Interviewer: Daya Kingston | Camera: Hemananth.B & P. Ganesh Babu | Text: Jyothsna
When Minnale turned up with a choco-vanilla soufflé of soft romantic numbers, its debut music director Harris Jeyaraj was noticed. The young composer has worked on over 600 films and is popular for his mint-fresh, mesmerizing tunes. And Kollywood could just not get enough of it. His Suttum Vizhi Chudarey track for Ghajini got 2 crore downloads and most of his music has turned out to be phenomenally successful. Last year, Vaaranam Aayiram turned the highest selling Tamil film music album of the year and this year Ayan might just repeat the magic.

Harris has won accolades for his work and the most recent has been the Kalaimamani Awards. We quiz him on his latest films, his split with Gautham, his world tour and many more surprises. And in his own charming style, he responds intelligently with a dash of humor thrown in.

Meet the guest of the week Music Director Harris Jeyaraj



BW:
How did you enter the industry?

Harris Jayaraj: The industry is not new to me. My father S.M. Jayakumar is a very popular guitarist and now he has turned an evangelist. Right from my childhood, AVM Studios, Vauhini Studios, Vijaya Gardens were familiar places to me as they were close to my school and I would visit them even during holidays with my father. I had the experience of watching many music composers and the way they recorded. I started my career as a keyboard player when I was twelve and twelve years later I became a composer. The industry was familiar but the only difference was that I took the baton of music composer for the first time when I was twenty four for Minnale. I never thought I would become a music composer; it was experimental. Earlier I had opportunities but I was too young. However later when I was a bit older Gautham came to me with this offer and I thought the time was right.

How was your life before movies?

I was very happy. Between 1987 and 2000, I was in a studio and a very busy musician in India and across the globe and played under more than twenty five music directors in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Bengali and Oriya. I was a confident young musician and my aim was global. I finished my music degrees and took a holiday from work to finish the exams.

Experiences on some of the music directors that you have worked with?

My biggest plus point is that I have worked with different music directors. It was a very interesting learning curve for me. I have worked with music directors from Shankar Ganesh to Yuvan Shankar Raja. It is nice working with senior composers and also budding composers. Playing the keyboard for first-time composers is a good experience. My first film was in Kannada with Joseph Krishna. This was in 1987 when I was just 12 and I played the guitar for him. Later, I transformed myself into a synthesizer programmer. In 1989, I started playing keyboards and worked on gospel albums and devotional songs.

Mr. Rajkoti, the popular Telugu composer was my guru in the industry. I worked for over nine years with him and learnt commercial music. I learnt a lot from him like completing a film in three days, the speed, the tight synchronization, post-production, staying alert, commercial elements etc. From some composers, I learnt ‘from-the-heart’ music which comes from deep within the heart, especially from Housuf Bachchan. In Malayalam, I have worked for music directors like Suresh and Shyam. Working style in Malayalam is different. You are given notes and light soft music but Telugu is very different and commercial. I gelled with both the worlds and handled them successfully. I used to be in different studios everyday. I have worked with Vidya Sagar, Yuvan Shankar Raja, A R Rahman, Sirpi, Bala Bharathi, and Bose. Everyone has their own style; working for them was tougher than composing on my own. While composing my music I am free to do what I want but it cannot happen with others as I have to perform to their taste. It was a good experience and I learnt how they handled things. I also got to understand what they had not attempted and the scope of what I could do. Those twelve to thirteen years were fantastic. I still feel happy when I recall those days. When I meet them now, we talk about those days.

What is your greatest strength?

My greatest strength is the divine power. I believe, consume, eat and drink Scripture. I start my day by reading the Bible and with prayers. Officially, I always believe in quality or in other words, exclusivity. Since I have worked in more than 600 films, I got tired of handling the keyboard at one point. That is when I became a composer. It can be compared to driving a car for a lakh kilometers but getting tired just before the last 2 kilometers and that is when I started a fresh career. It was fun and I worked slowly.

