Two films last year; more than half a dozen in hand already this year. Vikram Vedha has clearly taken its composer Sam CS places. It’s evident even with his caller tune—Karuppu Vellai from the film that has made his career. “I left my IT job in 2009 and until 2014, I only had Puriyatha Puthir in my discography. Vikram Vedha was the light at the end of my tunnel,” says Sam. The young composer is gearing up for his first release this year, the Vijay-directorial Karu. Sam says, “Karu is the first film I committed to, after Vikram Vedha. I got on board only after the film was shot and the first look, released. They hadn’t even mentioned the music director till then.”
That’s when Vijay called him and showed him the film. “It’s a thriller about a mother and her daughter. It’s not too dialogue-heavy, and given that I love background score more than songs, I saw this film had huge scope for music,” says Sam. “Karu’s music will be ‘detuned’ and a lot of people will likely thrash me for not using the ‘right’ tunes. This was intentionally done and they’ll understand why when they know the story.” He calls Karu “a film that women will love and will leave men with a profound respect for women. I had to keep pausing the film while working on it, but my wife who was watching it alongside, would get annoyed when I stopped it each time.”
Karu, being a bilingual, also marks his Telugu debut but Sam doesn’t make much of it. “I compose music for the story, not for the characters or audience. As composers, we are able to imagine the score when reading the script.”Sam is also making music for Vijay’s next, Lakshmi, a film he believes to be totally in contrast to Karu. “It’s a dance film in the mould of Step Up and ABCD, but like other Vijay films, there’s emotion at its heart that will be conveyed convincingly.
I’ve used different music genres in Lakshmi such as dubstep, rap, R&B and even local kuththu,” he says, and after a brief pause, opens up about his music choices. “I’m selfish and dominating when it comes to music as I want to make use of the space I’ve got, but at the same time, I make sure my music does not overpower the story. But namba work thaniya theriyanum.” In Vikram Vedha, for instance, he was careful to avoid any inspiration from gangster super hits like Nayagan or Thalapathy. “So don’t expect Lakshmi to have the music you’ll find in dance films,” he warns.
The composer is grateful that his busiest year—2018—is also allowing him to experiment. “In Vanjagar Ulagam, for a gangster fight sequence, instead of using the usual gunshot sound, we’ve treated it musically. There’ll be dubstep and tabla beats to denote gunshots.” He’s also got Mr Chandramouli, Adanga Maru, Sam Anton-Atharvaa project and Gorilla in the pipeline. “All of them have ample scope for the background score. People think I’m doing 20-30 films, but I’m only doing seven including NOTA and Kanithan’s Telugu remake,” adds Sam. “They are calling me the music director of films I haven’t even heard of. When I ask them, they reply that they were planning to approach me, and thought I’d be suitable.”
Most of his upcoming work is in the thriller genre. “That’s because they think I only want to do background score. Genres like thriller and horror require quite a bit of it. Any composer can make songs for the main song situations: love, love failure, kuththu, motivation, and amma-appa sentiment song.” Background score, however, is a different ball game altogether, he says. “Back in the 80s, there was this standard script of a love story where the couple beats the odds and end up successfully. I’m sure there are at least 1,500 films like that. But Ilaiyaraaja sir treated them all differently,” says Sam. “In Puriyatha Puthir, Gayathrie’s character would be the reason for everything, and it’ll be revealed in the end. But right from the beginning, in her portions and the Mazhaikkulle track, there’ll be dark notes.”
He’s also making his Malayalam debut with the Mohanlal starrer, Odiyan, for which he’s working on the background score. “It’s a non-linear film and a script that floored me after Vikram Vedha. Mohanlal sir is a superstar, and it’s been a challenge for me to not see him as one in this film, as only then can I compose music that will do justice to the script. I’m waiting for its release and so, haven’t signed any other films in Malayalam despite all the offers. There are a lot of projects I haven’t signed for yet. Well, to be honest, I never got around to doing it for either,” he laughs.
Favourite composer: Ilaiyaraaja
A director who gives importance to music: Mani Ratnam
A director you’d love to work with: Vijay
A Hollywood film you wish you did: Interstellar