While every Tamil music composer is a friend, breakup doctor, and solitude companion for their fans, Yuvan Shankar Raja is a ‘drug dealer’. No joke. The youngest son of Rajya Sabha MP and Padma Shree Ilaiyaraaja, Yuvan’s playlists are fondly labelled by his fans as ‘U1 drugs’, ‘Yuvan painkiller songs’ on Spotify, YouTube, and other streaming platforms. As the ever-charming music composer turns 43, his musical, personal, and political journey is markedly different from his father’s. The year 2022 is also special for Yuvan because he is successfully completing 25 years in the music industry – that too without having composed music for either of the two big stars of Tamil cinema, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan.
After converting to Islam in 2014, Yuvan changed his name to Abdul Khaliq but continues to use the original name professionally.
He was just 16 when he composed music for his first movie Aravindhan in 1997. While most identify Thulluvadho Ilamai (2001) as his breakthrough album, he made his presence felt in 1999 with the Surya-starrer Poovellam Kettuppar.
One can go on dropping fun facts about Yuvan: He went to the same school as his cousins — director Venkat Prabhu, singer Premgi Amaren — and actors Surya and Karthi. He left school after class 10. He was also the first to introduce remix songs in Tamil cinema.
No Kamal, No Rajini so far
To reach the heights where he is today, without the backup of big names like Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan, is no mean feat. He did, though, make Haasan sing Neruppu Vaayil in Pudupettai (2006) in a roaring voice.
In stage shows, every time he begins humming the ‘Hmmm…’ part of Idhu Varai from Goa (2010), his casual, mellowed voice casts a spell on the audience and creates an atmosphere ‘to feel’ the love in one’s life.
His Oru Naalil song from Pudhupettai was penned by late lyricist Na. Muthukumar. The song is deeply philosophical and has a Shakespearean reference: “We shall stand by the side and watch all the happenings in the world. Let us think of it as a huge play and continue to act in it.”
While newer talents from the South Indian film and music industry are coming up, Yuvan fans aren’t jealous of the new entrants. For them, he’s already a legacy with more than 100 films’ music to his credit.
Among directors, Yuvan’s collaborations with his brother Selvaraghavan, Ram, and Ameer Sultan have largely remained successful and led to the production of long-standing Tamil albums in Kaadhal Konden (2003), Kattradhu Thamizh (2007), and Paruthiveeran (2007).
Fondly called ‘BGM King’ by his fans, Yuvan raised his game in every collaboration with actor Ajith Kumar. In fact, Ajith fans just love to watch their ‘thala’ (head) simply walking in a scene with Yuvan’s background score. When the acting and the music come hand-in-glove, both mutually hype up each other and elevate the scene.
Yuvan has also sung for Ilaiyaraaja and vice versa. When Yuvan, Venkat Prabhu, and Premgi Amaren get together on stage, it’s a platform for light-hearted conversations filled with funny confessions. They discuss how Yuvan took ‘inspiration’ from a lot of his father’s songs.
One cannot think of any other music director who has composed for as many unreleased movies as Yuvan. The albums for Pesu, Kadhal 2 Kalyanam, have a separate fanbase.
Yuvan launched his own music label ‘U1 Records’ in 2015. Three years later, he scored music and produced his first movie Pyaar Prema Kadhal under his own banner, YSR Films.
A few radical Hindu personalities like S.G. Suryah, state secretary of BJP Tamil Nadu, began criticising and spewing hatred toward him on social media. Yuvan also gave a fitting reply to those who marched to the comment section to ‘shame’ him for his new faith.
Politically yours, Yuvan
In September 2020, out of the blue, actor ‘Metro’ Shirish posted an image of him having a discussion with Yuvan Raja on Twitter.
— 𝙈𝙚𝙩𝙧𝙤 𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙧𝙞𝙨𝙝 (@actor_shirish) September 5, 2020
Yuvan, in the image, is wearing a tee that has poet Thiruvalluvar’s caricature saying, “I am a Thamizh-speaking Indian.” Shirish is also wearing a tee that reads: “I don’t know Hindi. Go away.” This set Twitter on fire and many celebrities like Shantanu Bhagyaraj, and Udhayanidhi Stalin came forward wearing the same tee and expressed their contempt for Hindi language imposition. The T-shirt sales also wildly picked up among Tamil people.
This indicated one thing. When it comes to activism, Yuvan takes a very nuanced approach like that of A.R. Rahman — voice out whenever Hindi imposition rears its ugly head and assert Tamilian identity in a subtle way.
In April, when Ilaiyaraaja got embroiled in a controversy for drawing parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and B.R. Ambedkar, Yuvan politically distanced himself from his father and posted a picture of him wearing a black T-shirt and black veshti (dhoti) on Instagram with the caption reading ‘Dark Dravidian and proud Tamizhan’. It earned him a lot of love and respect from the people of the state who are mostly averse to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Now, in 2022, Yuvan’s hit songs like Yedho Seigirai and Oh Shala that are resurfacing in the ‘Tamil vibe videos’ on YouTube and Instagram help us see his journey and virtually transport us to his ‘peak years’. ‘Vibe videos’ is a trend in which old Tamil songs are taken and synced with Tamil comedy scenes; the climax includes the high-pitch portion of the song.
Yuvan has announced that he is interested in directing movies. And on 10 September, he is going to be performing in Chennai after 11 long years. Yuvan, even after 25 years, continues to enthral us with his experiments.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)