Composer Deva: the monarch of Gaana music

DOWN TO EARTH: Music composer Deva. Photo: R. Ashok

DOWN TO EARTH: Music composer Deva. Photo: R. Ashok

“Yeh…aap..kela…inthaa… Lalakku dol dappi maa…” There may not be big lyrical value in the line but it is magical when sung in tune with the music. The man behind the popular number from Suriyan is Deva, who has given a string of hit film albums.

“Music is an art of sound and I value it,” says Deva. “From womb to tomb music is a connecting factor,” he adds. “You can’t look for meaning in such words which are used only to enhance the musical quality. For instance, ‘Ullallalaayee…’ in lullaby has no meaning but the sound has an emotional connect with the child. I too try to build an emotional bond with my audience,” he says.

Even as a temporary clerical staff in Public Works Department, Deva’s passion for music drove him to light music programmes and finally, it also cost his job. “Then I was working in a private company in Pallavaram and I lost my job as I was not able to return in time from a light music programme in Tiruchi. But in no way it dampened my spirit and I continued to nurture my passion,” he says.

Deva has also served in Doordarshan as floor assistant and has composed music for many dramas. To eke out a living he finally became a banner artist for films. After 10 years of struggle he got a chance to compose music for a film Mattukara Mannaru in 1986. The film did not do well in the box office but the songs were hit. Three years later, his composition for Ramarajan-starrer Manasuketha Maharasa was much talked about. Deva rose to fame with the release of Vaikasi Poranthachu in 1990. He also bagged his first state award for that movie. It caught the attention of film producers and his turning point came with the movie Annamalai . All the songs were chartbusters. String of successes followed after that movie. Within two months he had 20 films in hand!

He likes to use humming in his songs. ‘Chinna Chinna Kizhiye’ song of Kannethire Thondrinal became talk of the town for its humming. “It sets the tone for the song. Music is all about the feel it creates in a person. It is poetry in sound. It paints a picture while listening and visual element is left to the listener,” he says.

Most of his songs are chartbusters and he attributes the success to his sound knowledge in classical raga. “My general formula is to compose raga-based song, but it will be semi-classical. I tweak it a little to bring out the desired feel. From Moganam to Hamsa Nadhini to Baageswari, from Ranjani to Sindhu Bhairavi, I have used a lot of ragas in my compositions with some improvisations,” says Deva.

The main reason for classical touch in his songs is the sound knowledge he gained while composing devotional songs for years. Before he entered films, he was a seasoned campaigner having composed more than 250 devotional albums with legends such as Seerkazhi Govindarajan (Kariyangal Niraivetrum Ganapathiye), P. Susheela (Meenakshi Paamalai), Balamuralikrishna, Madurai Somu, Soolamangalam Sisters, Banumathi Ramakrishna and S. Varalakshi. “Even now I do devotional album and most recently I did a sai bhajan album,” he says. He has also done music arrangement for popular exponents of folk music Vijayalakshmi Navaneethakrishnan and Pushpavanam Kuppusamy.

Deva’s forte is his Gaana music. He is most identified for his musical exploits in this genre. “Every music composer has a style of his own and associated with a genre of music. I hail from Chennai and gaana is inseparable to Chennaiites. I used to say ‘gaana song’ and only later I came to know that ‘gaana’ means song in Hindi. It has a different taste and very peculiar sound. It may sound raw but definitely the musicality of this genre is very deep,” he says.

People like Gaana for its tempo and lyrics. “It is difficult to conceptualise Gaana for film music. I composed ‘Kavalaipadaathe Sagothara…’ for Kathal Kottai and it was well received. In those days, directors did not like to have a song immediately before the climax as they feared the audience may not like it and would leave the cinema hall before the climax. But the tremendous reach of the song broke the trend,” he says.

Deva feels the colour of the sound might have changed in modern times but not the human emotions. “Though music has evolved over the years, ‘thaalattu’ (lullaby) and ‘oppari’ (death requiem) remain the same.”

Also known for his singing, Deva is much sought after by the modern day music directors such as G.V. Prakash and Anirudh. Presently, he is busy composing for Kannagi Nagar movie.

Deva’s punch

Deva has used Moganam raga quite often in his film songs. It is one of the most enchanting ragas. ‘Annamalai…Annamalai…’ song in Annamalai is based on this raga. The tune for the last two words of the second line ‘Enni Yengura’ does not fall under the moganam prosody where he inserted Sutha Rishabam to reflect the ‘Yengura’ (yearning) feel.


Ably backed by his brothers Sabesh-Murali, Deva has composed for more than 450 films in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada.

Has won seven state awards

Some of his big hit albums are Annamalai , Aasai , Baasha , Nerukku Ner , Avvai Shanmughi , Arunachalam , Panchathanthiram , Vaali , Kushi , Kannethire Thondrinal and Aaha

Deva is part of the Guinness record winning team of Sivappu Mazhai for world’s fastest movie from script to screen.

He is the chairman of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 4:44:45 am |