Tamil Indie Music System Is The Most Casteless – Cinema express


Music director Tenma’s journey might just be worth making a movie of. He turned to music at an early age, joined bands before he was 18, moved abroad to study music, changed his name to a manga character, helped found The Casteless Collective, made his debut as a composer and has now caught the public’s attention original work by Pa Ranjith Natchathiram Nagargiradhu.

Here are excerpts from a conversation about the album, the soundscape, and how it all came together:

In your first film produced by Pa. Ranjith, Irandam Ulagaporin Kadaisi Gundu, you talked about assigning a certain sound to the bomb in the story. Did you do something similar in Natchathiram Nagargiradhu?

We focused on the galaxy. Monsieur understood the meditative space we were looking for. We tried a few themes that didn’t fit, but when I considered theater as the plot, kind of like the bombshell of my first film, things fell into place. But unlike this movie, NN has more layers, like The Raft of the Medusa The painting. He understood how my film work is different from my work for The Casteless Collective. Since we both share an understanding when it comes to politics, I knew what he wanted to do. But looking at the movie as an audience, I think it’s a work of art…an artistic punching bag. I make music like images in my head, it’s like synesthesia. NN was like a puzzle and the music is like pieces that can fit together.

Santhosh Narayanan and Pa Ranjith have long been a successful duo. Have you wondered why you were chosen for this particular film?

The question was not ‘why Tenma’, but ‘who Tenma’ (Laughs). The rushes and the cuts told me that the film needed a composer like me. On the surface, the film is about the BTS of a theater troupe. How is it different from The Casteless Collective? I built the collective, so I know what happened inside. The band may be different, but the feel is similar. The pressure was on me to deliver.

How did the theater backdrop influence the music of NN?

Music for theater and movies are completely different. Film scores are patterns that can be repeated. In theaters, only patterns can be repeated. It’s not an extended melody that can bring a scene together. Film composers have to embellish the scenes. Even though I’m politically aware, I also have to think about aesthetics. I did research that included unlearning how to compose music for movies. Those were two mindsets to keep in mind, jumping between theater and film. Theater music comes from powerful structures that have no patterns. So I had to form the dolak and satti players to play differently. When we recorded it for three days, the engineers, the musicians and the owner of the studio had no idea what we were doing. They had to watch the film to realize what we created. Satti-a kuchi vechu vaasikurom na, adhu innoru music style. Instead of plastic drumsticks, if wooden drumsticks are used, it will give a third style of music. We have taken mridangam and picture models and divided them into a dolak pattern. All this makes music for NN unique.

The film pays tribute to Ilaiyaraaja. How has your music reflected that?

I wanted to soak up his arranging qualities of the time. The songs from the movie that Rene sings in the movie are decades old. ‘Paruvame‘ has a violin section, and the idea was inspired by ‘Kalam Kalamaga(Punnagai Mannan). Track, ‘Natchathiram Nagargiradhu‘, is a tribute to his music by Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal. When Ilayaraaja’s soul is around a film, such arrangements bring a film together.

Janame‘ is an intense title while ‘Natchathiram Nagargiradhu‘ is softer and more relaxed. Is this design a product of the script?

For ‘Natchathiram Nagargiradhu‘, sir gave us carte blanche to Arivu and me. Monsieur and I decided not to use hip-hop because it wouldn’t make sense for this film. ‘Janame‘ is an oppari with gummy nuances and as I like to experiment with folk, I pushed it into naiyandi and thudumbatam. My motivation for creating folk composition is to break down the disparity in the folk ecosystem which is divided due to caste and religion. More than the script, it’s the director who gives us this space. ‘Janame‘ was only possible thanks to Ranjith sir. I did ‘Iruchi‘ and ‘Nilamellam‘before in Gundu, but we can go to the extreme to talk about honor killings because of him. Lyricist Umadevi is the true hero of ‘Janame‘.

What’s the biggest difference between making independent music and making music for a movie?

Money! Movies pay you well and give you the space to work with the ones you’ve always wanted. This is how I was able to work with Benny Dayal. There is no other singer in the country who could have done ‘Paruvame‘. This is how I was able to bring in a musician like Dhruv Visvanath. Comparatively, the limits of indie are several times higher. Film music helps push indie forward. Movie music is a monster and indie can’t compete with that. I did 150 independent songs, but it’s only now that I’m recognized. Abroad, indie has several bodies to support artists. Here the scene is different. Naan evalavo adi vaangirupen. I had my tooth knocked out and people hit me. But I also enjoyed the life of a rock star (smiles). There is no guarantee or security for freelance artists here.
Indie music was honored thanks to The Casteless Collective. If there was a good economic system, I would have stuck with indie music. But now I feel like they sent me on a mission to figure out the finances, so the independent system could be built. In the history of independent music, the past five years have been the most successful, consistent and enduring period. Across the country, the Tamil Indie music system is the most egalitarian. It is the most casteless.

Tenma’s Playlist
Ilaiyaraaja’s favorite song – ‘In Gaanam‘ of Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal
Favorite non Ilaiyaaraja song – ‘Velai Pookal‘ of Kannathil Muthamitaal
favorite musician – AR Rahman
Favorite singer -SPB
Favorite lyricist – Umadevi
A genre you want to explore more – Classic
A director you want to work with – Thiagarajan Kumararaja
An independent talent that deserves to be hailed -Siennor


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