MM Keeravani is now a name that has gone down in the annals of history as the music director who won the Golden Globe for the best 'Original Song' for Naatu Naatu from the Telugu film RRR or Roudhram, Ranam, Rudhiram.
But the composer is known for his idiosyncratic personality, starting with his decision to use three separate names to mark his music career. While Keeravani is the name he uses in the Telugu film industry, he is Maragathamani in Tamil and MM Kreem in Bollywood. Why?
A Telugu film critic, who had close relationship with Keeravani before the two parted ways, told The Quint, "He wanted to have a different identity, a clean slate, in each of the film industries. He wanted his music and not his name to be the connecting thread between his careers in different film industries."
Racy Beats and Lilting Tunes: You Have Heard Keeravani's Songs, For Sure
While Naatu Naatu became a big hit that transcended language boundaries, music connoisseurs would have surely heard and hummed a tune or two of Keeravani much before his RRR success. For instance, the unique Tu Mile Dil Khile from Mahesh Bhatt's Criminal (1994) or the more recent, Jaadu Hai Nasha Hai from the pathbreaking psychological thriller Jism (2003) were both composed by Keeravani. The 2005 song Dheere Jalna of Amol Palekar's Paheli too was his work.
Keeravani was introduced to Tamil audience by veteran film maker K Balachander in the film Azhagan (1991). In Tamil industry, where veterans like Ilayaraaja and AR Rahman have been ruling the roost, Keeravani alias Maragathamani did carve a small niche for himself.
The late 1990s hummed his songs Uyire Uyire of Ellame En Kadhali (1998), and En Kannanukku Kaadhal Vandanam (1993). A few of his songs in Tamil were sung by veterans including KJ Yeshudas and KS Chitra.
Film critic Sujatha Narayanan told The Quint, "In Tamil, he belonged to the Ilayaraaja school. He came to replace Ilayaraaja and became what Vidyasagar was for Tamil and Malayalam film audiences; using violin and soft percussion, putting tune before rhythm." While his name changed across industries, his style remained the same, though some heavy percussion songs like Naatu Naatu marked a refreshing break from the melodies.
In Telugu, Keeravani flourished – his versatile range showing in both melodies and racy numbers. A young Telugu audience hummed his Paluke Bangaramayera of Sri Ramadasu (2006) and danced to Bangaru Kodipetta of Magadheera (2009).
Narayanan explained why Keeravani's songs have withstood the test of time.
"His songs have a wide range. Take for instance, the Bahubali songs – Saahore Bahubali and O Ore Raja can be called two kinds of music. One high on percussion and octave and the other, high on emotion and lilting beat. With superhit songs in Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi, Keeravani has a range of musical blockbusters to which almost every hero danced or lip synced."Sujatha Narayanan, Film Critic
The hummable quality in his music made his songs sought after favourites of music troupes of local festivals, who sing from stage to stage across South Indian states, Narayanan added.
While Keeravani had the support of big names including veteran film maestro Ramoji Rao in Telugu and K Balachander in Tamil, it was the Keeravani-Rajamouli combination that made magic in the 2000s.
The Winning Streak With Rajamouli
Filmmaker SS Rajamouli is related to Keeravani, to no surprise of the Telugu audience. The filmmaker, who has been spinning out one superhit after another, was always known to have worked with a team of family members.
In the Telugu industry that has many a famous film family, including that of NT Rama Rao (Junior NTR's grandfather), Akkineni Nageshwar Rao (Nagarjuna's father and Naga Chaitanya's grandfather), Chiranjeevi (Ram Charan's father) and Krishna (Mahesh Babu's father), Rajamouli's choice of crew was never considered extraordinary.
What was unique, however, was the marketing which spun tales around his success. "Rajamouli can produce a hit without big heroes acting in his films," the hype around Eega (2012), a fly's story with no big heroes lining the cast, claimed. "Rajamouli produced hits by dipping into the talent in his family alone," was another common saying among Telugu film fans.
In this scheme, Keeravani associating himself with Rajamouli in Student No 1 (1991) was unremarkable. But the composer-director partnership created some memorable songs, devoured first by Telugu audience and now by a pan-Indian audience.
"Keeravani's partnership with Rajamouli made him expand his oeuvre to mass hit numbers. But he kept a special place for duets and deeply rich background scores which enhanced Rajamouli's style of filmmaking," Sujatha Narayanan said. The composer and director worked together in films including Magadheera (2009), Bahubali (2015 and 2018) and RRR (2022) with memorable music scores.
At the Golden Globe Keeravani did acknowledge this unique partnership. In the "order of priority" he thanked Rajamouli first and dedicated his award to him among others.
"Rajamouli calls Keeravani Peddanna (big brother). Theirs has been a successful equation. As a filmmaker, Rajamouli has been larger than life and that grandiose character he infused into Keeravani's music, which was up until then, 'let's stay quiet'. Keeravani, in turn, gave Rajamouli's mass films a classical touch."Sujatha Narayanan, Film Critic
The musical journey of Keeravani, boosted by his Golden Globe success, has not yet ended. The Telugu home audience is always waiting for the next Keeravani-Rajamouli hit. Now, audiences across the country too could year for songs that spring from this partnership.