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Friday, March 05, 2021

Isaac Thomas Kottukapally: ‘His music was aimed at philosophy of cinema’

The veteran music director passed away in Chennai on Thursday, aged 72.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai |
Updated: February 20, 2021 9:50:41 am
Starting off in the film industry as a script writer, Isaac debuted as a composer with the 1997 film Thaayi Saheba. (Credit: Sasikumar Vasudevan)

Isaac Thomas Kottukapally was a man destined to become a music director. He worked in the Malayalam, Kannada, Punjabi and Hindi film industries across a stellar career, picking up various national and international prizes, including the National Award for the background score of the 2010 Malayalam movie Adaminte Makan Abu.

The veteran music director passed away in Chennai on Thursday, aged 72.

Veteran Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli said Isaac had a unique approach to making music. “While most music directors think that their music is only to enhance the visuals, Isaac’s was aimed at enhancing the philosophy of cinema. He used to understand the politics of films. During a period when we worked together, he was inspired a lot from filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Luis Bunuel,” he said.

“Among the many films in which we were associated together, the music he did for my movie Dweepa (2002) was very popular. He was a beautiful man, and he had a great understanding about cinema,” Kasaravalli said.

Born in Pala near Kottayam, Kerala, Isaac graduated from Madras Christian College, following which he studied at FTII, Pune and worked as an ad man before turning his attention to movies.

Starting off in the film industry as a script writer, Isaac debuted as a composer with the 1997 film Thaayi Saheba.

Kasaravalli recalled that before Issac joined the film industry, “he attended the Trinity College of Music in London and wrote a script for a film… After doing the script, he approached me as I was preparing to shoot Thaayi Saheba. I was surprised as he had actually studied direction at FTII. Later, he produced music for six of my films”.

Asianet TV channel founder Sashi Kumar said after Isaac graduated from FTII, the two ran an advertising agency for a few years. “Later when I started Asianet, he was the channel’s first vice-president. Isaac played many roles for Asianet in the initial days, including content creation,” Kumar told The Indian Express.

Describing Isaac as a “hippie”, Kumar said, “His interest in western music was deeper than we could imagine. That passion made him study music in London even as he didn’t bother to formally complete it. I do not know anyone in my lifetime who has watched as many movies as he did. He used to watch movies by each and every shot, not as a story or plot. You ask him any scene, he will tell you shot by shot with minute details.”

Though Isaac’s official role was that of producing the background score of a film, during the shoot, he would be involved in various activities, including screenplay and shot divisions.

In fact, Isaac co-wrote the screenplays for legendary Malayalam director G Aravindan’s Thampu (1978), Kummatty (1979) and Esthappan (1980).


“Isaac lost hundreds of scripts during the 2016 Vardah cyclone… He always wanted to do a movie. But beyond getting immersed in films and music, he never tried to achieve anything in life. He was one such most underrated person in the industry and art,” Kumar said.

Veteran Malayalam director Adoor Gopalakrishnan recalled Issac as a man with a lot of goodwill.

“Even as he studied film direction, eventually he started focusing on music alone. He was much younger than me at FTII but I remember discussions about his diploma film Lilies of March, when he was a student. We expected him to emerge as a prominent filmmaker at that time,” Gopalakrishnan said.

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