"Kamal sir's thinking is unimaginable" - Ghibran
What happens when you have to work for a legend like Kamal Haasan? He said, “When you leave a kid in a carnival he will first walk slowly as he will be afraid looking at the crowd. But when he holds the hand of his father he will do every other ruckus possible”. This is what typically happened with the ace music director Ghibran who has composed for Uttama Villain. The music tracks of this album have received plaudits from many. This poised composer started his career with Vaagai Sooda Vaa in 2011 and now has three of Kamal’s movies in his kitty (Uttama Villain, Vishwaroopam 2 and Papanasam).
Ghibran in conversation with Abishek Rajaa...
You are a music director known for lifting up even a mediocre film. But now you are associated with Kamal who has given nothing less than masterpieces. What is your experience working with him?
It was completely my pleasure. We as music composers will want to tell many things and want to improvise on a lot of elements while working. But here, Kamal sir’s thinking is unimaginable and it is larger than life. To convert his vision into music was very important for me. The freedom given to explore in music was unbelievable. I don’t know if any other director would have given me that freedom to make such bold music..
Everyone has reciprocated to the songs very well. But did you have any fears about its reception when this album was released?
I had no fears actually. Usually people at home await and get a little tensed for my albums during their release. But this is the only album where I was super relaxed. That’s because art is not about commerce or sales. Kamal sir looks at the entire album of Uttama Villain just like Picasso’s painting, it was meant for pure artistic deliverance. This very thought inspired me while I was working with him. We didn’t think that it is supposed to be commercially a hit or if it will be liked by the masses, it was just supposed to come out as a piece of art.
There were times when people used to hold their breath for a whole song but now we have come to an era where we have 14 tracks in a film. How did that happen?
When we compose we do have some pressure from the producers’ end where they ask for tracks less than 4 mins, with less BGM and they also want it to be done fast. This is where justice to art content came in. While we have come across many tracks in our lives, there are only few songs that are done to give justice to music. One such example is Uttama Villain’s album. Infact you are saying 14 tracks is a lot but the film actually has more numbers and the music alone is about one hour long. You will know about it when you watch the film. This album is just the half of the whole movie’s tracklist (smiles).
From your first film you are known to be a music director who knows music from its core form and who will collaborate with only knowledgeable musicians. With Kamal sir how did you manage the actor and singer in him?
A director will generally tell the scene and the emotions relating to it but beyond that as music directors, how do we communicate the same musically? When the two share a good musical language and understanding this will happen at ease. But with Kamal sir we skipped that entire process, rather that itself was a beautiful time spent talking about the movie.
In a chorus one will have different types of instruments and voice modulations as each person will be unique but Kamal sir has the entire talent tucked beneath his throat. From baritone singing to carnatic singing there is nothing he doesn’t know. How would you rate him as a singer?
Yes singers are very important for a song to work well. During the composition there will be a limitation because we will have singers who will suite a specific mood. But with regard to Kamal sir, he will know that range exactly for his voice. He will cover about 2 and ½ octaves or more. If he doesn’t get something he will rehearse and practice until he gets it right. He will keep asking many takes and what’s surprising is every day he will have a different voice. I am usually a little enthused about his voices in different moods. For instance, one day I told him to record Sagavaram again because his voice was suiting the song on that particular day. And he immediately said a Yes with a nod. He has no complaints about the number of takes. He is one of the best singers I have ever known.
The whole tracklist seemed a little disturbing. You have made such a psychedelic yet versatile and beautiful soundtrack. What was it like when you got the briefing?
When you leave a kid in a carnival he will first walk slowly as he will be afraid looking at the crowd. But when he holds the hand of his father he will do every other ruckus possible. The same thing happened with me here. Because Kamal sir was there everywhere. He was so supportive for experimenting with new ideas. Infact he gets very excited for every new thing. With music, you can make many types of songs with one emotion. If I make something and show it to him he will get joyful quite literally. I was able to see his eyes popping out when ever I went to him with innovative tracks.
I feel taking you in the film was probably a mistake as the original soundtrack is so good that it might even sweep over the film. Have you ever thought your music would overpower the film?
