By Nithiyah Tamilwanan
You may or may not have heard of him. But one thing’s for sure – you will be mesmerised by his music.
Journey through his film scores, albums and live performances, and you will find that his music speaks to the soul, leaving a distinct mark on its listeners.
Santosh’s film scoring for Mat Kilau certainly did not disappoint. The elements of traditional instruments like the Serunai, Gendang Melayu and Rebab weaved seamlessly through the lively beats of modern drums, synthesizers and harmonious orchestral music.
The music director curated the film scores to enhance the cinematic experience, while being careful not to overpower it.
“When scoring, I believe there lies a sweet spot between driving the film and staying under the radar. Breathing life into the scene without drawing too much attention to the music.”
And I think it’s safe to say, Santosh’s masterpieces in Mat Kilau most definitely found that “sweet spot.”
But we’re getting a little head of ourselves, let’s first meet the man behind the music...
Santosh Logandran is a trained sound engineer who draws much influence from his beginnings in traditional music and Carnatic vocals.
Santosh’s musical pursuits are mostly centred around live performances and his solo ventures, including his debut album, “In Pursuit Of Santosham”, original music composition and direction for an experimental dance film, “S.K.I.N" and a stage production “Sand The Musical.”
The multi-talented musician is also the percussionist and vocalist for Malaysian-fusion band Nadir, with whom he has released an album, “Synesthesia”.
Santosh’s career in film scoring only really took off in early 2020. But in just this short period of time, he has built an impressive repertoire, having worked on a number of movies and TV series, including Histeria (2022) by James Lee, Malaysian-Tamil series Astra (2022) by local filmmakers Rubindran Nair and Ven Soma, as well as an Argentinian horror-thriller Sangre Vurdalak (2021) by Santiago Fernández Calvete.
Santosh was initially hired as a music editor for Mat Kilau. However, he saw this as an opportunity to compose for a historical film, set in Malaysia. Santosh approached the director, Syamsul Yusof, with the idea and he was very receptive.
He wanted the score to have orchestral elements with a blockbuster-like feel, whilst also retaining the traditional nodes of the film. And that’s what Santosh brought to the movie.
“I essentially hustled my way through it,” Santosh snickered.
Although he had experience in scoring for movies, Mat Kilau was a whole new ball game for Santosh.
The sound had to be BIG, consisting of the necessary dynamics to fit the film.
“I was not a 100% prepared for the movie but I am sure that I gave it my all,” Santosh decidedly said.
Working with traditional instruments was familiar ground to Santosh – he grew up with them after all.
He struggled a little with the orchestral sounds used to drive the score. “But I got it now!” Santosh laughed.
Syamsul Yusof knew exactly what he wanted from the music production, which made the process quite straightforward for Santosh.
They split the film into five separate reels, curating the score one reel at a time.
It was a lot of back and forth between the director and Santosh - reviewing, editing and fine-tuning until they achieved the desired result.
“Although a temp was provided, I did not want to completely base my original compositions off it. I told him I would replicate the feel, but the music itself would be different.”
It was clear that maintaining originality was important to Santosh. In fact, the use of instruments, such as the gendang and serunai, were decisions Santosh made to preserve the traditional elements of the film.
The music director also contributed vocally to the film score. “Even the female voice in the end was me,” Santosh chuckled.
Don Dukun, an upcoming Malay horror-comedy, is Santosh’s latest venture as a film scorer. His eyes lit up as he spoke about this project.
“I got to create a genre of music that most people might not be familiar with. I can’t really describe the feel, you’ll have to watch the movie to experience it!”
Aside from his many film scoring projects, Santosh is also preparing to release new music of his own.
I was curious as to whether his upcoming releases would be similar to his first album, In Pursuit of Santosham.
“I don’t know honestly! I try to avoid labels and compartmentalising my music into a particular style but one thing’s for sure – you will know it is my music.”
With conviction in his tone, Santosh described how although the pressures involved in creating are constantly present, he would never sell out. “I will always stick to my sound when composing and songwriting.”
Santosh hopes that his music will bring people to a place where they can think and introspect. He does not want his melodies and sounds to change people, but to invoke positive emotions, making them want to be better.
“I cannot control how my music is perceived but what I can do is work on myself - making music that I am proud of and hopefully, people will find some solace in my work,” Santosh smiles.
Growing up, lots of people urged him to join AR Rahman, a prominent composer in the Indian film industry. But at the time, Santosh felt that that was not his journey.
“Although I would have learnt lots from him, I figured that I wouldn’t really have my own standing.,” Santosh mused.
When asked if there was anyone he would like to collaborate with now, Santosh turned pensive.
“I have been talking to some big names but I just love collaborating with other artists in general – it does not really matter who. My dream is to work with as many traditional musicians in order to infuse some life into our various cultures.”
By the end of the interview, I came to the realisation that Santosh does not just ‘make’ music. He lives and breathes it. The budding film scorer has profound respect for his art, never allowing anything to get in the way of his eternal relationship with music and creation.
I asked him if he had any ‘words of wisdom’ for young artists who are just trying to break into the industry.
Santosh pondered before saying,
“I learnt recently that I need not have been so cautious about the steps I took in my early 20s. The fear of messing up overpowered everything else. So, I would suggest making as many mistakes now because it is okay to fall. It is the only way you will learn.
“And always believe in what you want to do. Never, ever doubt your dreams.”
Film scores, live performances, solo albums, singles and so much more – Santosh Logandran, a musical genius in his own right, is truly the gift that keeps giving.
As soon as we got off our call, I felt a sense of contentment, knowing that the future of our local music scene is in good hands, with people like Santosh at its helm.
Support our local musicians! Catch Santosh and his band live at the Pondicherry Lounge every Friday from 9pm onwards, and stay tuned for his multilingual singles which will be released over the next few months!