As a child, Anirudh surprised everyone by reproducing the exact notes of the Last of the Mohicans title track on his keyboard. He had been learning the piano from when he was five, and the early flair he showed must have made a career in music seem like a natural choice for his actor dad and dancer mom. Except it wasn’t. Because music was not the only thing Anirudh was good at.
[quote align=’left’]The whole point was to capitalize on the song’s popularity and keep growing steadily. I don’t wish for another Kolaveri.[/quote]Anirudh has an innate friendliness about him, answering almost everything we ask him; laughing a few tricky ones away. It is obvious he is very comfortable in his skin. “He’s not changed at all. I’ve been blessed with a most pleasant child. I have never seen him lose his temper. Nothing flusters him,” his mother Lakshmi Ravichander tells us, adding the he’s quite unlike others in the family.
She maintains a scrapbook with newspaper clippings about Anirudh, and would often show him some of the flattering ones. “But he would barely respond,” she complains. She can hardly remember him giving her any grief growing up. Even in school, where he was “an excellent student, also very popular,” Lakshmi tells us proudly, “He was so good at Maths that we took him out of PSBB T.Nagar and put him in its branch at KK Nagar, so that he can go for further coaching. His father always said he was IIT material.”
Anirudh continued his piano lessons, eventually completing eight grades of training from the Trinity College, London. While still at school, he participated in a music based reality show called ‘Ooh La La La’ as part of a Carnatic fusion band called ‘Zinx.’ His band was among the few picked by music composer A.R. Rahman to cut an album in his studio. At college Anirudh was part of a funk rock bank called ‘Circuit.’ He also did a course in sound engineering from Soundtech Media in Chennai.
Then Kolaveri happened.
The team decided to launch the track officially as the pirated version had started garnering too many views. His mother Lakshmi though was among the last to listen to it. “He never lets us in on his compositions until the evening before it’s officially launched. When I first heard Kolaveri, I was slightly perturbed and I called him up and asked, ‘Listen, the song is nice, but why would you call it a Flop Song?’” she reminisces. Disregarding her son’s protests, the following evening she landed up at the mall to catch the first live performance of Kolaveri. The team had managed to send the audience into a tizzy, and he was soon mobbed for pictures and autographs – her first image of her son as a celebrity.
[quote align=’left’]“I would be the last person to say that social media’s a bane because I’m sitting here because of it.”[/quote]Anirudh has had several hits since then, but none like Kolaveri. No press interaction passes without a mention of the track. “That kind of freak thing happens once in 25 to 30 years. The whole point was to capitalize on the song’s popularity and keep growing steadily. I don’t wish for another Kolaveri. I think you’ve got a headline there,” says Anirudh, harbouring no illusions that something like that could happen again.
[quote align=’right’] It’s very special when you make a soft piano song, piano is my forte.”[/quote]When he is not composing music, he is listening to it. “A while back I was in a jazz phase, where I’d only listen to jazz, and all my songs had a strong jazz influence. Then there was this hip hop phase. Then the whole world was in this electronic dance music phase. Me too. And then there was this dubstep phase. Think dubstep is gone now and I’m into trap and bass and stuff like that,” he lists. “Especially being a film composer in India, we should listen to all kinds of music because you should know to make all kinds of music,” he adds.
Not surprisingly Michael Jackson figures in his list of favourites too. “I think Maroon 5 is really nice, I love Coldplay, they are a big inspiration. But as a single artiste, Michael Jackson has to be my biggest inspiration as he is for any musician.”
After limiting himself to just two albums the last couple of years, Anirudh is flooded with work now, including debutant Shyam Kumar’s Aakko, close friend Siva Karthikeyan’s Taana and Poda podi director Vignesh Sivan’s Naanum Rowdythaan.
Not to forget the Vijay starrer Kaththi. “Kaththi was a very big leap to go into the A list I think. It happened so early, doesn’t happen to everybody that way” he exclaims, barely believing it himself. “As soon as director AR Murugadoss finished narrating the line to me, I made a song for it. Almost the whole album was done even before the shoot started.”
