Why he matters: From his debut as a music composer three decades ago to his Oscar for ‘Naatu Naatu,’ MM Kreem approaches music-making as part of a story’s narrative, in a spirit of weaving the cinematic experience. Hemanth Kumar CR, a journalist and his close friend, shares the magic behind the maestro’s music.
“He just had a serene smile on his face. Not excitement or pride.” This is how a close associate of Oscar-winner MM Keeravaani, aka MM Kreem, describes the music composer’s reaction after winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song, for ‘Naatu Naatu’ from RRR. The only time he cried out of sheer joy was when one of his favourite musicians, Richard Carpenter of the American band, The Carpenters, commended him for his win.
Keeravaani’s family says nothing’s changed about him despite winning the coveted award on March 12. And ever since, on every nearly stage, the veteran music director himself credited the song’s success to a gamut of factors, including Prem Rakshit’s impassioned choreography, Chandrabose’s lyrics, SS Rajamouli’s vision, the moves by Jr NTR and Ram Charan and the background dancers from Ukraine.
“It’s not my best song. It’s probably not even among the top 10 from my discography!” Keeravaani remarked during a conversation with filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma (RGV).
For someone who’s seen incredible highs and lows, MM Kreem has been a bit of an enigma. Starting his career as a composer in 1990 with a Telugu film, Manasu Mamata, he shot to fame with RGV’s Kshana Kshanam and soon became a hotshot composer, thanks to a string of hits in the ’90s in Telugu, Hindi and Tamil. His association with filmmakers like K Raghavendra Rao, RGV, K Balachander and Mahesh Bhatt, among others, made him a household name, primarily among the Telugu-speaking moviegoers. But in subsequent years, there were numerous albums that didn’t perform well, which, by his own admission, left him with difficult choices to make. In 2014, he announced he was retiring from movies, and one of the reasons he mentioned was that he had to work with way too many “brainless directors” who never listened to him or his suggestions. His honesty surprised many, and he became increasingly choosy about whom he worked with.
The truth is, Keeravaani has approached his own work as a storyteller and a writer, rather than just being a music composer who merely belts out tunes as per the taste of the filmmakers. Part of the reason his collaboration with Rajamouli is so successful is that the duo had heated arguments on numerous occasions, on the narrative rather than just music. For instance, it was Keeravaani’s suggestion to let Kattappa reveal to Shivudu that he killed Baahubali towards the end of the film, rather than in Kattappa’s introduction sequence in Baahubali: The Beginning.
And the rest is history. His music grows on you, even more so after you watch the film, because it’s not just the songs but the background score, as well, that’s immersive. His son, Kaala Bhairava adds, “One thing which excites him the most is trying to do something new, whether in the form of background score or music. It might be in places where you least expect it.”
For instance, in the trailer of Baahubali: The Conclusion, the consistent theme, masked as a war cry, is ‘Why?’ which was inspired by the question, ‘Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?’
Whether it’s a soothing melody like ‘Tu Mile Dil Khile,’or a rousing rustic tune like ‘Naatu Naatu,’ Keeravaani has left his signature in each composition. His life has been a mosaic, and at times, it feels like he’s a man of contradictions. He’s frank but gentle; angry but philosophical; stoic but fun.
A big-time foodie, spiritual and humble, Keeravaani is all that and more. And his legacy is ageing like fine wine.
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