Exclusive: I Rushed Back To Show The Award To My Daughter: MM Keeravani On His Golden Globe Win

The man who brought home the Golden Globe for 'Naatu Naatu' recollects the big moment and solves the mystery behind his many names.

Published On Feb 09, 2023 | Updated On Mar 01, 2024

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As actor Jenna Ortega announced ‘Naatu Naatu’ from RRR as the best original song at Golden Globes Awards 2023, Indians across the world cheered. The team comprising of director SS Rajamouli, actors Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr cheered the man behind the music, MM Keeravani, as he walked up to collect the statuette. The song also bagged the Critic’s Choice Awards 2023 in January, while RRR won the award for best foreign language film.

Next on Keeravani’s journey are the 95th Academy Awards, better known as Oscars, scheduled to take place on March 13, 2023. ‘Naatu Naatu’ will be face-off against some of the same mighty contenders for best original song—Lady Gaga’s ‘Hold My Hand’ from Top Gun and Rihanna’s ‘Lift Me Up’ from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If Keeravani scores the hat-trick of three international awards for the song, it will be an unprecedented achievement by an Indian music composer. 

Keeravani is currently working on a film with one of his favourite filmmakers, Neeraj Pandey—Auron Mein Kahan Dum Tha. “You can expect soulful music as always, I have also experimented with some songs,” Keeravani said of his music in the film. “Neeraj Pandey is a combination of tradition and out of box thinking. While he likes to stick to some traditional values, as a novel filmmaker, he likes to go radical and out of the box. That's what connects me to him,” he said of Pandey’s work. 

His other favourite filmmaker is, of course, Rajamouli: “He is a devoted filmmaker. Once he starts his project, he's completely into it at the cost of his personal life.” 

In a freewheeling chat, Keeravani bares all about his over a three-decade-long career in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi movies, his musical influences and his quiet celebration post his Golden Globe win. And now that the song is gunning for the Oscars, the excitement around Keeravani is going to exponentially increase.

Edited excerpts:

It’s like an age-old enigma, which people keep asking me about all the time. My name is Maragathamani Keeravaani, which is, otherwise M M Keeravani. Keeravani is the name of a raag, which my father likes. It is the same name in Carnatic music and Hindustani classical. The prefix, Maragathamani, which means emerald, is also my lucky stone. My parents added emerald or Maragathamani to my name. So, it’s like a combination of stone and a raag. Also, Keera in Sanskrit means parrot, who are normally green, and so are emeralds. Green is the dominant aspect of my name.

I started working as MM Keeravani for Telugu movies, which is my mother tongue. Later, SP Balasubrahmanyam, who was supposed to compose music for legendary Tamil filmmaker, K Balachander, was too busy and recommended my name. It was Mr Balachander who felt Maragathamani sounded like a Tamil name and was easier for Tamil people to have me as their own. So, he named me for all Tamil movies, which was then followed by Malayalam films. He used to call me Mani, fondly.

When I started working on Hindi movies, my mentor and my uncle suggested having a different name. He named me MM Kreem. Some people think it is Kareem. But I respond to that also because it’s okay, even mistaken for Kareem, it’s good in one way. So, that happens to be my fourth name, like that. But, of course, for all legal and banking purposes, I have only one name — M M Keeravani.

Now, with this current global recognition, I'm contemplating keeping it very simple, as simple as MMK. So, you can mention my name as MMK hereafter. MMK sounds very simple and easy to connect with.

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© Wikimedia Commons

The reason for all the family members having a creative bent is my father. He, being the second among his six siblings, with an elder sister, was the first to be inclined toward fine arts. So, he escaped from his family duties of working for the private bus service company and civil construction company that my grandfather owned. He joined JJ School of Arts and got a diploma. He started identifying as a Bombay-ite. He too had many names. Originally, he was Subbarao, then became Baburao. Then, he took up his brush name, Kamalesh, and he was popularly known as BabJi among his friends. Then he became Siva Datta and then Siva Shakthi Datta.

I find S D Burman’s tunes to be perfectly translated and in connection with the lyrics. It’s not about a particular song, but his style of composing was always in sync with the words. That's why I put him on the pedestal. I call him the God of music.

The second name is R D Burman. His music may not always conduct a perfect marriage between words and music like his father’s, but his music gives elation; the very purpose of music is to ease your mind and keep you in a pleasant state.

R D Burman’s constant strive for experimenting was followed by South’s famous music composer, Ilayaraja. I assume because he's the only one who was experimenting out of the box and which was then followed by A R Rahman. So, these three music composers were successful because they were experimenting with new things.

I was not reluctant, but I was not trying to become famous. One of the reasons could be that for 15-20 years of my career, I did not have an arranger for my music. Every piece has to be composed by me — every chord, every note for every musician had to be given by me. That took away a lot of the time, which was also supposed to be spent on PR.

I also used to do the background score for all my movies, which was not the practice in Hindi films. In the Hindi film industry, they did just the songs and not the background score and didn’t arrange the music themselves. I assume that left them with time to promote themselves.

And after 20 years, I also believed that my work should speak for itself. I never sought work from filmmakers and producers. I used to concentrate on the work that came to me and do justice to that. So, this could be the major reason for purposefully hiding all these years.

No, in my observation, the Hindi movie industry has somehow gained momentum to travel rapidly and beyond a necessary level from rural to urban kinds of subjects, as though we have an urban population. But India is chiefly an agrarian country where the majority of viewers are from villages. They connect to something because India is a country with diverse cultures rooted back in villages and mythology. So somewhere the Hindi film industry lost that pulse, and it completely became an urban kind of thing with all the OTT platforms. Also, it became a metro. Initially, it was very good. It was exciting. But after a certain point of time, it became redundant.

The South Indian film industry never went deeply into that urban kind of filmmaking. They always resorted to larger-than-life characters, mythology, rural subjects and folklore. That's what gave a shift to encouraging South Indian movies even for a pan-India audience.

I don't see any difference in talent. The amenities and the facilities are the same. Now in this internet age, everybody and anybody can do anything from anywhere. But forgetting the roots and ignoring the audience from villages could be a reason for this eclipse as you called it.

We had no clue that we would win. It was the atmosphere that took our breath away. We started enjoying it but it was also too much to take. We were least bothered about winning the award. Finally, when the music category came, it was time to announce the best original song. After announcing the five nominations and when the announcement was made “And the Golden Globe goes to….”, somehow my gut feeling said it would be me only.

After Naatu Naatu was declared the winner, I just went there to collect the trophy. Mentally I was calm, but I became a little breathless because I had to walk fast and I just wanted to utilise the allotted two minutes to thank all my team members who are responsible for this song coming to this stage. That included my choreographer, my director, my singer, my lyricist, and my keyboard programmers. I knew after two minutes they would introduce some music; it’s a polite way of saying your time is up.

After that, I was taken backstage and there were multiple interviews. I finished all the interviews and rushed back to the hotel to show the award to my daughter. There were limited passes so she couldn’t attend the event. I have a very sentimental connection with my daughter. We celebrated with some cakes and croissants that night.

I'm very happy to be receiving all this acclaim, recognition and appreciation for my song Naatu Naatu. I feel very grateful to my director Rajamouli and my team for making this happen this big way. Though Naatu Naatu is just a folk song of mine, I think it's the result of all my hard work over all these years coming this way. You may spend your energy in one corner and you might receive rewards from a different corner. It's how nature operates.

The Oscar speech has to be even shorter. It's going to be thanking only the director, I guess.


Photo: Instagram/Golden Globes

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