'He sets boundaries with every venture'

- Karthik Raja talks about his father, maestro Ilayaraja, and others to.

Roshan Cherian.


You can hear the music even as you step in through the doorway. From the

lobby, a large semi-circular hall is visible. The facing wall is covered

with portraits of singers past and present. Probably this is where this

family of prodigies practises its melodies.

Karthik Raja, son of maestro Ilayaraja, emerges from within. Diminutive

and slightly built, he has his father's looks. Given time, he will be as

famous as his father. Sober and dignified, Karthik says he is not into

partying and spends most of his time at home.

Karthik Raja is 23, born on 29th June 1973. Music is his pre-occupation,

apart from a liking for video games. His brother, Yuvan Shankar, 19 and

sister Bhawatarani, 20, are also extremely talented.

Yuvan Shankar has started composing music for films and Bhawatarani is

making a name for herself as a singer. She sang the Mastana song in the

movie Raasaiya scored by Ilayaraja.

As for Karthik, it seems almost unfair that one so young should have

achieved so much. He has scored music for three Tamil movies and has plans

to cut two pop albums - one on his own and another with a label he would

not like to name now.

Both brothers studied at St. Beads and Bhawatarani in the neighbouring

Rosary School.

Piano classes at 'Musee Musical', Chennai, which is a branch of Trinity

College, London, gave him his grounding in instrumental music. Yuvan

Shankar also attended classes there.

Weekend trips with his father and helping out on the keyboard while still

in school provided Karthik with the initial exposure to orchestration. He

left high school in mid-1992 and joined his father full-time.

Karthik started out by scoring the background music for some of his

father's movies: Rajnikant's Uzhaipali and Sathyaraj's Amaidhippadai. He

also composed songs for Pandian and Atma which went down very well with


Panchu Arunachalam's Alexander which was released this Diwali was his

first movie as music director. He also composed music for two other

movies released in August this year: Manickam and Enakona magan Pirappan.

For the latter, he completed the score in July. Alexander took much

longer. He scored background music in a week's time. The songs took two


"It is difficult for me to break out of my father's shadow. So important

is his contribution to music in general," says Karthik.

"He sets new boundaries with every venture. Most of what future

composers will produce belong to the territory my father would have

covered much before in his career. His strength is his ability to

comprehend the spirit of the movie."

"My father gained his experience and feeling for the Tamil music psyche

when he travelled through the state in his younger days, with his elder

brother, Pavalar, who sang while he played harmonium," says Karthik.

He is now working on Ulhasam, which will be produced by ABCL (the firm's

first venture in Tamil movies). An urban love triangle scheduled for

release on Pongal (January 14), it has Ajith Kumar in the lead. Karthik

has worked with S.P. Balasubramaniam, Hariharan and Unnikrishnan.

Also on his agenda is Jackie Sheroff's first production, Grahan in

Hindi, directed by Shashilal Nair. The tunes will be ready in December.

R. D. Burman is the music director of his choice. "He changed film music

for all time. He gave it a different colour altogether."

"A. R. Rahman has great awareness of sound. He has succeeded in

introducing a new sound regime. Roja left a big impression on me."

The two pop albums he is working on have not been named yet. Both are

different projects; there will be videos for both. Initially scheduled

for a January release they will probably be available in April or May.

At present, Karthik is learning Carnatic music. Jazz his special

interest and he wants to learn jazz piano.

He has not made any advertisement jingles yet. But he is willing to if

he is offered any.




Date: 18-04-1997 :: Pg: 22 :: Col: d


Kartik Raja, the son of maestro Ilayaraaja, is a rising star in the

world of film music. Sudha Umashankar talks to the young artiste.

He is the new kid on the block in the firmament of film music. Rising

star and son of maestro Ilayaraaja, 23 year old Kartik Raja is a name

to watch and to listen to.

The latest audio released under his baton as music director is

``Ullasam'', a forthcoming ABCL production and its first Tamil venture

starring Ajith and Maheswari and directed by JD and Jerry. ``Ullasam''

is in some ways a barometer of Kartik Raja's style and spirit and like

the jacket of the cassette says is a celebration of youth.

