‘Varaha Roopam’ not based on same set of ragas as ‘Navarasam’, says Sai Vignesh

The 'Kantara' singer speaks about the success of ‘Varaha Roopam’, plagiarism allegations against the track, his upcoming projects, and more, in an interview with TNM.
Varaha Roopam singer Sai Vignesh
Varaha Roopam singer Sai Vignesh
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Playback singer Sai Vignesh is basking in the success of his latest song ‘Varaha Roopam’ from Kannada film Kantara which went viral within days after the release of the film. The eclectic number plays in correspondence to Bhoota kola sequences towards the climax of the film, which have made a lasting impression among viewers.

“Ajaneesh (the music composer), had told me that the song would be playing during a Bhoota kola performance and that it has to sound divine, but I did not know that it would be playing at such an important juncture in the film,” Sai Vignesh tells TNM. The final track was recorded 20 days before the release of the film. “But it was only on the day of the release (September 30) that I came to know they are going ahead with my recording. So, the response has been unprecedented and overwhelming,” says the singer.

Set in a fictional village in Dakshina Kannada, the Rishab Shetty starrer has been praised by many for being rooted in native ethos. The screenplay is interwoven with depiction of folklore and native cultures like Paddana, Bhoota kola, Daivaradhaane, and Kambala. Following the success of the film in Kannada, the dubbed versions of the film were also released in Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi subsequently. Sai Vignesh, who is a carnatic singer by training, also observes that he is elated with the response, for it has sparked an interest in contemporary carnatic music. “There is an impression that only fast-paced songs would go viral on social media. Though ‘Varaha Roopam’ is used in a spiritual context in the film, it has also been featured in different kinds of reels on Instagram. I am happy that we’ve even received responses from people in Israel, Japan and Korea who mentioned that they are interested in knowing more about carnatic music,” the 25-year-old singer says.

While Kantara is marching towards a successful box office run, the track ‘Varaha Roopam’ has courted controversy after many listeners alleged it was plagiarised from the track ‘Navarasam’, which was set to tune by popular Kerala-based band Thaikkudam Bridge. “I cannot speak on behalf of the music composer or the film’s team. I had not listened to ‘Navarasam’ before we recorded the track. In my opinion, the mood of both the tracks are different. ‘Navarasam’ depicts nine bhavas (emotions), whereas ‘Varaha Roopam’ concentrates on the Bhoota Kola culture and is more about divinity. ‘Varaha Roopam’ is not based on the same set of Ragas as ‘Navarasam’,” says Sai Vignesh. 

Sai Vignesh says ‘Varaha Roopam’ is predominantly based on the ragas Thodi, Mukhari, and Kanakaangi. “In carnatic compositions, a singer traditionally sings at least two to four lines in the same raga before they move to the next one, but here, almost each line is sung in a different raga. Ajaneesh and I jammed and tried out different combinations before zeroing in on the final version,” says Sai Vignesh.

On October 24, Thaikkudam Bridge announced through a social media post that they will be filing a lawsuit against the makers of Kantara for allegedly plagiarising their track. The interview was done before Thaikkudam Bridge  announced that they would resort to legal recourse against the movie.

Sai Vignesh, who shot to fame through Vijay TV’s reality singing contest Super Singer in 2014, also rendered his voice for the romantic track ‘Kurumugil’ from Dulquer Salmaan, Mrunal Thakur, and Rashmika Mandanna starrer Sita Ramam which had its theatrical release earlier this year, in August. “I had recorded a jingle from Vishal Chandrashekhar when I was in 8th grade. I have been collaborating with him over the years for backing vocals, re-recordings etc. When his wife, singer Sinduri, told me that they wanted me to record for ‘Kurumugil’, I did not know that it was for Sita Ramam. I am grateful to them for the guidance and opportunity,” he said. In addition to ‘Varaha Roopam’ and ‘Kurumugil’, Sai Vignesh had also recently sung the backing vocals in ‘Devaralan Aattam’ from Ponniyin Selvan I, composed by AR Rahman. His other works includes 'Oora Nenjila' from Eghaantham (2018) and 'Kaalai Theme' from Kadaikutty Singam (2018).

Sai says he will continue seeking out opportunities in playback singing, while also focusing on his contemporary fusion music project Gandiva, for which he is collaborating with dancer Kavya Muralidharan. “With both Bharatanatyam and carnatic music, or other similar art forms for that matter, we are noticing how younger listeners are finding it difficult to sit through a three hour long concert. We are trying to find a way to blend both in a contemporary manner to suit the likes of our younger listeners,” he remarks. 

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