Kamal sir’s vision is much more than anything. And music can not overpower because the screen presence and the story of the film will underplay the music. It won’t be seen like it is a standout in the film. I feel that’s the success of a music director. If music is giving you an emotional touch then it should be because of the film and nothing more than that.
I think you have used symphony as the base and done all sorts of music like rock, carnatic and more. Sometimes I wonder if there is even anything left to explore in that album. Do you actually know so many elements in music?
(laughs) True, I might actually not even know so much. It works like this. When you listen to a music track you will visualise it right, similarly Kamal sir gave the entire storyboard of the film and I visualised the music for it. If you notice, the tracks will have dialogues in the middle. I have just transcribed the dialogues into music. You can approach each emotion as different kinds of music. But if you see Kamal sir, even one scene or a shot in the movie wouldn’t be a replica of anything. So that kind of vision is only carried out in the music too.
Papanasam is a thriller. What kind of musical approach have you given in that film?
There are only two songs in the film but it has a lot of BGM work. There is a lot of difference between Uttama Villain and Papanasam. I have also consciously taken efforts to not get a hangover of Uttama Villain in this movie.
Vishwaroopam 2? Give us some titbits about the music! Break the silence..
Well, I am not supposed to say too much about it, but since you asked.. Kamal sir has sung one song in that film. He is basically a classical singer and that song will elevate his classical indulgence and it has fit him perfectly well.
Looks like you didn’t compose the music in a room but you have literally carried all the instruments around the sets while composing the tracks. What are your comments about the orchestra in Uttama Villain?
Yes, we have used the Bulgarian orchestra. As music directors we write the composition according to the brief given to us. But musicians sometimes wouldn’t get keys and notes just like it is depicted in the script. Kamal sir isn’t like that, he will ask and understand every detail. Every time when I write a score I will have the feeling that this will sound good and there will be an anticipation before we sit with the orchestra. Since there is also a lot of money involved, we can’t change anything in that last minute. Every time with every piece I finished, I will be relieved with their performance because what I write would have been understood exactly by them. It will come out just as I would have imagined. I would like to thank Sophia’s orchestra.
One song even speaks about Big Bang theory. So does the lyrical component help? How do you look at it?
Kamal sir always says, apart from ‘Lovea Lovea’ song, we have made a big mistake because all the songs are in pure Tamil. ‘Sagavaram’ song is my personal favourite because comprising the Big Bang theory in one song is next to impossible and it can’t be done more beautifully than that. Even the Hiranyan song is like that, the lyrics were very impactful.
Kamal sir is not exactly against God but you are a strong believer in God. At some level did that bother you?
Kamal sir always says believers and nonbelievers can co-exist and survive but the problem is with people who claim themselves to be the God. He gives respect for everything and everyone. Sometimes he reminds me to do my prayer. When we used to work during Ramzan time, he supported me a lot while fasting.
When he asks ‘Neethana Kadavul’, it is just the character. It can’t impact me personally because the job I am doing is given by God. If I get offended then it is a disrespect I am showing to God.
Your brother A G Amid suddenly came up with an awesome film Rajathanthiram. So are you planning to work together anytime?
When he and I were growing up wanting to make it big in the film industry, we wanted to take separate routes. This was a casual conversation between the two of us and somehow the same happened in real life too. He actually started before me. He worked as an assistant, struggled a lot and then has come up to this level. But somehow as a Music director I was given the launchpad before him.
Generally, Tollywood music is looked at in a completely different way. How do you treat your music based on different languages?
By God’s grace I am enjoying working in different industries. For me, a massive box office hit came by in Telugu through Run Raja Run. The way they give importance to music and films in general is awesome. I am glad that both my albums there have succeeded.
You have been an executive producer for a short film.. How did that happen?
Rathindran is very talented and he is my dear friend. His influence is there in my music and my influence will be there in his visuals. There is no tea shop in Anna Nagar where we haven’t stopped by and spoken. As a director he is extremely talented but he lacks communication skills. That was the problem with my brother also. Thank god Rajathanthiram happened for him.
Not just that, Rathindran and I have done many short films together. Then he went on to make ad films. When he narrated the short film it was lovely and when I asked him about the music he said that position is not available. But I wanted to get involved somehow so I said I will be the executive producer. We didn’t expect it to be a part of Cannes at all. It’s a friend’s film so it was a different feeling altogether.