The teaser of Sarvam Thaala Mayam showcases GV Prakash Kumar in a space he’s not been seen on screen as yet. Like what music means to him in real life, in the film, he plays Peter whose every sinew pines for rhythm and beats in tune to an unheard one. Will this be the film after Naachiyar that showcases another facet of Prakash the actor?
The past year has been hectic on the work front for GV Prakash Kumar. He worked on a bunch of films of which two — Naachiyar and Semma — released, the former to acclaim. He was also part of films such as Sarvam Thaala Mayam, which releases on February 1, 100% Kaadhal, due to hit screens on February 14, Ayngaran, Adangathey (for which he composes the music too) and Jail, where he teams up with the director who gave him his first break as composer — Vasanthabalan. He and a group of fans also chipped in big time to help provide relief during the aftermath of Cyclone Gaja in Tamil Nadu’s Delta region. The composer-actor took the initiative to mobilise resources and people, and made many trips to the region, too.
The Prakash of today and the Prakash in school are not very similar. “I was the cultural secretary at Chettinad Vidyashram and everyone knew me. I probably was not this outspoken, but I turned into that at some stage, instinctively,” he recalls. It was that new Prakash who decided to create an anthem during the Jallikattu agitation in Tamil Nadu in 2017, when lyricist-singer-director Arunraja Kamaraj approached him. The result was the rousing ‘Komba Vecha Singamda’, which has racked up nearly 5 million views so far. “I truly believed in the cause and wanted to lend my voice for it.”
Be it then or during Gaja, Prakash worked on instinct, but says it was after due diligence and verification. “I’m very particular that wrong information must never filter down.”
Thirteen years after he debuted as composer with Veyil, Prakash still remembers the first number he composed, and how he decided to experiment with four-five voices for the song. “Vasanthabalan Sir specified the theme (childhood) and mood (nostalgia), and I decided to go with voices that were melodious and those that stood out. Jassie Gift, Tipu, Kailash Kher and Prasanna Rao represented the different flavours of the montage song. I went in for folk, but something like Bhangra meets South folk, because I wanted a new sound.”
These days, Prakash is working with Vasanthabalan in a different avatar. He’s now an actor in the director’s Jail. “It’s very special working as an actor with him. With music, there’s a lot of discussion, but as an actor, he stops with guiding me, giving suggestions, hinting at nuances… But, we share a great relationship; after all, we have known each other for 13 years now.”
Prakash has been speaking for some time now about Sarvam… which sees director Rajiv Menon emerge from hibernation, and features music by Prakash’s uncle AR Rahman. “Each film comes with something special. If Naachiyaar was hard-hitting with dialogues that drove home the point, STM is a ticket to the world of rhythm. It’s a flavour of music unlike what we see in cinema. Playing Peter was special, because the process was real. I like to keep things as real as possible on screen, and it was easier here because this film is about music. I was able to deliver with relative ease because this world is familiar to me; I know how a musician behaves. I’ve been learning music since I was four; I think that love comes across. What you see of Peter is my love for music, Rajiv Sir’s description of Peter and the dialogues. So, I’d say both of us equally contributed to bringing him alive.”
The film was a lifetime experience, says Prakash, because it meant working with a passionate filmmaker. “There’s so much to learn from Bala Sir and Rajiv Sir. I learnt the mridangam for a year for the film from Umayalpuram Sivaraman Sir and Mridangam Srinivas. Being a student again brought back memories of going to school, of Math tuition with Vrinda Maam, of piano classes… it was all very fresh and allowed me to live in the moment, to explore how a percussionist thinks.”
The shoot entailed a whole lot of travel. “I travelled to Shillong, Kashmir, met folk artistes, interacted with them. It opened a few more doors for me in music and changed my perspective. I sat with the artistes in their homes, played with them… they opened their doors and hearts to us easily. The shoot showed me another facet of life, and also refreshed me as a musician. I even composed some tunes in that space. But, this still does not fully explain what it meant, because it’s difficult to vocalise or put that into words. Riding the bike in snow or walking in the desert was like searching for my soul; it was intense, and gave me great joy.” This impact, despite the fact that Prakash is not your regular star and tries his best to stay rooted. “I don’t live in a fantasy land. Luckily, my friends and family are like me. They are grounded, be it my dad, sister, wife Saindhavi… We don’t really discuss our careers at home. We watch films, chill out, and that ensures a sense of normalcy in my life.”
