'My life changed after I met AR Rahman'
...says Dorasani composer Prashanth Vihari as he opens up about his transformative journey that has seen him become a sought-after composer after his good work in recent Telugu films
Music was a part of Prashanth Vihari’s life, well before he stepped into KM Music Conservatory, Chennai, in 2012. A year after he was born, AR Rahman had made his debut with Mani Ratnam’s Roja. He attributes his love for AR Rahman as helping pave the way for his debut in films. “Almost everyone from my generation is influenced by AR Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja. When I enrolled in KM Music Conservatory to learn Western classical piano, I was not sure if I had it in me to make it as a music composer. I had joined as a result of my love for his music. All of us looked up to AR Rahman, and once in a while, he would drop in to interact with us. My purpose in life changed completely after I met him,” Prashanth Vihari says. “I knew I could not compose like him. Instead, I took his philosophy of life as an inspiration.”
In 2013, Prashanth collaborated with Vishvak Khanderao, a graduate of LV Prasad Film Academy, who put the word out about him. He got the opportunity to make music for Suttum Vizhi, a rendition of poems written by Subramanya Bharathi. “That music video opened a lot of doors for me. Soon after the video came out on Youtube, Yakub Ali, the director of Vellipomaakey, got in touch with me about his debut film. It was originally conceived as a 45-minute film but turned into a feature film. I learnt so much from the film, including how mixing would work better for theatre,” Prashanth says. “Dil Raju sir liked my work and asked me to get in touch with other filmmakers in Telugu. That’s how I got a chance to work with Raj Kandukuri, Vivek Athreya for Mental Madhilo. And then, Chi La Sow, Anthariksham, and Dorasani followed.”
Much before Sankalp Reddy’s Antariksham released, producer Madhura Sreedhar and director KV Mahendra had him on board for Dorasani. The film, set in the late 1980s, explores the love story between a landlord’s daughter, Devaki, and Raju, a commoner from a lower caste from the same village. Talking about his first meeting with Mahendra, Prashanth says, “He was honest about what he wanted to do with the film. He gave me a lot of freedom to interpret the film musically. I was still working on Antariksham, which had a completely different soundscape. Dorasani, however, was a period drama, set in the 1980s, and it was more rooted in our local culture. We knew we could experiment a lot more with the sound.”
In Dorasani, one of the biggest challenges for Prashanth was letting the music do the talking between the two characters. “Mahendra had written nearly 40 drafts of the film, and he knew how he wanted the characters to behave. There are barely any conversations between Raju and Devaki, and a lot of portions had to be conveyed through music. I started composing music from the scene that has Raju seeing Devaki in a car, and all of a sudden, it begins to rain. Music and rain go well together. I like to have such markers where the music can have a swell. The last thing I want to do is punctuate the flow of events through some sound effects that feel terribly out of place. Like a story, music too needs to have a progression and have something to say,” he says.
The works of Thomas Newman, the composer behind acclaimed films like Shawshank Redemption, Road To Perdition, and WALL-E, have had a huge influence on him. “His style is subtle and the way he composes music lets you think. As a music composer, it’s my duty to create the right mood. To do that, I have to visualise the geography of the film. That’s part of the reason why I want to watch the visuals of the film, at least during the edit, before I start composing music. When there’s no dialogue, then music is something which you latch on to. For instance, in the scene where Dorasaani runs to meet Raju, there’s a major swell in the music because it’s a huge moment in the film. Music filled the void between conversations. Maybe that’s why some people say the background score of Dorasani helped them hear the film too. I must also applaud the work of cinematographer Sunny Kurapati, whose visual style inspired me a lot,” the composer says.
Ask him if there was any particular scene which required a lot of thought in terms of background score in Dorasani, and he says, “The climax is the only segment which demanded a lot of discussion between Mahendra and me. I felt that the final shot was shocking enough not to warrant too much music, but Mahendra felt that abrupt silence in the scenes leading up to that shot will convince the audience that there’s something shocking about to happen. It was a question of judgement.”
At the time of the film’s release, Prashanth was appreciated for using the folk songs as part of the narrative, and he credits lyricist Goreti Venkenna for giving the film a distinct flavour. The composition of the song, Ningilona Palapuntha, in particular, was a memorable experience for the young composer. “Goreti Venkanna made it seem so casual. The lyrics were already musical and it made my job a lot easier. Folk has a different meter when it comes to rhythm and tone. Another song, Kappathalli too, was composed in a similar fashion where the lyrics were written first. There’s a lot of creativity and philosophy packed in every line in the works of great writers like Goreti Venkanna and Sirivennela Seetharamasastry,” he adds.
When he isn’t composing music for films, Prashanth has other pursuits that keep him busy. One is singing bhajans at a temple in Hyderabad. “I have been doing that all my life. My parents are still part of a bhajan troupe in my native town. Being part of a bhajan troupe not only introduced me to music, but also helped me to perform in front of an audience. The vibe is beautiful when I become part of a place where people come together for music. I wonder if this is my real purpose in life. Composing music for films is completely different. I think I need both to find balance in my life,” Prashanth Vihari signs off.