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Australian singer Rachael Leahcar sings an Ilaiyaraaja composition for Sydney film-maker Julian Karikalan’s debut film, Love and Love Only
Rachael Leahcar was only 18 when she won the hearts of music lovers across the country with her performance on the inaugural season of The Voice Australia in 2012.
Today, she is set to reach out to a whole new audience in another country, India.
And with an Ilaiyaraaja song, no less.
Rachael’s rendition of ‘Am I in Love’, composed by the legendary Indian musician, was released on Valentine’s Day.
It forms the theme song of Indian-Australian film Love and Love Only, the debut film of Sydney-based film-maker Julian Karikalan, set for commercial release shortly.
“When I first heard ‘Am I in Love’, it was like the clouds had opened to the heavens,” Rachael says. “It was beautiful. There was just so much emotion in the music alone.”
The Adelaide-based singer had not heard of India’s leading musician before, but now refers to him as “Ilaiyaraaja Sir”, just like everybody who has ever come in contact with the man.
“I want to thank Ilaiyaraaja Sir for choosing me to sing this song,” Rachael says in her characteristically gentle manner. “I wasn’t familiar with his work at all, but read up on him and got to know that he is very well regarded in India. And the more I heard his compositions, the more I fell in love with his talent. I’m so honoured to sing his first ever song in English.”
Rachael first heard of the project when Karikalan advertised for a singer about a year ago. “The ad said it was for a high profile composer, and I applied.”
A demo version was sent through, with backing tracks, lyrics and a sample voice.
“I rendered it with a few different singing styles,” Rachael tells Indian Link.
The final decision was made by Ilaiyaraaja, who has written the background score of the film.
“I thought the project was quite interesting,” Rachael observes. “I loved the music and the words, even though it’s quite different to what I usually do. Of course, I came to interpret the song in my own ways, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.”
Australian singer-songwriter Denny Burgess co-wrote the lyrics with Julian Karikalan. A version of the song in a male voice was also on the cards, and though there have been a few attempts, Julian admits that none have impressed.
Meanwhile, Rachael is not averse to doing more work with Indian links.
“I knew little about the music scene in India,” she admits. “I know it’s tied in with the film industry and that there’s some beautiful music being made there. I’m not familiar with the people though.”
Back in 2012, there were goosebumps in the audience as the young contestant on the music reality show began her rendition of ‘La Vie En Rose.’ She blew the judges away, and reduced one of them, Delta Goodrem, to tears when she revealed she was legally blind. Goodrem, who suffered her own medical condition as a young adult, bonded with her instantly and has gone on to mentor the young singer in a relationship that has lasted years after the show.
Born with retinitis pigmentosa, Rachael has only ten per cent visual function. An early love for music was carefully nurtured and developed, and she excelled at various platforms before famously ascending the stage on The Voice. (Leahcar, her performing name, is her first name spelt backwards.) There’s been no looking back since.
There have been ARIA chart-topping albums, tours around the country, even a touring cabaret show.
And boundaries are being constantly pushed.
As she speaks with Indian Link, she has just come off her debut show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. “It was my first time ever with a live band – I usually work with a backing track. It went really well!”
Here’s hoping she continues to push the boundaries: how about a tour of India?
Julian Karikalan knew he had a goer as soon as he spoke with Rachael Leahcar.
“There was something about her attitude that made me think she would be a good fit with the project,” he relates. “Of course we were also impressed with the effort she put in.”
Strangely, Rachael and Ilaiyaraaja have never met, liaising only through Julian, and the wonders of modern technology.
“When I met up with Ilaiyaraaja Sir in Chennai to discuss the project, he was deeply involved with Amitabh Bachchan on the film Shamitabh,” Julian recounts. “I found it fascinating that both worked in their own cities, and never actually physically caught up! Of course, Amitabh has said he would have felt awkward to sing in front of the maestro, but I am sure the tyranny of distance played a part too.”
The experience gave him his modus operandi for his own song.
“Yes, Amitabh Bachchan was my inspiration. Ilaiyaraaja Sir spoke more than once of the passion that Amitabh had showed all along.”
Months later, they would both feel that same about Rachael Leahcar.
How did Ilaiyaraaja get involved with the project?
“I have no connections with him at all other than that I am a fan,” Julian admits. “I approached him with my film, all edited, which he saw and then agreed to do the music.”
It was as simple and straightforward as all that.
The 72-year-old legend must have been impressed with the young film-maker’s dedication.
Perhaps Julian knew that Ilaiyaraaja was ‘a good fit’ as well for this fusion venture. The maestro is known to pick from the best of Indian folk, Carnatik as well as western to convey mood, and is not averse to throwing in a bit of jazz or rock and roll, or even doo-wop or bossa nova.
Love and Love Only is Julian’s first feature, after a series of documentaries. It has been a dream project that took root in 2011, in the aftermath of the Indian students’ crisis.
“My micro-budget film, which is totally self-funded, is a romantic drama based on the life of an international student from India and a young Australian girl,” reveals the Madurai lad, who himself came to Australia as an international student in 2003.
He honed his skills in scriptwriting directly from industry greats such as Robert McKee, Richard Walter and Michael Hauge, and considers Indian script writer K Bhagyaraj as a great inspiration.
Love and Love Only stars the Sydney Indian community’s theatre talent and is filmed around the regular haunts of the community such as Udaya Spices, Murugan Temple and Parramatta hotspots as well as Wollongong University.
Has Rachael seen the film?
“Yes I have,” she smiles. “I can’t wait for the commercial release. The music is beautiful, as is the film – it reminds me of the classic movies.”