M M Keeravani today is being hailed as one of the greatest music composers of Tollywood, but he earned his early spurs in K Balachander's 1991 Tamil movie, 'Azhagan' (Handsome), starring Mammootty and Bhanupriya. In the credit lines, he was known as Maragathamani.
In the same year, Keeravani, using the same identity, composed the music for celebrated filmmaker I V Sasi's hit movie 'Neelagiri', also starring Mammooty. And in the year that followed, he gave the music for 'Soorya Manasam', the Sowcar Janaki-Mammootty film where the latter plays a mentally challenged man.
In the meantime, he continued with Telugu and Tamil films, venturing onto Kannada, where he did not change his name, as he did yet again, this time to M M Kreem, when he scored the music for 'Criminal', Mahesh Bhatt's 1995 Telugu-Hindi bilingual thriller based on 'The Fugitive' and starring Nagarjuna, Ramya Krishna and Manisha Koirala.
Although he went on to give music to a number of Kannada films, his last Malayalam production was 'Devaraagam' (1996), which also marked Sridevi's last appearance in a Mollywood movie.
The film is remembered mainly for its songs, which were penned by M D Rajendran. And only Keeravani knows why he chose not to do Malayalam films post-'Devaraagam'. Two Malayalam films – one in 1996 and another in 1999 – that Keeravani wrote the music for, never got released, but films featuring his music have been dubbed into Malayalam.
K S Chithra, who lent her voice to the songs of 'Devaraagam', was ecstatic when she heard about Keeravani's Oscar moment. "This is a well-deserved award for a hugely down-to-earth person," she said, adding a personal note: "We all know how Keeravani is scared to even fly in an aircraft, but he has flown to the US in the past. He is one person who speaks very little."
Telugu cinema, notably the 'Baahubali' franchise, has consumed Keeravani's creative energies, although, in his M M Kreem avatar, he has been giving music to at least one Bollywood production a year, from, notably, Sudhir Mishra's 'Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin' to Mahesh Bhatt's 'Zakhm', Pooja Bhatt's 'Jism' and 'Rog', and the Akshay Kumar-starrer 'Baby'.