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Kailas Menon: I believe in team work 

Music composer Kailas Menon talks about his work in Theevandi, Finals and the upcoming Edakkad Battalion 06

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Published: 15th October 2019

While the song Jeevamshamayi from Theevandi is still fresh in everyone’s minds, its composer Kailas Menon has come out with another chartbuster, Nee Hima Mazhayayi, from the new Tovino Thomas-Samyuktha Menon film, Edakkad Battalion 06. The track, penned by BK Harinarayanan and sung by Nithya Mammen and KS Harishankar, has now crossed 3 million views on YouTube.

The instantly hummable romantic track evokes, in a few places, Pudhu Vellai Mazhai from Roja. While agreeing on the similarity, Kailas says it was not an influence. “Both tracks have the Darbari Kanada raga as their base and therein lies the similarity,” he explains, citing other similarly remarkable Darbari Kanada-based examples like Pookul Pookum (Madrasapattinam), Shalabham Vazhimaaruma (Achaneyanenikkishtam), and Malare Mounama (Karna). “These tracks are some of my personal favourites. While doing Nee Hima Mazhayayi, I was thinking it would be nice if something like Pudhu Vellai Mazhai came out in Malayalam, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to reach that level (laughs).”

Excerpts from a conversation with the composer:

Since Jeevamshamayi was successful, was there pressure to live up to that with your next project?

When people say tell me I can’t do a song like Jeevamshamayi again, it’s definitely a challenge. There are expectations, naturally, but it’s impossible to do a song like that again. We can only do what the film demands. The emotion of Nee Hima Mazhayayi is intense — much stronger than Jeevamshamaayi, I’d say. There is a painful element in it somewhere.

Would you say this is your most creatively fulfilling work?

It’s my personal favourite of all my compositions. Unlike the rest of my work, I instinctively knew that Nee Hima Mazhayayi would work. Everyone I showed the track to was instantly addicted to it. With Jeevamshamayi, there were mixed opinions initially. A lot of people said it wouldn’t work — and there are people who still don’t like it. But that was not the case with Nee Hima Mazhayayi. I was very confident about it.

Do you prefer having some footage beforehand or do you work on the music first?

I have done it both ways, and I’m comfortable with either. It all depends on the situation. I personally prefer having the footage beforehand. There were some songs in Edakkad that were composed before the footage was ready whereas, with some others, the visuals were necessary to come up with a suitable score.

Looking at recent South Indian films, there seems to be a compulsion to be more hip and trendy with the music. Even composers like AR Rahman are doing songs that incorporate modern pop culture. Do you feel this compulsion as well?

So far, I’ve not felt it. The filmmakers I have worked with until now have been very encouraging. They want me to come up with quality content that will stand the test of time rather than doing something just for the sake of delivering a hit. When I did Theevandi, Fellini TP (director) told me to make something that would endure.

Are you particular about working with collaborators who share the same wavelength?

I believe in teamwork. Be it Theevandi, Finals, or Edakkad, I’m thoroughly involved in every aspect of the project. If the music doesn’t sync with the footage, I try to sort it out with the editor. Sometimes a small suggestion can make a huge difference. Every successful film is the result of a great team, where one person’s shortcoming is corrected by the other. Take sound mixing, for instance. In some areas, the music has to be highlighted while in the others, sound effects dominate the score. If we do the music and then leave everything up to the sound designer, he might do the work as per his judgement.

Does a musician have to be knowledgable about sound engineering?

Well, it’s good to have an awareness about it. But here’s the thing. I realised that more than talent, it’s about learning. Be it music direction or any other department, your ability to stand out depends on your observation skills. That requires you to watch and learn from a lot of films. More than being a musician, it’s about looking at the overall film and understanding what works and what doesn’t.

Your work in Finals was on par with some of the best in international cinema. How did you achieve that quality?

Finals required two different types of music because the first half was of one mood and the second half another. Arun PR (director) knew exactly what he wanted. Typically, a thrilling piece of music is used for race sequences. However, Arun said he wanted a pleasant, cheerful score so that audiences won’t see that unexpected interval moment coming. Everyone was shocked by that interval scene. And we didn’t use any reference music because if we follow a template, it would make us too comfortable and repetitive.

You recently launched your own music label Kailas Menon Productions. What was the impetus for that decision?

It mainly has to do with the fact that the rights and revenue of our work will belong only to us. A music director may not make much from his work but the label owners profit highly from it. This is why a lot of composers wish to start their own label. Since the audio rights of Finals were not already sold, I thought of stepping in. However, with Edakkad, other music labels offered the producers much more than what I could. The producers were willing to give me the rights, but I felt it wouldn’t be right to offer less than what someone else had offered them.

(Edakkad Battalion 06 comes out in theatres this Friday)

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