The sounds may not be entirely new but the mood created by the music

is happy and pleasant and the compositions are in tune with the tastes

of today's youth. There is a marked Western influence in the music

(not surprising given Kartik's classical background) and the

instrumental interludes ring out clear.

``Ullasam'' has quite a host of popular voices S. P. Balasubramaniam,

Hariharan, Kamal Hassan, Harini and Kartik's sister Bhavatharini. It

even has Ilayaraaja singing a bit song.

Directing his father was quite a different experience. ``When I used

to sing each note I would feel scared wondering if I was doing it

right. He is very fast. We have to learn from him. It is great working

with him. He just told me to tell him what I wanted.

Showing signs of talent early on, Kartik Raja used to fiddle around

with the piano at home and try composing with brother Yuvan and sister


He began piano lessons at age six and though he had acquitted himself

creditably in many of the examination, conducted by the Trinity

College London Kartik wanted to create his own music. ``I joined my

father's troupe as a key board player and I used to help him

orchestrate his music''. One of the first songs he orchestrated was

``Kanmani anbodu'' in ``Guna''.

``While composing my father and I would discuss the basic pattern and

whenever he was busy I used to compose the music for any song sequence

the director briefed me about''. Like ``Athma'' starring Ramki and

Kasturi in which he has done a few songs. It went under my father name

because I was just an orchestrator or arranger.''

Some of his earlier compositions include ``Pandianin Rajyathil'' in

the film ``Pandian'' and the background score for ``Uzhaipali'',

``Amaithi Padai'' and some music for ``Chinna Vathiyar''.

As an independent music director he made his debut with ``Enakoru

Magan Pirappan'' followed by ``Manickam'' and ``Alexander'', a

Vijayakanth starrer.

What is it like being a celebrity's son and toeing the father's line

professionally? ``Most of the time people recognise me easily because

they have seen me working in the field.

I don't have to go anywhere asking for chances. But expectations are

high _ they straightway compare me in my early stages to my father.

Though the pattern of the movie and the sequence dictate his

compositions, pop and rap are more up his street though ``I don't get

too many chances to do them. I am not interested in Carnatic music.

I like mod contemporary stuff (Michael Jackson is a favourite) besides

Mozart and Bach. Sentimental stuff is boring. People want to enjoy

themselves. We have to give them what they want _ that is this why we

are in this field.

``What he has figured out about the audiences tastes is that'' people

don't want to feel sad or worry about the world. They want to be

entertained and movies should not lag or stretch.'' Naturally he

feels, ``Music is very important for the success of a film.

''Even in places where the director has committed mistakes, we can

cover it up with music. I have seen my father doing it. If you see

``Kaalapani'' without the background score it would seem too long.

Maybe you would understand the overall theme but the emotion the

director feels is brought out through the music.''

Does ``Ilayaraaja'' compare notes with his father? ``He just gives me

ideas at times.'' The only piece of advice his father has given him is

to provide what the director wants and make it more catchy. the muse

strikes Kartik any time and he keeps recording in his head.

He can compose on demand but ``I don't want to do it that way' I want

to take time and experiment.''

Kartik is sensible enough to admit that ``whatever music is there has

already been composed. The only thing we can do is to get inspired and

recreate the same things in some other form.

With all the electronic equipment there are lot of new sounds and you

can recreate the sound you imagine. You don't even need a string

orchestra. With just a keyboard you can make it sound like a big


Just like writers facing the editor's blue pencil, Kartik too has

faced his share of cuts. In the last reel of `Manickam'', where the

character freezes like a statue, goes into a trance and sets out to

kill someone, `` I had (after a lot of reworking) painted the scene so

that one gets a real feel of what was happening.

I took one day for that reel. But when I saw the film there wasn't any

music. Maybe the director wanted the performances to stand out and cut

this out, I did not have the chance to speak to the audience.



Some of hits include:


# Adapted from an article written by Rajitha of Rediff

"The pressure on me is going to be enormous," the teenager

says. "Even if I do good work, they will only say that it

is because of my father's guidance."

