'Na Muthukumar wanted me to occupy his space'

...says lyricist Karthik Netha, who has come into the spotlight with his work in 96
'Na Muthukumar wanted me to occupy his space'

Karthik Netha realised that he wanted to be a lyricist when he was in Class 10. Kanne Kalaimane from Moondram Pirai, he says, used to keep haunting him. “Songs were a constant companion through my happiness and sorrow. They made me feel like someone was listening to my own thoughts. They were my thani perum thunai,” says the lyricist, who is currently receiving praise from all quarters for his work in 96

In Class 12, when a girl he liked said no to him, his dependence on songs and his passion for writing increased. Karthik decided that he wanted to write songs for a living and ran away to Chennai. His first opportunity came through his roommate, Ramesh. “He had a friend named Elango, who was an AD in Thotti Jaya. Elango took me to VZ Dhorai to ask for an opportunity.” Looking at the young Karthik, Dhorai was skeptical, but gave him a chance anyway. It was only after he finished writing that they realised he had been the given the wrong tune. He was given another chance, and this time, the director liked it. But misfortune struck again as the film’s composer was changed and Karthik’s effort went uncredited. This pushed Dhorai to give Karthik a second opportunity with Nepali, which ended up being his official debut. 

“There have been several songs where my lyrics were credited to more known lyricists. It didn’t bother me as all I wanted was money to drink.” But such uncredited work did lead to other opportunities. One such was the song that fetched him his first award, Pada Pada from Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu. This song also got him the acquaintance of Na Muthukumar, who reached out to Karthik after listening to it. His most popular song, Poraney Poraney, is another example. “There was another song that I wrote but didn’t get credit for. Sargunam and Ghibran, being friends, wanted me to write a song that I was credited for.” 

The Anthaathi lyricist calls Na Muthukumar his mentor, someone whose company taught him much about writing lyrics. “For about five years in between, I stopped writing for myself and was purely travelling with him. It was thanks to him that I got a strong grip on lyric-writing. He taught me that songs should be grounded in reality.” Even during Muthukumar’s final days, Karthik was with him. “He used to scold me for drinking. He once told me that he wanted me to occupy his place in the industry.”  

Karthik admits that his addiction to alcohol and other intoxicants severely affected not only his career, but also his personal life. “I started drinking when I was in school. I have tried several times to kick the habit, but couldn’t for more than two days.” He also reveals that he was in the hospital when he was approached by Prem Kumar for 96. “He was insistent that I should write Life of Ram. In fact, 96 was written during the one year when I wasn’t drinking.” 

More than the lack of opportunities, it was his addiction that pushed him off the grid more than once. “I didn’t take it seriously as I was under the spell of alcohol. My relationships failed because of this too. In fact, Kathale Kathale was written with an ex-girlfriend in mind.”
His ambition now, he says, is to write songs that seep into the everyday lives of people. “Vaali, someone I really admire, used to say write for the person who can’t read. I want to write songs that become a part of our lives. Take the song Nooru Varusham Indha Mappilai, for instance. Not many people know who wrote it, but it’s a part of every wedding. I want to write such songs. Whether it is a gaana or a love song, I want people to recognise my writing by just listening to it.” 

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