It’s not easy to make Yuvan Shankar Raja speak when he doesn’t know you. Yet, the music director sounds extremely courteous on the phone. “It’s not that I am shy. I don’t like to talk about myself. It’s embarrassing. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d sustain this long in my career. I feel blessed,” he says, with a smile.
Speaking to TNM, Yuvan opens up about his journey. He explains how a tune can sometimes happen in 15 minutes, like the 'Theepidikka' song in Arindhum Ariyamalum. He also says that he loves AR Rahman's sound arrangements, the way he incorporates sarangi, flute and string instruments. He adds that he's writing a script now which he plans to be directing soon.
Excerpts from the conversation below:
It has been two decades since you ventured into the film industry. And, you turned a producer with the recently released Pyaar Prema Kaadhal.
I’ve always wanted to produce films because it gives you a creative high. Of course, the process is tedious. But it’s worth the risk. It’s nice to nurture a product that you believe in. Also, I wanted to give back something to my fans who’ve stood by me all the time. After involving myself in production, I am getting used to giving interviews. I need to promote my film, right? I tried to escape a few, but I am managing somehow. (Laughs)
What made you choose the Harish Kalyan and Raiza Wilson-starrer?
It’s simple yet engaging. I am sure, it has already struck a chord with the youth. Be it the music or storyline. My partner, Irfan Malik was quite encouraging and we bounced off a few ideas. I liked the story, and without any delay, we started working on it.
You’ve composed a lot of romantic tracks. In what way Pyaar Prema Kaadhal was different?
It’s my production. Naturally, I had so much creative freedom to experiment with things that I could. Usually, I look for albums that give me scope to challenge and explore myself in terms of bringing out emotions.
Trying out new methods and approaching a song in a different way are the keys to great music. Pyaar Prema Kaadhal is a colourful story. I was conscious of not repeating myself.
You took a break some time ago. What kept you occupied then?
I was travelling and watching films. That’s the whole idea of going on a break...it was to just enjoy and do nothing.
Twenty years is a long time. What has changed in you, and what has not?
I am the same. I don’t think too much. I am where I started off. I may have done 125 plus films, but nothing matters to me -- success, failure, criticisms and so on. I don’t take anything seriously, to my heart. Every time I start work on a project, I see it as my debut. I’ve seen music evolve through changes. I have a team, and they update me. I learn new software and try to equip myself.
Do you mean you’re nervous even today?
Not when I compose music. But, whenever I take up a new assignment, I do feel butterflies in the stomach. Because it’s altogether a new arena. For instance, I was restless before the release of Pyaar Prema Kaadhal. I was worried if people would accept this or not. I am glad they did.
How did you ease your mind?
I was listening to my dad’s music. That’s what the whole world does! (Laughs) I am no exception in this regard. His music is the only medicine.
When you began composing music, I am sure there must have been pressure to deliver success. Is it still the same?
In the beginning, I was seen as Ilaiyaraaja’s son. Now, I am being identified for the work that I do. Mostly, I go by my instincts. The choice of instruments and the execution of songs. I do what I feel is right.
Your music is soulful, and you sound spiritual. Is there a connection between both?
Absolutely. Being spiritual helps me see things from a different perspective. When I am aligned with the universe, I become a better creator. Your mind thinks constantly, and sometimes you need to be in a zone, which comforts you.
What do you do when you run out of ideas?
I shut myself in a room or take a break. Travelling inspires me. Hey, Appa’s music! Some of his best songs -- 'Nilaave Vaa' (Mouna Raagam) and 'Naan Thedum Sevvandhi Poo'... motivate me.
Let’s discuss the influence of Ilaiyaraaja’s music on you. Being his son, was becoming a composer the obvious choice?
I wanted to take my father’s legacy forward, and it was a conscious decision that I made. I’ve seen many people come into the industry, do well for three/four years, and vanish. Being Ilaiyaraaja’s son doesn’t guarantee fame and success. (Smiles)
Do you discuss music with Ilaiyaraaja at home?
In general, yes, we do. But work-wise, he doesn’t interfere much. Half the times, he doesn’t know what I am up to. Naanum feedback kekka maaten. (I also don't ask for feedback- Smiles)
When I told him I was going to produce Pyaar Prema Kaadhal, he told me, “Paarthu pannunga” (be careful).
Do you miss anyone in particular?
My mom. I was very close to her, and she was supportive. I wish she had been alive to see me reach greater heights. But, I think we need to accept the reality. She’s no more and I moved on.
Tell us about the challenging projects you had been a part of, so far…
After Pudhupettai and 7G Rainbow Colony, I never got anything extraordinary. The former was the first gangster-film I did. It’s close to my heart because I did a lot of homework. The latter is an evergreen album and credit goes to Selvaraghavan for bringing the best out of me.
How has life changed after converting to Islam?
It’s has been rewarding. A true musician will be in search of that divine connection with the superpower. Dad is a staunch believer. And so is AR Rahman. I am not saying I am following them, but becoming a Muslim was my own decision. I felt it was my calling. Without learning music, how did I sustain for twenty years? I don’t have an answer to this question. When I got to know about Islam, I wanted to embrace it. It rather did. I knew that’s where my life was. Appa stood by my decision.