Q: The film came out almost a year ago. Has the impact of this movie, and how popular the song has become sunk in yet?
MMK: I was overwhelmed with the speed that the song gained in popularity and became viral. I’m very happy for the entire team who worked on this, getting a Golden Globe award and more. The song was produced by a lot of effort by multiple people — the choreographer [Prem Rakshith], the lyricist [Chandrabose] and myself on the tune, and the many programmers. Thirty days were spent on producing this song apart from the shooting itself. Finally, it made it to this stage where it’s getting global recognition now. I’m very happy about that.
Q: When you first discussed “RRR” with [director S. S.] Rajamouli, where did the concept of “Naatu Naatu” come from? And what was the plan for you to realize it?
MMK: The song “Naatu Naatu” was meant to be one of celebration with a sound to get the spirits up as a defense at a party where the British are discriminating [against] the heroes and are trying to intimidate them. It ended up with them sharing a lot of fun [with] the other characters in the crowd, as well as the viewers, as it was intended. So it served its purpose. The “Naatu Naatu” song had to get everybody in a celebratory mood — and it did.
Q: In addition to your music, the choreography really elevates everything and makes it much more intense. Did you work specifically with the choreographers to see what they were doing? What was it like when you first saw what they did with the song?
MMK: I didn’t collaborate with the choreographers, but I knew pretty well what the requirements were. I was coordinating with the director and the [lead] choreographer before shooting, and they briefed me about the requirements for the choreographed steps. Once the song was done, they took it to Ukraine [at Mariinskyi Palace, Kyiv] because [much] of the film — the shooting, choreography and dancing — was shot there. I couldn’t go to watch and monitor the process because I was busy elsewhere, but I was confident enough about their competence. When I watched the final cut of the song, I was thrilled and very happy that my song was finally promoted to a really good level and it’s very justified visually.
Q: You and Rajamouli are very close and have worked together several times. What’s your working relationship with him? Does he know what you’re trying to do?
MMK: The difference between working with the other directors and Rajamouli is that he’s not only my cousin, he’s like my brother, 12 years younger than me. He can knock on my restroom door whenever he wants to if an idea pops up in his mind. He has an all-access pass into my bedroom, my toilet, everything. He comes up with an idea and I respond quickly, and that way we save lots of time. There’s no latency in the process of communicating. That’s the major advantage of being available 24/7 — a physical advantage. The other advantage is the compatibility and wavelength. We have known each other [a very long time]. I’m 61 and he’s 48. It’s the longest association in the family.
In discussions about career, music, etc., a very strong compatibility between us has been established. I know exactly what he’s looking for, what his tastes are, though we may differ in many other other ways. He’s very much into sports; I’m really poor [at that]. I’m not the least interested in sports, I don’t know the ABCs about sports. We differ a lot on those things, so we have diversity, but there is a strong compatibility as well, which makes my job [much] easier when [it comes to] composing songs or scores for his movies.
Q: The whole soundtrack is incredible. How did you start composing music for this movie?
MMK: First I composed specific themes for the two heroes in the movie. Both are superstars in our country. Having in my mind their following and their images, and of course their characters in the movie — all these elements, I had to come up with specific individual themes for both of them. Also, there is Ajay Devgn, who has a very clear and important role to play in the movie. All of these themes had to be defined and composed beforehand.
Of course, once the movie was done, I watched it and went [over it] scene by scene. I [experienced] the emotions and what the story has to tell. That’s a constant process, [connecting] myself to the emotions and scenes in the movie and translat[ing] them into music. Most of the time, Rajamouli sits by my side and reacts to what I compose, and most of the time he says it’s fine. A 10% difference of opinions is there but is solved after long discussions and arguments.
Q: The movie covers a wide range of genres like action, drama, romance, and revenge. Was there any particular scene or sequence that was difficult for you to compose music for? When you were writing “Naatu Naatu”, you had different [melodies] you tried out first. What was the most difficult part of the composing process?
MMK: “Naatu Naatu was never a difficult task. The most difficult one I had to face was the introduction of Ram Charan Teja. There is a police officer, and when he tries to capture a particular person on the orders from his commander, he jumps into a crowd of thousands of people. He dares to go among them in [the midst of] hostility and agitation and the revolution happening there. He tries to capture a single person risking his own life and accomplishes the mission. There are [large] crowds and thousands of people yelling and shouting. What kind of music can be showcased there? What kind of music can I present?
It’s very difficult. Everybody knows it was complete chaos. I tried to come up with a theme, like the commander’s [order] ringing in his head that goes like a DJ’s kind of loop. I tried to come up with a different theme. Rajamouli liked it initially, but wanted the crowd noise to dominate at some point, so there was a lot of argument between me and the director. Finally I had to compromise a bit and he had to compromise a bit, and I’m happy with the final outcome of that particular scene. That scene had been very challenging for me.
Q: You have these huge characters, Bheem and Raju, and you also have Alia Bhatt [Sita] and Ajay Devgn [Venkata Rama Raju]. When you were writing the themes for Bheem and Raji, what was your approach to composing for them?
MMK: I resorted to lots of woodwinds and brass while composing for Ram Charan’s [character], and for the Bheem character, played by NTR, I resorted to percussion, lots of tribal effects, and human voices. [For] Ajay Devgn, [the character], I again used lots of brass which normally indicate patriotic feelings musically. These are the instruments but every theme is backed with rich strings because when we present something on the silver screen, the sound should have depth and dynamics with every theme. That’s what I did.
Q: In this film you work with NTR and Ram Charan, these huge superstars. You worked on “Paheli” [dir. Amol Palekar, 2005] with Shah Rukh Khan years ago. When you’re composing music for these stars, does your approach differ at all? These songs are getting 200-300 million views on YouTube and [other sites]. Do you approach it in terms of their personality or does your approach change when the character is played by a superstar?
MMK: I don’t go by personalities much. I don’t ignore their personalities and image, but I just consider them[with everything else]. I mostly go by the character in the movie — what is the character saying and what are their traits. What is the texture of the character and how does he behave? Those are the only things I consider. I go by the story and their characteristics. I rarely take the artist’s image into consideration.
Q: “Naatu Naatu” took 30 hours to compose. For the entire soundtrack, the entire film’s score, how long did that take?
MMK: The entire score took me about three and a half months, say about 100 days to complete. We had six songs; for each song the entire process of producing a song — composing, recording, getting the lyrics done, dubbing the voices, adding live instruments, and mixing them down. This process took an average of 10 to 15 days per song. That’s two months, and three months for the score — totally, about six months of work for me on this movie. I never calculated the total, but I can say it took me six months of man-hours for the entire movie.
Q: What discussions have you and Rajamouli had about doing a part two, a sequel or another project together?
MMK: About part two, we don’t know. Right now it’s not a priority because Rajamouli has to do a movie with Mahesh Babu, another superstar. So he’s got commitments between him and some production house — that has to be addressed first. If there is going to be any part two for “RRR”, we can’t deny the possibility, but we never know.