The hit formula

in conversation

The hit formula

Two things dominated the reception lobby of music director Arjun Janya’s home in Hebbal, Bengaluru — his awards and laminated photos of A R Rahman. In one photograph, Arjun (now 35) is seen in a handshake with the legend, the ‘fan-boy’ incident in the early 2000s that would change the course of his musical journey, including his name, twice.

As he readied himself to share the story inside his music studio that adjoins the house, his resemblance to A R Rahman became striking — his unruly hair, his stature, and even composure, which he broke a couple of times with his gleeful whistling. His hairstyle akin to his role model’s (whom he called his God) was once intentional, he said, “but now it just suits me well and I have kept it.”

Turning point

In a way, it was the demise of his father, Ashwath Kumar, that drew Arjun towards music. “My father was a photographer, and the last film I watched with him was Roja. He passed away three months later. So, in his memory, I, 13 then, started listening to the film’s songs. The more I listened to them, the more joy I experienced, and more inclined I became towards music. Then, of course, I listened to all of A R Rahman’s songs, and learnt about him, too.” In the meanwhile, he invested his musical interest in learning keyboard from James, his first teacher.

Soon, this following became a craze (his word). “I skipped college on the days Rahman’s interviews were broadcast on TV.” Next in the natural order was to meet his idol at least once in his lifetime, Arjun thought, while he continued his footing as a keyboard player as part of orchestras at weddings and festivals. Then the handshake happened. “I think it was in Hotel Oberoi here. Just that handshake seemed to fulfil my life. It was electrifying. Till then, I was used to consuming alcohol and chewing gutka, part of my lifestyle while playing in orchestras... you know, late evenings and friends. But when I saw his overwhelming simplicity, I thought, ‘Just look at that man’s simplicity. Why do I still have these habits?’ I threw all the tobacco in my pocket into a sewer near the hotel,” he recalled while sipping his green tea.

Perhaps few know the name Arjun was given at birth was Lokesh Kumar. He changed the name to Arjun (not Janya yet) to roll during cinema credits. “The first film I got for music composition was Autograph Please (2006). Till then, I assisted lyricist and music director K Kalyan as a keyboard player. Since it was my first, I asked him for a change of name for cinema credits. He suggested ‘Arjun’ and I adopted it.” 

Going solo

His career to direct music independently began, but he said “the films from then on till before my 13th film, Kempegowda (2012) — were all flops. Well, some songs were catchy, the ones from Patre Loves Padma and Birugaali.” Although this didn’t deter him from his way of composing film music, the ‘unlucky’ tag was close to being stapled to his lapel.

“Well, success and failure are not in our hands. During such times, when music works and its film fails, the term ‘unlucky’ is passed around. Music is appreciated, but films involve a lot of money. So ‘unlucky’ was the word going on for me, I was told. Of course, they didn’t say it to my face. I was made aware of this by Sudeep (sir). While working on Kempegowda, I confessed that I feared this pattern would continue. I said, ‘Perhaps I should change my name? I don’t want to risk this big project!’ Then he called an astrologer, and after five minutes, asked me which addition I would like to ‘Arjun’ — Janya or Vashisht? I asked him which he liked. He said Janya has a good ring to it. I like to believe I have had a successful stint since then. I’m approached by a lot of people for projects now.” A few upcoming ones are Style King, Pataaki, Mungaru Male 2, all of which stars Golden Star Ganesh; and Hebbuli, with Sudeep in a lead role.

The name-change must have worked, or his perseverance at composing music. Because what followed was the song “Khali Quarter Bottle Hange Lifu” (Victory, 2013), the famous unofficial ‘kudukara anthem’, for which he composed music (within half an hour). The lyrics were provided by Yograj Bhat and vocalised by Vijay Prakash. In the same year, he was awarded the Filmfare for Best Music Director for the film Bhajarangi.

During the acceptance speech, Arjun had another fan-boy moment with his music idol, who also shared the winning stage. “This time, I told him I was there because of him. And then he approached me, congratulated me and said, ‘So sweet of you’. I didn’t expect it! I was still, after all this, afraid to approach him.” Even after these years, he described the incident as something that made him “absolutely swoon”.

Arjun will soon judge a children’s singing reality show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil Champs, which will begin its new season on December 19.

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