Magendran Raman looks outside his hotel room window. Hong Kong bustles under him. The Johorean is finally where he wants to be professionally. His CV would make any Indian Amma proud. A senior mechanical engineer with an American firm, he had just finished a stint in Texas before he was sent to Hong Kong. Being one of the few certified IRCA auditors, Magen was doing well.
Moments earlier, he received a call from Astro. They’re offering him a 3 year contract to host a travel show through India. He looks out the window again. He calls his boss to inquire if a three year sabbatical would be plausible. It was not.
24 hours later, Magen has tendered his resignation, said yes to the travel show and is on a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Iyerkai Thedi turned out to be one of the most successful shows on Astro’s Tamil channels, running a whopping 104 episodes.
Magen, also known as Vikadakavi, talks to Varnam about his voyage in the entertainment industry, his latest single and his true passion.
The Real Vikadakavi
His nickname, Vikadakavi, is a Tamil palindrome. It reads the same in both directions. Magen is similar, his off screen personality not deviating far from what we are used to. What stands out is his passion for the Malaysian music industry and how forthcoming he is when talking about it.
He is blunt while talking about this experience, “Of course, I occasionally regret quitting my job. If it’s a tough month, I sometimes wish i had stayed on an engineer,” he confesses. “It is the most human emotion to regret something,”
For Magen, realizing how blessed he is to be able to give back to the industry makes up for it.
He talks to us about his newest track, Yen Kathale. “I have been on a 6 year hiatus since my last album in 2012. I didn’t release any of my own songs during this period, but I worked on a few tracks with other artists. One day while talking to KMG Kidz Seenu, we decided to do a song together,”
“We composed the song and recorded it within 7 hours, and the final product was ready in 3 days. And the music video was completed in the next two weeks!” he is visibly excited about the reception for his latest track. Yen Kathale was produced by Magen and features KMG Kidz Seenu. Magen’s rap hook is out of this world.
“I really can’t believe that my comeback song has done so well,” he gushes. In 6 short weeks, Yen Kathale has garnered 778,000 views on YouTube.
“I thought my fans were just those of my age group, they’d be married now and wouldn’t be as interested in my music anymore.”
Magen tells us that he is happy to have tapped other age demographics, although that is something he never expected.
“Seenu is the founder of Northern Anthem, but as he is based in Penang, he hasn’t had much exposure in Kuala Lumpur,” Magen later tells us that this was one of the reasons that he featured Seenu in the track.
The Astro Days
He entered our hearts (and stayed there) as the host of Astro’s Attam 100 Vagai. But Magen didn’t start out a host. “I began as a behind the scenes guy,” Magen tells us that he began as a songwriter, and was behind the hits of Darkkey and Hervin back in 2000. “But it wasn’t a full time job!” he admits. “I was working hard to make ends meet. Not only did I have my monthly commitments, I was also paying for my degree in mechanical engineering,”
“I remember thinking if I can do this for a living, forever. And I just couldn’t say confidently that i could,” his voice goes distant. “I had to hunt for work. I had to look for my own publicity, go to agencies, and throw my card every time I met someone who might have a job for me,” he tells us.
Magen began hosting for Astro in 2005 and remained exclusive with them for 5 years. Astro decided to switch things up in 2011, and Attam 100 Vagai had a set of new hosts.
“I suddenly had so much time on my hands!” Magen recalls. “I then began work on my album, Vera Maari Bro,” Magen’s debut album was a hit, and his exposure with Attam 100 Vagai was instrumental in making him a household name. “The ratings didn’t do too well with the show that season, and Astro invited us to host the following season,”
“The following year was when the Iyerkai Thedi offer came in, and here I am!” he laughs.
Magen is adorably candid about his feelings. “Of course I miss having my own television show! Anyone who has been on camera will tell you that it is an addiction. Personally, i cannot work behind the scenes anymore,” he laughs.
Vikadakavi, The Actor
“I’ve always felt like I’m not a good actor,” confesses Magen.
