Something remarkable has been happening in South India over the last few decades. It was slow at first, almost imperceptible. But now, it is undeniable.
Music composers are becoming multilingual at an unprecedented pace. There is a visible shift in how music gets created, adopted, recreated, shared, consumed, the works. Composers, to row safely through this musical wave, have adapted by creating music across South Indian languages.
They launch in one language, say Tamil, then move to creating music in another, say Malayalam, then test waters in a third, say Telugu. And the cycle continues. Let’s see how this progressed over time.
Tamil music composing giant, Ilayaraja, debuted with the Tamil film Annakili in 1976. His move to other south Indian languages started with the Telugu film Bhadrakali, also in 1977 (a remake of a Tamil film by the same name), and then with Kannada film Maathu Tappada Maga and Malayalam film Vyamoham, both in 1978. (His Hindi debut, Sadma, was in 1983, though he wasn’t as prolific up North.)
Another Tamil composer, Deva, debuted in 1989. He then flirted with other South Indian languages: Telugu – 1994, Malayalam – 1996 and Kannada – 1997.
Tamil composer Vidyasagar composed for six films in his debut year, 1988. Then, in 1989, he composed for three Tamil and Telugu movies each. He eventually picked Telugu as his base. Vidyasagar went back to Tamil in 1994 with Jai Hind and to Malayalam in 1996 with Azhakiya Ravanan. Today, he’s known for his music across the three languages.
The world-renowned music composing giant, A R Rahman, debuted in 1992 with two films—Roja, in Tamil, and Yoddha, in Malayalam. In 1994, he worked on two Telugu films. By 1995, he had debuted in Hindi with Rangeela.
Joshua Sridhar debuted in Tamil in 2004, then quickly added Malayalam to his repertoire in 2006 and Kannada in 2007, before eventually picking up steam in Kannada with a steady stream of successes.
In the last few years, this trend has accelerated tremendously. Now, the gap between multilingual projects for composers is a few months.
After his debut in 2014, Jakes Bejoy already has, to his credit, five Tamil films, six Malayalam films, and an upcoming Telugu film.
Govind Menon, the Thaikkudam Bridge band lead, also debuted as a composer in 2014 and has six Malayalam films and four Tamil films to his credit.