tv & movies

Sid Sriram on turning composer with Mani Ratnam’s ‘Vaanam Kottatum’ and much more

The singer speaks about catapulting to fame, working with the likes of A.R. Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja, and his many influences

The office of Madras Talkies has become a second home to singer Sid Sriram. He’s there every other day, working on a song idea, making rough scratches, and running them through directors Dhana and Mani Ratnam.

In the last couple of years, even as one super-hit song followed another, the burning desire inside Sid was to come out with something of his own. “But I wanted to wait for the right opportunity,” he says, “And Vaanam Kottatum was perfect. Even then, I was a bit tentative at first, because the music I have created earlier was for myself and one without any deadlines. Obviously, I couldn’t do that here. I figured that I’m at a point in my life where I have to take on as many challenges as possible to help me evolve. From every perspective, this was the perfect project.”

It probably is. The film is a multi-genre subject, so it wouldn’t restrict him to one form of music. It is not a big-star film, so pressure to deliver a certain kind of song will be minimal. And then, of course, there’s Mani Ratnam (producer and writer of the film) who gave Sid the first big break as a singer with ‘Adiye’ in Kadal.

“Since we’ve started work, interacting with him has been a dream,” he says, about the filmmaker, who will soon embark on his directorial dream Ponniyin Selvan, “The intention with which he chooses his words in a conversation was helpful to me because I am a chaotic person. My mind is in a million places at once, and so, internalising what he said helped me achieve what I desired with the song.”

It helps that these words of wisdom is coming from a filmmaker who certainly knows how to use music in a visual narrative, as has been constantly proved in films like Bombay, Guru, and Raavan. “He knows what works not just visually but also musically. Just small things like taking a section and moving it to a different part of the song — something that I wouldn’t even think of. That opens up the song in a gorgeous way.”

Music and magic

Sid’s work in Vaanam Kottatum is still in its nascent stage, but the singer-composer’s biggest reason for joy stems from what the makers have instructed him. “They wanted something that does not sound like anything that is out there — and that has been so much fun. So, I have been able to break down any sense of boundaries and make music that I feel like making.”

In his new avatar as a composer, Sid has several influences, the biggest one being AR Rahman. Other influences include Philip Glass and Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. “They all use space really well, sonically.”

The challenging part is the juxtaposition of the new sound he hopes to create with the needs of the commercial film that Vaanam Kottatum is. “I’m in the process of cracking it now,” he laughs, “My artistic journey has been about juxtaposing — taking certain things that are looked at as traditional and mixing it with something a-traditional, and seeing what comes out of it. That contributes to the magic.”

I like keeping to myself’

On the stage, when he’s performing, Sid Sriram is a bundle of energy. But off stage, the singer prefers to be low key. “I’ve preferred to be on the periphery, because it lets me do what I want to do. That’s not to say I’m not humbled and blessed to be part of the film fraternity. The journey has been amazing, but I still keep to myself.”

A few decades ago, a voice as unique as Sid Sriram’s might not have worked in an industry that looked for its singers based on the star singing the song on the big screen. Times have changed, and Sid has AR Rahman to thank for that. “AR sir taking the first chance with me was courageous. The fact that he took that not once but twice (with ‘Ennodu Nee Irunthaal’ from I) set a precedent. If the song wasn’t a success, composers might not have called me.” And then, ‘Thalli Pogathey’ happened, and people sat up and took notice. “People probably weren’t sure if a voice like mine would fit a hero or a film context, but ‘Thalli Pogathey’ turned everything on its head.”

Post that boom, almost every composer in Tamil cinema approached Sid Sriram — and he would soon work with the likes of Yuvan Shankar Raja, Imman, Santhosh Narayanan, and Justin Prabhakaran. He considers all these recordings memorable, but the dream-come-true phenomenon occurred when he got an opportunity to record with Ilaiyaaraja for a yet-to-be-released song in upcoming film Psycho. “It was incredible,” he says, eyes wide open, “I got into his music pretty late, but it has only grown since then. What he did for Indian cinema was revolutionary, and to meet and record with him was great. He pulled me away from my comfort zone, and knew exactly what he wanted.”

How different was Ilaiyaraaja’s style from Rahman’s? “With AR sir, there’s the sense of him pushing me into different directions and seeing what he can get of me, and find the point of resonance. With Raaja sir, I sang it as composed, down to last detail. There was beauty in that; when the recording happened, it forced me to develop a new aspect of musicality. Their (ARR and Ilaiyaraaja) composing styles are different dimensions of the spectrum.”

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