The words are already proving to be prophetic. For when his debut

music score for the recently released Tamil film Maanickam hit the

music shelves and proved an instant hit, the carping whispers went

that his famous father had actually scored the tunes, then put his

son's name to it in order to counter the challenge of the hot young

brigade of composers headed by A R Rehman.

Inevitable, perhaps, if your name is Karthik Raja. Son, in case it

needs mentioning, of the doyen of southside composers, Ilayaraja.

"Sure, they say my music is inspired by my father's," shrugs

Karthik. "And perhaps it even is, who knows? But this is something

that happens not just to me, but to every composer. The thing is,

my father has composed in so many idioms, his work spans such a

wide spectrum of styles, that no matter what you do, there will be

some resemblance to something he has done earlier. I guess it is

inevitable, these comparisons," says the youngster with calm


But there are enough people who apparently recognise the teenager

as a composer in his own right - foremost among them a certain

Amitabh Bachchan. The Bollywood icon first commissioned Karthik to

score the tune for the launch announcement of the Big B range of

music cassettes, and followed that up with a commission to score

for ABCL's first Tamil venture, Ullaasam.

"I guess my interest in music began when I was around seven,"

recalls the youngster, relaxing in the Raja home in suburban

Madras. "That was when I began accompanying my father to the studio

for recording sessions, and I got hooked. By the time I entered

junior college, I was pretty certain that commerce and economics

was not for me, so I dropped out. And here I am..."

Introspection appears to be one of the traits he has picked

up from his father, and Karthik's mood is definitely

introspective as he talks of the differences he perceives between

his musical taste and that of his famous father. "Dad is the

classicist, the perfectionist. He believes in proper scales, does

not like to deviate from the rules. He does compose in a wide

variety of idioms, but always taking care to stick within the

traditions of music. As for me, I love Hindustani, Carnatic,

Western classical, even pop and heavy metal which my father

disdains. And I don't like to stay within the limits of the rule

book when composing," he smiles. "I like to innovate."

And if that sounds iconoclastic - especially given that his father

is himself the icon of southern composers - then Karthik hastens to

point out that he holds his father's ability in enormous respect.

"He has done everything there is to do," Karthik says, simply. "The

rest of us can only follow along paths he has already charted."

The father-son relationship is equally strong, Karthik admits,

though he quickly adds that he is not overly fond of the "we are

more like good friends than father and son" type of relationship.

"That becomes too casual, I don't like it," he says firmly. "But

dad and I are very close. In fact, I am closer to my father than to

my brother and sister."

For the record, his sister Paavadharani recently debuted as a

playback singer with the hit song Mastaana Mastaana in the Prabhu

Deva starrer Rasaiyya (Chaila, in the Hindi version). And brother

Yuvanshankar will debut as a composer in his own right in the soon

to be released Tamil film Aravindan.

While on the Raja family, it is surprising that critics of

Karthik's musical efforts thus far do not even mention his famous

uncle, Ilayaraja's brother, Gangai Amaran. Who, after establishing

a musical identity distinct from that of his younger and more

famous brother, moved on in recent years into the realm of

producing and directing his own films. But then, the relative

obscurity of Amaran is probably just another indicator of the

enormous shadow Ilayaraja casts on the field of film music,

especially down south.

Karthik is only too aware of the enormous struggle his father and

uncle had to undergo before making it big, he recounts with awe the

stories that are already part of Tamil folklore - of how his father

and uncle walked miles, from studio to studio and producer to

producer, looking for a break, their harmoniums carried on their


In fact, a Tamil actor who hails from Ilayaraja's own village in

interior Tamil Nadu recalled in a recent television interview that

"Raja used to go everywhere with the harmonium on his head, and

maybe the music just seeped straight into him because of that. Even

today, he scratches his head, and promptly comes up with a fresh


True, Ilayaraja does have a habit of scratching his head while

composing - but the rest could well belong in the realm of

apocrypha. One more thread in the fable of part fact, part fiction,

that today shrouds the living legend of film music. But Karthik,

for one, is deeply aware of his father's long years of struggle. "I

sometimes think," the lad muses, "that my father underwent even my

share of struggle. I've had it all handed to me on a platter," he

says, simply.

