Twenty years after making his debut in Nee Varuvai Ena (1999), Viveka and his pen continue to remain in vogue in Tamil cinema. “It has been an interesting journey,” says Viveka, who has gathered more than 2,000 songs to his credit during this period.
“I have been writing continuously all these years, without a single break. To be able to work with the best names of the industry even today, makes me happy.”
How has the lyric writing changed over the years?
Songs continue to be the mirrors of time. The society we live in chooses the words we use. I suppose that’s why a song like Karuthavenellam Galeejam (Velaikkaran) was received so well. Writer Prapanchan gave me the title Makkal Mozhi Kavignar for writing this song.
In terms of how we write, we began writing on note pads. Then, I wrote on computers and took printouts. Later, I was sending PDFs. Today, I get the tune on WhatsApp and I respond with lyrics. Even if the director is in another country, our work gets completed in a jiffy.
What’s the secret of your enduring relevance?
The key is to understand what works in today’s world. I know that lines like, ‘Don-eh darr avan, dhaulathu gir avan, vandhaanda Madurakaran’ will get the crowd going berserk. I need to be aware enough to know words and what reactions they would invoke. Just see how Vaali sir wrote a song like Sonapareeya (Maryan) in his final days. His experience and how he kept himself updated kept him relevant across decades. Earlier, we went to tea shops to know what’s happening around us. Today, we do that on Facebook and Twitter, today’s teashops. Also, I can’t sleep without reading books every night and I also watch a lot of foreign films. I saw a desert for the first time in The Lawrence of Arabia, and only last week, when I went to Dubai, did I actually see the real one. All these experiences count.
You are quite famous for your rural numbers. I read you come from a family of farmers who loved watching ‘koothu’. Did that help?
Of course, that’s the basis for songs such as Rudhra Kaali from Kanchana 3. Theatre-la saami aaduranga (smiles). Kodiavanin from Kanchana has the style of the Theru Koothu. That culture won’t ever leave us as it’s something in our roots. Appa, being a big-wig in the village, had supervised many Koothu programmes; so I guess it’s in me too.
You have also worked on other types of songs like romance and mass numbers.
Water takes the shape of the container. Thaaimai pathi ezhudhanumna namakku maarbu sorakka aaramichidum. We don’t have to be a mother to know what motherhood is. Thanks to literary works and films, we get to see different worlds and nothing is new anymore.
Do you believe in being in a particular state of mind in order to write?
I write when my mind is busy. Something like reading a book triggers excitement that I channel into my writing. I have never suffered from a writer’s block. The right environment, like my home, gets me in the mood.
Tell us about the chemistry you share with different filmmakers.
It’s often a bond I develop from their first film. I have worked with Siva right from Siruthai. Similarly, I have been working with Imman sir for a long time, right from Vizhigalil Vizhigalil (Thiruvilaiyaadal Aarambam). I have also done more than 50 songs for Thaman. I have written songs in all the films of Devi Sri Prasad during the last 12 years. Be it Vijay Antony, Vidyasagar or SA Rajkumar sir till Anirudh, I think the good work is because of the bond we share.
Unlike actors or technicians though, lyricists can’t quite expand their work to other films of other languages.
(Laughs) That’s true. Singers can go viral with a single song, but we get our dues only at book exhibition and literary events.
But hasn’t there been increasing recognition for lyrics over the years?
That’s predominantly because of YouTube videos that mention the name of the lyricists. Lyric videos are doing really well these days. Vaaney Vaaney (Viswasam) went viral recently and all those million viewers noticed the lines.
You use quite a bit of English in some of your songs—an aspect that’s come in for some criticism.
I’ve done it only for a few songs and only when the makers want something modern. Songs with English words, such as Daddy Mummy (Villu) and Excuse Me (Kanthaswamy), have done really well, in fact. You will notice though that during the release of Kanthaswamy, there was another film, Eeram, with some great songs like Mazhaiye Mazhaiye and Tharai Erangiya, which had Tamil lines only. But these songs didn’t get the same response that Kanthasamy’s songs got.
What does it feel like when the limited run of some films stop great songs from having a longer shelf life?
Yes, it happens. For example, the song, Aagayam Pookkal, is one of my most appreciated works among the literary circle, but it didn’t reach the masses because the film, Vinnukum Mannukum, didn’t do that well. So I stopped myself from writing such songs. Success influences your subsequent work. Similarly, in Kadaram Kondan, Tharame Tharame was a hit. But I was actually hoping that Theesudar Kuniyuma, which Vikram sir himself lent his voice to, would be the most successful song.
How do you handle the pressure of writing for stars?
I felt the presure most when I wrote for Kamal sir as it had to go through him. In Loveaa Loveaa from Uttama Villain, I call him ‘Muthathin aasaane’ and I was worried how he would react. He just smiled when he read it. As far as Ajith sir and Vijay sir are concerned, I have been working on their songs for a long time. In fact, my very first film, Nee Varuvai Ena, starred Ajith sir.
The poets I admire
Kannadasan - Mayakkamma Kalakkama (Sumaithaangi)
Vaali - Tharaimel Pirakavaithan (Padagotti)
Na Muthukumar - Aanandha Yaazhai (Thanga Meenkal)
Pulamaipithan - Intha Pachai Kilikoru (Needhikku Thalaivanangu)
Pazhani Bharathi - Irava Pagala (Poovellam Kettuppar)