In conversation with Dhibu Ninan Thomas, composer of Maragadha Nanayam and Kanaa
In Kanaa, the Arunraja Kamaraj film which presents a never-seen-before premise in cinema – women’s cricket – Aishwarya Rajesh rises against the odds to don the blue. Set in a starkly rural milieu, the tale seems to follow a young girl and her family as they try to navigate her dreams of turning a cricketer. It’s to this film that composer Dhibu Ninan Thomas has lent a soundscape. Having earlier scored some pacy sets for the 2017 thriller Maragadha Nanayam, Dhibu describes Kanaa as an emotional film. I can’t quite slap a genre on the music I’ve composed for the film, he says. “I think it’s a soulful script, and I wanted to showcase the sentiments that came with it. The emotions that are evoked by pursuing a dream amid struggles.”
The teaser for the film, released a few weeks ago, is set to some soft notes when it begins, featuring a little girl who is presented with a bat. Sathyaraj plays the doting father. Soon, when Aishwarya Rajesh is introduced on screen, her face hard and determined, the score is infused with power; it’s rousing. Dhibu, who has a degree from the School of Audio Engineering, Australia, tells us there’s nothing musically different when composing for a female protagonist. Man or woman, I treat my characters the same, he declares. His score for Maragadha Nanayam stood out for its western influences, a couple of songs based in jazz and in blues (‘Usuredukkum Kottam‘), but Kanaa demanded Indian accents, thanks to the rural setting, says Dhibu. “All five songs in the film will have a desi flavour.”
A track in Kanaa – ‘Vaayadi Petha Pulla‘ – became quite popular soon after its release. Featuring several singers including actor Siva Karthikeyan’s four-year-old daughter Aaradhana, the song seems to be documenting the protagonist’s childhood. “It was Arunraja (director) who wanted Aaradhana to sing. I was sceptical – how can a four-year-old read the lyrics? But we did give her a try anyway, and she got it right in the first take.” Dhibu’s relationship with director Arunraja Kamaraj goes a long way. They are friends from college; Arunraja, before taking on the mantle of filmmaker, famously wrote lyrics for the Superstar in Kabali and Kaala, and also for several other films. It makes for a comfortable working space, says Dhibu, being engaged with someone who understands song-writing, and by extension, composing.
Making music is not an instantaneous process, Dhibu explains, “it begins at the time of the script narration.” ‘Vaayadi Petha Pulla’, and a few frames in the teaser showcase the bond between a father and daughter, and also their struggles to meet the latter’s dream. The score is tender, with a hint of drama – “When I connect to the scene, the situation, it will be expressed through music,” he says. “I am right there; I would feel what the character is feeling.”
Dhibu was drawn to music at the age of eight; he recalls listening to albums and flipping the covers to get to know the singers. “I would experience a strange thrill while reading their names,” he smiles. His favourite original composition dates back to the time when he was 16; he was part of a band that would host concerts. “I composed a prayer song for my school; it had no traces of any religion. When I was done with it, I played it to my mother who brought me coffee. She cried when I finished.” That piece of music, he declares, is something he often goes back to.
Apart from Kanaa, Dhibu is composing for another film, the details of which he refuses to divulge. “All I can say is that I am working on it.”
A release date for Kanaa is yet to be set.
Listen to the Kanaa album here: