Why Ilaiyaraaja scored for a musical short: All about Hariharan Raju’s ‘Atman’

‘Gargi’ writer Hariharan Raju is ready with a unique short film that features music by Ilaiyaraaja

January 17, 2023 12:07 pm | Updated 12:07 pm IST

A still from the film ‘Atman’

A still from the film ‘Atman’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Hariharan Raju introduces himself as the “writer of Gargi” at business meetings these days.

People immediately warm up to him and take notice, because Tamil film Gargi, directed by Gautham Ramachandran and starring Sai Pallavi, was among the most critically-acclaimed films of last year. “It was a writers’ film, and the appreciation for it keeps coming,” beams Hariharan.

The year 2023 has started off on a positive note for him; his short film, Atman, is expected to drop as an NFT on January 23 and subsequently on an OTT platform.  Atman, a 19-minute short without any dialogues, features a man experiencing nine different emotions. With music by Ilaiyaraaja, the film has not yet been released publicly, but is already receiving awards at several festivals including International Motion Pictures Canada and Tokyo International Film Festival.

For Hariharan, Atman was a journey that threw him lots of challenges. “I wanted to pack in as much complexities as possible. I didn’t want to make it easy for myself when I took up direction,” he explains, specifically pointing to three aspects: the film has no dialogues, is based on nine emotions, and is set in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. “Everything about Atman was challenging, but we really wanted to do it. We hoped that the desolate terrain of the desert would lead the viewer to experience the at-times gruelling journey of transcendence through each emotion.”

Hariharan Raju

Hariharan Raju | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Once he was satisfied with the visuals, Hariharan wanted someone to enhance the film musically. A chance appointment with music composer Ilaiyaraaja elevated the film, he recalls. “I did not even narrate the storyline. All he said was, ‘play the film.’ I was skeptical if he would do it because this was a short film and not a feature. But when he was watching the 18-minutes, I could see his fingers tapping. He understood the emotions we tried to convey and within a few minutes, he was on board as composer.”

Ilaiyaaraja spent three days working on Atman’s score, which has not only enhanced its content but also visibility in film festival circles.

Hariharan, now 36, was a full-time employee with a leading car manufacturer for several years till the creative bug bit him. In 2017, he wrote an English novel titled Barbarika, which fuses elements from the Mahabharatha and modern genetics, before penning his first Tamil feature, Gargi. Up next, he has three scripts with him — a non-mainstream film, a script revolving around a 50-year-old protagonist and other commercial subjects. So, what does he like watching? “I like world building films like Avatar, and entertainers like Love Today, but what I love most are films that connect with you and offer you some takeaways.”

For details, visit atmancnft.com

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