Waltzing to the top

Few music directors are as prolific as Rajamani, who has scored background music for over 700 films in 10 languages and has composed some evergreen numbers as well

Published - May 07, 2015 07:49 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Music director Rajamani. Photo: H. Vibhu

Music director Rajamani. Photo: H. Vibhu

Music was like an extra language in Rajamani’s family, one that all of them spoke. His father, B.A. Chidambaranath, was more than a music director who scored several evergreen songs in Malayalam films. He was an accomplished violinist and Carnatic musician. His grandfather, B.K. Arunachalam Annavi was a Tamil scholar, a reputed musician and teacher. For Rajamani, music was a legacy he could not shake off, though he did attempt to furrow a different path. Along with Carnatic music that he learned from his father, he dabbled in Western and Hindustani music, played for a music group, and even took up a job in West Asia. But he was overpowered by the music that waltzed through his family.

Today, Rajamani is a much sought after composer and conductor who has composed the background score and created songs for 735 films in 10 languages that include Nepali and Sinhalese, and has worked with around 78 other music directors.

“Maybe this is what I’m destined to do. Looking back now, there were pointers to my future, which I perhaps did not consider seriously,” says Rajamani.

Rajamani’s first tryst with recording was when he accompanied his father who was then working on a devotional album ‘Gangayar Pirakkunnu’, which went on to become a huge success. “The full orchestra team was ready, rehearsals were on. There were shot breaks in between. I was busy fiddling with the tambourine not knowing that R.K. Sekhar, who was conducting, was watching me. When it was time for the final take the person who should have been playing the tambourine was missing. Sekhar asked me to join in, much to the amazement of my father. I must have been hardly 13 years old. The others in the percussion group made me feel comfortable and I played. Even today I get goose bumps when I listen to those lovely songs and the sounds of the tambourine.”

There was another thing that impressed Rajamani during that recording session. “More than the music director, my father on that occasion, it was Sekhar who created an impression on me. He was in charge and every musician, every musical instrument seemed to move on his command. I never dreamt that one day, I too would be holding the baton.”

During his engineering college days, Rajamani found time to learn the tabla and the guitar. “Alex Emmanuel was a bandmaster in the Police Department and he knew my father very well. I knew that my father would not allow me to learn the guitar for somehow he associated the instrument with the hippie movement! However, I managed to persuade Emmanuel to teach me on the sly. And by the time I was in my final year of college I was playing the guitar for a music group.”

But Rajamani could not keep this under wraps for long. “We were playing at Krishna Gana Sabha [Chennai] and were presenting a new concept called Musiovision, where scenes were beamed on a screen even as the singers presented the song on stage. My father was in the audience. When I got back home I was sure he would give me a thrashing but instead he patted me on my shoulder and asked me to accompany him a day later to meet the music maestro G. Devarajan.”

Rajamani watched as his father and Devarajan Master chatted and cracked jokes for hours together. “At the end of it, as we got up to leave, Devarajan Master asked me about my guitar, the music group and asked me to stop playing for the group and to join him the next day for a recording. He told me bluntly that I would not be paid.”

The music and songs for Itha Ivide Vare was being recorded and Rajamani stepped into Arunachalam Studio.

“I still remember playing with the full orchestra for the title song. This was the turning point. Devarajan Master was a disciplinarian and I was part of that school. He was instrumental in setting a strong musical sense. Johnson was also there and soon we became good friends. I was turning professional.”

Rajamani was soon working at a breakneck pace. In those days, many Bollywood composers chose Chennai to record their songs as it was much cheaper than doing it in Mumbai.

“There was a senior musician who used to make available musicians for these recordings. I was sent for one, a half-day call sheet, for a R.D. Burman recording. For me this was God-send as he was one my favourites. I played the vibraphone for the re-recording and then sat through listening and watching RD. In the evening RD called for a vibraphone player and the senior musician got up. But RD asked ‘for the young man who played in the morning’ and I got another chance. More than the chance it was recognition for my playing.”

At this stage of his career Rajamani disappeared for a more than a year. “I applied for a manager’s job in West Asia and was surprised when I got it. I was in charge of a music store and doing well when I visited Chennai, after a year. I had made good money and was enjoying life when at a wedding I met some of my musician friends including Johnson. When it was time to return, I became homesick and did not go back.”

By then Johnson had become an independent music director and Rajamani began assisting him. “Till then I was only playing for written music. It was Johnson who trained me to write scores, creating background music and conducting an orchestra. He showed immense faith in me. He is my guru in film music.”

Rajamani’s first independent venture was a Tamil film Gramathu Kiligal (1983). The same year he also composed the music for another Tamil film Kalloori Kanavugal . “I was new and unsure and requested Johnson to help. He helped me in composing and re-recording. I can never forget Johnson’s kind gesture.”

Rajamani made his Malayalam debut with the film Nullinovikkaathe (1985). The film had three songs of which 'Eeran meghangal…’ by K.J. Yesudas stood out. He went on to create some lovely songs such as ‘Koottil ninnum…’ ( Thalavattam ), ‘Manjin chirakkula…’ ( Swagatham ), ‘Nandakishora Hare…’ ( Ekalavyan ) and some very creative background scores for numerous films.

“Composing background score for a film is more challenging and satisfying than composing songs. A good score can act as a substitute for words, even visuals. And I know that my work has enhanced many films. However, I have realised that I’m branded. There are so many pieces that would have made good songs. Looking back, my only regret is that I have made very few songs.”

Rajamani’s son, Achu, has followed the family legacy. He is now a busy composer in Telugu. “He worked with me for the first time for the re-recording of Chinthamani Kolacase . He has done well for himself now making music and singing too. In fact, he has sung in my latest album of love songs ‘Mazhaneerkanangal’ along with Madhu Balakrishnan, Shweta Mohan and others.”

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