" My greatest

strength is the

divine power "


I had some thumb rules when it came to choosing films. I wanted to create my own brand like how the directors have done for themselves. By brand, I don’t mean that people should categorize my music or the films that I would work for. The faith and opinion of the audience about me is important for commercial success. I created a template and started working and choosing films carefully within that. I choose just three out of the thirty films that I am offered with. It’s not necessary that these three are the best films but to me they must be exclusive. If it’s a commercial film it must be a cut above; if its romance, it must be outstanding. My other strength is my team spirit and the technicians I work with. I also expect my producers to be more patient and believe in the project and technicians.


On Ayan and K V Anand

Ayan is a complete family entertainer. I am looking at this film after Saamy, Anniyan and so on. I have always preferred to do romance and lightweight subjects. I like happy films. When I heard the script of Ayan, it reminded me of Saamy, a fast-paced film where you can sip your cool drink, eat popcorn and let the time whiz past. The script was thrilling and fun. It may be unbelievable but this is the first script I have listened to for two and a half hours. Usually, I ask the director to brush me through the essence of the film which would hardly take about half an hour. However for Ayan, the director narrated it to me scene by scene, and I never felt bored even at one place. I had just then completed Dhaam Dhoom and Vaaranam Aayiram. In KV’s first film Kana Kandein, I liked the intellectual touch. My wife Suma also liked the film and I was happy to be associated with Anand in Ayan. I never expected it to be such a big blockbuster and I thank the Almighty and KV Anand.

"All the credits

go to

Gautham Menon"


What is the relationship you share with Suriya?

Ayan is my fourth film with Suriya, the first was Kaakka Kaakka. I should thank Gautham for this combination. He was the first to introduce me to a talented actor like Suriya and all the credit goes to Gautham Menon. My music together with good chemistry from Suriya combined with a brilliant script from directors like Gautham, Murugadoss and now K V Anand has worked out well. Hence the key factors I think are the directors who can spot a good performer or musician and get the best out from them.


What was your experience working in Vaaranam Aayiram?

VA is close to my heart. Till last year it was Minnale but now it is VA because it is a very truthful and genuine film with great direction and music. Script, direction and performance are all straight from the heart. There are no scheming calculations and no toeing the line. Not only the director but also art director Rajeevan, editor Anthony and cameraman Rathnavelu have delivered their best. I was surprised to watch Sameera Reddy as I did not expect her to come up with such a performance and the credit should go to the director. It was a very special film and the only one I have watched four times. This is the biggest in my career and I would be happy to watch VA even after ten years. For the first time I did seven songs in a film which is the maximum number for a single film for me.

"There are no

scheming

calculations

and no toeing

the line"

"Parting was not

my decision"


Would you work with Gautham Menon again?

Actually, parting was not my decision despite what I may have said. Even five minutes before the decision I did not know about it. None of us know what the future holds. God only knows.


Do you find language a barrier?

To me working for different languages is not difficult. It is just Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni, just seven notes in every language. Music is a universal language and we musicians are used to it. In music, communication is through scores and ragas.

Among your compositions, which is your favorite?

It is a difficult question but I like Ullam Ketkume, Minnaley, Vaaranam Aayiram and Anniyan for that intellectual script. And of course many other films too.

"Communication

is through scores

and ragas"

"You learn

nothing through

success"


Do you have any regrets on films that failed?

Well, there are a few films which happened because I wanted to give an opportunity to new directors and in the course I burnt my fingers. But I have no regrets because only through mistakes you learn something. You learn nothing through success. I always like to work with new talents, new singers, new musicians and new directors.


What kind of music do you personally like?

I like soothing music. I like Western Classical a lot and devotional songs with good lyrical value and world music albums. I like French singer Anna Theresa.

Which are your favorite songs?

Many. I like 1942, Chariots of Fire. I especially like to listen to sound tracks from motion pictures. When you watch the movies the music appears only in the third stage - dialogues, effects and then music. I don’t watch the films but listen. I also like Choudhery’s background scores and Rajkoti’s work.

