Throughout our conversation, I hear D Imman use these words a lot — Iraivan Punniyam (By God’s grace).
A musician who has composed the score in 108 films in his career (he started as a teenager with actor Vijay’s Thamizhan in 2002), Imman’s biggest desire in life was to travel with music.
“Even if I was playing the keyboard in an orchestra, or a radio jockey playing music at an FM station, I would have been the happiest person. So, for me, all this… being a music composer and getting appreciated for my craft… it is a bonus. It is God’s gift,” he says.
That’s the Imman we know today. Someone who has worked a handful of big films in the last decade, and is responsible for the music in Viswasam and Namma Veettu Pillai (this year’s two high grossing films at the box office) that has gone down well with the audience.
He may have spent over 18 years in Tamil cinema, but the 36-year-old composer says he is only getting started; he has set his sights on scaling more peaks starting with Rajinikanth’s next directed by Siva. He has also bagged Suriya’s next film (also by Siva), and the list is long: “…at least 8-10 films,” he says.
It was not always smooth-sailing for Imman.
Of course, that’s the case for anyone wanting to work their way up in an industry where contacts (mostly surnames or family names) matter.
“There were people who supported me but there were even more who denied me opportunities. I’ve had people say things like ‘we don’t need that boy, we won’t be able to sell our audio. Let’s try getting someone else better’ within my earshot,” he says.
“At one point, what I understood about the film industry is that you have got to be a saleable person. As long as you have that, you will be respected. And then it’s all about being honest to your craft,” he adds.
Whether saleability is a deciding factor in the kind of music he composes is unclear. What is clear as day is that his songs have a massive appeal among audience from — per film trade classification — B and C centres.
Imman disapproves of that theory.
“Films like Viswasam, Kadaikutty Singam and Namma Veettu Pillai are made for the mass audience but mass audience are not only in B and C, they are in A centres as well. For instance, when I do shows abroad, I get requests from the younger generation to perform songs like ‘Ootha Colour-u Ribbon’ and ‘Ennama Ippadi Panreengale Ma’. And this is the generation that don’t even speak Tamil at home but these songs resonate with them,” he says.
So, what goes into making music for the masses?
“It has to be a tune which is accessible. Meaning, the song’s basic melody-making should be easy. It should not be the case that the music I make can only be appreciated by a set of musicians, and so it needs to have that wow factor that appeases a critic,” he remarks, adding, “When a film’s audio releases, the listener does not know what the story is. So, the song has to fit his general taste and whatever we try to tell in the song has to be generic. That’s my job… to be a bridge between the listener and the filmmaker.”
A helping hand
Today, there are many who look at Imman’s position in the film industry with envy.
But the many rejections he faced as an up and coming composer has changed his perception about those seeking chances.
“I never let anyone lose their self-respect and make them wait in my office, or hurt them with my words, thoughts or actions. I give my e-mail address to anyone who seeks me out. I ask them to send me their work, and if I like it, I give them an opportunity,” he says.
The beneficiaries of his attitude have come from all walks of life.
A notable name is Vaikom Vijayalakshmi. The list also includes the son of singer Shankar Mahadevan, Shivam. There was also an auto driver, a few years ago, and a truck driver — a Malaysian Tamil — who recently sung for Imman.
“I’ve recorded his (trucker) track for Prabhu Deva’s upcoming film Pon Manickavel,” he adds.
Similar is the story of Thirumoorthy, the visually-challenged boy whose rendition of ‘Kannaana Kanney’ from Viswasam blew Imman away.
The composer shared the clip he had found on the Internet, and asked Twitterverse for help in tracking down the boy. “Within five minutes, I had his contact and reached out to him. I will record a song with him later this month,” he says.
Last week, Thirumoorthy appeared in a Sun TV programme in which Imman had taken part. That was also the first time the composer met him in person.
Over the years, Imman says he has recorded songs with at least 140 such unconventional talents. But what eats away at Imman is the suggestion that his actions are born out of sympathy.
“I’m doing it from the humanity in my heart, not out of sympathy. What people don’t understand is that my job is for the ears. So, my eyes need not see anything when it comes to spotting talent. They can be visually-challenged or not, be of any skin colour, speak any language, be rich or poor, or belong to any religion or caste,” he adds.
Building a legacy
A step towards sustaining this objective depends, crucially, on him spending “long years” in the film industry.
That is one reason why Imman never restricts himself to big budget films, no matter how many times Rajinikanths, Vijays and Ajiths may happen for him. “After Viswasam, I did Bakrid, which was a small [budget] film. I want to be an industry-friendly person, and keep adding songs to the folder that is Imman,” he says.
- Last month, the trailer of Marjaavaan, a Hindi film that stars Riteish Deshmukh and Sidharth Malhotra in the lead was uploaded to YouTube. When Imman saw it, he was shocked to find that a piece of background score he had composed for Viswasam was lifted without notifying him. Marjaavaan is produced by T-Series, which also owns Lahari Music, the label that bought the audio rights for Viswasam. “I’ve not been offered a proper explanation yet. Only because the soundtrack was extremely popular, and after all the chaos it created, they credited my name,” says Imman, adding, “I’m not asking for money. But the courtesy is what I expect. This sort of take-it-for-granted attitude should be corrected.”
Earning the status of an immortal by virtue of the songs they compose is perhaps the greatest achievement for any composer. Those who traversed the path before him like Ilaiyaraaja and AR Rahman have done that, more or less.
Imman is no different. He wishes for the same.
“Raaja sir and Rahman sir, their song database is huge, and they are two composers who hold concerts abroad. Do you know, in the next generation of composers it is only me and Anirudh [Ravichander] who does foreign concerts? Even today, stage performers and wedding orchestra members reach out and tell me people still ask for songs like ‘Paakatha Paakatha’, ‘ Koodamela Koodavechu’, ‘Un Mela Oru Kannu’, which I composed years ago. These comments are important to me. It shows that my database has songs that appeal to the next generation. But I need to add more,” he says.
“At some point of time, Imman won’t be in this world. But my biggest asset would be if my biggest hater had at least 100 songs that I composed in his playlist. That’s how I know my work will continue to live,” he concludes.