I meet Dharan at his dimly-lit studio, decorated with audio equipment that I can’t make head or tail of. But I can sense the sanctity of the place, because this is where he creates music, his life’s mission. His career began with Parijatham, and his single track ‘Unnai Kandene‘ was a major success. Today he has composed music for over 15 films including Podaa Podi, Virattu, Naaigal Jaakirathai, and Thollaikkatchi. From Ilayaraaja’s guitarist, to Sachin Tendulkar’s singing on YouTube, to accidental encounters with Gautham Menon to YouTube, here’s what keeps his music and creativity on a high:
Parents : Though neither his parents nor any extended family members were into music, his mother Vijayakumari was a constant source of inspiration. “Seeing me experiment with my toy piano, my mother made me join music class. I was never great at studies, which she was very upset about. But she never stopped believing in my music. Without my knowledge, she would play my compositions which I had recorded on audio tapes to the people she knew. When I found out, it was a huge deal for me, and inspired me to go the extra mile and make her proud of me.” Dharan’s father is the silent type, but “just a few words of his encouragement meant a lot to me”.
Teachers : Children who don’t excel at studies are often made to feel like failures at school. Fortunately for Dharan, his principal Mr. Lourdraj believed in his music and supported him. “When I was in 11th standard, I wanted a bigger keyboard. But it was expensive and my mother was of course worried about my education. So my parents couldn’t buy me one. But there was a big keyboard at my school, Anna Gem. None of the students were allowed to take it home, but somehow, my principal was impressed with my zeal to learn. He would let me practice on it whenever I wanted to.”
His mentor Sadhanandham : who used to be maestro Ilaiyaraaja‘s guitarist had a huge impact on Dharan. “Until then, whatever music I played was what I learnt on my own, by experimenting with the keyboard. Sadhanandham sir was the person who taught me music both theoretically and practically. I used to be in awe of the stories he used to recount about Raaja sir’s composition methods.”
K Bagyaraj : “Through a college fest I was called to judge, I met Sharanya Bagyaraj, who introduced me to Bagyaraj sir. I met him and composed the song ‘Edho Nadakudhu’, which impressed him. Then later, he called me again after listening to my demo CD, and wanted me to rework my song ‘Unnai Kandene’, for Parijatham which later turned out to be one of the biggest successes of that year. The whole journey of working on the film was a great life lesson. Since then Bagyaraj has been a great inspiration for me. Even recently, when I attended his son Shanthanu’s wedding, where hordes of guests were jostling for space, he came up to me and spoke to me patiently for a couple of minutes. He even calls me whenever he passes by my home. It has taught me to respect people for who they are.”
The magical duo of Gautham Menon–Harris Jayaraj : Dharan’s tryst with director Gautham Menon is similar to the story of When Harry Met Sally. A series of coincidental meetings leading to a great bond.
“I still remember the day I first met Gautham sir. It was the day Minnale, Gautham sir’s first film, was released. As I was waiting outside Devi theatre for my friends, he came up to me and said “Don’t miss the first ten minutes of the film. It’s pretty good. I can give the tickets to your friends if you don’t mind.”
By then my friends had arrived and that’s when he introduced himself as the director of the film.I was very impressed with the movie and congratulated him on my way out, and that was it. But over the years, I kept bumping into him at many places, and one fine day, my band and I played the five songs on our demo CD to him.”
Impressed by his work, Menon then recommended Dharan to Harris Jayaraj. “Thanks to Gautham sir’s recommendation, Harris sir was sweet enough to let me observe the way he works. Even his close assistants and musicians didn’t have that opportunity. These two inspired me in a big way, because I was not a music director back then. For them to be magnanimous and help me out this way, I can just say that I’m grateful.”
Youtube : Just like writer’s block, (which happens all too often in my case) composers too, find themselves drawing a blank at times, especially when asked to compose music outside their comfort zone. Dharan has an interesting way to cope with this.
“I go to Youtube, and watch videos of people doing something completely different from what they’re known for. Like ‘Michael Jackson goes shopping’, ‘Sachin Tendulkar singing’ and so on. This inspires me because I start thinking ‘If they are comfortable doing something outside their comfort zone, why can’t I give it a shot?'”
And, oddly enough, it works pretty well, “After this when I work on something, I come up with something that I’m satisfied with.”
Silambarasan : “The whole technique of making commercial music, I’ve learnt this from Simbu. The way he packages his songs, from the music, lyrics, sets, costumes and dance; he makes sure that the song reaches the audience. In fact, I call Simbu a mini–Michael Jackson. He can sing, dance, write lyrics for his song and he is a ‘song-hit-hero’. I learned this from him when we worked together for Poda-Podi. I think it’s something every composer should know. Only then he can compose music for stars.”
Ilaiyaraaja Concerts : “For me, Raaja sir’s concerts are not a few hours’ time-pass. I see it as a journey, one that lasts at least a week. If I attend a Raaja sir concert, for a few days after that, I can’t listen to any song but his. Forgetting all the technicalities, I would just want to compose beautiful music. Even if it’s a kuthu song, I’d want a good melody interlaced into it. After attending one of his concerts recently, I’ve been inspired to compose a song, which I’d say is one of my favourite compositions.”