His mother was his first guru. She was untaught, but the spark she provided was enough to encourage her son to pursue music in school. Sooraj S. Kurup regularly bagged prizes in light music and poetry recital competitions. The only musical instrument he learnt was the Mridangam, for 8 years. The Keyboard, he figured out on his own. But there was a brief detour from music when the lad from Chambakkara enrolled in the Communicative English and Journalism course at CMS college, Kottayam. Sooraj picked the course as he thought it was media related and had a section on psychology. But then, he ended up making a short campus film—Punarjaani, which was screened at various colleges during that time. “I think that was my first attempt at composing music as well. For some weird reason, I wanted to do everything myself.”
After graduation, he took up various odd jobs. All in music. From background score coordination for commercials, Telugu and Kannada cinema to jingles, Sooraj was struggling to stay afloat. None were enough to pay his rent. That’s when he decided to try his luck in Kochi. It was his friend Rishi who offered him Valleem Thetti Pulleem Thetti. The movie tanked at the box office but the music was a super duper hit. There were 6 songs with a blend of folk, techno, Carnatic, middle-eastern, and Kerala folk. He was hailed as the next big thing in Malayalam film music.
28-year-old Sooraj S Kurup has just 4 films in his kitty apart from his debut—Kochava Paulo Ayyappa Coelho, Ann Mariya Kalippilani and Alamara. But currently it is his composition for Bejoy Nambiar’s Dulquer Salmaan film Solo, ‘Seetha Kalyanam…’ that is on everyone’s loop.
How did you come to Solo?
I was the last to come on board. I didn’t quite believe it when my friend said Bejoy Nambiar was trying to get in touch with me. Apparently, he and his wife were fans of ‘Suttum Vizhichsudar thaan Kannama’ (Valleem Thetti Pulleem Thetti).
Right, what was the song brief?
Ah! That would give away the story since it comes at a crucial juncture in the film. The song was ready on the second day and he messaged— “Already placed in the edit. Superb.”
So many composers inSolo. That sounds scary…
Yes, it was a challenge. Also, Bejoy had got the rights for a few songs he liked. It’s for the world of Rudra segment that Prashant Pillai, Filter coffee, and I were summoned.Bejoy is very experimental and quite cool to work with.
‘SeethaKalyanam'is already viral on social media.
He wanted‘Seetha Kalyanam'somewhere in the song. It went with the underlying pathos. I composed the song with English lyrics—"Take me there, I know this journey ends.” Sangeeth Raveendran added the Tamil lyrics. I was in search of a singer whose voice had the texture of Bombay Jayshree’s, but milder. Renuka Arun was perfect and her voice had a sort of pathos in it. And I just happened to sing.But then, I am tripping over ‘Roshomon.’
DidValleem Thetti Pulleem Thetti’scommercial failure adversely affect the music?
Yes. Once the film is out no one promotes the song. But at least it got me one song (‘Vanam Mele' by Shankar Mahadevan) in Kochava Paolo Ayyappa Coelho.
What’s on your playlist now?
No hard metal. No mindbogglingly profound classical music. A lot of alternate rock, Linkin Park, and some fusion. I listen to music all the time. Although I don’t listen to a song I don’t like, however popular it is.
None of your own compositions?
I don’t listen to my own songs unless I get to hear it on the radio. In a way, it’s also the fear of repeating myself that stops me from listening to them. However much I try, the flavour remains somehow.
Take us through your process
I work on my own—without any programmer or assistants. I rely on my friends who have a great ear for music, wife, and cousins for creative inputs. They are my biggest sounding board. Among my songs, ‘Pularkalam’was challenging but ‘Pooram Kaanan' is my favourite.
Do you always get the singers you want?
Yes, and even if they insist on someone, I nicely convince them why they wouldn’t suit the song. I don’t usually make a song keeping singers in mind, they just come later or during the process of it. Unless it is for Dasettan.
Is it easier to compose the music and let the lyrics comes later?
Sometimes lyrics automatically take shape in the music itself. The musician might be able to connect the lyrics himself. It can be a word or sentence. Then it’s easier for the musician to connect to the lyricist. Also, composing a song around lyrics can be time consuming. Music by itself has infinite possibilities to stretch one’s creativity. The other way might make the whole process less liberating. Having said that, good lyrics are vital for good music.
What all stress you out while making music?
Pressure. Meeting close deadlines. I can never work if someone gives me a timeline. It should come organically. Like the‘KannukalKalidari'song, I sat on it at 8p.m.and finished it the next morning at 7.30, along with the lyrics. While‘Pularkala,’ which was based onHarahara Priyaraga, took me three weeks to compose. Also, I need to have an attachment to the film’s story. Music cannot arise from isolation. I have had directors coming up with out-of-the-world situations and I have politely said ‘no’ to them. That will be pushing your luck too far I think.
Is romance easier to string together?
Yeah, it’s one genre I try to work on when I sit idle. A most difficult request would be to recreate your own song. Romance I don’t find anything difficult — even when I sit alone, I try different variations on romance.
Actors turning singers. Sounds good?
They have what they say in the business parlance—first mover advantage. Great for musicians who tried them out first, but once the audience get used to them, it all boils down to marketing the film. There is also the issue of composing a song according to their comfort zone. Challenge is less. Indrajith, Prithviraj, and Dulquer are good singers.
Who are your influences?
A.R. Rahman, obviously. He has inspired a whole generation to think out of the box. The kind of quality he brought to music at that time is difficult to recreate even now. No one has really been able to convert live music into programmed version with such possibilities like Rahman. I am also fascinated by Prashant Pillai, Rex Vijayan, Anirudh, Santosh Narayanan and Sushin Shyam. But having said that, I don’t listen to everything that they have composed. ‘Dil se’ is always on my loop.
A director you would love to collaborate with?
Can i mention three? Lijo Jose Pellisery, Rajeev Ravi and Sameer Tahir.
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