From Pannaiyarum Padminiyum to Coke Studio Tamil: Justin Prabhakaran opens up about his musical journey

Music director Justin Prabhakaran talks to Indulge about his latest single from Coke Studio Tamil, Kalyana Kacheri
Justin Prabhakaran
Justin Prabhakaran

Justin Prabhakaran is a music director who has been constantly transcending boundaries and pushing the envelope with his pursuits. The composer embarked on his journey in films with Vijay Sethupathi’s Pannaiyarum Padminiyum (2014), and since then, his career meter has been on the rise.

Justin went on to work in multiple languages, and his memorable scores in films like Dear Comrade, Meenakshi Sundareshwarar, Radhe Shyam, and Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum sealed a place for himself in the industry. He is now testing waters in the independent scene with Coke Studio Tamil, and his latest outing is the peppy wedding number, Kalyana Kacheri. Indulge caught up with the composer to chat about the same.

Tell us about the making of the song.

As the title suggests, the song is set against the backdrop of a wedding. It is a conversation between two parties who have different views on marriage. If you listen to the lyrics, you will learn that while men are batting for love marriage, women are lobbying for arranged marriage, calling love marriage an outdated concept. I found the premise interesting. The lyricist Karthik Netha penned the song in such a way that he fused both views with traditional and contemporary words. We have used a lot of rhythms and percussion in the number.

Songs set against the wedding backdrop are dime a dozen in cinema. Did you use any of those as references?

There are many wedding songs in the question and answer format. I was inspired by the same, and I infused some fast melody into it. Even Hindi cinema has many songs on similar lines. I was very particular about the fact that the song is a conversation and not an argument.

Is there a wedding song that you like in particular?

Yaaro Yaarodi from Alaipayuthey! The moment you hear the song, you know that it’s set against the backdrop of a wedding. I like songs that help you visualise the scenes when you hear them. I also like Jothi Neranjava from 12B and Maathaadu Maathaadu Mallige from Arunachalam. These songs have a huge reach among audiences as well.

You started by playing keyboard at church, and today, you are one of the most sought-after composers. When you look back at your journey, what do you feel?

I am very happy. I always felt that what you achieve in a slow and steady manner is good for you. Earlier, I thought this was a never-ending journey and wondered how far I would have to go. Now I realise that you have to be grateful for the place you are in at the moment.

You had said that your life is full of miracles...

Small twists and turns in life are what I call miracles. It helps us propel forward. It happens to each and every one of us, no matter which stage of our lives we are in. Some of us observe it, some do not.

What would you call the biggest turning point in your career?

My first brush with the keyboard in my church. I had always wanted to play it, but there were other musicians in the church. At night, I, along with my father, who worked in the church, would play it. One day, one of the organists didn’t turn up, and I was asked to play. I didn’t have any practice. But, to my surprise, I was able to pull it off.

Then, my move to Chennai from Madurai happened. A cameraman, out of the blue, had asked me to apply at the film institute in Chennai. I didn’t even know how to go about the process. But I made it on the first attempt. I used to work with a sound engineer back home. I had asked about DTS the day before I headed to Chennai, and to my surprise, I got the exact same question in my exam.

I always wanted to associate with Harris Jayaraj sir and got the opportunity to work with him. Likewise, I got to work with the late Vaali sir, who penned the lyrics for one of my songs, without even asking for it. It was all like a dream come true.

What has been the major evolution in music in all these years?

When I first scored the music for Pannaiyarum Padminiyum, I was completely stressed. I got similar subjects after that, and I got worn out. That’s when Dear Comrade happened, and my music underwent a tectonic shift. The evolution happened on its own.

And then I composed for Meenakshi Sundareshwar, through which I ventured into Hindi cinema. When the audience likes my work, I am satisfied. So, Dear Comrade, Meenakshi Sundareshwar and Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum, helped me change my music. Good music also depends on the right team as it’s a collaborative effort.

Some of these projects you mentioned also marked your debut in respective industries. Do you undergo some kind of preparation because your audiences are different?

I did that for Dear Comrade because the Telugu industry uses a lot of rhythms. When I worked with Harris sir earlier, I found his album very interesting. At that time, my perception was that Telugu songs were fast. But the songs on this album were very romantic. It was a huge hit, and that gave me a lot of hope. See, music for South languages are pretty much the same. But the meter changes for Hindi. However, the core melody and base remain the same.

Is the working style the same as well?

What I like about the Hindi film industry is that they finish the songs in one go, and there are no more changes. You get ample time to work on the background score. It’s more organised. Here, we compose one song, and do the rest after a couple of months.

And you are going to work on Mohanlal’s next?

Yes.When I worked with Akhil Sathyan in Pachuvum Athbutha Vilakkum, his father, Sathyan Anthikad, listened to my compositions and told Akhil that he should use me for the next film. I am working with Akhil on another project that stars Nivin Pauly.

What are your upcoming projects?

I am working on Vijay Sethupathi’s next, Ace, and a yet-to-be-announced Hindi film. I am also setting foot in the Bengali industry, with a musical subject.


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