For someone who displayed great maturity in sound sense even as a teen, and made a debut with a film that was more art house than mass, Prakash chose the commercial route when he decided to turn actor, and achieved success in that too, though some squirmed at the double entendres. It took a Bala to show him what he was actually capable of. “Both Bala sir and Rajiv Sir have shown me my potential and I think I’m now confident to make different choices.”
2019 promises to be great fun for Prakash. For one, after eight long years and some pointed tweets later, he and Dhanush team up. The return of the hit team of Aadukalam and Mayakkam Enna has been warmly received. Both actors broke the ice on Twitter, where their supporters waged war at one stage, when Dhanush came on board to sing for Jail, starring Prakash. Now, Prakash has been roped in to compose music for the Dhanush-Vetrimaaran project Asuran. “We patched up with the Jail song. And, there are better times ahead. All is good and I’m looking forward to our collaboration,” says Prakash. Speaking of Asuran, he says: “Things finally fell in place with Dhanush. We are back together and it’s going to be a really good film. It’s a great script and I really liked Vetri’s narration; it’s another film that calls for world music.”
Through his learning days and career, Prakash has forged some collaborations that continue to linger though people have passed on. “I cannot get over some things. Till date, I can’t delete the number of engineer H Sridhar Sir from my phone. Likewise, I can’t move on and accept that my strings arranger and guru Das Daniel Sir is no more. The memories don’t fade and we can’t get over the demise of some people. There is never a point where I don’t mention their names. This is a pain that won’t go away.”
There’s another gaping hole in his heart, and that’s the untimely death of lyricist Na Muthukumar. The two came up with a slew of hit numbers, and seemed set for more. “He was always like a brother. We shared a lot of things, we fought, we cared. Our combination, beginning with ‘Veliyoadu Vilayaadi’, worked well for both of us and those numbers will linger for long.”
If Na Muthukumar and Prakash are a favourite playlist, so are Prakash and Saindhavi, known for lilting melodies such as ‘Yaaro Ivan’ (Udhayam NH4) and ‘Pirai Thedum’ (Mayakkam Enna), among others. The two, friends since school and later a couple, share a warm professional relationship too. “Our personal and professional lives are different. When I’m a composer and she the singer, we stay just that. I know her vocal range, her pitching range, and that’s maybe why I get the best out of her,” says Prakash, who never sang with Saindhavi when they were students.
He used to play the keyboard then.
He never intended to sing for films too. ‘Yaathe Yaathe’ in Aadukalam happened by chance. “That was the track version and Vetri was insistent that I don’t change the voice. I never thought much of it. But then, after it released, I realised that the song had struck a chord and meant something to people. Suddenly, people were asking me to sing.”
For someone who began composing before he turned 20, Prakash had a clear head. “There was pressure, yes, expectation too, but I kept my head down and worked. It took me an Aayirathil Oruvan, Madrasapattanam and Angadi Theru to show what I was capable of and break any tags associated with me. They helped me forge my identity as a composer. I’d always be grateful to Selvaraghavan for AO; it was a game-changer. Mayakkam Enna was an ornament, but AO blew people’s minds.”
Contrary to perception, what takes more time to compose need not be a better-received album. “I finished composing for Mayakkam Enna in two hours and was done with the re-recording in two days. We were in peak sync and that is my fastest album to date. On the contrary, ‘Thaai Thindra Manne’ in AO took me a month to compose.”
Even today, Prakash says that he feels the need to renew himself. Otherwise, there’s no excitement. His next after Sarvam Thaala Mayam, 100 % Kaadhal is an experiment of sorts for him. “I’ve never done a romance film, and I’ve probably just starred in some bits. That way, 100 % Kaadhal is a film in the genre of Khushi. This is a lovely film in the love space. If it works out, I’m sure I will take up more such subjects,” he says.
The years ahead are looking packed too, with Prakash being wooed by directors known for their craft. This includes director Sasi, who works with him and Siddharth in an as-yet untitled film. “I’m happy that good directors are coming to me. I think that at some point, they relate to who I am, what I am, my voice…they connect to me as a common man, a middle-class payyan. I guess they are able to imagine me in their script. That’s a huge plus. I’m thrilled I’m entering their imagination, and I’m very happy it’s working well.”
The GV Prakash Kumar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.