Music director D Imman has had a busy month. The entire album of Annaatthe has just been released and he also went to Delhi to receive the National Award for Best Music Direction for his compositions for Viswasam. “When it was announced on TV and I felt so blessed. This was the first time that I had been to Delhi and it was a blessing to receive the award alongside Dhanush, Vijay Sethupathi, and Rajinikanth sir,” he says.
Annaatthe also marks many of the firsts for the composer. It is his first time collaborating with Rajinikanth. The upcoming film is also his first album since Viswasam. “It was a lot of pressure but at the same time I wanted to deliver my best for Rajini sir. Having SPB sir on board for the opening song was also a blessing. Everything fell into place,” he says.
Having composed music for over 100 films, Imman’s entry into the music industry was at age of 15. He began scoring music for television shows and daily soap operas and eventually progressed into the world of movies. Having composed music for over six projects in the last two years, Imman says that over time, there is a general halt on music outside of work. “I don’t listen to music. Even when I drive or go out, I try not to. Sometimes, even a sound from the television may annoy me,” he says while laughing.
As Annaatthe releases, Imman speaks to Silverscreen India about working with late singer SP Balasubrahmanyam, his own composition process and what it was like to make music during the pandemic.
You began working on the song Annaatthe Annaatthe during the film’s first schedule in 2019. Can you describe the experience of working with late SP Balasubrahmanyam who has sung several major Rajinikanth introduction songs?
It was great because it was the first time we (Rajinikanth and I) worked together. Initially, I came up with three to four tunes for the opening song. But the team and Rajini sir himself felt that this particular track will be perfect. Then, I started working on the orchestration and I called SPB sir to check the song’s range. Usually, I call the singers who I work with to make sure that they are okay with the range. In this song, the key is on D and it goes as high as F and G. It was pretty high for a singer who was seventy years old but he did not think it was a problem. I was surprised to hear that. We recorded the song in the first week of December at his home. It was a twenty-minute session because I had already sent him the tune and lyrics.
Before the release of the opening song, did you feel nervous about the reactions given the fact that this was SPB’s last song for Rajinikanth?
While we were recording it, we didn’t know that this will be his last song. Even after recording it, we had talked about working on the Telugu version. However, that didn’t happen because of his demise. Now we have recorded it (Telugu version) with SP Charan.
You have worked with SP Balasubrahmanyam before. How was he as an artist? Did you see any difference between Paattu Onnu from Jilla (which was composed more than 7 years ago) and Annaatthe Annaatthe?
There was absolutely no difference. Before I entered the film industry, I worked for television and daily soaps. At that time, SPB used to sing title songs for me. We have had a long association. After I jumped to films, he sang a few but notable songs for me. We worked on Jilla and Jeeva. His way of presentation, understanding, and delivery of songs was uniform over the years. Generally, when singers age, you can find vocal issues but you could not find any strain in his voice. He was the same all these years.
His demise was so shocking and I cannot put it in words.
The song Vaa Saamy had visually-impaired musicians working on it. You are known for always giving many such people an opportunity. What drives you to make that decision?
Actually, the whole intention is to bring positivity to my music. Over the years, I have introduced 150 singing talents. I am the one who introduced Vaikom Vijayalakshmi to Tamil cinema. If there is a talented individual and if their voice will enhance my tunes, I will surely use them.
One of your upcoming albums is Etharkkum Thunindhavan. How different are the compositions from your other scores for director Pandiraj and actor Suriya?
The look and feel of Etharkkum Thunindhavan are totally different from what we did for Kadaikutty Singam and Nama Veettu Pillai. It is not in line with those films. The soundtrack will be different. We have to take Suriya’s huge fan base into account and there will be marked numbers.
In the last two years, you have worked on several projects that were released during the pandemic. How do you think the music industry has changed due to this?
It was just on hold for a while. Now, we have revived and are back to normalcy. But at that time, I could sense a rise in the independent scene. Now, film releases and film-related audio releases are slowly gearing up.
Of course, there was a problem with inviting musicians to studios during the pandemic. For the string section of a song, 35 to 40 people work on it. So, getting them together was a challenge. It was the same for the rhythm section as we have 12 to 15 people working on a song. The musicians also had a bad time during the pandemic because there was no work. Now, they’re bouncing back.
Some sections tag you as a ‘rural film’ composer. Do you identify more with this or with urban films?
I am okay with whatever comes my way. In fact, my hundredth film was a space film with Jayam Ravi. The projects that I have worked on with director Shakti Soundar Rajan like Teddy, Miruthan, and Tik Tik Tik are all off-beat. It was a whole different perspective of Imman. If certain people typecast me as someone who does village music, I am fine with that too. Everything comes under music.
You have scored music for television and feature films. What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?
For me, being a musician is the high. The external laurels, accolades, and projects are an add-on feature. I just want to be part of music- whatever format it may be. For instance, even if it is a live music party and I am a keyboard player, I will be happy and content. I am a man who has zero expectations in life and I am content with what I have.
What is a favorite composition of yours that you are surprised no one asks you about?
There are a few films of mine that went unnoticed. Whatever it is that I work on, I try to give it my best. But certain projects do go unnoticed and you feel a little worried. I have been here since the early 2000s and I have witnessed the evolution in the music scene. In recent times, after the advent of the internet, if the work is good, it is being recognized. If a film releases and whether it is a failure or a success, because of social media, if the audio works with the public, there is visibility.
Is there a particular genre of films that you’d like to score music for in the future?
I would love to do pure classical; I am talking about unadulterated pure classical music. There are movies where the script is based on music like Sankarabharanam and Sindhu Bhairavi. If someone approaches me with something like that, I will be more than happy to do it.