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EXCLUSIVE Santhosh Narayanan Interview: On Kalki 2898 AD, Enjoy Enjaami relief row, space for indie music, AI, and Suriya 44

Santhosh Narayanan Interview: The composer opens up about working experience of Kalki 2898 AD, need for space for indie music, AI, and more 

EXCLUSIVE Santhosh Narayanan Interview: On Kalki 2898 AD, Enjoy Enjaami relief row, space for indie music, AI, and Suriya 44
Santhosh Narayanan

Last Updated: 04.42 PM, Jul 09, 2024

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Listening to music may for many be a hobby, an accompany, and even a stressbuster. But when wondering if it is the same for someone whose livelihood depends on it, it does come off as a pleasant surprise when they say music is indeed a glimmer of entertainment for them as well.

Does music sour and make you feel tedious? Composer Santhosh Narayanan, who is fresh from the success of Kalki 2898 AD, feels, “I don’t think so. Probably my work might bore me because we listen to it on a continuous basis. But otherwise, music never bores me. In fact, to make art you need to appreciate art. So, every time we travel, (singer) Dhee always has a playlist and there is some music all the time.”

What’s on your playlists?

“MSV, Ilaiyaraaja, AR Rahman, Jacob Collier, John Williams, and many more to say. I also keep exploring who is there in the indie space. But I listen to a lot of music and there is no limit. Once I come out of my studio, I forget about music and I don’t analyse too much into it,” says Santhosh.

Still basking the success of Kalki 2898 AD, Santhosh brims with about how that none of his films have reached far and wide this early and pleasant about receiving both laurels and criticisms.

Santhosh Narayanan interview for Kalki 2898 AD

Santhosh has used a lot of tribal beats which he gathered from his globe-trotting adventures around the world, in a film that is set far into the future, to aid audience experience the dystopian world. But why, I ask. “It is about the last set of people in the world and literally could be anyone and who we define it to be. Some of the film choices were made on what I scored. If you see Shambhala, there will be a big drum and such decisions were made on what I recorded. For this project, I went crazy and even told Nag (Ashwin) that we can include elements from India and other places historically from where civilisations might have grown in bigger way. Africa, Europe, Asia, Canada, Australia, some Asian countries like Thailand, and Sri Lanka. In terms of music, it was definitely a utopia in terms of music and we can connect to sounds from our land. It is a crazy experimentation that I have been doing for a while now,” Santhosh answers.

Kalki 2898 AD
Kalki 2898 AD

There is a moment in Kalki 2898 AD, the first shot of the only standing city of Kashi, withered and poverty-stricken with the Ganges dried up, yet Santhosh paints a glorious picture of it with his score. On this contrast, he says it was a conscious choice as he wants to underline the story’s premise. “That is also the score used for Bhairava going to Complex, when he goes on lift. Kashi is the place where Bhairava finds his true purpose as well.”

The film also became a canvas of sorts for Santhosh as he explains the part which took him the longest, the one where Bhairava and Raiders. The particular sequence, which starts with a classical Bhagavad Gita reciting of Ghantasala, followed by Indian classical beats, a collaboration with Punjabi singer Diljit Dosanjh and concluding Western classical music.

“That sequence took the longest time. The dynamics of the scene kept changing and we were working on it for almost a year. We chose that portion from the recital which talks about the death. It got me thinking about music from Guardians of Galaxy, where the music and scene are in contrast or sarcastic. But there is a philosophy too, in the scene. We wanted to have some fun and showcase the quirky and whacky aspect that I do in most of my films,” he adds.

On musical collaborations and indie music

Santhosh Narayanan has been a strong advocate of collaborations and that is evident in his works. Right from roping in Diljit, to being a guest composer in Chittha for scoring Unaku Dhan, and recently released Yezhezhu Malai he sang for Yuvan Shankar Raja, he sees that filmmaking itself is collaborative process.

“I always want to create a bridge between indie and film music. With Kalki, we were able to break the barriers in true sense. Even for indie music, it is pure form of collaboration where we give and take our inputs. Collaborating is not a hard job, but making a song in which all the parties are happy is truly difficult. In case of Kalki, all of us were happy with the output. I am also working with Priya Ragu to develop Bujji theme into a full-fledged English song.”

Being a full-fledged film composer as well, Santhosh opines that film space has a huge platform laid for last 30-40 years, and labels ready to buy. But he also adds that the potential for indie music is bigger than film music, at least in south. “My biggest song is Enjoy Enjaami and even Unaku Thaan, I made it for love of the film and gifted it to Siddharth. It also celebrated in an independent manner on social media. Given we have artists to create parallel world of music, it will create huge waves.”

Speaking about indie music and how it is something that originates independent of film project, the composer says that even in Kalki, they had wanted to collaborate with an artist from the West, but failed to materialise due to logistic reasons.

A still from Enjoy Enjaami
A still from Enjoy Enjaami

Santhosh also opened up about his grouse with the artists of Enjoy Enjaami left unpaid for their work. “I have started a new studio and identify artists by supporting them for their talent. But for me to do that, I should be in a position where the music I have put out, in this case, me along with Dhee and Arivu, we have not been compensated still. We felt like a big scam and we were extremely disappointed. It was just bad in many ways, because a handful of my songs were stolen along with my YouTube channel, and it is still stolen. For me to start this whole label, I felt this issue has to be sorted first. If this can happen to me, then I don’t see point in me helping the newcomers. But I am going all out in fighting this battle. The culprits should pay the price. Arivu and Dhee are young indie artists and it is just unbelievably injustice.”

On the growing AI and social media

The composer has no qualms overseeing the growth of AI in the music industry. Pointing out how it helps composers create a perceived organic nature to their music, Santhosh says, “I use a lot of computers and sampling of beats. Some of them are produced inside a box. It is amazing how much AI can do. It has come to a point where we must precise about what we ask AI. We also have a lot of misinformation about the AI is alarming as well. One typical aspect where we need support and can go wrong is AI. But, you also have creative tools that you need to use with a pinch of salt.”

At the same time, Santhosh, whose songs like Unaku Thaan and Suzhali went viral on social media, is also an advocate for musicians to not make music which adheres to social media’s reel culture and gratification. “These songs were released a while ago and blew up later. A job of a composer is to just put out the music and sometimes it connects instantly or decade later. We were wondering why it became an instant hit now. I think artists need not get carried away based on the social media connect and numbers.” Pointing out how social media became a norm based on which evaluations take place in society, he mentions that we should work against the grain given there are a lot more people not using social media.

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It also draws to the conversation of creating set pieces. Be it Ta Takkara in Kalki 2898 AD, wedding song in Dasara, Santhosh says that he enjoys scoring such sequences. “Even Rajan’s theme in Vada Chennai or Soodhu Kavvum as well, set pieces will always work, because it comes from the creators’ writing. I never put out content which is not without effort,” he adds.

Future projects

Feeling grateful for the opportunity to working in Kalki 2898 AD, Santhosh says the four-year process has finally paid him off. Up next, Santhosh will be working in Mari Selvaraj’s Vaazhai and Suriya 44. “Vaazhai is one of the best films in Tamil I have worked on. It is extremely different from Kalki 2898 AD. It is more like a way of life. On the other hand, for me the reference for Suriya 44 is Alaipayuthey and that’s the vibe we want to get. It is perfect blend of action and love. Kalki 2 will be just massive,” he concludes.

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