Ghibran Interview: I prefer being valuable to being famous
Music composer Ghibran talks about his work on the Ajith-Vinoth film, Thunivu, which marks his 50th project, and why he has traded 'melodies' for mass music
Music composer Ghibran has always seen his work as not being restricted to making catchy songs. He has cared about narratives and shown the willingness to put his own brand in the background in search of music that aids cinema. In this conversation, he speaks of breaking his discography, on his reticent nature, and refusing to cater to the pressure of views.
After working with director H Vinoth in Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru and scoring the background music for Valimai (the music is by Yuvan Shankar Raja), the duo returns for Ajith's Thunivu. "I have never asked him why he chose me to work on the music of Valimai. I assumed Yuvan was busy and the team had a deadline. It needed a larger-than-life score and all I did was 'kadamaiyai sei, palanai edhir paakathey'," says Ghibran. "When Thunivu came up, I was obviously excited. This time, I asked Vinoth if Ajith sir was ok with me to which he said sir was happy with my work in Valimai. The reason I asked is, every film has a certain budget and to get that reach, a certain set of cast and crew members are required. I know that I don't feature on this list (laughs). The film's tagline is 'No Guts, No Glory', but in my case, they had the guts to choose me and have given me glory."
The right arrangements
Given how Thunivu is loyal to its genre, it's natural to assume that adding songs to this film might have been a task as well. "We thought the same too and decided to not force songs into the film unnecessarily. Script-wise, we didn't need songs, but structure-wise, the placement of Chilla Chilla or Gangstaa added to the following action," says Ghibran whose hunt to find a track to set the tone, gave him Gangstaa. "When Gangstaa worked out well, we wanted to explore different genres and Chilla Chilla happened thanks to our search for a mass song. Those who wanted something similar to My Name is Billa have Gangstaa while those who preferred Aaluma Doluma have Chilla Chilla. That's when we went ahead with a song for the story and Kasethan Kadavulada happened," adds the composer who attributes his success to the camaraderie he shares with the director. "Vinoth is happy to work with those with no talent too, as long as they give it their all to do something new. With him, you can give any recommendations, and if he is convinced, he will take them."
The pressure of percussion
Ghibran started off his work for this album with certain expectations, only to realise that it came with its share of pressure. "We realised we can have realistic goals only when we do what we like. I know what the current vibe is and I've always believed that the indie scene will take over soon. Vaisagh's Kaaka Kadha is a vibe that thrills Vinoth and me in ways that film songs sometimes don't," says the composer. "Be it the edit pattern, getting inspired by Instagram reels and having words unique to indie music, they bring in a sense of freshness to songs." Ask him if catering to the masses and fans of a huge star is why a song titled Gangstaa got filled with positive sentiment, and he says, "Absolutely. Composer, singer and my friend of 15 years, Shabir Sulthan was the one who helped me with it. Oru baddie, aana nalladhukkaaga kettadhu panra nallavan. That idea made us formulate the term Gangstaa with a different spelling. It's our fanboy sambavam (laughs). I heard that Ajith sir is happy with the album and the background music."
Ghibran calls the pressure of composing such a film an "emotionally draining experience. The trip was so intense that I was almost on the verge of quitting it. What pressurises us is how people would come up and say 'We know you'd ace this'. Moreover, Yuvan and Anirudh have set a benchmark, and it's been a while since I worked on such a project, so the pressure was emotional. But it's the trust that others had in me which made me stick to it. Mentally, I exited the project once and got back on board. I'm also Ajith sir's fan so when I was back, I wanted to do what I love and enjoy the process." Interestingly, Ghibran is vocal about how the pressure never came from Ajith or the film's producer, Boney Kapoor. "It's always up to me and Vinoth, and if the director is happy, they will be too. For a Telugu film, I had mailed my work to the director who forwarded it to a dozen people, including me by mistake. When so many people discuss it and give inputs, the process becomes difficult; so, I walked out of the project. Compared to such experiences, Thunivu was a breeze," says a smiling Ghibran.
Melodies to mass songs
Ghibran's discography is replete with melodies and it's quite fascinating that a landmark film like Thunivu gave him the space to also experiment. "What I realised is that such new genres can be excelled at with the right amount of practice. It's like Bruce Lee's theory about the one punch. My prowess over melodies gave Maara and Taanakkaran just like how Ratsasan gave me the confidence to do thrillers. Thunivu not having a melody told me that this is my time to give this a shot. Only if I prove to myself that I can do an album like Thunivu, can I respect myself (smiles)."
The music director even jokes about how people who don't know him would consider Thunivu to be from a different composer, given his style of music in his previous films. "I feel like a phoenix who has resurrected. I take my films from my 50th to be a fresh start towards something new. Thunivu has given me the confidence to take more commercial films."
The numbers craze
The numbers game, which has unfortunately become an unavoidable factor in the film industry, apparently doesn't affect Ghibran. "When YouTube views, comments and likes became a raging topic, I learnt that they can be bought, and that broke my image of it. A few production companies even recommended I do so for my songs. But who will we be cheating with such a move? When the growth is organic, I can sleep peacefully knowing that that exact number of people, irrespective of how big or small it is, has enjoyed my song," says the composer who points out how bought numbers really don't give the true scope of a song. "I have fought against the idea of buying likes and truth be told; I have lost a few fights too. Irrespective of what goes behind the scenes, if the song becomes a hit, you'll know it. Thaarame Thaarame (Kadaram Kondan) was one such song-- till a certain date, it had only hit a small number and I was discussing with director Rajesh M Selva how it had flopped. But after the release, the number skyrocketed so much that we thought it was a glitch (The lyrical and music video has more than 130 million views now). It's the number of messages you receive after a song's success, how often you hear it as ringtones and caller tunes, and many more ways that would tell you if a song has become viral. It comes down to our own satisfaction and I can be happy about how peacefully I sleep."
From one note to another
Ghibran is a unique composer who has had the opportunity to work both in big-budget films and smaller projects. He worked for Saaho while simultaneously composing for House Owner, and while doing Thunivu, he also did Kurangu Pedal. "Both offer a certain sense of thrill. It's like how we make different plans for different days. If going to a park is the equivalent of Kurangu Pedal, intentionally fighting with friends for the fun of it is Thunivu. I feel music directors are gifted to live in such multiple timelines and emotions," says Ghibran as the topic veers back to how reclusive he is. "I want my songs to work because they are good and not because it's from someone famous. Taanakkaran's album would have become a bigger hit had it come from a different label, but the music, despite it being a part of a small film, has its fans. I prefer being valuable to being famous. I also prefer spending time with my family and going to bed on time. If everything else can be done without that being affected, I'm up for it," says Ghibran who is thankful to almost a dozen filmmakers who halted production to let him concentrate on Thunivu. "They had song shoots and re-recordings but they let me complete this project out of the love they have for me and their respect towards Ajith sir. So, I have to show my love back by completing all these projects. But the fact that I've done 50 films doesn't really hit me. People are recognising me now though and that's new. I've been frequenting my favourite dosa shop in T Nagar for years but I don't get to enjoy the dosa as anonymously as I used to. It's a bittersweet feeling.