The 31-year-old, best known for singing Love You Chinna (Love Mocktail), Thumbi Thullal (Cobra), Neeli Kannumalo (Nawab), among several other hits, is now a busy music producer. “The interest in becoming a composer was there from the start. I was just waiting to gain more experience. It would have been stupid of me to go into composing without even knowing how things work,” says Nakul, who already has three projects this year, including the films Love Mocktail 2, One Cut Two Cut and the Humble Politician web series. Nograj. .
Working on Love Mocktail 2 was a “great experience” for Nakul. He says the expectations were higher since the songs of Love Mocktail (by Raghu Dixit) were a huge hit. “This is one of the most anticipated films this year. The movie is phenomenal, the story is great, and the trailer has already reached over two million views in just a few days. The music is an integral part of the story because there are a lot of emotional journeys. Looking at people’s responses, I feel like I did the movie justice. Although people don’t yet know what the movie is about, they still resonate with the characters and the songs draw them into the world of Love Mocktail 2.”
With less than a hundred titles, Nakul’s repertoire is proof that it is not limited to one language or genre. Having made his debut as a singer in 2013, Nakul, who has become familiar with Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi, credits all those years in the field for helping him become a better songwriter. In fact, his journey resembles his playlist where “you will have everything. Starting with random Hindustani classical to Miles Davis and Moroccan music. It’s everywhere,” laughs the musician.
He says, “Singing is basically putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. When a composer wants me to sing something, I have to think about how he was able to compose the melody, what he expects from me, and then there is my interpretation. As a singer, I tried different types of music – melodies, romantic songs, powerful numbers, etc. During this process, I spent a lot of time interacting with composers, directors and producers. I believe that all this allowed me to become a composer today.
Finding yourself through music
Creating music, for him, is not only composing for a film, but also exploring himself. He tells us: “Music is something very personal for me, as it is for all other artists. Nowadays, people are exposed to all kinds of genres from all over the world. So everyone – including the actors and directors I work with – has a taste for music and because of that there’s a lot of room for experimentation. I get a lot of different input from everyone and then I present my point of view. In the end, it is a question of highlighting his personality.
Speaking about his creative process, he says isolation suits him best. “What I’ve observed is that I need to have a free space of mind to create music. He can’t be preoccupied with ten other things. So, I prefer to be isolated, spend time with myself, thinking a lot and talking less. It has more to do with listening and experimenting with instruments. That’s the kind of process I’ve instilled,” he says, adding that inspiration can come from anywhere – watching a child sing, what their grandmother is listening to, or a sound they heard years ago.
Reflecting the director’s vision
Since his first outing as a music producer in 2018 (Rishabhapriya), Nakul has maintained that while working on a film, his priority is to stay true to the director’s vision. “From day one, I was in constant contact with the director. It’s about what he wants, and it’s me interpreting the film musically, using his thoughts. In the process, there are a lot of give-and-takes. And when there are creative conflicts, it’s always good to execute something and present it and if it still doesn’t work, that’s fine. Just make sure your ego doesn’t come into play. There is a certain respect that must be given to the position as he is the captain of the ship.
Learn from the best
Having worked closely with maestros like AR Rahman, MM Keeravani, Raghu Dixit, among others, Nakul says his main learning from them was to broaden horizons. “Each musical director has his own rhythm. When I work for them, I have to keep that in mind. But one common thing I’ve noticed about all of them is that they’re all perfectionists. It’s something I learned early in my career, that things have to be perfect and there’s no room for compromise.
And what does perfection mean to him? “If we’ve reached a point where we can listen to a song and forget who made it and just enjoy the music…if it makes you cry, you cry, if it makes you laugh, you laugh. If you’ve achieved that emotional goal, that’s what I call perfectionism. Ultimately, you make music for human beings. These stories are written to play with people’s emotions. Otherwise, there are no sad stories, romantic stories or comedies.
Trained in jazz, besides classical Hindustani and Carnatic, Nakul was part of AR Rahman’s jazz group, Nafs, and this, he says, helped him work on nuances while creating melodies. “My time at Nafs was a key moment in my life that pushed my limits. This is where I learned the ability to harmonize simple melodies in a unique way to make them more interesting. Jazz is addictive. The more you dig, the more you are drawn to it,” shares Nakul, who admits to having a fondness for strings, particularly brass and nylon guitars.
We ask him what kind of music he wants to create, and he shares, “I like romantic songs and melodies, that’s one side of the spectrum. Then there is the other end which is the epic music! I love epic orchestras. It’s something that inspires me. Every time I listen to an epic score, it does something to me and I wish I could do it.
The music is electric in Love Mocktail 2
Talking about what he did differently in Love Mocktail 2, Nakul says he experimented with several genres for the project. “I didn’t want to stick only to acoustics, but I wanted to explore the electroacoustic genre. If you take Ide Swarga, you will see that it is a real soul-ectro song, while Ninadene Januma is a kind of emotional ballet song. Ee Prema is, once again, a mixture of electro rhythms with beautiful guitars and banjos. So, I tried to experiment, but it was all ultimately driven by the characters and the story. But, of course, I wanted to do something that had never been done in the kannada industry before, not just Love Mocktail. I wanted to take a new approach.