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Interview Team : Jyothsna

If you happen to pass music director Justin Prabhakaran in a public place, you are likely to go past him thinking him as another school or college going youngster. But this is the young lad who scored the much popular numbers in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum and impressed the music lovers. Catch the young and energetic music director Justin Prabhakaran in talks with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar where he discusses about Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, Vijay Sethupathi, his next project Orange Mittai and many more.


Your background and journey into Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum 

I am from Madurai. I have always been interested in music and used to play keyboard in my church regularly. I had started a band in my college and had my own compositions. Seeing my interest in music, people advised me to go to Chennai and study sound engineering.

That was when Vishal’s Sivapathigaram shooting was going on in Madurai and the cameraman of the film Gopinath also advised me to equip myself with sound engineering qualification.

I came to Chennai and completed D.F. Tech. I was interested to play keyboard and I needed a setup to pursue in that direction. Since that was difficult, I decided to get into sound engineering, joined Harris Jeyaraj and worked as an assistant sound engineer for three and a half years.

While working there, on a parallel track, I composed music for many short films, one of them is Arunkumar’s Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum. 

I worked with Harris Jeyaraj for three and a half years.

How did the offer to score music in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum come in?

Gokul Benoy, the cameraman of the film Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, is known to me as we were batch mates in film institute. He was working with Arunkumar who was searching for a music director, Benoy recommended my name and that’s how I joined Arunkumar’s team.

Enga Ooru Vandi 

This song was there in the short film too and we wanted it in the feature film. Hence we added the Charanam. In the short film, children had sung the song while in the feature film adults had crooned the number.

Composing for the feature film Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum

We had decided for a lesser number of songs and to lay stress on the BGM. We had also wanted the songs to be different.

I liked the song situation very much in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum especially the heroine introduction which happens in a house of grief and that was challenging to me. It was also interesting to score for an old couple which again was done in two modes.

This genre is not an easy one to get to score music. This had scope and importance for all kinds of emotions like love, sorrow and joy and I enjoyed working in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum.

Director Arunkumar

Arun is music sensible and was quite clear that the songs should travel along with the story and never digress. 

Onakkaaga Porandhene has a lovely retro feel. How did you manage to get that being so young?

Basically I am a huge Ilayaraja fan. I like his orchestration a lot and have learnt quite a bit from it. More than the actual song, I have always been interested in the instruments that are being used and the finer nuances. Therefore, when this song was given to me, I did not find it difficult. It was easy for me as I have grown up on a diet of such songs. 

Basically I am a huge Ilayaraja fan.

Singer selection in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum

I did not compose tunes and then choose the singers. I had an idea of who my singers should be as I had made tunes keeping the voices of the singers in mind. Hence it was easy. But all the singers exceeded my expectations doubly. Anu and Prashanthini brought out the expressions quite well in their songs.


How was it to direct seasoned and experienced singers like Karthik and SPB Charan?

I did not have any such problems as I have moved with all of them when I was working for Harris Jeyaraj sir. Of course, they were a bit surprised to see me as a music composer but they warmed up to the idea later. I know Karthik sir for a while and Balaram sir has sung for me in my short films and they have all constantly encouraged me. Generally a new music director may have such anxieties, but thankfully I did not have them.


Challenges during Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum

The main challenge was to score music for the car. Usually when we score the BGM, the shot in itself will lead us for instance the facial expression of the artists or their movement but car is an inanimate subject that has no emotion or mood. Therefore to score for a still subject was challenging. In fact I got a bit jittery and started scoring for it only after I was done with the music for the old people. I used heartbeat (for the car) as I felt that could give a ‘life’ to the car. That really worked out.   


What did Vijay Sethupathi say?

Vijay Sethupathi supported me completely. He used to keep calling me on a regular basis and encouraged. Every two reels, he used to watch and share his feedback with me. 

You have written two songs in Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum. Are you also a lyricist?

I am not a lyricist. When I used to compose music in my initial years, I did not know music notations. So in order to not forget the tunes, I used to replace them with words. That’s how I started writing lyrics. In the short film, I wrote Enga Ooru Vandi and continued the same in the feature film. Kaadhal Vandacho was initially set to be written by Vaalee sir but due to his unfortunate demise, I chipped in and wrote the lines. 

In future, would you try your hands in lyrics or music?

I want to concentrate on scoring music only.


Feedback for your work

Many musicians liked my work and they called to appreciate me. But firstly, it was Vaalee sir who encouraged me so much that boosted my confidence big time because he was the one who heard the music when it was raw without any orchestration. As soon as he heard Onakkaaga Porandhene, he said this was going to become a confirmed hit. Then Suseelamma called and sung the song for me as her daughter-in-law Sandhya had actually rendered the number for me. Actually I had imagined Suseelamma for that number but she was not able to sing.

Directors Karu Palaniappan and Dharani sir had also called to congratulate my work.

As soon as Vaalee Sir heard Onakkaaga Porandhene, he said this was going to become a confirmed hit.


Your music lessons

I have learnt Carnatic music from TV Gopalakrishnan and am learning Hindustani from Tanushree. Learning music can never be a full stop as it is very dynamic and continuous. For Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, I have learnt a few things and prepared myself. I studied the raga that I wanted to use and then worked. Now, I am preparing myself for the next project Orange Mittai. 

Learning music can never be a full stop as it is very dynamic and continuous.


What part of composing music you like- songs or BGM?

I am much interested in BGM score. I believe in songs only when they are relevant to the story. All my favorite music directors score well in BGM especially Raja sir.


Have you done any album?

Not yet, but I have plans keeping social issues in mind like for instance child abuse, water problem and the likes. I am planning to start that in two years' time.


Who are your favorite music directors?

I love Ilayaraja sir.

From among the current crop, who are your favorite singers?

I like Naresh Iyer and Balram’s voice


Have you signed any project?

I am working in Orange Mittai. After Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, I got many offers on the same rural background but I did not want to be typecast. That’s when Orange Mittai came to me and I liked its concept. It is a city based subject and the music will be western and will be quite different from Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum.


I have won the best music director for Naalaya Iyakkunar in Season 2 and 3.  



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