The man who wrote and sang ‘Neruppu Da’

As you can imagine, singing and writing ‘Neruppu Da’ has completely transformed Arunraja’s career. He won’t blame you for not knowing that he’s written and sung for films like Pizza, Jigarthanda, and Theri previously. After all, “a Rajini sir film elevates everybody associated with it.”

It all came about when his long-time friend Santosh Narayanan invited him to his studio at the stroke of midnight. Arunraja figured he’d been called for help with either Iraivi, or Manidhan. When he entered the studio, he was surprised to note director Ranjith deep in conversation with Santosh about ‘Maya Nadhi’. He knew of course that they were working on Kabali. “I thought I should wait until they were done talking, and perhaps we would then begin work on Iraivi or Manidhan.”

It was when Santosh played the ‘Neruppu Da’ track without vocals that Arunraja realised that he was to write a song for Kabali. “I was asked to write about Kabali, the character, keeping in mind the Superstar image of the actor.” Any other lyricist might have considered asking for a day or two, but Arunraja knew that such opportunities come by rarely and it was important to grab it with both hands. “They continued discussing the album, while I sat by a side, and got myself into the mood by watching a few videos of Thalapathy, Annamalai, and Baasha.” And in all of 20 minutes, this song that has now been watched 60 lakh times on YouTube was written. He says he’s as comfortable with Santosh Narayanan as he is by himself, and so, the lack of privacy didn’t really hamper his creativity.

Merely two words were changed when Ranjith and Santosh went through the lyrics. And then something unexpected happened. “Come, let’s record it,” said Santosh. Arunraja agreed immediately, even though he was a bit taken aback by the immediacy of the request. As he prepared to sing, the advice of Santosh Narayanan when they had previously worked on a song for Telugu film, Billa Ranga, came to mind. “Kevalamaa paadu. Koral kodooramaa irukkanum (Sing horribly. Your voice should sound quite unpleasant).” That Billa Ranga song, ‘Gangs of Ditchpally’, had turned out to be a raging hit in Telugu cinema. I point out that he lets out a guttural laugh or two in the song, and he laughs. “Yes, yes, I was a huge fan of Will Smith’s songs when growing up in Kulithalai (a village in Karur). So, I’d often sing them and laugh in between like he does. People in my village thought I was quite odd.” It was in this village that he did his schooling. “The teachers in the Kulithalai Government School created in me a love for the Tamil language. They saw us not as ATM machines, but as students.” Arunraja is almost disgusted by how education today is so focussed on grades. “Students pick French and Sanskrit in high school only so they can get more marks.” You can hear the distaste in his voice.

While on education, Arunraja is an untrained singer, and so, isn’t really keen to accept all the invitations that are coming his way. “If some composer tells me, “Madhyathla paadunga”, I’d have no idea what to do. I’d rather not waste their time and mine.” He denies that Santosh and gang are out to create a revolution of sorts by writing colloquial lines as lyrics and having untrained people sing. “We just aim to contribute whatever is suitable for the film we are working on. But I guess we are avoiding some cliches, as you say.”

He almost believes that invisible forces have conspired to make these things happen for him. “How else can you explain that even in the first song I wrote (‘Rathiri’ for Pizza), some Rajini sir lines were used in the song? And now, his dialogues are part of my track again.” But Arunraja doesn’t yet know how his song will be used in the film. “I heard from a Ranjith interview that Rajini sir quite likes the song.” But he wants to hear it first-hand from the man himself. “It’d be enough if he looked at me and said, ‘Magizhchi’.”

This article was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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