We have never heard you sing? When will we?

That’s a surprise I want to keep. I am training and have to practice to the level I strive for. When I start singing it should be my 100%


Among the young crop of music directors whom do you like?

I like James Vasanthan, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bobby for his Kulir tracks. I also liked Nanda film tracks. Vijay Antony and GV Prakash are doing a good job as well as Dharan. New music directors must be encouraged to enjoy different kinds of music. I want producers and directors to give them an opportunity, that’s my wish.

How has Tamil film music changed from Minnale to current times?

More than a change it’s an evolving process. A few years back, subjects influenced music. Minnale was a soft romantic subject and I had to churn out melodies. If it had been an action subject, the songs would have been fast-paced. This was followed by 12B, Lesa Lesa, Majnu, all soft films. In 2003, Andankaakha and Kalyanam Kattikittu surprised me and everyone at studio. Then Indian folk happened.

"Vijay Antony

and GV Prakash

are doing a

good job"

"I am against

Kuthu Paatu"

I am against Kuthu Paatu. I love folk songs, native songs and Gaana because it is Chennai. Kuthu Paatu is different from Gaana and is not a genre, it was created by cinema. Many people have asked me why I have not done Gaana. Gautham Menon asked me to do a Gaana in VA and Anjale happened which was well received. I believe that if we give things at the right time without appearing to be forced, it will be accepted. What people expect from me is important. People’s expectations when they buy a CD and their expectations in the film should be combined with something of me. If there is something they don’t expect it will be a shock. And also, if I always cater to their demands, it will be monotonous. So I need to strike a balance.


Would you want to work with heroes, like Rajinikanth or Kamalhassan?

Many things have to come together. It’s not that if you work in the films of some heroes, it will satisfy everyone. It calls for the right kind of team. If I have to work with Rajini, I need the right director with whom I can work, a kind of director who will make me gel with the others in the team. Yes, I would like to work with a particular actor and in a different genre but the key factor is who is handling the show. Otherwise the marriage will go completely wrong.

What are your feelings upon receiving Kalaimaamani?

I never expected it and was very happy since it signifies good recognition. I am receiving this after seven years in the industry. Awards make me happy but the happiness lasts just a couple of days. It’s forgotten after the second day of announcement. It’s like cutting a birthday cake, everybody sings Happy Birthday and the next day there’s no talk about it. Awards are like that but cutting the cake is a good thing. It’s a pat on my back.

Could you tell us about your world tour?

That’s a very big and long process. What I am planning is big and I want to ensure it is hassle free because lots of things are involved like the sponsors across the globe. We plan to connect America, Canada, Australia and the Far East. So any goof up will be a problem.

What are your future projects?

I am working in Aadhavan for KS Ravikumar and a Telugu film with Bommarillu Baskar followed by a couple of Hindi films. One is a light romantic film and the other is a very big film but both are still under process.

What is your hobby?

Giving interviews is a hobby. When I sit between four walls of the studio, I sit silently. Only now I speak. And music, music, music-it’s a huge ocean. Checking out technology, surfing the net and updating my gizmos keep me very busy.

What are your goals?

Now my fans, family and friends have asked me to move to Bollywood as they want to hear my tracks in Hindi. So far I did not think about it nor had the interest but I respect their opinion. I need a change and by God’s grace, I will be doing Bollywood films this year. Let’s see how it goes after two years.


Are we ready for Hollywood?

Hollywood is not a big thing. If we had got the Hollywood opportunity ten years back, we would still have got an Oscar. It’s not that big. To be frank, Indian music and talents are no less to international musicians. Here the practice is that you have to handle lot of genres. The same guy has to compose tunes, score background score for the film, record, conduct music and arrange. In the west, there’s someone for each department. The composer’s job is very simple there. If we get the correct opportunity we will give everyone a surprise.

Are we technically equal to Hollywood?

We are more than that.

"Indian music

and talents

are no less than

international

musicians"

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