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Cinema In Conversation With

Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy about his life, music and #MeToo

Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy is an Indian film composer and music producer. He has worked in multiple projects including ‘Yaadhumaagi Nindraai’, ‘Vidhi Madhi Ultaa’.
Here are excerpts from his interview where he spoke to us about his life, music journey, #MeToo and much more.

Childhood:
I did my schooling in DAV Mogappair, Chennai. After graduating from my school, I directly went to Full Sail University, FL and did a Bachelor of Science degree in Recording Arts.

Interest in Music:
I come from a family of non-musicians. But everyone loved music. When I was very young, I was humming to “Kaadhala.. Kaadhala..” song after hearing it on television and my primary teacher Mrs. Viji told my parents that I had a good voice. She suggested I learn music. I joined classes, had different music teachers whenever we shifted houses. I also learnt to play the piano simultaneously. Later, during the time of Pollathavan film, I got an opportunity to meet GV Prakash. I went to his studio and was fascinated. I asked him if I could sing. He casually asked me to wear headphones and try. It was a different experience. For a long time, I didn’t know that you had to actually learn to sing in a studio. Professional singers today are so used to singing in the studio. It is a very different art, and I didn’t know that at that time.

Later, GV Prakash helped me out with basic programming software, and I ended up doing songs and albums for myself. I used to show them all to him. He kept suggesting all along that I should be doing songs for the audience also, rather than just myself.

At 17, when I was about to start college, I had produced my first album.

Getting into college:
When I wanted to take up music, my family wanted me to study a course related to the same, and they didn’t want me to jump into music without proper knowledge. They took the efforts to learn from different people, know about different colleges and the courses. I wanted to do my studies abroad, and my parents found me the right course. In the beginning, the college and the place were quite scary considering I was only 17. Then, of course, I got used to it. When I came back after finishing college, I didn’t assist anyone.

Your studio – Shimmr Studios:
I was pretty sure that right after college, I wanted to be on my own rather than assisting somebody. My parents and a lot of people supported me and helped me out in setting up a three-room studio above my house.
During the final year, I designed my studio and showed it to my college as a project. I took up their suggestion as well, and my studio is a culmination of everything. I took two years to learn about the equipment, details in my studio, and in 2015, I began working on films from my studio. I treat it like a proper, being a morning person, I would go in by 9 am and would work till night. It is completely isolated from the house and regular life so that I don’t disturb the family.

On you being labelled ‘Underrated’:
It is nice. It is in a way telling that you have potential but are lacking something. You need to tap that and do better. To me, an artist should only compete with himself. So when a review comes in, I only think about how I can improve from that.

When ‘Yaadhumaagi Nindrai’ came out, I had glowing reviews. Dhanush sir backed it. Sid Sriram had sung on it. Then ‘Vidhi Madhi Ulta’ came out, did better than Yaadhumaagi but going by the reviews, people felt that it was more experimental. This gave me a lot to think about how to progress in the future and that shaped the sound of the music I am doing now.

To me, success is all about, learning from what worked, what didn’t and giving a better output in the next album.

On ‘Marketing’ the songs:
Today, we have the platform but not the viewership. There is a difference in reach when an artist tweets the song and when a celebrity does the same. The reach is more in the latter.

Today, the artists are looking into marketing strategy even before they begin the song. It starts with the singers and the combination of singers. I’ve always loved the GV Prakash-Saindhavi combination. Similarly, each singer brings in a certain artistic value to the song. Also, the reach of the song depends on the label to which you sell them.

Your months or years of effort and hard work will be judged in a span of three to five minutes. So, you need to be careful. If you are releasing a song today, there will be twenty others releasing their product as well. So, it is all about putting your song ahead of everyone.

Less popularity for independent songs/artists here compared to foreign countries:
There are a lot of differences. In foreign countries, label mostly funds the artist’s album after hearing the demo. However, in India, the label acts as the content aggregators generally. Here, they have a certain number of followers and they would just upload the content. At least, it works this way in South India. Yes, there are a few labels that fund the album but the ratio is less.

In foreign countries, the label drives the industry. The composers for the film don’t work on songs there but only the background music. The films, the artists and the label would workout the royalty of a particular song, and it would be used in different films and web series. For example, Ed Sheeran’s Perfect. It features in so many films. But the actual composer for the film doesn’t do the track.

Here, it works differently, and the consumption for independent music is very less. For sure, in the future, this will change and there will be more demand for quality independent music. It is just a matter of time.

