In Conversation with Prashant Pillai

prashant pillai

It was in 2010 that he got his first break in movies – after a musical spell that involved a bunch of short films and jingles, and a brief stint with AR Rahman before that. The first break happened in the form of debutant director Lijo Jose Pellissery‘s Malayalam movie Nayakan. But the year that truly marked Prashant Pillai‘s arrival in the music scene was 2011, the year in which he did his second Malayalam movie with the same director, City of God, and a Bollywood project with another debutant director Bejoy NambiarShaitaan. After a relatively quiet 2012, this year the man is back in style, scoring a super successful soundtrack apiece in Hindi/Tamil and Malayalam – Bejoy’s bilingual David and Lijo’s third movie Amen. Hence it was that we decided to approach Prashant for an interview, and he happily concurred with a pretty exhaustive one – in his own words, “the most elaborate questions I’ve ever been asked“. On to the interview then.

Starting with the current rage that is Amen. How much of a challenge was it to compose a majorly Christian influenced score, and a period one at that? Noticed names like Alphonse Joseph, a person who is heavily steeped in the gospel music genre. Was his involvement restricted to singing alone, or were there other creative inputs from him too?
European flavour was the brief we decided and locked on for the score design of Amen. Very French, very street, very jive i what we wanted to achieve with the soundtrack, and I guess we’ve been able to get that sound.  As for Alphonse, I always wanted to work with him right from the time of Nayakan. He was an apt choice for the second half of the song  ‘Spirit of Amen’. As we got layering his voice for the ‘When the saints go marching in’  bit, he could not resist from rendering a few ideas he had in his head.
Another thing that was elaborately used in the movie was the brass-based music. You employed an actual brass band for this?

Yes we’ve  recorded a Brass band for the film. They are also featured in the film as Solomon’s band members. They were exclusively and extensively used for the final song / chollu song in the film.

It is not often that Kavalam writes for movies, and even rarer that his lines get such an experimental treatment (the only other instance I can think of is Avial reimagining Karu Kara Kaarmukil). How was his receptivity towards the score, towards your trademark unconventional style, towards the use of non-Malayali singers like Lucky Ali?

Kavalam Sir is the soul of Amen. It’s his spirit and desire to live upto the script that made these songs popular. He was pleasantly surprised to hear the tunes to which he had to pen lyrics, because of it’s unconventional format and non-recurring pallavi’s – something he’s used to in his drama writings. Since he was happy with the script, and emotionally connected with Lijo and me, it was very comfortable working with him. There were songs that demanded a non-malayali voice and he was aware of it, and was more than happy to hear the end product – flavoured with the vibe of festivity, love, and local music.

Tell us about your association with Bejoy Nambiar. Your two Hindi ventures so far have been with him, apart from the short film debut, and he seems to utilize you quite productively.

Bejoy is the reason I’m scoring for films. He’s the one that got me introduced to ‘rich cinema and soundtracks’, and ‘Lijo’. Working with him, I get into a wayfarer mode and let him map the journey. Though I must admit, most of the times, he too gets into the ‘wanderer/wayfarer mode’ and together after hours/weeks/months – we dig gold.  Productively or not, he knows whats best for his cinema and soundtrack and  I  stand by his instincts. Never before has a director dared to work with indie musicians and composers to collate a list of over 14-15 tracks for a film – only Bejoy can do that!

Your artist lineup so far, at least in Malayalam, has been comprised of mostly new voices. Any particular reason for skipping the established line of singers?

The regulars will have their rut and creative tantrums. they carry a lot a hype into the studio, shadowing the song – which I hate. For me the song, and the rendition is bigger than any singer/celeb and I would want to work with people who  appreciate that. The passion and undying desire to get it right is in abundance in fresh talents and they will make ends meet. Honesty and humility is what I lookout for, which again is non-corrupted and virgin in fresh talents.

You seem to give elaborate musical credits for all your works on your website. Not a thing a lot of composers do. Something inspired by your idol ARR’s similar practice?

Yes. Rahman’s practice is what I’ve aped by giving detailed credits for the music department of my projects. The joy and excitement to read the credits on the back of cassette cover of a Rahman musical, is still something I cherish – deep down.  I wanted musicians and artists to get inspired, explore and adventure oneself into making a career in music by reading credits – just like I did. I believe making music is always a collaborative effort. Humans, nature, recorded music, books – anything can help you make music – and they all need to be given due credit. And I don’t shy away from sharing it – only the insecure do.

Has ARR ever shared his thoughts on your music, after you turned composer?

Not that he has shared with me.

Creating BGM is not an easy task. You seem to be developing a competence around that area, scoring the BGM for two Malayalam movies which didn’t have your songs, apart from your regular portfolio for which you score BGM anyway. A deliberate attempt to focus on that genre?

Background scores can be quite a daunting task, if you shove all the ‘Friday release/producer/director pressure’ into your head. Or it can be fun. I approach scoring for films in a very candid, non-formulatic way. Though I’m not deliberately focusing on the BGM department of music, if the the story, script, making and the maker appeals to me, I would be more than happy to score for a film I’m originally not a part of.

Your Hindi works so far have both been multi-composer ventures, while the Malayalam ones were all yours alone. How would you compare the two – multi-composer versus solo?

It’s all one and the same. The difference is for you ‘the listener’. In the end, the collaboration/collation is for the cinema – that’s more music –  more talents.

Do you see a changing landscape in the Malayalam music scene with the advent of the new crop of filmmakers? Or is the change to be attributed to something else?

Malayalam industry is changing for the good. But the path chosen is a wrong one. They need to stop aping and imitating. Film makers need to have their own ideologies, need to get out of their ‘mentor-shadows’ and  dare to do different – and stand by it.

Do you still do jingles? Some prominent ones you have done may be, so that our readers know? Your site doesn’t speak much on that front.

Jingles I do yes – but very (very) limited.
You did an audio book project with your sister. Unconventional, as has been the signature of your music too. More such stuff in plan? Preeti seemed to talk of an unplugged compilation of her songs. That too is going to be in collaboration with you?
My sister Preeti has given my music the sheen and the shine. She is very special to me. Yes, apart from the audio book – I’m producing her next unplugged series for a television network. And it’s going to be her first major television debut. Watch out.

You can follow Prashant’s work on his website. He is active on twitter as oodiko. And below is the music of Amen.

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