Johnson (composer)

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Johnson (composer) : biography

26 March 1953 – 18 August 2011

Film scoring and soundtracks

Johnson began his independent career by composing the film scores of Bharathan’s Aaravam (1978), Thakara (1980) and Chamaram (1980). He composed his first soundtracks for the film Inaye Thedi, debut film of director turned still photographer Antony Eastman and actress Silk Smitha. It was Devarajan himself, who suggested Johnson to the director. Then came Bharathan’s Parvathi and Balachandra Menon’s Premageethangal. Premageethangal was a notable success with four of its songs – "Swapnam Verumoru Swapnam", "Nee Nirayoo Jeevanil", "Muthum Mudipponnum" and "Kalakalamozhi" attaining cult status.

He came to prominence through his collaboration with Malayalam author and director Padmarajan. Koodevide was their first venture, which had one of the most famous songs of Johnson "Aadivaa Kaatte", a pathbreaking song in Malayalam music history. It was one of the first songs in Malayalam to so many western classical elements. The song was born out of Padmarajan’s need for a western song for his innovative film. Song composition took place in Woodland’s Hotel, Chennai. Another notable feature of this song was the lyrics by O. N. V. Kurup, who for the first time wrote lyrics for a pre-composed song. Johnson worked for 17 films with Padmarajan, including his last film Njan Gandharvan. This productive collaboration saw the detailed screenplay and cinematography of Padmarajan become a fertile ground for expressive musical narration and thematic scores for Johnson. This is seen in some of the greatest motion pictures of Malayalam cinema, like Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam (1987), Nombarathipoovu (1987) and Perumthachan (1990). Another notable collaboration of Johnson was with director Sathyan Anthikkad, with whom he associated in almost 25 films. He was able to provide some of his most popular songs with Anthikkad and this combo is widely accepted to be one of the greatest director-composer collaborations in Malayalam cinema. Acclaimed Malayalam director Bharathan also collabrated with him in multiple films including Parvathy, Palangal, Ormakkayi, Kattathe Kilikkoodu, Ente Upasana, Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam, Ozhivukalam, Malootty, Chamayam and Churam. His major other collaborations with directors include Mohan (Oru Katha Oru Nunakkatha, Sakshyam, Pakshe and Angane Oru Avadhikkalathu), Sibi Malayil (Kireedam, Chenkol, Dasaratham and Nee Varuvolam), Sreenivasan (Vadakkunokkiyantram and Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala), Lohithadas (Bhoothakkannadi and Arayannangalude Veedu), Kamal (Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal, Shubhayathra, Ee Puzhayum Kadannu and Paavam Paavam Rajakumaran), and Balachandra Menon (Shesham Kazhchayil, Premageethangal, Kilukilukkam and Kelkatha Shabdam).

He is also noted for his collaboration with the Malayalam lyricist Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri. Their association began in 1989 with Sathyan Anthikkad’s social satire Varavelpu. Most of Jonhnson’s notable works came in late eighties and early nineties. In 1991, he scored a record number of 31 films, including 29 with Kaithapram. Johnson won National awards for two consecutive years. He won his first National Award in 1994 for the motion picture Ponthan Mada (1993). The next year he got his second award for Sukrutham. Both the awards were for the background score in films.

After an extremely successful career of more than a decade, Johnson took a sabattical from film scoring by the end of nineties. The quantity of his works began perishing during this time. By the beginning of 2000s, he didn’t sign any new projects that even his most noted collaborator Sathyan Anthikkad had to find a new composer. In 2004, he sang the song "Theekuruvi" from Kangalal Kaidhu Sei, which was composed by A. R. Rahman. Perhaps it is the only song recorded by him for any composer. He returned strongly to the field with Photographer in 2006, which fetched him numerous awards.