Behind great tunes

Genius at work

Behind great tunes

When it comes to film music, M M Kreem is a name that needs no introduction. Rajiv Vijayakar outlines the journey of the music composer who has many good scores to his credit

He is known as M M Keeravani (named after the raag) down South. In Hindi of course, Marakatha Mani Keeravani’s name has been shortened to M M Kreem.

Of over 210 films in five languages in almost 25 years, Kreem has done some 150 in Telugu, about 10 in Tamil and Kannada each, about a dozen in Hindi and about five or six in Malayalam. His Telugu film Annamayya (1997) won him the National award and there have been many other awards too, like the Tamil Nadu State award for K Balachander’s Azaghan.

Of the five languages, he admits that he has not been involved in Kannada films in the last 11 years. “But now I am set to do a Kannada film again. It’s being produced by Sudeep, who acted in my Telugu film Eega.”

Kreem’s illustrious innings began with his debut in 1990 with P Ramoji Rao’s Manasu Mamata and his breakthrough, the third film Seetharamayyagari Manavaralu. Kshana Kshanam, Autograph, Sye, Nenunnaanu, Yamadonga, Magadheera, Maryada Ramanna and Eega have been among a few of his famous films in the South.

In Hindi, after a smash beginning with Criminal (1995), he has composed the  music for films like Sur (Aa bhi jaa, Kabhi shaam dhale), Jism (Jadoo hai nasha hai), Shah Rukh’s Paheli, Rog and Special 26.

The composer takes time off from an always-busy schedule to chat up on the phone from Hyderabad. Low-profile and courteous to a fault, he says, “I was initially to do a Neeraj Pandey film called See You Bye. Special 26 came later. I have recorded some great music for the film, my best work in Hindi films. However, we then began work on Special 26 and was appreciated.”

Singing stars

But the real novelty of the score lay in Akshay Kumar’s rendition of Mujh mein tu. “This is not the first time I have made stars sing,” says Kreem with what seems to be a smile in his voice. “NTR Junior, Prabhas, Mohan Babu and Sridevi have sung solos for me.”
Using Akshay, he says, was the director’s idea and the star too was willing. “I did a minor testing session on the phone and made him sing for a few minutes. It was a slow song, and if you notice, actors usually are made to sing fast numbers because they are easier than slow, melodious ones. Akshay did it wonderfully, and put in a lot of homework so that when he came to the recording studio, we wrapped it up in an hour.” It was a business decision to use the song as a promotional one to create more hype, says the composer. The film version was already done by Keerthi Sargathia.

Has he ever used tunes composed for films down South for Hindi movies, like many multi-lingual composers do? “Yes, I have done that a couple of times, like the hit Dheere jalna from Paheli was modified from Nadirdina that I made for a film called Okariki Okaru.”
How does Kreem modify such tunes? “Let me give you an example. A Punjabi and a Tamilian have the same features and organs. The skin tone is different, and so does what they would wear,” he explains. “That is what I do — change the skin and costumes,” he adds.

He has however made it a habit to use Hindi playback singers extensively in his Southern films, like Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan, Shaan, Shreya Ghoshal, etc. “Music itself is a language,” he points out. Kreem adds that he has rarely used Southern singers in Hindi because of their accent.

The composer has completed 25 years in films and believes firmly in the principle that work alone must speak for a composer. “I do not believe in sending feelers or keeping in touch,” he declares. With a rare touch of pride, he adds, “Those who want real music come to me, especially Hindi.”

Why ‘especially Hindi ’? “In Hindi, there are greater opportunities for good, slow-paced melodies as they like melody as well as dance numbers,” he reveals.

A huge fan of vintage Hindi film music, Kreem follows today’s songs as well, and Pritam is a favourite. “I am a big fan of his — he gives beats and melody,” he says.

The composer would prefer to wait and watch to see in which direction trends are going in film music. “Only the future will provide the answer. The current generation wants instant gratification,” he says wryly. “Rather than sitting in a hotel, they want quick bites. There are no long-lasting relationships, only one-night stands. Books are out and magazines are in.” He adds, “Of course, everyone is not like this.”

Kreem has just completed work on Intinta Annamayya and is doing Yemo Gurram Egaraavachchu and the Telugu-Tamil bi-lingual remake of Kahaani, directed by Sekhar Kammula. He is also doing Rajamouli’s new film Baahubali. If all goes well, director Sanjay Puran Singh Chouhan will launch Chandamama and See You Bye may also be made.
It’s been a good while since he has worked with the Bhatts — Pooja and Mahesh — with whom he did most of his early Hindi films. Why is that? “Well, I am waiting for their call,” he says, again with that smile in his tone. “But there are no full-stops in relationships here, only commas and big gaps that are like semi-colons.”

Kreem has two sons and a daughter, two of whom are learning Carnatic vocal music. “I myself learnt Carnatic classical from Seethamma, and Hindustani classical from another South Indian teacher named Dattappa in Raichur,” he says. “People wonder at my grasp of Hindustani music, but in those times the Deccan Plateau was like a centre for this, thanks to the Nizams.”

And that is why one sees the jadoo and nasha in Kreem’s Hindi music.

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