Govind Vasantha still comes to press meets on his Unicorn bike. Praise for his music for 96 has been lavish, but life hasn’t changed much for the violinist-composer. “I am sure that it won’t as well,” says Govind. On 96’s album, he says he knew even before the shoot that music would be an integral part of the film. “We knew it would not exactly be like a musical but that the emotions would be conveyed through music,” he says. Govind is thankful that he got the necessary freedom both off-screen and on-screen to make music. “Both Prem (Kumar) and the editor Govindaraj knew what they wanted. If you look at it, even the shots and edits are relaxed. I was given the time to build up my score and transcend. That’s rare.”
The story unravels over the period of one night, which meant the mood of the film would have to remain constant, though the tunes had to be different. “I listened to the story five times. I knew the characters in their entirety, their past and their future which didn’t feature in the film. Maintaining the mood wasn’t the challenge, but making sure the tunes didn’t resemble each other was tricky,” says Govind.
Interestingly, Anthaathi, the centrepiece of the 96 album, wasn’t used in the film. The song was composed for promotional purposes. But the success of the song did make them wonder if it should be used in the film, admits Govind. “A week before release, we had wrapped up all work. We were just about to leave the theatre when I asked Prem if we should try including Anthathi.” There was momentary conflict after which Govind himself suggested that they should stick to what they had planned. “It wouldn’t complement the film. Now, everyone knows the song. But after five years, if you watch the film, the song may not be perceived to be in the same zone as the rest of the film,” he reasons. Anthathi was meant to be a love anthem with a holistic perspective on love. “Love is a phenomenon that is on the higher ranks. So, I used a chorus and made it unpredictable with its flow. It has a lot of crescendos. It is larger than life,” he explains.
In a notable departure from convention, 96’s album predominantly uses only two playback singers — Chinmayi and Pradeep Kumar — for its songs. This was again a choice made even before they went to shoot, says Govind. “Jaanu is a singer. There are several songs that have her actually singing. So when she sings ‘Yamunai Aatrile’, we didn’t want a different voice. This meant we needed a person who could dub and sing as well for both the young and the older Jaanu and the voices were chosen accordingly,” he says.
With a history in rock music (Govind is the frontman of indie-band, Thaikkudam Bridge), Govind’s use of classical, unprocessed sounds in 96 was a pleasant surprise. There were no restrictions against using them, says Govind. “Prem just told me that the music had to be subtle. I wanted the songs to be cut from the same cloth as the background score. I didn’t want it to sound like dream sequences.” He shares it’s not too new to him anyway. “If you look at my SoundCloud page, there is a lot of similar music — subtle, but dark and melancholic. I hardly do happy music,” he says. Ask him why and he replies, “I don’t know. I think in the darkest ways. Darkness is happiness for me.”
Govind’s next project in Tamil is Balaji Tharaneetharan’s Seethakathi, that again has Vijay Sethupathi in the lead. “It was a challenge for me. The sounding is an assortment of semi-classical and modern styles. The situations where the songs are placed are quite complex too.” He says it has been a regular feature of Balaji’s films. “I also struggled for Balaji anna’s film, Oru Pakka Kathai. He gives you situations that are hard to conceive and contribute towards. It is not just about what you see on screen. Seethakathi is like an onion. There are several layers.”
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.