Oscar statuettes.  (Scott Olson | Getty Images)

Oscar statuettes. (Scott Olson | Getty Images)

Selvam woke up with a start. He heard some noise outside his meager one-room boarding. Must be the prowling cat again, he thought, as he turned around to look at his watch. 6:50 AM.


The early morning sun peeked through the lone rental room on the roof of the beige colored house. Selvam had to be at Vahini recording studio by eight. Every bone in his body ached. He had been in bed just for four hours. This was not what he anticipated when he boarded the train to Chennai, from Tiruvaduvur, a village near Madurai.

He always wanted to be a musician. The songs he composed for the Pongal festival at the local temple were great hits. He and his friend Hari would sit under a Neem tree and try to do a music score for every occasion, while the rest of the teenagers hit the cricket ball deep into the paddy fields. Selvam’s grandfather had initiated him to music with what looked like a hundred-year-old harmonium.  As he grew older, he began to appreciate the subtleties of different types of music.

The sophistication and charm of Carnatic music enamored him. He wanted to learn more from the local giant Swaminathan Iyer, who spotted his early music genius. But, his parents wouldn’t hear of it. “Music is for girls,” they said. His father wanted him to study at a polytechnic college in Madurai. Selvam couldn’t think of a life where the only music he heard was the screeching of the lathes and pounding of the anvils.  After 12th, he and his friend Hari decided to pursue their dreams and boarded the train to Kollywood. His grandfather was the only one on the platform, waving them goodbye.

Gosh, that was four years back. Selvam, tossed again. He had hoped to make an impact on the film music world. Impact? Yes! He though glumly, if you count the one line chorus he sang with 15 others in four different movies, or the two second keyboard crescendo that he had played with an army of other musicians. How his parents mocked when he asked them to listen intently for his voice.

But, he couldn’t complain. He was living with the joy of music. He got to experience, first hand, how music directors articulated the emotion of a scene into music.  Now and then, he would feel a strong adrenalin rush and or an impulse express the same emotions in his own way on his keyboard. He would then spend all his breaks discussing the new tunes with Hari.  Selvam hoped that someday soon, he would have something to show his parents.

Music director Rajan was sipping ice-cold latté on the first class cabin on Singapore Airlines. What a night it had been. He sat back savoring the immense joy he had felt at the awards ceremony. More than the fact that his music genius and creativity was recognized, he was thrilled by the fact that he had brought Indian music to the forefront. He had proved that music from India had all the finesse of Jazz and the drama of Rock. He smiled at how proud his mother had been at the Oscars.

He felt the two smooth statues in his carry-on. He had watched the TSA agents cheer and smile as his luggage passed through the x-ray check. His hand suddenly stumbled upon an old watch.  It has been his lucky charm. The watch was presented to him by none other than the musical Maestro Sundaram. After one session of a fabulous music composition session, the Maestro, overwhelmed with emotion simply removed his wristwatch and tied it around Rajan’s wrist.

Rajan could still feel the pride and joy that he had felt then. It was indeed a turning point in his life. It inspired him to have confidence in his musical abilities and it was the start of the journey that took him to the Oscars.

As his eyes drooped he thought about the pleasant experience of composing music for the movie “Quiz Player,” which generated so much Oscar buzz. For the Oscar winning song, he had initially planned Latin style music, with a lot of salsa for a fresh, upbeat effect.  Instead he had switched it to a very South Indian style start and added folksy instruments like “Tharai” and “Thambattai” and peaked it with “Gatam” and “Mirudangam” for the fast pace. He remembered why he made the switch. It was his conversation with a talented twinkle eyed keyboard player. He had overheard Selvam, talking animatedly with his friend about how he would compose a rock song with a Karagattam tune as a base and then weave in clarinet for an unexpected twist. Rajan was amused by the conversation and joined in. The discussion went on for several hours and touched the musical history of several continents.  It was the most enjoyable conversation that Rajan had in years.

As Rajan felt possession in his carry-on, he smiled at the thought he had two, and drifted off to a well-deserved sleep.

Selvam cursed himself. He was late again. It was too late to catch the bus; he will have to end up paying for an auto. As the auto entered the Kodambakkam roudtana, he glimpsed at the newly erected cutouts and banners. “Ouch” he chided himself – how could he have completely forgotten this. Music director Rajan was returning back to India that day after accepting the Oscar awards!  Selvam had one those blue membership cards that would allow him to attend the felicitation ceremony for Rajan at Vijaya Mahal. He revered the musician and was eager to rejoice for him.

As the afternoon wore off, several people from his orchestra went to buy garlands and shawls. Hari and Selvam together pooled up money for a skimpy looking garland. As they walked towards Vijaya Mahal, Selvam wondered if Rajan would have gotten the Oscar, had he stuck to the original score with Salsa music.

They were shocked to see the crowd at Vijaya Mahal. The crowd from the auditorium had spilled over, up until the end of the street. As he watched Rajan, go up the stage on a TV screen in a nearby showroom, he felt a twinge of disappointment creep up his spine. Wasn’t he instrumental in making of Oscar winning songs? Wasn’t the part of the idea for the song his?

Two buses and a mile walk later he was climbing up the stairs to his room. The bright, beautiful full moon seemed to be mocking his heavy heart. As he opened the door he heard something fall with a heavy metal clang. He immediately bent down and picked it up. It was a gold plated statue of a knight, standing on a reel of film, holding a double-edged sword. It was an original golden Oscar statue!