[quote align=’right’]”I don’t wish for another Kolaveri. There, I think you’ve got a headline there.”[/quote]As we prod him more on the album, he reveals Dhanush might not be singing for Vijay after all, at least not this time. “He just sang in VIP. Suppose there’s a song that comes up, he’s gonna say yes and he’s gonna sing. But as of now there isn’t a song,” he discloses.
Aakko happened almost by chance. “I was approached for a role in the film, I really liked the director’s vision of doing something really wacky. So I told them, I’m not really interested in acting, but I’ll do music for you if you want.” Anirudh will still make a cameo appearance in a music video in the film – as has become customary now.
Anirudh also sings many of his compositions. Six of the seven tracks from Vanakkam Chennai had his vocals. “I really wanted to sing O Penne because it’s close to me. When I give the unit a version of the song for shooting, I sing the track. I think they (the Vanakkam Chennai team) got used to my voice. But there have been other songs I wasn’t very comfortable singing, but I have because the filmmakers want me to,” he admits. “I really like singing love songs. But I think the fun songs are the ones I sound best in,” he adds reflectively.
He is still basking in the warm response his new single ‘Chancey Illa has garnered. “It‘s a dedication to all the things in the city that we are not aware of. It’s about the lesser known things that make the city extra special,” he elaborates on the album. He’s also looking forward to the track from ‘Ai’ he sang for A.R. Rahman. “It was like a big dream. I grew up watching Shankar sir’s movies, so being part of it was awesome. And I think the song’s gonna come out really soon.”
Much as he is adored, Anirudh’s work also draws a lot of attention – sometimes very critical – on social media. “I would be the last person to say that social media’s a bane because I’m sitting here because of it,” he laughs. “But the ratio of the number of people who love your music to the number of people who are criticizing it is what matters.” He’s never bogged down by critics, he claims. “Kolaveri had its fair share of criticism. I think that’s the way it has to be, I wish there’s more of it sometimes,” he adds wistfully.
Among the latest to acquire a verified Twitter page, Anirudh’s is much more popular on social media than most composers. He denies any friction though. “We’re just a bunch of music lovers trying to do our own stuff. There’s no question of any rivalry,” he reassures us.
[quote align=’left’]I have never seen him lose his temper. Nothing flusters him[/quote]Anirudh found himself in the eye of a storm early this year over his first independent single, ‘Aint nobody f***ing with my music.’ A lawyer – Jebadas Pandian – filed a complaint against him asking him to take down the single because it contained ‘objectionable lyrics.’ “It was a very difficult time for the family,” says his mother. “I was out of town and was frankly very disturbed when I first heard that song. I called Anirudh and reasoned if he would want his young fans to listen to this. He immediately understood,” Lakshmi says. And Anirudh agrees. ” The whole idea was to just do something wacky. But I also understood the social responsibility that came with that. So I thought, ok let’s not do it anymore.”
On collaborating with singers and independent artistes from other languages
“I love working with independent artistes because I had always wanted to be one from childhood. And whether it’s Honey or Hard Kaur or whoever, they’ve done something not everybody can do. Even Aadhi for example, it’s a very challenging thing for a Tamil rap song to become a hit. Honey is like an elder brother to me. And Vishal is part of Pent4gram. He’s singing for me again in Kaththi. When you work with people like that, you get inspired.”
Is there still an audience for independent music?
“There was a time when albums by independent artistes did well. If I can do use my popularity as a film musician to do that, I would consider it my greatest contribution to the music industry.”
Your favourite instrument?
“I think it has to be the piano. For a music director, you’ve to know how to play and piano is what I’m trained formally in. It’s very special when you make a soft piano song, yeah so piano is like my forte.”
Your favourite music gadgets now?
“I am a tech freak so I keep updating my gadgets. There’s this new VoxBox, where you can plug your guitar into it and it sounds great. That’s like crazy, that’s what I’m tripping on right now. Also I’m using the Focal speakers which I really like.”
The Anirudh Ravichander interview is a Silverscreen Exclusive.