Many people get opportunities, but only a few manage to convert it into success. Prashanth Ramesh Vihari, who made his entry into Telugu cinema with ‘Vellipomakey’, gained momentum with a streak of successful albums such as ‘Mental Madhilo’, ‘Chi La Sow’ and the latest being ‘Antariksham’. He is a musician who believes that art will be perceived in its purest form only when it is genuine, and wishes to make his mark in the flourishing Telugu film industry.
A spiritual person at heart, Prashanth knows his game very well. He’s not in a hurry to accept projects. He’s on the lookout for challenging work and loves it when directors push the envelope and experiment. We at VoxSpace happened to catch up with him. He was more than happy to share his experiences. Let’s get started…
Hi Prashanth, it a pleasure to talk to you. You did your graduation in Engineering and now you are composing music for feature films. How did this shift happen? Could you walk us through your journey?
I think the time we spend in college during graduation gives us a lot of time to explore stuff. The same happened to me. My family is inclined towards music, and it was not unexpected for me to take up music. So, yeah, my graduation days in KITS, Warangal, opened new doors for me in music. With the help of a few other musicians in our college, we together formed a band which happened to be the first ever band at KITS. Although it was not a famous one, we as a group would perform quite regularly. And at that time, I was not making a conscious effort to make a career in music. But as a result of it, I made some amazing friends at KITS. They constantly encouraged me and pushed me towards pursuing music. They helped me believe in myself.
By the time I was finishing my graduation, I gained some confidence that I could pursue music full time. So, with an excuse that I would search for a job and pursue music part-time, I went to Chennai. I applied and got admission to KMMC AR Rahman Music School. My old friend, Vishvak Khanderao, put me across to some of the students from LV Prasad Film Academy. I happened to meet some crazy bunch of filmmakers in the academy and ended up learning and doing plenty of work. By the way, Vishvak is a gold medalist and I’m happy that I will be scoring for his debut film this year.
It was during this time that I actually learned a lot. The exercises that we took up were completely professional, where we could even get the DTS mixing done for a 15 minutes short film. So that way, the academy and the knowledge I gained there helped me a lot. Also, during this time, I happened to work with Rahman sir. During this time, the director of ‘Vellipomakey’, Ali, reached out to me and to my surprise ‘Dil’ Raju sir liked my music and introduced me to a couple of filmmakers. So, that’s how my journey in the Telugu film industry started.
You’ve worked under A R Rahman, what was the impact it had on your approach to music?
Firstly, I was only a part of the chorus group in Rahman sir’s troupe. I never programmed or arranged for him. I worked on this program where I arranged some good old ‘Tumris’ for a Hindustani song programmed by Shruti ma’am, who works as the vocals co-ordinator in Sir’s troupe. However, it was always an ambition to get to his studio and see him work. I had worked with him as chorus during Kadali, Kochadaiiyaan and a couple of Hindi movies. And of course, it has helped me in my music appreciation.
Rahman sir never stops to surprise with his music. Each and every time he comes out with an album, he gives you something you’ve never expected from him and that for me as a music composer is truly inspiring. So, I have never worked with directly. He is a very sweet person. After I came out with some of my first compositions, I happened to send him and he would always revert with some good wishes. The biggest lesson I learned from him over time is, he is never afraid of experimentation. He doesn’t mind if the song gets fame or not. He doesn’t lose his class and at the same time, he attracts his audience. Okay, see, two people, AR Rahman and Satya Sai Baba, I can just go on and on about them.
Well then, I’ll move to my next question. Could you take us through your approach or process of composing music in a given situation?
I like to get into the vibe and feel of the situation first before anything. All of my songs so far do not have any lip sync situation and that is the new-age way of film making. So, for example, if you take Manavi Alakinchadarate from ‘Mental Madhilo’, it is a fusion of Carnatic and a touch of electronic. So, when the director, Vivek Athreya, narrated the situation, he wanted a good romantic number that happens in the first half. However, this particular song ended up in the second half, but for me, a song (especially in movies) is a fusion between the visuals and sound. The entire song happened over a video call with him, where he fit in a few words too.
Then I go into the song’s mood, location (virtually) and try to churn out the best that fits into the director’s vision. When a director gives me a situation it is my duty to enhance his vision with my perspective, with music. So, that is what I primarily aim to do. I think that is the same with the primary crafts of film making, cinematography, lyrics, art and editing, which in turn adds to the direction. The idea for Mellaga Mellaga from ‘Chi La Sow’ came to me within 15 minutes after director Rahul Ravindran explained the situation to me.
Samayama from ‘Antariksham’ was completely in different perspective. It was only a few days before the audio launch that I re-arranged the music and submitted it. It was just some glitch that was stuck in my mind and I felt I could make it better and I just did it. Else it was initially ‘Pranayama Pranayama’. I completely enjoy the process and if I’m happy with the process, I’m confident about the song.
You’ve worked on Telugu Cinema’s first space drama, ‘Antariksham’. How was the experience?
For me, I choose films that help me and push me to do something different. And speaking of ‘Antariksham’, firstly, I should be grateful to Krish and Rajeev Reddy sir for giving scope to tell such a story. They could have put the same money into telling some other story and could get back their money easily, but they chose to tell ‘Antariksham’. So, huge respect to the producers. Such people should always flourish, it is they who take the industry forward. Even if they were working on this project for 3 or more years, I would dedicate my entire time into projects like these and get better at my job.