Actors turning singers:
Some actors are actually singers or in music already. It is just that they don’t show that side or we haven’t seen it before. Some actors are not trained singers, but they do a wonderful job because they know to emote.
If a composer thinks that a particular actor can elevate a song, they go ahead with the actors. Sometimes, it is for marketing purposes. A lot of singers also learn on the job. Anybody can sing today, thanks to the advancement in technology. However, it is all up to the composer to decide what exactly they want an actor/artist to lend to their song.

A lot of music composers disappear after a song or two…
This is the right time for artists because there are a lot of opportunities comparatively. However, to me, working on quality is more important than quantity. You cannot just sign up a lot of films and give the same kind of songs.

Maybe they sign because nobody knows what works these days. The fear of failure or financial crunch pushes them to sign many projects instead of concentrating on one or two projects at a time. Wait for your opportunity, give your fullest, and it sure will capture somebody’s attention. We must build our audience slowly. We shouldn’t work on becoming an overnight hit. The latter would backfire.

Music composing or singing:
I enjoy both, but I’d choose to compose music because I can control the output. Singing isn’t easy, but I love to sing and have a few surprises coming.

Future projects:
I composed for Vignesh Kumar’s ‘Jigiri Dosthu’. He was Shankar sir’s AD on 2.0 and a school friend of mine. The film stars Ammu Abhirami, VJ Aashiq and Shariq. Everything is done. We are waiting for theaters to open to have the theatrical release done. I have also signed for two big production houses. Keeping it under wraps for now.

#MeToo:
Me Too cases are subjective. To me, I’ve always been outspoken about the things I believed in. Regarding Chinmayi Sripada’s case, I’ve been there during an episode. I had tweeted about it as well.

It was about eight to nine years back. I was working on a film where Vairamuthu sir had written all the songs, but the film didn’t take off. Chinmayi was uncomfortable during a conversation that involved Vairamuthu sir. I didn’t understand why she was uncomfortable at that time. That incident made a lot of sense now.

A lot of people do not talk because of the fear of the backlash they might face if they stand up and support against, say, bigger celebrities. Because people would directly jump in and say, “Nee paathiya?“.

To me, I put out what I believe in, and secondly, I’ve known Chinmayi for a long time. We have recorded a few song songs and have performed live in audio launches. She has gone out of her way to do things to help me out.

A small incident during the audio launch of ‘Vidhi Madhi Ulta’ – We were supposed to have Sid Sriram and Chinmayi singing live. Unfortunately, Sid Sriram got held up in an audio launch that happened in Dubai and he couldn’t make it. At the same time, Chinmayi had won a Film Fare award for Sairat in Mumbai on the day before our audio launch. She had an after-award function and asked me if I could manage with Sid Sriram.

I told her about Sid not being in the country and she immediately caught a flight and was here the next morning. She had bigger issues in Mumbai, and had a fever or wasn’t feeling well. She didn’t mention it to any of us.

Before the show, she was unable to even move out of the room. We asked her to stay, but she insisted that she would perform. She took a tablet, rested for a while, came out and performed. Nobody could tell she was unwell.

She was there at the launch, sang for us and sat throughout the show. She didn’t have to do that. We requested that we would take care of the flight tickets, but she refused. She flew to Mumbai again that night and completed the show there. This is the kind of person Chinmayi is. She would go out of her way to help people.

During the lockdown period, she did the ‘Singing for Charity’ thing and raised close to Rupees 50 lakhs for affected families. Not everybody can do that.

So, do you think, a person like that would come up with “stories”? I don’t think you can and have never believed anybody who has said otherwise. I will support her any day, anywhere.
We cannot stay silent if something like this happened in our house, right?

If they speaking out irritates you, imagine their life and the suffering they had to go through. They are living with it every single day. A few women friends show me the texts they receive daily from men. It is disturbing. It is hard to imagine the trauma. Them minding their own business gets them these texts day in, day out.

I think it is the right time for us to support and stand by them. Yes, certain people are wrongly accused but look at the majority. There are clusters of people waiting in the queue wanting to be heard.

What we can do is, create a healthy platform, support them to come out and speak. It is hard for the survivor to go through all this and have no support. For them, the worst part is, there is no proof. You cannot prove it. People use that as an excuse for not believing them.

The times are changing and since a lot of people are speaking out, there is now fear. This fear is good.

Also, just because I’m tweeting or talking about it, doesn’t make me perfect. I make mistakes like any normal being but what I’m learning is to be mindful of my surroundings. We all have to learn to at least be courteous, learn to tone down comments and actions if people aren’t comfortable and treat everybody with respect.

Feature Image courtesy: Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy/Facebook

As told to Anjali Raga Jammy

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