Songs and BGM — the tune to success in Malayalam cinema!

The commercial potboilers in the 90s had background scores highlighting heroes' mannerisms. But now, every emotion has its own tune!

ByArjun Ramachandran

Published Nov 16, 2023 | 10:00 AM Updated Nov 16, 2023 | 10:00 AM

Importance of background music and songs in Malayalam films

During the success meet of Tamil blockbuster Jailer (2023), Superstar Rajinikanth said he felt it was an average film after watching it before re-recording. After re-recording, he realised that the background music elevated every scene in the flick.

Young sensation Anirudh Ravichander composed the background score and songs for Jailer. Well, he is now the most-wanted music director in Bollywood, too.

After watching a recent Malayalam film in a theatre, this correspondent heard a comment from the audience that the background music was not as good as Anirudh Ravichander’s work.

Interestingly, when the correspondent mentioned this to the film director during an interview, he revealed that Anirudh charges heftily and can’t be afforded by all.

Undoubtedly, background music is a key to setting the mood of a movie, and filmmakers, of late, are keen enough to put out lyric videos of the new songs of their flicks in music apps like Gaana, Spotify, and Wynk Music much before the film’s release.

Malayalam filmmakers, too, are adopting these strategies for their ventures to grab the attention of movie buffs.

Way back in the 1990s

Shobana in Manichitrathazhu

Shobana in ‘Manichitrathazhu’. (X)

Manichithrathazhu (1993) had captivating music that glued the audience to their seats, especially in the climax scenes where the split personality of Sobhana — Nagavally — is revealed.

The commercial potboilers in the 1990s — helmed by Shaji Kailas, K Madhu, and Joshiy — had background scores highlighting heroes’ mannerisms. But now, every emotion has its own tune!

Who will forget the iconic background music composed by Shyam for Sethurama Iyer in the CBI series?

Taking the baton from Shyam, Jakes Bejoy did the music for CBI 5: The Brain in 2022.

FIR (1999), Commissioner (1994), Crime File (1999), and Narasimham (2000) are some of the commercial hits that made use of background score to enhance the scenes and action sequences.

New sound technologies such as DTS, Dolby Surround, and their latest versions — DTS X and Dolby Atmos — have come in handy for filmmakers and musicians.

Thankfully, new-age multiplexes and standalone single screens have embraced these state-of-the-art technologies, much to the delight of the audience.

Also Read: Children’s Day Special: Three best children’s films in Malayalam

New-age music

Gopi Sundar

Music director Gopi Sundar. (X)

Mammootty’s cult movie Big B (2007) flaunted a unique making style, which was new for the Malayalam industry. The slow-motion fight sequences got a new angle with the trance electronic music composed by Gopi Sundar.

Gopi Sundar’s music continued in films like Ustad Hotel (2012), Bangalore Days (2014), Charlie (2015), ABCD (2013), and Comrade in America (2017), to mention a few.

The Sufi music in Charlie and Anwar (2007) and Ustad Hotel was a highlight of these Malayalam films, which are still favourites for the audience.

Deepak Dev is another music director who gave a new dimension to music in the Malayalam film industry. His Chronic Bachelor (2003), Naran (2005), and Udayananu Tharam (2005) had some all-time hit songs.

Deepak Dev also worked with Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Lucifer (2019) where the background music elevated many scenes.

Deepak Dev is now composing the music for the much-anticipated L2: Empuraan.

Also Read: ‘Garudan’ producer Listin Stephen gifts a luxury car to director Arun Varma

Gen Z music directors

Mammootty and Sushin Syam

Mammootty and Sushin Shyam. (Supplied)

Meanwhile, a few young music directors are creating waves in the industry. The list includes Sushin Syam, Shan Rahman, Jakes Bejoy, Hesham Abdul Wahab, Sam CS, and Justin Varghese.

Of these, Sushin Shyam has a huge fanbase as he composed the music for superhit films like Varathan (2018), Kumbalangi Nights (2019), Anjam Pathira (2020), Bheeshma Parvam (2022), Kannur Squad (2023),  and Romancham (2023).

In all these Malayalam films, music played an important role.

In Bheeshma Parvam, Varathan, and Kannur Squad, Sushin Shyam’s music helped elevate the action scenes which drew an overwhelming response from the viewers in theatres.

In an interview, Sushin Shyam said he needed to get connected with the script to compose the music. The young musician’s “Aadaranjali” song from Romancham helped the audience connect with the movie which had missed many of its release dates.

Also Read: I won’t support personal attacks through film reviews: Tovino Thomas

Key in big-budget films

The sound mixing of 2018 was exceptional

The sound mixing of 2018 was exceptional. (Supplied)

According to Vishnu Sivasankar, the music director of Bhagavan Dasante Ramarajyam (2023), the purpose of music and background score hasn’t changed over the years.

“It’s been the same even in films like Godfather (1991), Vietnam Colony (1992), CBI series, and Manichithratazhu. In fact, Manichithrathazu is a classic example. Though it has no pumping music, the background score and songs elevated the story and gave a new dimension to the flick,” Vishnu quipped.

Films like Kannur Squad, Bheeshma Parvam, Garudan, King of Kotha (2023), Chaaver (2023), Kaduva (2022), Kappa (2022), RDX also had good music.

The background music in these Malayalam films helped them reach the audience to a great extent.

The soulful songs and background score composed by Nobin Paul and William Francis for 2018 (2023) helped the film become a sleeper hit.

Also Read: Malayalam actor Dhyan Sreenivasan’s new look goes viral

Few exceptions

Chaaver had captivating music by Justin Varghese

‘Chaaver’ had captivating music by Justin Varghese. (Supplied)

According to Vishnu Sivasankar, post-Covid, audiences visit theatres to watch a larger-than-life film. Music and background scores are essential in making the ventures larger than life.

“Films that run to packed houses are the ones that offer an over-the-top experience to the audience. Music and background score are as important as other elements in a commercial movie. For instance, action films won’t appeal to the viewers without proper background music,” Vishnu pointed out.

However, he admitted that a few Malayalam films didn’t work in theatres despite having the best background music. “There are a few exceptions like Romancham and Jan E Man.

The music director also cited the example of Chaaver, which didn’t get a good response on its opening day but attracted the audience to the cinema halls after reports arrived that the sound design and music of the movie were excellent.

Also Read: These leading ladies from Telugu are now eyeing Mollywood