Riding high on musical notes

Frank talk: Music director Charan Raj recalls his musical journey

Charan Raj

Charan Raj is not a great talker, especially when it comes to his own music. Like all other great musical artistes, Charan, too, prefers to let his melodies do all the talking. But even while fumbling to explain his music, Charan exudes a sense of surety and passion that also underlies his music.

Charan’s beginnings in the music world began early. “I was always inclined towards music. Right from my childhood, I have been training in Carnatic classical music, and I used to sing a lot of light music and bhaava geethe,” reveals Charan.

As he grew older, his love for music also grew. He went from listening to rock music to western classical to jazz to electronica. Surprisingly, his parents were his biggest motivators.

“Even before I became serious about music, my parents always pushed me towards it. If other kids got two-wheelers from their parents, my parents used to offer to buy me musical instruments,” smiles Charan.

While studying engineering, Charan became serious about music. He was part of a band and even participated in university music festivals. Deciding to give it a proper chance, Charan took a year’s break after engineering and began working as an arranger and programmer for composers in Kerala, Chennai and Mumbai.

It was during this sojourn that he began working for composer Ricky Kej. Charan was incidentally a part of Ricky’s Grammy-Award-winning album, ‘Winds of Samsara’. Calling Ricky his music mentor, Charan says, “Working with Ricky has been really helpful. Of course, I have learnt music from him. Apart from that, I have also learnt discipline and dedication from him.” Even while he was working on this album, Charan worked on composing music for the film Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu. While the film itself managed to impress the audience, the music added to its overall charm and uniqueness. Talking about the film’s music, Charan says, “I already knew Hemanth (Rao, director) before and we both share similar musical interests. While he was working on the script, he kept me updated on the kind of music he was listening to and what tunes would suit the script. Since we had a lot of pre-production time, we could create the music with a lot of leisure. The response, of course, was really good.”

While Godhi Banna... gave Charan a new identity, he wasn’t new to Sandalwood. His debut as a music director in Kannada films was the 2014-film Harivu. Charan’s approach to music is very simple: he sits down with a blank mind and lets the music come to him organically, he says. “I don’t work with a bank of tunes. Every film is fresh to me. If I have a bank of tunes, it would mean I am not evolving. Instead, I would be relying on old tunes, outdated ones. Often, when I sit down to compose, coming up with tunes is a struggle, but I enjoy that struggle; the ultimate joy is in the process,” he trails off. But Charan is quick to point out that every film is a work of collaboration. “Everyone brings their ideas and they all get into my system, and then I create music,” he says. One such collaboration was his first commercial hit album for the film Tagaru.

“Working with Suri-sir (director) was a dream come true. He asked me to create music for his film based on human emotions rather than situations. For instance, when he asked me to create something on fear, I internalised that emotion and created music based on how I felt when I felt fear.”

If there’s one thing that Charan has proved to date, it’s the fact that he can create diverse tunes and scores. So, I ask him how he would describe his musical style. But Charan reveals he’s still in search of ‘his’ music. “It’s difficult to describe my music. Every day, I am learning something new, so my music is also evolving. But I believe music should heal people, just like A R Rahman once said. So, I would like to create music that gives people happiness and comfort, that’s the main purpose.

As of now, this young music director is busy with big-ticket projects such as Kavalu Daari, Avane Srimannarayana, Bheema Sena Nala Maharaja, and more. While all the projects are entirely different from one another, Charan insists each one is equally challenging. “For instance, Kavalu Daari is a thriller and very intense. So, I am using a lot of orchestral and analog sounds and synthesisers. On the other hand, Bheema Sena... is a family entertainer but a layered movie, so it has a lot of melodious acoustics,” explains Charan.

Charan looks toward music maestros like Illaiyaraja, A R Rahman, Hamsalekha and Hans Zimmer for inspiration. Talking about his future aspirations, Charan says he wants to keep improving his film music. “But I also want to do a lot of independent music. Because, in films, I am working for a script, but when I am doing independent music, it’s like expressing myself. And that’s very important for an artiste," signs off Charan. 

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Riding high on musical notes

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