By T S Sudhir
It is a song that I hear everyday these days. In Hindi, Telugu and Tamil. And each time, I imagine Karthik singing it, eyes closed, standing bent at the knees, as if ready to break into a dance. A picture of concentration. Raavan (Raavanan in Tamil and Villain in Telugu) has Karthik in full flow in `Behne de’ (Usure Poguthey in Tamil / Usure poyane in Telugu).
Karthik recorded the Hindi version first and it was only six months later that he sang `Usure Poguthey’.
“Behne de is written by Gulzar saab, which is mellow, has pretty lyrics and suggests that I surrender to you. But the Tamil lyrics by Vairamuthu give a totally different dimension to the same song and same music. It is very much in the face, has grit and aggression,” says Karthik.
What have been the kind of reactions you have been getting to this highly energetic number, I ask.
“Oh lots. A lady cried on the phone, saying it touched her soul and that she could not handle the song. Another friend said he was very happy for me that I had got to sing this number. At home, Ambika (Karthik’s wife) likes `Behne de’ while my parents prefer `Usure pogathey’.”
And what about Kadambari, his one and a half-year-old daughter. “She is still caught up with `Behka’,” he says and both of us laugh. “She keeps saying Behka, Behka. This song is probably too intense for her.”
This is not Karthik’s first brush with the ARR-Mani Rathnam combine. He has sung in `Kannathil Muthamittal’ and `Yuva‘ but as a solo big song, `Behne de‘ is a milestone in Karthik’s career.
“Mani Sir explained to me the situation, about Raavan’s character, after which it was basically to do with getting the emotions right. Rahman told me to keep the intro soft and slowly build up the tempo. Gulzar saab liked my rendition which was a huge compliment.”
And truly `Behne de’ has opened the floodgates to Mumbai for Karthik. Admirers are already talking of how another Chennai boy has arrived on the India stage.
When was the first time you got to speak to ARR then?
“I was just a kid on the block. And frankly I was quite scared of him. But it was one magical night when we connected. We were doing the re-recording of `One 2 ka 4′ and four of us were part of the chorus. Rahman asked each one of us to step forward and do an alaap. Now that was the first time, he was going to hear me solo. I told myself, this is your big moment, do it well or pack your bags and go back to doing CA. I prayed and sang and when I opened my eyes after 15 minutes, there was Rahman with a big smile, giving me the thumbs up sign. The next day, he called me to sing my first solo number `Nendhukittaen‘ in `Star’.”
Just a year later in 2002, Karthik hit the jackpot when superstar Rajinikanth did the lipsync to his voice in `Baba’. The song was `Sakthi kodu’.
“It was a crazy recording. I was in Chennai and Rahman in London during his `Bombay Dreams’ days. I heard the tune over the phone after which I recorded it and sent it across to him over the net. He heard it, called me to suggest changes. I did that and sent it again. He heard it and again made some changes. This process continued till it became the final version.”
Karthik says much to his pleasant surprise, many people in Tamil Nadu start their day hearing `Sakthi kodu’. “That song launched me. It changed my life,” says he. And Rahman complimented him in his typical understated manner when he told Karthik, “I am happy. Rajini Sir is also happy with the song.”
And since `Baba’, Karthik has sung in six different languages, including Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali for composers as varied as Ilayaraja, Harris Jayaraj, Vidyasagar, Mickey Meyer, Jayachandran and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
Karthik is now turning a music composer for an as yet untitled period film with director Vasanthabalan. It is an innings that Karthik is very excited about.
“I like the challenge, even though it is just an extension of what I am already doing. Composing part is almost over. And I have consciously decided not to sing even one number in the film,” he says.
As Raavan’s pre-release publicity focusses on Aishwarya, Abhishek, Vikram and Mani Rathnam, it is pretty certain that once the film releases on the 18th, those celebrated as heroes will also be Santosh Sivan, A R Rahman and Karthik.
I have not forgotten the magical effect that `Chinna Chinna Aasai’ in `Roja‘ , shot by a riverside, created in 1992. 18 years on, the waters have only gained greater force in `Behne de’.
You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com