Visually challenged music composer on a roll

Chennai: Being visually challenged has not deterred Afzal Yusuff from composing chart-busting songs in his four-year career in Malayalam cinema and he has veteran K J Yesudas, Sonu Nigam, Khailash Kher and Shreya Ghosal crooning to his tunes.

Savouring the success of his latest number `Illathalum Kai Marrumbol` from the recently released Kunchako Bobban starrer `God For Sale`, 36-year-old Afzal, who was blind at birth "like American star Stevie Wonder," says the duet was rendered by another Malayalam playback legend, Yesudas`s contemporary, P Jayachandran and Mridula Warrier.

He composed three songs in `God for Sale` but unfortunately the movie did not do that well.

This year has been fruitful for him as he has composed songs in three films, starting with `Ithu Pathiramanal,` `superstar` Mammooty-starrer blockbuster `Immanuel` and `God for Sale.`

`Alolum Thenolam` by popular young singer Najim Arshad and Mridula , `Eriveyil`? Shreya Ghosal (both in Pathiramanal), `Manathudichathu` (Najim-Mridula in Immanuel) and `Illathalum` are still among the top ten songs-list.

Reminscing about his entry into the industry, Afzal told PTI that the beginning was through `Chandranillukku Vazhi` but "It was purely academic, that is meant for film festivals."

"My first commercial project was Prithiviraj starrer `Calendar` (in 2009). My music was noticed. I did four songs in that."

`Chirakarnna mounam` by Yesudas and Cicily Abrham became hugely popular. Incidentally, the veteran singer selected it as one among his top 50 favourite songs while celebrating his 50 years in the film industry, Afzal said.

Buoyed by that success, Afzal went on to do the Mammooty starrer `1993 Bombay March 12`. It was in this movie that popular Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam rendered his first Malayalam song `Chakaramuthu.`

A notable feature was that singers Kailash Kher, Usha Uthup and Sadhana Sargam also crooned in this movie.

It has been a hard grind for this composer. Instead of moping about their child being visually challenged, his parents discovered his innate music talent and gifted him an harmonium and later sent him to learn the nuances of music.

By the time he was in the 10th standard, he was an expert keyboard player. Then came opportunities to do stage shows with music bands which further honed his skills as a keyboard programmer with helpful tips from senior professionals.

The first step into filmdom was when he was noticed by a producer while composing the title song for a stage show of the Society for Rehabilitation of the Visually Challenged which incidentally was directed by noted director Lal Jose.

"That is how `Chandranillukku Vazhi` happened."

A former keyboard programmer of popular music composer Bijibal, Afzal, who was keyboard programmer for close friend, popular music composer Bijibal upto 2010, is now looking forward to the October release of `Parinikimala` directed by Sennan.

The movie is a remake of the 1981 classic directed by Bharathan.

He has done two songs in that. His role model is Stevie Wonder, who like him was visually challenged at birth.

"He is a legend, an inspiration... Look at what he has achieved... Among Stevie Wonder`s songs, he rates "I just called to say I love you" as his favourite.

"I have still a long way to go. I am just a student. There is still more to learn. In this field, sympathy does not count. It is talent, and I am here because of that."

Singer Najim Arshad, who has rendered quite a few songs composed by Afzal, including the popular `Manamthudichathu` in `Immanuel`, says, "It is just sheer magic when Afzal plays the keyboard. It is a different feel altogether."