Reintroducing MM Keeravani: The man behind the music
Keeravani's international success is a story 30 years in the making
In what is a great moment of pride for India on the global stage, Koduri Marakathamani Keeravani, known popularly as MM Keeravani, received a Golden Globe this morning in Los Angeles for his riotously euphoric single Naatu Naatu from SS Rajamouli’s RRR. Though the country and the world at large have taken a moment today to appreciate the sexagenarian virtuoso, Keeravani has long been the proverbial pillar contemporary Telugu cinema has reliably leaned on to anchor stories big and small.
The story of MM Keeravani traverses from Kovvur, West Godavari where he was born to Raichur in Karnataka where he spent many years to Madras and now Hyderabad. Trained in violin and the harmonium from a young age, Keeravani was no stranger to Tinseltown with his father Koduri Siva Sakthi Dutta and uncle V Vijayendra Prasad working as lyricist and screenwriter in the industry. Despite having a “background” in films, his early life was a far cry from affluence and comfort. Keeravani’s erstwhile moneyed, landed family faced financial hardships through his youth, prompting the man to put in long hours as an assistant to music directors K. Chakravarthy and Rajamani. The gritty job, which he worked to make ends meet, eventually paved the way for a career in music composition. Keeravani started making music for films from 1990 onwards, and soon gained acclaim and popularity with the 1991 Ram Gopal Varma crime comedy film Kshana Kshanam.
With songs ranging from the mellifluous Jaamuraathiri to the peppy Andanantha Ettha, Keeravani became a household name post-Kshana Kshanam. He later went on to work with some of the biggest directors and formed enduring collaborations with a few, including K Raghavendra Rao. Keeravani’s career in the 90s is the stuff of lore, with a trajectory many envy but only a few could achieve. Way before pan India became the neological shorthand for movies transcending languages - Keeravani created a niche for himself in industry outside his home base, to the point where he was called as MM Kreem in the Hindi industry and Maragathamani in Tamil and Malayalam.
In addition to being one of the most prolific composers of that decade, his work in the 90s also reflects great range and versatility. The deeply soul stirring songs of K Viswanath Rao’s Aapadbandhavudu and the massy numbers of Raghavendra Rao’s Gharana Mogudu, both movies from 1992, for instance, have nothing in common except the composer, Keeravani.
MM Keeravani is also a gifted vocalist and lyricist himself - his deep, dulcet voice is equal parts haunting and spiritual.
The 90s shaped the foundation for the post-millennium Keeravani we know, whose exclusive collaborations with first cousin SS Rajamouli only brought greater success and recognition for his work. This is also when we see Keeravani transform from a composer who merely delivers to the director’s requirements to that of a formidable collaborator with signature work. And if the past and present of Keeravani are any indication, his future is one that will continue to contribute richly to Indian cinema.