Sam CS’s first solo film album Puriyatha Puthir has a haunting melody “Mazhaikulle” that would instantly strike you as dark even though it is a love song. A story about voyeurism, the song succinctly conveys the dark tones of Puriyatha Puthir and is a personal favourite. “The female vocal parts are very hesitant when the male vocals are more confident. This is because the girl knows she is the reason behind the hero’s woes,” explained Sam. While Puriyatha Puthir might have been his first film, it was his other film with Vijay Sethupathi, Pushkar-Gayathri’s Vikram Vedha that made Sam, one of the hottest young music composers in the industry. With around seven films in his kitty, Sam CS talks about his process, his love for background scores and the drive to be unique.
After Vikram Vedha, you have signed several projects and there seems to be some great variety in it.
The main similarity is that all these films are script driven and need a strong background score. Mr. Chandramouli has commercial elements but the script deals with a very important and serious subject. We might have seen dance movies such as Step Up and ABCD, Lakshmi will be a completely different film in terms of treatment. Also, it is quite challenging to compose for a dancer like Prabhudheva. If you take Vanjagar Ulagam, it is a gangster film where we have experimented quite a lot musically. I want to and am ready to compose for any genre, but the scripts that come to me are ones that give importance to background scores. I think that is a good thing. I believe that when a film demands strong musical score, the story will be equally effective as well. I am happy that I am getting such scripts.
For a music composer, songs prove to be integral promotional content as they get space on music channels, radio etc. However, you seem to stand out by saying, ‘I am content even when there are no songs’.
When you think commercially or in terms of hit value, it is true songs matter. But good music doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of songs. Didn’t we enjoy Hans Zimmer’s music in Interstellar? There are no songs in the film. Our minds get into a preset when we consume songs — that we will get only one emotion from it. Say it is a love song, the entire song will be about love. But film music isn’t like that. The emotions are transilient — there is love, suspense or something else that you have to hint at musically. I don’t differentiate between songs and background scores — I see it as musical content for a film.
With films like Vikram Vedha or Iravuku Ayiram Kangal, there were no songs at the start. “Yaanji” happened when we decided to add lyrics to a musical montage — songs should be placed when there is space for it. It is not that I don’t like songs — I prefer when they are placed when there is need for it.
Your philosophy towards songs is that it shouldn’t stand out from the narrative the background score creates — some of your famous hits have been montage songs. How would you approach something with a fantasy element, a dream song sequence?
The objective would be to do it differently within the realm of the story and the premise. Take the bar song for example. It has been something that has thoroughly explored in Kollywood cinema. Even in my current line-up, I have several such songs but each number would be unique. For example, Tasaku Tasaku’s background beats were created through beatboxing. We used a lot of junk material like bottles, glasses, water cans in creating the sound. But it is still technically a Tasmac song. It is the same with dream sequences. Even though they aren’t my ideal premise, I would strive to deliver something different. Some might work, some might not, but we lose only to learn.
It is quite interesting that you generally compose with scripts. How different was it to compose for Karu where you were brought on board at a later stage.
Composing for the script is like scoring for a novel. When we read a book, our mind simultaneously visualises the same. Since there is no visual limitation, the only marker is the duration of the scene. And when they shoot with the music, it streamlines the mood and feel of the team. But there are some genres that you can’t compose beforehand — comedy, for example. We have to work to the timing of the actors on screen. In case of horror like Karu, it didn’t matter as it is an open space. And, I think it has come out well.
You are making your debut in Malayalam with the background score of Mohanlal’s Odiyan.
While the songs for Odiyan were composed earlier before by M Jayachandran. But after Vikram Vedha’s release, they approached me to score the background music. I had gotten several offers for just the background score, even from Bollywood, but I didn’t take it as I wanted to shoulder the entire film. But when I heard Odiyan’s script I couldn’t resist. First, it was a very unique, non-linear story. It is a thriller that needs a lot of ethnic sounds from that period and region — there was a lot of scope to experiment with old instruments intrinsic to Kerala. Moreover, I grew up in Munnar watching Malayalam cinema. To get such an out-of-box script and also debut with a Mohanlal film. We had already composed quite a bit for the script and they are shooting with the same. It is a film to be proud of.
Can you tell us some ethnic sounds you have used in Odiyan?
When we think of Bamboo, we think of the flute. But there are several other instruments that are made of Bamboo. There is a long bamboo instrument, about 6 ft long. It won’t look like a flute but is a very old instrument. There was just one lady who was still playing it and we have used her work for Odiyan.
Your music for Vikram Vedha was celebrated. Now that the Hindi remake has been announced, will you be a part of it?
Only the production company has been decided as of now. The leading artistes have to be decided and then come the technicians. While there are chances of me doing it, nothing is confirmed yet. But it would be a great opportunity, if I get to do it.