Santhosh Narayanan is a busy man. Minutes after announcing the launch of his first foray into television with the reality show, Singing Stars on Colors Tamil, he gets ready to leave for another important meeting, forgoing his lunch. So I introduce myself and promise that it will be a short conversation, and he welcomes me in with a smile.
We start at the beginning, with the time I saw him perform as part of Sean Roldan and Friends at the Chennai Beach Festival circa 2010.
“Indie is a big scene that is growing each day. It is not recognised outside much though,” he ruminates. Given that he started out small, was a wish to pay it forward by helping showcase new talents a factor in him accepting this reality show, whose contestants are largely from underprivileged backgrounds? “Well, I did have a lot more resources than some of these contestants. I could eat at least once a day.
Even when I was in a difficult place, I could count on people whom I could reach out to. There are people in this show who don’t have those privileges, yet have talent.” He recounts one particular child’s story. “He is a second standard student. His dad is a fisherman. One day, the father was arrested without cause and has since disappeared. The boy lives in such difficult circumstances, but when he starts singing, he is so expressive that the entire set cries. Such is the talent at hand. That people like him are provided this platform is, in and of itself, a great success.”
Santhosh always wanted to bring out such stories. “But I couldn’t just up and talk about this one day. I had to reach a certain place from where my voice would be heard. That is why my journey/career was important.” He has introduced a lot of new singers and talent during this journey. Santhosh is quick to chide me for the use of the word ‘introduce’.
“I don’t like that word. Who am I to introduce? Instead, say ‘collaborate’. When I am collaborating with someone they too should have at least one takeaway from it. For my part, I try to ensure that these newer collaborations happen in the biggest movies. That way they get an avenue to take their art form to the largest possible audience.”
The Vada Chennai music director has a dedicated team to scout for talent. “I want someone who sings for me to have certain qualities. I have a team that knows what I love. They identify talents and let me know, after which, I will follow through.” It is in this that he feels Singing Stars will be of great help to him and other composers.
“They have made my work easy. It would have taken me at least a year to zero in on 30 people with this kind of talent.” He is all praise for the team which acceded to his many requests.
“A lot of what I asked for and what we are going to be doing in this show can be categorised as firsts. Having no experience in this format, it was only later that I realised that they have made several compromises in their design that they usually don’t, just to fulfil my requests. I’m grateful to them for that.”
This same freedom when it comes to work, according to Santhosh, is what he has been fortunate enough to enjoy in his film collaborations too. And that is what he wants to provide these 30 contestants with.
“For me, winning is not paramount. The singer should be honest and should express a keen interest in collaborating. From our side, we won’t be strict. Take, for example, the extraordinary gaana pair. We aren’t going to push them to sing other genres. But we want them to explore more complexities within their own genre. I want all of these contestants to be open-minded towards work of all forms — album, music videos, public awareness campaigns, social media and digital releases, and ofcourse, cinema.”
Santhosh is obviously quite excited about this whole 12 week program. But what about his cinematic commitments? “There’s Gypsy. A1, by Johnson, is an extraordinarily quirky film in the Nalan (Kumarasamy) space. I miss working with Nalan and had been searching for such films. There is also one song for Parthiban’s Otha Seruppu Size 7,” he says. Before signing off, he teases us by telling us to watch out for a big announcement this week. “Bayangara exciting project,” he adds.