Kalyana Vaibhogame is ready for release and its music, particularly ‘Manasantha Meghamai’, is climbing up the charts. This unhurried melody is right up the alley of music director Kalyan Koduri. “With such a melody, I am confident that if not the first day, I’ll get it right the second day,” he says and praises singer Chinmayi. “This is the first time we worked together and she was so professional. I had heard that she isn’t easy to work with. It turned out to be false. Sometimes, the impression formed by what we hear stays with us. I am glad I didn’t go by such notions,” he says, over a conversation at Prasad Labs.

Kalyan knows the industry well and the unsolicited talks that do the rounds. He recalls a rumour that cropped up after Aithe (2003). “The gossip was that I started charging Rs. 50 lakh,” he laughs. FromAithe to Kalyana Vaibhogame, Kalyan has composed for 15 films in 12 years.

He is credited with breathing life into small films such as Ala Modalaindi, Astha Chemma, Golconda High School, Anthaku Mundu Aa Taruvatha and Oohalu Gusagusalade. If he’s composed for one film a year, on an average, Kalyan says it wasn’t by choice. “I didn’t get many offers,” he says candidly. “For a year after Ala Modalaindi, I didn’t get any offer. Maybe someone else in my place would have had 10 offers,” he quips.

What Kalyan regrets till date is turning down 15 offers soon after Aithe. Back then, he nurtured a strong desire to turn playback singer and couldn’t believe his luck when his compositions for Aithe earned him recognition. “I didn’t train to be a composer and was reluctant. I would have made money if I had taken up some of those films. Later I killed my desire to be a full-fledged singer,” he avers.

Rough ride

The topic of money brings back memories of the time he had to rough it out. Kalyan hails from Kovvur, studied till class VII and years later, became a chorus singer for his elder brother M.M. Keeravani’s filmPalleturi Pellam in the early 90s. “I got paid Rs. 325. Those days, male chorus singers weren’t in demand. I’d get one film in a month or two,” he says. Kalyan picked up the basics of working in a studio by observing his brother. “Annayya is my guru,” he says.

Yet, he wanted to make it big on his own. He approached composers in Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai. “I sold a plot of land in Kakinada and spent time in Mumbai contacting music directors. Nothing worked. I returned, with Rs. 300 to spare for my ticket to Hyderabad,” he says. Kalyan struggled to pay Rs. 2200 as rent for a flat in Chikoti Gardens in the 90s. At times, he skipped a meal or two to save.

His break came when Gunnam Gangaraju asked him to compose for a corporate film and then produced the television series Amrutham. “I composed and sang the title track which became a hit. Chandrasekhar Yeleti, Senthil Kumar (cinematographer) and Ravindra (art director) and I made our debut with Amrutham. When Yeleti entered cinema with Aithe, I got the opportunity,” he says.

His friend and Kalyana Vaibhogame director Nandini Reddy considers him a rockstar composer. Kalyan differs. “I am happy with my work, but I don’t think I am a star music director,” he says, adding, “I’ll never be considered a big league composer since I am yet to give music for a star film.” Music, he says, has a better reach for star-driven projects. “Even if the tunes aren’t your best, the audience will be more accepting since it stars their favourite hero,” he says.

There’s the unmistakable hurt that he hasn’t got his due but there’s satisfaction at what he’s achieved. “I am happy I made it this far. I wish I can do more work. I have a responsibility to provide for my wife and son,” he signs off.

High point: Winning a clutch of listeners’ choice awards hosted by a leading FM channel for ‘Em sandeham ledu’ in Oohalu Gusagusalade.

Composers he looks up to: Ilayaraja and R.D. Burman.

Before the hit combo: S.S. Rajamouli first approached Kalyan Koduri for Student No.1 before Keeravani.

Up next: Srinivas Avasarala’s Jo Achyutananda.