There has always been a sense of mystery surrounding Koduri Maragathamani Keeravani, popularly known as M.M. Keeravani. Last week, the veteran composer won the 2023 Golden Globe award for Best Original Song for Naatu Naatu, from SS Rajmouli’s RRR.
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Before ‘pan-India collaboration’ became a marketing term, Keeravani in the 1990s had a strong foothold across industries. While his compositions were familiar to many, his body of work wasn't because of his aliases. The veteran composer was Keeravni in Telegu cinema, Maragathamani in Tamil and Malayalam cinema, and M.M. Kreem in Hindi cinema. In a 2005 interview with Rediff, he hinted at his inspiration for this decision, saying, “Stephen King had two identities; I have three.”
Born in Kovvur, Andhra Pradesh, to a painter, lyricist and screenwriter working in Telugu cinema, Koduri Siva Shakthi Datta, and his wife, Bhanumathi, Keeravani began learning to play the violin when he was four. After initial struggles, he started his career in 1987 as an assistant to Malayalam composer C. Rajamani and Telugu music director K. Chakravarthy. Talking to Rediff about early attempts to find a footing in the Telegu film industry, Keeravani said there was a lot of “mental stress, enough misery due to my economic condition. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.”
His first big break as an independent composer was TSBK Moulee’s Telugu film Manasu Mamatha (1990), but it was Ram Gopal Verma’s Telugu thriller Kshana Kshanam (1991) that brought him due recognition. In 1997, he won a National Film Award for Best Music Direction for the Telugu film Annamayya, on the life of 15th century composer Annamacharya.
With 1994's Criminal, which yielded the hitTu Mile Dil Khile, Keeravani announced his arrival in Hindi cinema. Talking about his diverse compositions and pan-Indian presence, he once said, “Songs in Telugu and other languages are my bread, Hindi songs are my butter.”
Keeravani has composed music for over 220 films. As music director for his cousin SS Rajamouli's films, he has worked on Maagadheera, Eega, the two Baahubali films, and RRR. Here are six celebrated compositions from a career of more than three decades.
‘Ko Ante Koti’, Kshana Kshanam (1991)
Ram Gopal Varma's comedy was a breakthrough for Keeravani. This number shows his playful side, with conservational vocals by SP Balasubrahmanyam and the film's star, Sridevi.
‘Jeevan Kya hai Koi Na Jaane’, Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin (1996)
This tempestous song, with its whip-like percussion and Keeravani's searching vocal, opens, and sets the tone for, Sudhir Mishra's tense, sly gangster film.
‘Gali Mein Aaj Chaand’, Zakhm (1998)
Penned by Anand Bakshi and sung by Alka Yagnik, this song from Mahesh Bhatt's Zakhm still evokes a certain nostalgia among film fans who grew up in the 2000s. Last year, Bhatt, commenting on the popularity of the song, said: “[If] a song that was composed in 1998 is still being heard, then it means that music always has a heart-to-heart connection that has also reached these (young) kids."
‘Aa Bhi Jaa’, Sur (2002)
Lucky Ali and Sunidhi Chauhan sang this soulful number for Sur, directed by Tanuja Chandra.
‘Maine Dil Se Kaha’, Rog (2004)
This song is made memorable by KK, whose silken voice captures the melancholy of love lost, and actor Irrfan Khan, who makes the lyrics come alive.
‘Dheere Jalna’, Paheli (2005)
This romantic number, sung by Sonu Nigam for the Shah Rukh Khan-Rani Mukerji film Paheli, starts off delicately before exploding into a joyous chorus.
‘Jaadu Hai Nasha Hai’, Jism (2003)
A much-loved composition by Keeravani, sung by Shreya Ghoshal for Amit Saxena's erotic thriller Jism. Ghoshal won the Filmfare Award for Best Playback (Female) for this song.
‘Dheera Dheera’, Magadheera (2009)
Dheera Dheera was sung by Nikitha Nigam and Keeravani for SS Rajamouli's period film. The song cemented Nigam’s place in Telegu cinema.
‘Sivuni Aana’, Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)
As SS Rajamouli’s epic created history at the box office, Keeravani also embarked on an unexpected second innings. Sivuni Anna was sung by Keeravani and Mounima.
‘Saahore Baahubali’, Baahubali: The Conclusion (2018)
Sung by Daler Mehndi, this song introduced actor Prabhas in the second part of Rajamouli’s epic.