Sankalp had a great vision. It was a challenging subject to handle where I got to work with some great technicians from Mumbai. It is completely the subject which gives me scope to push my parameters when I pick work. For me, in any form of art, there should be something genuine in it, even if you are not so great. You can be totally happy and translate the same happiness to your audience if you are genuine to your work.
What’s that one thing you tell yourself when you wake up to go to work?
To be frank, I don’t have a particular format to get into work. If it is some mechanical work, mixing or improvising, it happens anyways. But, if I need to sit on a composition or a situation then it is purely instinctive. Even if it’s the smallest of the themes or a sample tune, they just happen as we keep discussing over it. I don’t know if it is some energy. Once I’m in the zone, the work goes on and on.
Tell us about your team, the homework you do with them if any?
At the moment, I do not have a concrete team as such. But I have friends and buddies with whom I work with for most of my projects. Sharath J, a very close buddy of mine, has always been by my side and is the first sound engineer I have ever worked with. He works with Hip Hop Tamizha, GV Prakash Kumar etc and is known quite well in the Tamil industry. He mixes all my songs. I have just started off and I am actually looking to make a proper team.
So far, most of my music scores were arranged and programmed by me. So, for my film albums, the people are not constant. When it came to ‘Antariksham’, more people came on board as it was on a much bigger scale. Prasanna arranged the orchestra, VS Bharan programmed the music. Arun, a crazy guitarist, who is from Chennai and has worked with me in most of my projects. So, it is mostly a collaboration that I happen to do. I think it is high time I make a proper team of my own.
When I started off with ‘Vellipomakey’, which was actually supposed to an independent film, I had no team, so I myself arranged the complete music. Maybe it was because I didn’t know how to put others into my work. Setting a tone for the film is very important. For me, colour patterns play an important role. As I said, a song is both visual and sound combined. Usually, when we hear a particular song, we relate it with the first memory of a distinctive vision of it. I want my audience to feel the same with my music as well. It is called Synesthesia. It is something similar to Nostalgia. And Rahman is one person whose music I connect to on these terms. Also, I listen a lot. A lot of music. One thing I remember my badminton coach always told me. To get the game, watch for 55 minutes, take your lessons and then play with a focus for 5 mins. It is something similar to writing. If you want to be a good writer, you’ve got to read plenty. Same thing with music. Listening is the key, at least for me. Of course practice, but it comes after listening.
The Telugu Film Industry is presently enjoying a great phase of content-driven movies. How do you feel being a part of it and how do you perceive the work being offered in these times?
Yes, I have to accept that there is some great work happening in the Telugu film industry and that applies to music as well. This is possibly the best phase for the Telugu industry. I am really happy that I started my career during this time. And coming to work, I’m fortunate that the directors who are approaching me are doing exactly what I wanted to do always. They are pushing me to bring out the best in me. Also, I do not want to be in a hurry to accept work. Before ‘Antariksham’ happened, if someone came to me with an intense war-drama subject, maybe I would take some time. That is because I need more experience in handling such subjects. Now, after getting a great experience with ‘Antariksham’, I might accept it. But, that’s the thing, I want to push my boundaries, but on the same note. I do not want to hurry. The first thing that I consider is the rapport with the director, if that is set, I think I can give my best. Money and other factors come later.
In India, usually, the breakthrough for a music composer is through movies. However, independent music also picking pace. What are your thoughts about independent music and do you have any plans to work on independent albums?
Of course! I am an independent musician first. Once movies happened to me, I am just going on with this work. Also, I do have some music videos planned with a couple of friends. One project that I’m currently working on is a parkour music video with a good friend, Sri Rama Chandra Yashaswi. Speaking of Yashaswi, just mentioning here a thing out of context, Yash was my hero at college who was least bothered about anything around. He encouraged me to pursue music and do what I liked rather than running behind marks and things that didn’t matter to me. So, coming to the independent albums, yes, a music video featuring parkour (the sport) and a couple of other albums are in the pipeline. Hopefully, they will materialize this year.
Tell us how do you want your audience to remember you?
I seriously have never thought about this. But, I always had this dream where if you play a particular song, people should go- ‘yeah, this is Prashanth’s song!’ That’s enough for me.
Tell us the first person/thing/activity that comes to your mind when I say the following
The first person you reach out to when you come up with an exciting tune/track?
There are two actually. Sharath J and my brother, Pranav.
After a hectic day at work, what’s it that you do to de-stress?
I’d watch a movie or two.
An artist/technician you would blindly work with?
Hariharan. Any day!
One thing that’s always by your side?
My phone, not for calls but to note down something quick.
Respect it and don’t misuse it.
But I’d like to say something that Shah Rukh Khan once quoted – ‘You don’t talk philosophy till you turn rich.’
A long drive
To go with a couple of friend to Kerala for now.
My foundation for music.
A very good friend and he is on his way to make something big in the industry.
Finally, what’s your ‘motto’ to work?
We should continue to do what we have started in life. The genuine intention of doing something in life should go on.