A classical twist to the tale

Brushing off detractors who believe that it doesn’t behove a Carnatic singer to be associated with cinema, Sudha Ragunathan tells she will be composing music not just for one but two Vasanth films, this year

Updated - February 03, 2015 02:40 pm IST

Published - January 31, 2015 07:08 pm IST

Sudha Ragunathan

Sudha Ragunathan

Sudha Ragunathan, the Carnatic vocalist, is well-known. Now, thanks to director Vasanth, the world will get familiar with Sudha Ragunathan, the film composer. Excerpts from a conversation with the recent Padma Bhushan winner:

Even before you have composed your first song, you have signed two films as a music director [ Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Pengalum (SISP) and Thanneer ].

I know Vasanth for more than a decade now and hence had no reservations in agreeing when he asked me to compose music for his SISP . Recently, he told me that he’d also be working on a film called Thanneer and asked me if I’d like to compose for it too. I simply thought, why not?

Does this new transition make you nervous?

Not at all. I bring three decades of musical experience to the table. Imagine how much music I must have learned and listened to during this period.

What prompted you to agree to Vasanth without any hesitation?

I have always loved how his films hold music in such high esteem. It isn’t just there as a marketing gimmick. The songs live on, years after his film’s release. Off the top of my head, I remember ‘Manam Virumbuthe’ from Nerukku Ner . It’s thoroughly raga-based. Also, who can forget the breathless song, ‘Mannil Intha’, from his debut film, Keladi Kanmani ?

You signed SISP first. Did the female-centricity of the subject entice you in a way?

Sure, it was a reason, but I’d be lying if I said it was the decisive factor. Frankly, he could have offered me any film and I’d have agreed. The important thing was it’s a Vasanth film.

Are you worried that some purists may condescend upon your decision to make music for films?

I’ve been a musician for way too long to let random detractors bother me. In any case, some people thrive only in their criticism of others. When I sang for films, they criticised. When I acted in an ad film, they criticised. And now, when I step into films as a composer, they will. I’m not perturbed. Legends like M. S. Subbulakshmi, D. K. Pattammal, and my guru, M. L. Vasanthakumari, have had no problems being associated with films. Also, I don’t understand this comparison between different forms of music. There’s no reason to denigrate one form while holding aloft another.

So, there is nothing about film music that bothers you?

I’m not a big fan of double entendres in lyrics. I also don’t like songs that have no bearing on the story. I like songs to be inherent to the film.

Does composing for films necessitate a shift in musical sensibilities?

I was chatting with my husband about this recently. He suggested that I spend time thinking about the kind of music I wanted to make for films. Of course, at some level, I have kept my ears open to film music. My children also ensure that I am tuned into the latest trends and hit songs.

I find it rather discomfiting to imagine Sudha Ragunathan humming, say, ‘Mersalayitten’.

( Laughs ) I’m very much aware of the song’s success. In fact, ‘Mersalayitten’ is a perfect example of what works in cinema. The opening itself should be catchy. While the song’s charanam is pretty complicated, its opening groove appeals immediately. (Sings ‘Mersalayitten’ for a few seconds.)

The song is also an example of how auto-tune is used, isn’t it? Are you comfortable with the idea of using technology to tinker with tracks, or are you of the traditional Ilaiyaraaja mould, with a preference for live instruments instead?

It depends on the song really. Being a Carnatic musician, I’m definitely of the Raaja sir mould, but I think I’m comfortable with using technology where it’s necessary.

Newcomers often have a set of already composed tunes they hold dear. What about you?

I have some too. In fact, I discussed 15-20 tunes with Vasanth during a meeting in September. He has even shortlisted a couple of them for our films.

What about background music?

I think it needs a lot of experience and time too. I’ll be travelling on Carnatic concerts for at least four-five months this year. So, provided I’m given the liberty of time, that’s something I wouldn’t mind taking up too. But I understand it’s not the same as composing songs.

You said you’ve known Vasanth for over a decade. Did you ever have reason to believe that he’d approach you to compose music for him?

This makes me remember an offhanded exchange we had a couple of years ago. He told me then that people hadn’t yet seen my complete potential. Even then it seemed rather cryptic and I wondered what he meant. Perhaps he was already thinking of using me as a composer in the future?

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