Can’t Cross the Road the Same Way Two Times


“India and Hungary are very close to each other”

Almost 900 film scores, 5000 film songs, countless discs — a dizzy amount of work stands behind IlaiyaRaaja. The most wanted composer of the Indian film industry is a relatively frequent guest in Hungary: as friend and as colleague, he is in touch with several Hungarian jazz musicians, from time to time he also resorts to the help of the Miskolc Symphony Orchestra. He has recently been to Budapest again.
Csider István Zoltán, Le Marietta| Népszabadság| 2009. november 18.

One tries to imagine Indian film composers very rarely, but still: we had imagined IlaiyaRaaja exactly like this. Bright eyes, friendly face and the obligatory glasses. He received amicably the journalists of Népszabadság in an elegant, stylish hotel room, after offering them a seat, he almost disappeared in a giant armchair. During the conversation there was a bleak smile on his face, even when we were asking him about his ex-disciple, the composer to the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire, A. R. Rahman and his success in Hollywood, or about Rahman at all. Smiling and correct, he refused to answer by saying everybody can do what he’d like to do, and well, it wouldn’t be elegant to talk about a fellow. “And anyway, would a Hungarian journalist talk about other Hungarian journalist colleagues?”, he asked, and it could be seen he was sure of getting a negative answer.

Right from this saw we that IlaiyaRaaja doesn’t know the Hungarian, to a bit extended level: the European press relations. Which is, however, a good thing.

The most productive composer of the Indian film industry came to Budapest to do the post-production of his newest film score which had been recorded in July with Miskolc Symphony Orchestra conducted by László Kovács, the mixing was done at the Hungarian Radio’s studio with the help of Dénes Rédly, sound engineer. But why had he chosen a Hungarian symphony orchestra for the records? The two countries are fairly far away from each other…

“India and Hungary are actually very close to each other, the national tricolors differ only in one tone of color,” he answered laughing, but then turned to talk seriously: he thinks Hungarian musicians can compete anytime with other countries’ artists. In his homeland there are no symphony orchestras at all. In Chennai where he lives, there are excellent musicians playing on strings, playing on wind instruments but they’re never organized to one orchestra: setting up this kind of ensembles has no tradition there.

When IlaiyaRaaja had been in Budapest around 2000, he had gotten to know Attila László jazz guitarist-composer. He had liked the compositions of László so much that he had asked him to work together. In August, this year the Hungarian composer traveled to Chennai with Béla Lattman, bassist and János Nagy, pianist to play for the recording of the Indian master’s 882nd  film score.

A series of coincidences had led IlaiyaRaaja to the profession of music, for that later his goal could be defined: once he would be music director. When he had stepped into the field of film-making, composing had had just a functional role in the Indian film industry, there had been far less spiritual content, and the variety of music had had much room for improvement, too. This probably had derived from the working method of composers, indeed from the relations among musicians. Raaja had found something important for him in Western music, he had started to play the guitar, the piano and the violin, and he had been the first to use Western instruments, indeed unknown genres in his compositions. Just to mention some examples, pop, jazz, rock and roll, bossa nova and flamenco had gained grounds on the Indian screen by his work. And it’s not an irrelevant feat of arms that he had been the first Asian artist to compose a symphony for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Raaja said, in the beginning, if something hadn’t worked out as he had wanted it, he had become impatient with his musicians. Afterwards, by more and more spirituality moving into his compositions, this gradually disappeared.

When asking him about the method of composing — by thinking that a work of life like his (more than 5000 film songs and almost 900 complete film scores are signed by his name) is a result of an effective method of composing — he answered: composing is not a question of will or ambition for him. It doesn’t need to be that.

Music is born mentally, in the soul, one doesn’t think about it too much. IlaiyaRaaja used a statuesque metaphor: when one’s crossing the street, he never pays attention to each step, but to the goal: to get from one side to the other. One can’t cross the road the same way two times.


7 Responses to “Can’t Cross the Road the Same Way Two Times”

  1. 1 Narasimhan P

    I can’t express words about this interview its quit amazing

  2. 2 Ravi R

    Raaja, will be a epitome of composition, ingenuity and soul stirring melodies forever. His music will be widely studied and people will be in awe of such a man’s existence in the times to come.

  3. 3 Rajaram Bala

    Raja by not doubt is an excellent personality who has a great calibre to understand any form of world music. But the man lacks public relations. People who know him better, don’t expect anything more than just music from him, which is what he is good at. Let us not make any sense out of what he said, how he spoke etc. Genius people always speak through their creations, so do Raja. He is a king in what he does and he does it the way that brings satisfaction to him. Let us leave him alone and not disturb them by praising, criticizing, asking, looking, talking etc..

  4. 4 senthil kumar

    excellent.RAJA RAJATHAN.


    This article neatly captures the essence of the man. How did a Hungarian journalist know the breadth and scope of this composer’s work? I am curious to know how Hungarians feel about the nascent genius of this man from his Indian songs and scores? However, Ilaiyaraaja is not the only composer, there are many many others with very different approaches, sounds and ideas that enriched modern music with not only staying traditional but also going Western orchestral. IR would not be the creation without so much that already was covered in the 50 years prior to his arrival on the music scene.

  6. 6 Saran

    This is a good interview by a great maestro. Ilaiyaraaja, back in South India, is a cult figure but yet he is humble. His answers/thoughts/views can very well be taken as rude, disrespectful or harsh. IMHO, they are not that sort. A person like him, for his calibre and quality, he deserves more accolades than he had already got.

    While reading this interview I am surprised about a fact how he has got an idea of working with Hungarians and what really connects him to there. There must be a kind of spiritual link that leads him to that. And also, it throws back another interesting thing to suggest to Raaja – Why not he initiates to group all the talented musicians in Chennai to form a Symphonic Orchestra of his own!! As a person who grows (and still growing) up with Raaja’s music, i always want him to go beyond the ordinary and does so many other things that a conventional music director does.

    Kudos to my Man of Music,

  7. Good one!! Great to see Raja… It would be great if we get a chance to listen to his Symphonies.

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