The first time Imman remembers composing a tune was in school — ninth grade to be precise. That was when he was learning programming and had just got a keyboard. “The plan was to do an album back then. Veetla kaasu vaangi, kadan laam vangi, apdiye ready pannathu. I don’t even remember the pallavi now,” he says with a smile. Cut to 2018, Imman is now more than 100 albums old and is one of the busiest composers in the industry. Ahead of Viswasam’s release, his first film with Ajith, Imman opens up about composing for the layman, and the importance of successful collaborations:
Excerpts from a conversation:
Your debut film Tamizhan was with Vijay but your first film with Ajith has taken a while.
It was a question fans kept asking for years. By His grace, throughout my career, I haven’t had to pitch for opportunities. I am also not the kind of person who disturbs anyone for something I want. I have been content with working with those who have approached me. I think this delay can be attributed to experienced actors preferring to work again with teams, with that have delivered hits. Two-three projects that were supposed to happen with Ajith sir, didn’t happen due to several reasons. I am glad everything finally fell in place for Viswasam.
Another interesting coincidence is both Tamizhan and Viswasam have songs sung by you.
I have sung three songs for Vijay and now, I have sung Adhichi Thooku for Ajith. For these songs, other singers were considered. It is something that happens to all music directors. We work on a film for seven-eight months and at times, for even more than a year. The singers we want might not be available immediately, and we end up singing the track version, so the team can work with it. They listen to that thousands of times in due course, and get accustomed to it. So, with a new voice, they sometimes feel like the song has changed as they are so accustomed to the track version. That is how I became a singer.
In fact, Vetti Kattu initially had my voice. Even after we recorded with Shankar Mahadevan sir, there was some hesitation from the team. But I said it was perfect. With a singer like Shankar Mahadevan, there’s no need for change.
Even though you have introduced more than 100 voices, you seem to like collaborating a lot with Shreya Ghoshal, who is almost a constant feature of your albums.
It has been a decade-long association with Shreya Ghoshal, whose voice is one of my favourites. She can sing almost anything. Both of us are huge fans of melodies as well. But more than my personal preferences, in cinema, we need saleability, and that comes only when a combination works. One might have talent, but at the end of the day, you need to win for the world to trust you. Thanks to Him, the songs that Shreya and I have worked on have continued to become chartbusters. Sometimes, the directors I work with ask me to include a song in her voice in the album, even before I start composing or hear the script. (laughs)
Despite dabbling with genres (Bogan, Romeo Juliet, Tik Tik), somehow, people still continue to associate you predominantly with music pertaining to rural stories. Do you see this as a restriction?
Every composer has a brand for himself. This rural tag has been useful in creating that brand for me and I am happy about it. More than the music being village-centric, I am proud about having composed regional or rooted sounds… music that we can call ours, continuously. To draw a parallel, I feel that we have several pizzas and pasta shops here but comparatively lesser people who provide our traditional food. Thegata thegata indha madhri isai naa kudukanum. I aspire to leave behind a database of rooted music, that we can call our own, when I am not in the industry anymore. Also, when producers and directors now pick rural subjects, they think of me first, right? This includes Viswasam. There are several people who could have done Viswasam. Edhukku enna thedi varanum? I see this as a huge advantage for me.
On the other hand, films like Bogan, Tik Tik Tik, Miruthan etc, have given me an opportunity to explore my own sound palettes and bring another side of me. For that, I am immensely thankful to director Shakti Soundar Rajan, who has constantly trusted me even when he attempts offbeat films. He doesn’t go by the tags, and instead trusts my ability to deliver.
Your style seems to be to compose simple, effective songs that people can hum along to. Is this a conscious effort?
While, yes, the songs need to be interesting to those who are musically aware, it is important that the layman, who we are composing for, likes the song and more importantly, understands it. Ennada naalu nimisham paatula verum kaachu moochu nu satham potutu irukanga nu iruka kudathu. They have to understand the song first, and then whether they like it or not, it’s their opinion. As listeners, I don’t want anyone to reject my songs because they can’t understand it. They should understand what the song is about, how easy it is on the ear, and be able to hum it easily as well. They need to sing it, and the song has to firmly create an imprint on their senses — only then can they look to become evergreen. I want at least one or two of my songs in each album to be this way.
Do you release karaokes of all your songs as a step to extend this accesibility you speak of?
There are several practical difficulties in releasing karaoke versions. Anyone can illegally compose another tune over the track and use it somewhere else — it opens the track to such vulnerabilities. It is a risk. But it enables the listener to connect to it and own the song — there are so many people who sing these songs on karaoke apps. This way, they become a part of their life.
Say, if a song or two from the album becomes a hit, they can just sing along when they have a small get-together at home. Isn’t every form of art for the consumer, after all?
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.