Everybody in South India knows how big Valimai is: Naanga Vera Maari singer Anurag Kulkarni

Singer Anurag Kulkarni has sung over 800 songs in Telugu, but he is relatively new to Tamil cinema. However, he is now in the spotlight after singing Naanga Vera Maari from Ajith's Valimai
Singer Anurag
Singer Anurag

It's not every day you get to sing for the most expected film of the year despite being new to the industry. Singer Anurag Kulkarni has sung over 800+ songs in Telugu, but he has only sung two numbers in Tamil cinema. Yet, he bagged an opportunity to sing in Ajith's Valimai for his third Tamil song. Naanga Vera Maari, the first single from the Ajith-starrer has gone viral on YouTube and has put Anurag in the spotlight. The singer says the reception the song has garnered is unlike anything he has seen before. "I'm feeling so blessed to get such a big opportunity so early in my career," says Anurag.

While the song has received a mixed response, the young singer claims that all the feedback that came his way was only positive. "Telugu industry celebrates singers from all over the country — Karthik and Haricharan are very popular in Telugu. But someone from Hyderabad breaking into the Tamil film industry is quite a rare feat. At least that's what many from the Telugu industry have told me," says the singer who has worked with several Tamil music directors like GV Prakash, Ghibran, and Sam CS in their Telugu projects. Incidentally, Kartikeya, the hero of one of Anurag's first major hit songs in Telugu (Pillaa Raa from RX 100), is also part of Valimai. "I knew Kartikeya was a part of the film and I'm happy that our paths cross again, but I didn't even know I was a part of Valimai," says Anurag, who wasn't aware that he was singing for an Ajith film when he was approached. "I got a call from Yuvan sir's office in March and was told that he would like to test my voice for a song. Getting a call from him itself is quite a big deal. So, I didn't even bother to know what project it's for. I was told that it was a hero introduction song, and I gave it a shot without expecting anything."

Anurag wrote down the lyrics and understood them before going for the take. "Yuvan sir's sound engineer Guru sir and vocal conductor Vasu sir, who works for Ilaiyaraaja sir, helped me by explaining the kind of emotions expected for the song. Their patience in dealing with me — someone who was new to the language and local dialect — made the process easier. Yuvan sir, who had joined us virtually for the recording, said he'll listen to it and get back to me," says the singer, who returned to Hyderabad without knowing whether his version would make the cut. "A week ago, they pinged me to get my full name for the credits, and when I enquired about the project, they said they can't reveal it at the moment. Only when I was being tagged on online posts a couple of days back, I got to know that it was Ajith sir's Valimai," adds Anurag who also says, "I assume the secrecy was because of the magnitude of the project, and they didn't want me to spill the beans."

Despite being new to the Tamil film industry, Valimai isn't a project that's foreign to the singer. "Everybody in South India knows how big Valimai is, thanks to the trending hashtags. It's a big deal to sing for Ajith sir," says Anurag who is surprised by the numbers the song is doing on YouTube. "When the song premiered on YouTube almost 2.5 lakh people were watching it. My songs have reached many millions on YouTube over months, but what happened with Naanga Vera Maari is a record. It is the most-watched song of mine in a single day. Not to mention the fact that most of my blockbuster hits like the songs from RX 100 or C/o Kancharapalem are from smaller films. I was aware of the reach Ajith sir has, but seeing so many people watching the premiere of a song that has my name in the credits was a surreal feeling."

Getting back to how Anurag prepared for the song, the singer says he spends more time in the preparation than performing in the studio. "I have worked with lyricist Thamarai ma'am from whom I learned a lot about Tamil culture, lyrics, and the elements necessary for a singer to thrive in Tamil. From her, I learned to write down the meaning of each word and the sentences. Initially, it was tedious, but it helped me a lot," says Anurag, who jokingly adds that he was scared if people would criticise him for his pronunciations. "The intonation matters a lot for a song, and knowing the meaning of the lines comes in handy to get that right. Playback singing is how artistically you convey emotions and express literature."

Anurag has also done many multilingual projects like Nadigaiyar Thilagam and has rendered his voice for dubbed Tamil film songs like Pilla Puli from Aakaasam Nee Haddhu Ra (Veyyon Silli from Soorarai Pottru). Interestingly, his first song in Tamil, Kavalayodam from Thimuru Pudichavan happened when he met Vijay Antony for the film's Telugu version. As the conversation veer towards the difference between the two industries from a playback singer's perspective, Anurag says, "In Telugu, we have a different culture in approaching songs. Our songs for the heroes hype them up. However, in Tamil cinema, the hero wants to be one among the common people but still manages to stand apart. The best example is my favourite line from Naanga Vera Maari that goes 'Vaazhu vaazha vidu'. It's nice to see actors take the realistic route here when compared to the over-the-top roles."

Unsurprisingly, Anurag has signed several projects in the Tamil cinema and while he's tight-lipped about them, he concludes by saying, "Right now, I just want to enjoy the success of Naanga Vera Maari for a while and then take whatever work comes my way. I'll keep doing what I'm here to do, and the rest is in the hands of the almighty."

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