This year has been quite revealing for Sean Roldan. Fame, that fickle beast, showed itself to him in all its confounding complexity. First came the adulation—for Dhanush’s Pa Paandi, which didn’t really surprise the composer.
“I probably shouldn’t be saying it about my own tracks, but songs like Venpani Malare and Paathen have great compositional value,” he says. He had followed up Joker with Pa Paandi and it was all good. But then came along VIP 2, and the inevitable comparisons with the first film meant that Anirudh loyalists took to social media to rain hatred. Sean Roldan still doesn’t get why some of them took to ad hominem attacks.
“They confused the second film with the first. That comparison isn’t justified at all. In fact, right at the outset, we conceived of the second film as an extension of the first, with its own unique sound. But not everybody can be expected to like it. To quote the Beatles, ‘Nobody’s gonna like Yoko’.”
Another young composer would likely have been unsettled by such hostility, but not Sean. “I started my career from the very bottom. I come from nothing. I don’t need a stage to perform. I used to play on the streets.” It also matters to Sean where criticism stems from.
“I try to see if it comes from a position of strength or vulnerability. For those who resort to personal attacks, I only have pity,” he says. “When Pa Paandi’s audio was released, there were people who heard a minute or two of the album and commented, ‘Mokkaya irukku.’ With growth, comes these problems.”
He scrolls through YouTube comments occasionally. “I skim through the comments, as a casual exercise,” he says. “There are so many opinions out there. I don’t disrespect them, but I don’t need to respect them either. Having said that, sometimes, I do receive genuinely useful advice from strangers who leave me a message about what I could be doing.”
Having done as many as ten films so far, including last week’s releases—Kathanayagan and Neruppu Da—Sean Roldan isn’t a newcomer anymore. All his last three films, including VIP 2, have been masala films, so to speak. That’s him trying to step outside of his comfort zone. “I have made my career with films like Mundasupatti, Vaagai Sooda Va, and Joker. I want to try out these other films too because an artiste has to keep moving like a nomad. Some attempts may invoke criticism, but hey, even a composer like Rahman went through those stages.”
Unlike Rahman though, Sean’s music is mainly known for its rather folkish quality and his preference for not-so-perfect voices. “Bob Dylan didn’t have the perfect voice, but when he sang, a certain honesty resonated with the people,” he says. “Even in Kathanayagan, I’ve tried out a song called Tappu Tippu with singer Mukesh. It comes at an interesting juncture in the film.” Sean himself has sung in both of last week’s releases. He laughs. “I sing the scratches, and sometimes, they make me sing the actual song,” he says. He quickly adds that he has used mainstream singers like Haricharan and Aalap. “But it’s true—I do have a soft corner for unconventional voices. However, just because I like something doesn’t mean I hate something else.”
He looks forward to hearing what people think of the music for both Kathanayagan and Neruppu Da, and perhaps it will involve him trawling through YouTube comments. He laughs.
“I’ll be looking for responses from more credible voices,” he says, and by that he means “those with unbiased judgements, who are informed.” Like journalists, he adds. “I don’t make much of hate speech from psychologically crippled individuals who use social media as a vent for their frustrations, from those whose reviews are ready by the time the film gets over. Our country could really do with more employment opportunities.”