Perakas Rajaram didn’t think so. The director approached Magen to be the lead actor in an upcoming project of his. “Perakas convinced me by saying that the script for that role was written for me, and I finally agreed,” Vennira Iravugal is one of the most successful Malaysian Tamil movies to date. Not only did it win big at the Malaysia Kalai Ulagam Awards in 2015, the film was also screened during the Norway Film Festival and received a special mention at the International Tamil Film Academy.
The same year, Magen’s Attam 100 Vagai co-host, Denes Kumar and his wife Dr Vimala Perumal released Vetti Pasanga. The film saw Magen reprise his role as Boss from the first installement, Vilayattu Pasanga. “It was only then that people saw me as an actor,” recalls Magen.
Magen now diversifies his talents, and is a singer, lyricist, host, producer and actor.
“You cannot do just one thing as a freelancer,”
And yet, he is clear about where his strengths lie. “I was introduced as a host, people know Magen as a host,” And the people love him as a host. “I have been doing it for 15 years, and the recognition has allowed me to venture into other areas,”
Possible International Stardom?
He isn’t just well known on Malaysian shores. Magen made waves in Singapore a few years ago by working on a few Tamil serials that aired on MediaCorp Vasantham. “I was cast as a villain in Guru Paarvai and Vettai,”
“I don’t know why I’m always cast as the villain!”
When asked about his stint in India, Magen doesn’t have much to say. “I worked on an unreleased film, and that was that. I don’t have plans to return to India for work. Certainly not for acting, but for music, maybe someday. Right now, my base is here in Malaysia,” he smiles before switching into the local lingo. “India ah? Tak mau lah, susah lah!”
His True Passion
He does wish the reception towards younger singers was better. “The Malaysian music fan mentality is a little peculiar. Newcomers don’t get the same amount of support as us senior entertainers,” he tells us. This has driven him to work with younger artists, encouraging them to do their best in the field.
He doesn’t take this lightly. Magen started Vikadakavi Productions not out of self interest, but to develop young talent who are inclined towards the arts.
Magen shares his thoughts with us on the current Malaysian Tamil music scene. He is clear that he wants Malaysian music to receive worldwide recognition. “It is a pity that Yogi B started the founded Tamil Hip Hop, but someone else was given credit almost 6 years later,” According to Magen, while Tamil hip hop is developing steadily in Malaysia, artists need to work on projects that will garner attention worldwide.
Our conversation digresses to the support local Tamil artists receive. “Yes, the support is there, but it is very important to uplift the youngsters in the industry,”
One of Magen’s passions is to encourage new artists.
“There are many ways to go about this, but my way is by collaborating with the young artists. For an older artist like me to work with a youngster, it would certainly lift them up and make them known,” shares Magen.
While this may be a notion that not many other senior artists are passionate about, Magen is steadfast.”Pugazh oru bodhai,” he says. “I want to fight the high of fame, and I constantly want to challenge it,” the determination in his voice is unmistakable. “My name may not be known in the future, but through these youngsters, I will live on for many years to come,”
Can Artists Still Make Money Today?
Magen is not all talk. He knows his facts and figures. “Online music streaming and platforms like YouTube are a boon to artists, not a bane! If you come up with an original song that’s good, the world is your oyster,” According to Magen, YouTube is an excellent tool that artists can use to monetize their work. Speeding through the calculations, Magen has all the information on how to be a successful YouTuber at his fingertips. “There is more money to be made now on YouTube, iTunes and the lot compared to CDs back in the day!”
“There is more money to be made now on YouTube, iTunes and the lot compared to CDs back in the day!”
Whats next for Vikadakavi? “I have four movies coming out next year. One of which is a superhero movie, and another one is a motivational film,” Magen is visibly excited about 2019. And yet, he doesn’t rest on his laurels. “We are also organizing a singing competition for teenagers aged 13-19. That would take place in April next year,” Magen’s upcoming movie, Yazh is set to release early next year, internationally.
For a guy who is always asked to play the villain, Magen has a huge heart. His enthusiasm when it comes to uplifting the younger generation is touching. Perhaps because he has come up the hard way, he is now determined to help young artists reach greater heights. Needless to say, he does justice to his nickname, Vikadakavi, meaning God of the wise.
Check out Magen’s latest offering here.