February 20 2020
How ‘kothavaranga’ evolved into ‘Mustafa Mustafa’ | Kathir on directing some of A. R. Rahman’s best love songs
14 February 2019

This Valentine’s Day, director Kathir gets nostalgic on his ‘Kadhal’ series of films

Long before the Gautham Menon brand of love hit us, Kollywood had Kathir. His protagonists were always hopelessly in love and celebrated friendship like no one’s business. Take the ‘Thendrale’ song from Kadhal Desam, for instance, which had a love-struck Abbas in awe, watching the object of his love sleeping. Or ‘Roja Roja’ from Kadhalar Dhinam, which had a shot of the Taj Mahal surrounded by roses.


How ‘kothavaranga’ evolved into ‘Mustafa Mustafa’ | Kathir on directing some of A. R. Rahman’s best love songs

Love, back then, was much simpler, and probably more poetic, as MetroPlus discovers in a long chat with the director as he travels down memory lane to the Nineties, recalling events that led to the making of the three films in the ‘Kadhal’ series. Excerpts:

Kadhal Desam

I remember travelling from T Nagar to Egmore every day when I was a youngster. Back then, if you went to the T Nagar bus terminus in the morning, you would witness several young girls waiting for their vehicles. The bus stand presented a pretty sight in the mornings. We missed that in April and May — during vacations — and that’s what I weaved into the ‘April Mayile’ song in Idhayam. The route my bus took to college (College Road) stayed in my mind for a long time, and that was the opening visual idea for Kadhal Desam.

I wanted some drama rather than plain love and so wrote a story of warring colleges and two boys in them. I narrated only a five-minute storyline to producer Kunjumon. He had only one request: that I change my original title ‘Kalloori Salai’ to a grander ‘Kadhal Desam’.

I remember meeting a young composer called Dileep (AR Rahman’s original name) then. I didn’t know that he had signed Mani Ratnam’s Roja, but he played two songs from the film (‘Chinna Chinna Aasai’ and ‘Pudhu Vellai Mazhai’). I loved both, and immediately paid him an advance for my next film. This was many months before Roja had released.

Since Kadhal Desam was getting delayed, I completed Uzhavan which had music by Rahman. When we sat down for Kadhal Desam, the first meeting we had was for the ‘Kalloori Salai’ song. My brief was that I was going to introduce a beautiful college road. I described the visual of a busy colourful road full of college boys and girls. I wanted it to be a fast number, but wanted it to start off with a melodious line. Rahman asked for a dummy lyric for it, and I said, ‘Inbathai karuvakkinal penn...’, and with that, he dished out a great melody. Lyricist Vaali liked those initial lyrics, and so we retained it for the final cut as well.

I’m a gifted filmmaker when it comes to songs. All five numbers in my albums usually come out well. After ‘Kalloori Salai’, we composed ‘Ennai Kaanavillaye’. But the most memorable session was for ‘Mustafa Mustafa’.


Rahman and I discussed an old Tamil film number, ‘Paravaigal pole marangalil meedhu’, which was about college students bidding goodbye to each other on their last day. I wanted a similar friendship-based number. We went to Ooty to compose a tune for that situation. We came up with some options but nothing that was exciting. Once we got back to Chennai, Rahman became busy with other film commitments. He travelled to Bengaluru for one of those films, and called me there. I stayed there for two days, but didn’t hear from him.

He took off to Mumbai for his other assignments and asked me to meet him there. He was working on the score of a Hindi film... Rangeela I think. At the end of the second day, he called me and said: Book your flight ticket to Chennai. I was puzzled, since we hadn’t composed anything till then.

Once I reached the airport, I realised that he was in the same flight as me. Once it took off, he handed me a pair of headphones and played me something. It went like this: ‘Kothavaranga kothavaranga....’ and I really liked the tune. But I didn’t want to tell him that immediately. I went home, listened to it a few times and told him that I loved it. Rahman sang the opening lines with a dummy lyric — Mustafa Mustafa — which we decided to retain. The lines in which he used ‘Kothavaranga’ are the lines ‘July pirakkum July pirakkum, junior-ukkum senior-ukumm’. The song became a superhit.

Kadhalar Dhinam

How ‘kothavaranga’ evolved into ‘Mustafa Mustafa’ | Kathir on directing some of A. R. Rahman’s best love songs

Kadhal Desam had become a huge hit in Andhra, it collected more than what Chiranjeevi films usually got. But I was in no hurry to go to a producer. I wanted to find a story. During one such quest, I was in Bengaluru, and an assistant said that he wanted to take me to a new place.

We went to the newly-opened Cyber Cafe. There were 20 people there, and they were in front of computers, sipping coffee. I was told that they ‘were surfing the Internet and checking mails’. I had no idea what ‘e-mail’ was. Thankfully, my assistant had a Hotmail login, and he showed me how it worked. At that time, he bragged about being friends with a girl in the US, and showed me her photo. The way that picture downloaded, slowly, frame by frame, was mind-blowing. Something struck me and I rushed out to write the basic one-liner of Kadhalar Dhinam.

I rented an apartment for the next 28 days, and fleshed out the story of how a couple fall in love through the Internet. There were no Internet cafés anywhere in India at the time. In fact, the producer (AM Rathnam) didn’t know what Internet was! So, to make it reach audiences, I roped in Goundamani for a comedy angle.

When the film released, there were a dozen Internet cafés in Chennai. For ‘Oh Maria’, Rahman recorded the same sounds that we heard while connecting to the Internet. ‘Roja Roja’ came out well and the rest of the songs followed. We had a lovely time recording them.

Kadhal Virus

I had watched international films by the time, and wanted to concentrate more on the feelings of a person rather than showcase grandeur. Interestingly, the art of writing letters played an important part in this script — which was me going back in time, considering I had just finished a film on falling in love in the Internet.


How ‘kothavaranga’ evolved into ‘Mustafa Mustafa’ | Kathir on directing some of A. R. Rahman’s best love songs

I think I got the title wrong though. The word ‘virus’ led people to think that this was also a computer-based script, which it wasn’t. Maybe that’s why it didn’t do well.


We started the music recording with ‘Ye Ye Ennaachu Unakku’, that was played in Channel V, which was known for playing only English and Hindi numbers. In fact, Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted that song to be used as the theme in Bombay Dreams but we had already finished it for Kadhal Virus. I was also lucky to get a great melody in ‘Sonnalum’. We roped in actor Simbu to sing a song, ‘Baila More’, which was the first time he sang for Rahman. I’ve always thought that AR Rahman is equal to 500 sound engineers, and wants every sound in his tunes to be perfect.



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