up for me. With him, there are no boundaries and I am able to immerse myself into the task without the need to please people,” he explains.
Lijo spotted Prashant’s work in their mutual friend Bejoy Nambiar’s short film, Rahu , and invited the youngster to début in Mollywood with him, with Nayakan (2010).
Since then, the composer has been a constant presence in all of Lijo’s films, namely City of God (2011), Amen (2013), Double Barrel (2015), Angamaly Diaries (2017), Ee. Ma. Yau. (2018) and Jallikattu (2019). With each of these films, the duo revolutionised the very soundscape of Malayalam cinema, plumbing its depths to deliver some very unconventional tracks: the haunting ‘Gee, gee, gee... ’ sequence in Jallikattu , ‘Ee Solamanum Soshanannuyum...’ that soulful acapella number in Amen , the Wild West in a trance in Double Barrel , the earthy folk songs of Angamaly Diaries , to name a few.
Prashant credits Lijo with having clear-cut ideas, which in turn helps him make magic with sounds. “One of the best things about Lijo is that he is clear about the sound that he wants. It’s rare to get a filmmaker with a sound vision like that. The most amazing thing is that he can mimic exactly what sound or what musical instrument he wants. My job is to give spirit to those ideas,” explains Prashant.
Lijo is said to be one of the few filmmakers who lets collaborators in on the gist of a film well in advance, giving due importance to each department of cinema. For instance, Prashant and Co. heard about Double Barrel around the time City of God went on the floor. “I like brewing concepts in my mind. I lived with Double Barrel well over two years and by the time we started work on the film, it was familiar territory. Right now, Lijo has told me around 30/40 different concepts, all deeply engrossing stories, each of which has got my creativity in overdrive!” he says.
Their working relationship seems to be very much about osmosis, drawing from each other to create those stunning combinations of the visual and the musical. “Ultimately, he calls the shots — and that’s how it should be — but he is always open to ideas. Say, in a particular scene, he has the vision of a bird flying from one point to another. He allows you to build sound around that concept and is willing to alter it — say four birds flying together — depending on what you come up with, ” he says.
The composer readily admits that it’s not all smooth sailing. “We fight a lot. Verbal wars are a constant in our working relationship! Often, though, we end up sheepishly agreeing that we are fighting over nothing!” says the composer, with a laugh.
It’s a working relationship that’s also strengthened by the bonds of friendship. One of their favourite things to do, while scouting a location or during the shoot is to wake up at 4 am and go on a drive, stopping first to get a refreshing cup of frothy tea (that Lijo is particularly fond of), before barging into some hole-in-the-wall restaurant for breakfast. “It’s our thing; something that gives us both a thrill. We don’t necessarily always talk music; we mostly talk about life and ideas for upcoming projects. We both share the same sensibilities about life and creative expression. We are least bothered about what the world thinks about us or what the world does. Actually, Lijo and I are polar opposites when it comes to our taste in cinema. However, there is a single beautiful string that connects our idea of cinema that makes ideas flow. Our relationship is a personal space based one, which one cannot just call as friendship. It is brotherhood, one that is deeply spiritual,” says Prashant.
Stayed tuned for more musical surprises from the duo.