Whether or not the youngster has inherited his father's musical

abilities is debatable, but the resemblances between father and son

go much deeper than mere facial similarities. Karthik, for

instance, is like his father deeply religious, and a constant

pilgrim to the temple of Goddess Mookambika in Kerala. This

religiosity extends even to his pleasures - his idea of a holiday,

the teenager says, is to travel to "places that haven't been

spoiled by tourism, and where I can see old temples and maybe


Another point of resemblance between father and son is a tendency

towards introspection, a penchant for long, thoughtful silences. An

erstwhile film journalist recounted to me his own experience when

he once went to interview Ilayaraja. "He invited me into his room

at Prasad Recording Studio (in Kodambakkam, in central Madras). It

is a bare room, with just one straw mat to sit on and piles of the

special, personalised notepaper Raja uses to compose on.

"After sitting cross legged on the floor for a bit, he suddenly got

up and switched off the airconditioner - in August, mind you, when

it is hottest in Madras. Then he sat, in the lotus posture, eyes

closed, while I sweltered in the heat of that enclosed room.

Suddenly, he opened his eyes and in his trademark soft voice, said,

'The best music can be heard in the sounds of silence', and then

closed his eyes again to listen some more..."

Karthik may not have reached such extremes yet, but he does admit

that he is a loner by nature. "I prefer to talk to elderly people,

with them you are always learning something," says the youngster

whose conversation is often at sharp variance with his years. "With

the guys in my age group, it is fun but it is also trifling with


Where Karthik, whose favourite instrument incidentally is the

piano, appears to differ from most other composers is that it is

not composing film songs that he finds the ultimate turn-on - he

would rather do background scores. "That is where the challenge

is," he says simply. "It is the score that breathes life into a

scene, there is a lot of psychology involved in making the music

fit the mood. And sometimes, in an emotion-charged scene that is

visually static, it is the composer who has, with his music, got to

infuse the emotions into the audience - and that is the ultimate


Not surprisingly, Ilayaraja himself acknowledged this penchant of

his son when he allowed Karthik to compose the background for nine

reels of director Priyadarshan's recent hit film on the freedom

struggle, Kaalapani - a film which, incidentally, picked up four

national awards early last month.

Karthik is very clear that he does not like interference while

composing - and equally quick to point out that his father, for

one, never interferes.

"It is alright for the producer and director to tell me what their

requirements are, but after that they should leave me alone to

compose," he says firmly. "I don't like someone sitting on my head,

saying change this, change that. If they don't like what I produce

they can say so, and I will try to come up with something else to

suit their requirements. But I don't like being constantly

interfered with when composing."

In this respect, Karthik is all praise for Amitabh

Bachchan. "He listened to my tunes (for the ABCL film),

approved the ones he liked and was very encouraging, without ever

intruding," says Karthik, obviously impressed by the Bollywood icon

who, he says, he found surprisingly down to earth.

On his slate, at the moment, is Alexander, which will hit the Tamil

marquee in August. And then there is the ABCL project, work on

which is already well underway. And a few other projects which, he

says, it is too premature to speak of as yet.

And then there is his studies. Karthik is, as of now, learning

Carnatic vocal from noted singer and composer K Dakshinamoorthy.

And - more points of resemblance - his voice, which is almost a

carbon copy of his father's, prompts the question of whether

Karthik will, some day, begin singing as his father has done in

several films. "Yes, maybe someday I will," smiles the youngster.

Karthik Raja has what appears to be a ponderous way of speaking. He

listens to your question in total silence, then thinks for a bit

before answering in calm, measured tones. And the pause for thought

is longest when, just before leaving, I ask him what his goal in

life is.

"My goal," he says, the voice soft yet assured, "is to learn as

much about music as I can. And, someday, to be acknowledged as a

good composer in my own right."