Has the music film industry changed? Veteran singers recall olden days

Singers K S Chithra, Sharreth, N Jayachandran, among others. Photos | Instagram

Music has a unique power that can unite people, heal wounds and even make you traverse a world of tranquillity. While music is life for some, it is also a means of income for many others. Social media has opened up phenomenal opportunities for young artists to showcase their talents. However, there were also times when singers relied only on their talent, hard work and perseverance to make it big in the music industry. Some vanished from the limelight unable to withstand the competition while some others overcame all odds to survive. 
On World Music Day, noted singers and musicians get candid about how they had overcome the challenges in the initial days of their careers and how they had turned music into a means of income. 

KS Chithra
Chithra who loved Carnatic music majored in music at college, thinking that she could work as a music teacher. She landed in the movie industry, quite unexpectedly. Chithra confesses that she never imagined that she would croon film songs for a living. “I wanted to work in a school or a college even when I started singing in films. I began getting more opportunities after I won my first national award. My parents and I had thought to utilise the opportunities that came my way while continuing my studies and then finding a job. A full-time job is indeed a secure source of income. In the initial days, I didn’t see film songs as a means of income. I was featured in a newspaper only after singing 100 songs. Social media has now made it easy for newcomers to find fame even if they sing only one song,” says Chithra.

G Venugopal
Venugopal believes it is passion and not financial benefits that drive them. He says that a good musician would never consider making money as their primary aim. The veteran singer recalls that he was ready to take any risk for the sake of music and didn’t think about its monetary side. Our passion for music will disappear when we start thinking about money. So, real music lovers should try finding a balance between both. My generation of singers may have lived for music, but the young generation finds their means of living from music. Today’s generation seems to lack genuine passion for music,” notes G Venugopal. 

M Jayachandran
“It was in 1995 that I started working in films. Before that, I used to compose album songs and title songs for serials. Since I studied engineering, my parents wanted me to pursue a job in that profession. But music has always been my passion. When I came into the industry, making music a profession was not financially viable. Rahman sir, Ilaiyaraaja sir and Harris Jayaraj were charging hefty sums as remuneration. However, the salary was meagre here. In 2009 – 10, I had to borrow money to complete film projects as the money given by the producer was insufficient. I had gone through severe financial crises. My predecessors like Raveendran Master, Johnson Chettan and MT Ummar too had struggled a lot. Their songs are still loved by people. Even though their songs were popular, they were struggling hard. I don’t think they received the financial benefits they deserved. This is where royalties become significant. Had they given the royalty of their songs, they wouldn’t have struggled so much. Moreover, they may have continued making music for a long time too. Now, things have changed; art has become an open stage. Malayalam cinema is scaling heights, welcoming everyone with a passion for cinema and music, with open arms. I am really happy to see this change,” says Jayachandran. 

Sharreth says that he couldn’t see music as his main source of income in the initial days. He points out that a legendary singer like Yesudas managed to find fame only after singing for a considerable time. In the olden days, radio was the only source for listening to music. Sharreth confesses that he had believed that he would ‘rule’ the Malayalam film music industry when he sang in the movie ‘His Highness Abdullah’. His father was a sales tax commissioner and his mother was a teacher. He says that his mother was his biggest support system. When the producer of his first movie abandoned the project, Sharreth had to pawn his mother’s gold chain to pay the orchestra. Famous singers like Chitra and Mano sang in his first movie. After his father’s retirement, he had no other option than to find a proper means of income. “Even though the songs in ‘Kshhanakathhhu’ were hits, the movie wasn’t as successful at the box office. So, I had to wait for another 2 -3 years for my next movie. You need God’s grace in everything that you do. In cinema, luck is what you need. I am happy that people loved most of my songs. But, I am not sure whether I had made any financial benefit from them. I had found my means of living by composing jingles for advertisements. Those who have heard the extremely popular jingle ‘Mazha Mazha Kuda Kuda, Mazha Vannal Popy Kuda’ do not know that I had composed it. Even though I did movies, I had been cheated many times. It was the advertisement jingles that always helped me financially. They fetched me good remuneration. But, composing songs that could capture the attention of the audience in under twenty seconds is the real challenge here. My passion for music was what sustained me in the industry. I just wanted to compose music and didn’t think much about making money from it. Now, singers have lots of opportunities, especially when a song becomes viral. Moreover, they are able to get financial benefits too,” notes Sharreth. 

Rajalakshmi was a little girl when she entered the world of music and stage programs. She began singing in concerts when she was just a child. Rajalakshmi says that she began earning from a young age itself; so, she was sure that she could find her means of living from music. While in school, she managed both studies and singing, even though she gave more importance to music as she was passionate about it. “All we had was Doordarshan then. So, it wasn’t easy grabbing attention. But, things have changed now. Social media could be used to make someone famous or understand one’s reach among the audience. Moreover, new generation of musicians are able to earn money via social media. Those who know how to utilise social media well can earn good money. Earlier, the remuneration wasn’t that great and we were underpaid too. I used to enjoy the privilege as a singer who started with Doordarshan. Meanwhile, I am happy that people still remember me, even as many had disappeared in the course of time. It is not a simple thing to be able to survive here. You could do that only if you are hardworking, perseverant and are extremely passionate about music. My experiences have taught me that music will embrace us back if we hold on to it. It is music that helps me live with head held high. 

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