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'People started calling me O Podu Bharadwaj'
Shobha Warrier in Chennai |
January 16, 2003 14:55 IST
Mention Tamil cinema and the year 2002, and two words pop up: O Podu.
Last year belonged to composer R Bharadwaj. There was no parallel to the success of his song, O Podu from Gemini. Many called Bharadwaj's success a flash in the pan until his next film Rojakkoottam, a huge musical hit, came along.
The journey to composer commenced at the age of 10. Born and brought up in Delhi, he was not really exposed to Tamil film songs or Carnatic music.
"I grew up listening to Hindi film songs, so I was more influenced by those," he explains.
He started singing and composing songs for All India Radio's Yuva Vani programme when he was 17. "I was not allowed to sing existing songs, so I was forced to compose my own music. Those were my first official creations," he says, adding, "I feel a person can be taught to play the tabla or violin. But you cannot teach somebody to compose music. That has to come from within."
His parents refused to let their only son get into films. So Bharadwaj decided to pursue his studies and take up a conventional job. He learnt Carnatic, Hindustani and Western music alongside. After becoming a chartered accountant he decided to pursue his dream in Chennai.
"I did not know if it was possible to realise my dream or not," he recalls. "Living in a conservative Tamil Brahmin family, in Delhi, we were far away from films and the film industry. But I felt it was possible. I thought being a Tamilian, I would be closer to Tamil culture. Besides, since I also knew Hindi and Punjabi, I felt there would be more opportunities. I could work in three languages."
In 1986, Bharadwaj came to Chennai. He made the usual rounds to enter the Tamil film industry. Unfortunately, nothing happened. He took a job as a chartered accountant in Ashok Leyland and, in the evenings, he would make his rounds. "It was insulting and embarrassing but I looked on their behaviour as a result of their ignorance. When I told someone I composed music, the first questions would be, 'Have you learnt music? How can anyone compose music without knowing music?' They asked ridiculous questions, but I didn't lose heart. I am a very confident person."
He got his first break in the form of a devotional cassette on Lord Ayyappa. "I used to play my first cassette to all those who visited me those days!" he exclaims.
The cassette sold well, leading to a string of devotional cassettes. Devotional songs were followed by jingles for leading advertising agency R K Swamy and Associates. By 1988, he resigned his job and concentrated on music.
Then he met Madhava Das of Magnasound, which took him closer to his dream. "He got me a break in the Telugu film Sogasu Chooda Tharama in 1994. The film was a huge hit," Bharadwaj recalls.
It was followed by more Telugu films. In three years, he composed music for 16 Telugu films and two Kannada films. His dream to compose music for a Tamil film came true when a producer offered him Kadal Mannan, starring Ajit.
Sixteen Tamil films followed. The biggest hit of his career so far has been Gemini. Its success was unprecedented. Even before the film's release, over a lakh cassettes were sold. "When [director] Saran asked me to make a song from the expression O Podu, which is quite common among college students, I did not know it would be a turning point in my career. The song's success was due to the good understanding between Saran, [lyricist] Vairamuthu and me. But we never expected it to be such a big hit."
"I often ask myself, ‘What am I doing in this industry? What is my job?'" he asks. "The answer is I am here to please and satisfy my audience. My satisfaction lies in the satisfaction of the listeners. My creativity is to entertain. I am not here to expand a particular raga or create a jugalbandi. How else can you explain the fact that people started calling me O Podu Bharadwaj?"
Even so, Bharadwaj is sad that melody has taken a backseat in Tamil films. "With the advent of television, people do not listen to music; they 'see' music. It is bad for melodious music. I cannot understand why somebody has to dance while singing! Once dance comes to the picture, you need beats. The first casualty is words. Lyrics are butchered and killed. Now that lyrics are dead, you don't need a singer who can pronounce Tamil words properly. So the second casualty is language. The same Tamilians who objected to Yesudas pronouncing a Tamil word wrongly now accept murdered Tamil words. But I have decided that as a music director, I will never ever let a Tamil word be butchered."
Has A R Rahman moving away from Tamil films helped composers like him? "It is true Rahman changed the whole setup of film music by playing an international level of sound. But who says he has moved away from the Tamil film scene? He had four films last year; I had six. His big films like Kannathil Muthamittal and Baba did not do well. He did not move away; we came up. Here, only if you compose music for a big director like Mani Ratnam are you considered great. Are you not a good music director if you compose music for a small director?"
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj