Tamil Music Industry Dependent on the Status of Films

After a long lull following the outbreak of COVID-19, things are again looking up for Tamil music. The postponed films from last year will release over the next few months.

Prominent ones are actor Dhanush’s movies Jagame Thandiram and Karnan, Karthi’s Sulthan, Ajith Kumar’s Valimai, and Vikram’s Cobra, and Dhruva Natchathiram.

Last month, the action thriller Master, which had the 30-year-old sensation Anirudh Ravichander’s music, released.

If theatres haven’t yet opened up to full capacity, both the industry and audiences are keeping their fingers crossed.

People invariably look forward to the big stars. Two Kamal Hassan films Indian 2 and Vikram, and Rajnikanth’s Annaatthe are under production.

“In Tamil Nadu, the music industry is a subset of the entertainment industry. Without films, it was obvious that music came to a standstill last year,” declares Zameer Syed, Vice-President of Muzik247 (which acquires music rights of south Indian films, mainly Malayalam, Tamil, and Tulu).

He says that unlike in other regions, there is no alternative non-film scenario in Tamil music.
Shahir Muneer, Founder- Director, Divo Music, says things should really pick up around the Tamil New Year in April.

“Four or five big releases have been announced, and these are all A-listed movies. People have waited for too long, and there is even competition for release dates,” he explains.

Expectation of the Audiences

Audiences are especially looking forward to Cobra, which has music by A.R. Rahman. The composer’s last Tamil hit was Bigil in 2019, and one of the Cobra songs Thumbi Thullal, (Shreya Ghoshal & Nakul Abhyankar), has already been released digitally.

The festive-themed song, which blends Malayalam and Tamil lyrics, is a huge hit.  With Rahman also signing up Mani Rathnam’s forthcoming Ponniyin Selvan, his fans are upbeat.

In Tamil Nadu, a large percentage of audiences are divided between film songs and traditional Carnatic music.

In the latter genre, the famous Chennai December Season mostly held online concerts last year. Though the attendance and fervour didn’t match the regular live event, the response was good enough among diehard fans.

With postponed releases, and songs releasing on YouTube, and streaming platforms, film music suffered.

Oru Manam (Dhruva Natchatiram), Harris Jeyraj’s composition, and Karthik and Shashaa Tirupati’s vocals, the song was well-received.

Similarly, Santhosh Narayanan, music director of Jagame Thandiram, released two songs last year. The film’s release has been regularly postponed, and as per the latest reports, the producers may release it theatrically this Friday (February 12).

During the lockdown, some films were also released on OTT platforms, examples being Soorarai Pottru, Putham Pudhu Kalai, Ponmagal Vandhal, and Mookuthi Amman.

Singer-composer Sean Roldan says that during the lockdown, a lot of studio work was done, especially for OTT projects.

“However, OTT is not the long-term solution, and ultimately, the fate of film music is dependent on theatrical releases,” he says.


Adds Zameer Syed of Muzik247,

“In fact, theatre is the only parameter for film music’s success. It may take time to return to previous levels, but it will definitely do so. Music on OTT platforms may not have the same long-term effect.”


Playback singer Rahul Nambiar says that the real revival will probably happen after June.

“Right now, everyone is in a catch-up phase, completing pending projects. Musicians are unrestricted by one language. And that’s a good thing.  They sing or compose in all the south Indian languages. Besides Tamil, I sing a lot in Telugu, and even in Malayalam and Kannada. So work keeps coming in,” he says.

Nambiar says a lot depends on how the live scene shapes up. He says,

“For many musicians, the real source of income lies there. A few corporates are now showing interest but it’s still early to say whether audiences will return to shows in a big way.” Adds Roldan, “My view is that people go back to theatres, they will go back to concerts. During the lockdown, session musicians had a big jolt, whether it was studio work or live. It’s important that they get opportunities soon.”

Concurrent Trends

One of the trends was the increase in the streaming of older music, especially composers like Ilaiyaraaja, K.V. Mahadevan, M.S. Visvanathan, early Rahman and M.M. Kreem, and singers like S.P Balasubramaniam, S. Janaki, P. Susheela, S.P. Sailaja, and K.S. Chithra. This was noticed in places with a substantial Tamil population, besides Tamil Nadu, viz., Bengaluru, Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. With S.P. Balasubramaniam’s demise in September, many fans went back into his music through streaming platforms.

Similarly, there was a regular following of Carnatic music, whether it was of old recordings of legendary artistes or home concerts by newer musicians. Like in the case of S.P. Balasubramaniam, the death of famed violinist T.N. Krishnan in November led to an increase in the listening of his recordings.

The Tamil independent music scene, however, remained restricted to a few names. Though rock bands like Junkyard Groove, Skrat, Escher’s Knot, and the F16s have had a strong following even in cities outside the state, the local scene is not as vibrant as Bengaluru or Kochi.

The bands viz., Prana, Pithikuli and Aatma have a select following but are yet to make it mainstream. Recently, Surrey-based Khanvict teamed up with Australia-based Tamil singer Amritha Shakti on the song Kingdom.

“I wanted to represent Tamil in the global south Asian music scene and celebrate it through this song,” says Amritha.

However, in Chennai, Roldan says that basically, people are not in favour of the change, as they see no reason for it. He explains,

“My own band Sean Roldan And Friends was very popular seven or eight years ago. We were very happy with the music. But film music was always bigger, and there too, fan clubs boost certain artistes. Also, one needs more musicians who write their own songs. Sathya Prakash is one such artiste.”

tamil music

According to Divo’s Shahir Muneer, local radio stations barely give any space to independent music.

He says,

“Radio City has a segment for indie music, but that’s a small slot in keeping with the national plan. The other stations play nothing, so one avenue for promotion is non-existent.”

Keeping all this in mind, the fate of the upcoming films will obviously decide the course of Tamil music over the rest of the year. Like Rahman’s Thumbi Thullal and Jeyaraj’s Oru Manam are much-needed hits.

Text by Narendra Kusnur

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