‘Hridayam’ came at a time when I was struggling as a composer: Hesham Abdul Wahab

Hesham talks about Vineeth Sreenivasan’s ‘Hridayam’ that has 15 songs

January 21, 2022 04:19 pm | Updated January 23, 2022 02:55 pm IST

Pranav Mohanlal in ‘Hridayam’

Pranav Mohanlal in ‘Hridayam’

Hridayam , the much-awaited Vineeth Sreenivasan-directorial, has been making headlines for all the right reasons. In addition to the cast — Pranav Mohanlal, Kalyani Priyadarshan and Darshana Rajendran — the music too has been a talking point. The film has 15 songs and the music album was released in physical formats as audio cassettes and music CDs, which has not happened in the industry for more than a decade. The man of the moment is singer-composer Hesham Abdul Wahab.

“It is a movie that has to be celebrated in theatres,” says Hesham, when we catch up with him on the eve of the film’s release in theatres. Hesham, who debuted as a composer in Salt Mango Tree (2015), last worked on Madhuram . Excerpts from an interview:

Composer-singer Hesham Abdul Wahab 

Composer-singer Hesham Abdul Wahab 

Tuning in to Hridayam

The film came at a time when I was struggling as a composer. I was not getting the kind of projects in which I could give the music that I love. Maybe, I was destined to do this film. I always wanted to work with Vineeth ettan . Be it his albums or films, there has always been a space for music. However, I never expected to associate with him because he has worked only with [composer] Shaan Rahman. I had requested Vineeth ettan a couple of times to consider me for his film or any of his friends’ project. I had asked Shaan ikka also for an opportunity.

So, how did Vineeth finally choose you for this?

It was because of Qadam Badha (2015), my Sufi album [produced by British musician Sami Yusuf]. Although the album did not get the reach I had expected, he had loved it. He said that the album had inspired him while writing Jacobinte Swargarajyam (2016). He has gone on record stating that he played the song ‘Aa mil yaar’ from the album while narrating the script to his actors. He gave me Hridayam for inspiring him.

Kalyani Priyadarshan and Pranav Mohanlal in ‘Hridayam’ directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan

Kalyani Priyadarshan and Pranav Mohanlal in ‘Hridayam’ directed by Vineeth Sreenivasan

Fifteen songs!

It happened because of the pandemic and lockdown. We had planned nine songs when the shoot began in 2019. The shoot was only half way through when the first lockdown was announced. By the time we resumed shoot, there were some changes in the script and the number of songs went up to 15. The album has two versions of Tyagaraja kriti, ‘Nagumo’. The second one, ‘Nagumo Revival’ is actually a blend of the best elements from all the tracks and that was the 15th song, which plays in the climax. There has been no other Malayalam film with so many songs in recent times.

Will there be dedicated listening if there are so many songs?

We never thought of it that way. The songs are part of the narrative. Many of them are music montages and no song has the traditional format with two charanam s. Some songs are short; for instance, ‘Mukilinte’ [sung by KS Chithra] and ‘Onakka munthiri’ [crooned by Vineeth’s wife Divya Vineeth].

Vineeth is a musician himself. Did that add to the pressure?

Not at all. It is always helpful when you have a director who understands music. In fact, now, I am worried about working with directors who may not have much of an idea about music. He advised me to inspire the directors with my work in such a scenario.

You have used a lot of Middle Eastern instruments in the album...

I wanted a soundscape that is new in Malayalam film music, fusing Indian classical, Western and Middle-Eastern sounds. ‘Darshana’ [sung by Hesham and Darshana Rajendran] was the first song to be composed and I wanted to use the duduk in it. When I suggested this, Vineeth ettan said that we should go to Turkey to record the instruments live. This was before the first lockdown. I had worked with a few Turkish musicians while working with Sami. But those projects had a different soundscape. In Hridayam , I wanted to use the instruments in the Indian context. So, we recorded various instruments and blended them in my songs. ‘Darshana’ went through many mixing and mastering sessions. It is the 35th version that you are hearing now! Harishankar V has mixed all the songs. The Hridayam theme song is done by Istanbul Ensemble and Cochin Strings. Vineeth ettan wanted it as a song that is performed at a live concert with symphonic arrangement.

Darshana Rajendran and Pranav Mohanlal in ‘Hridayam’

Darshana Rajendran and Pranav Mohanlal in ‘Hridayam’

Working with lyricist Kaithapram?

I was particular about having him because most of my favourite Malayalam songs were penned by him. Even though he was supposed to write two songs, he ended up writing six songs. [Arun Alat, Vineeth and Guna Balasubramanian are the other lyricists].

The album has veteran singers and some fresh voices…

Srinivas sir’s ‘Sarvam Sadha’ is closest to my heart especially because of the situations where the song comes in. As for Unni Menon sir, there is some magic in his voice and he was the best choice to sing ‘Kural Kelkkutha’, which celebrates the city of Chennai and its culture. He has done the whistling portions as well in the song.

It was Vineeth ettan who suggested that Prithviraj sing ‘Thathaka’ because we needed a voice texture that complemented the trippy, laidback vibe. I had suggested Divya chechi [Divya Vineeth] to sing ‘Onakka munthiri’, the acappella number. Vimal Roy makes his playback debut with the duet ‘Puthiyoru lokam’. He had posted a cover version of a song from Helen and actor Anna Ben had sent it to Vineeth ettan . We didn’t have to think twice before taking him in.

How has been the response for physical cassettes and CDs?

Overwhelming! We went with the idea not because of the nostalgia factor. We thought people would feel more connected to the songs.

Your wife [Ayshath Safa] is part of the project?

(Laughs) Just her voice. The train announcement at the beginning of the film is done by her. It has been incorporated in the opening track, ‘Manasse’.

Inspirations in your musical journey…

I have admired Rahman sir, Hans Zimmer, Ryuichi Sakomoto and a whole lot of others. But now I understand that after a point, it is important to draw inspiration from within to create something original.

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