My Journey with Ilaiyaraja and A.R.Rahman-I

6 Jun

Tamil music (especially) and Indian music is extremely blessed that these two genius composers have been the pillars of their music. Both these maestros have diametrically opposite styles of working/composing but they have been equally effective. They do not have a fan following but only fanatics! People swear by their music and consider it as a part of their everyday life.

In my teens, quite strangely, I was first introduced to ARR rather than IR though I used to listen and enjoy IR songs much before on radio without bothering about the composer. Just as all music-loving Indians, I was instantly fascinated by the new sound that ARR created for Roja. I remember seeing Roja in a theatre in Coimbatore and I strongly believe the movie was a success also because of its path-breaking music. After that Pudhiya Mugam audio cassette was released and it was definitely as good as Roja, ARR was clearly the pioneer in introducing a refreshing, melodious, techno sound in Indian music.

I had to move to Jamshedpur and I lost touch with Tamil music for a few years. In those days, the only way to listen to music was to buy the original cassette or to get a cassette recorded from the original (which was done only by cassette shops having Tamil music). The advent of ARR popularized Tamil music so much that one or two shops in JSR started stocking pirated cassettes of new Tamil music! The recording quality was tolerable and as a fan I was desperate to listen to the songs irrespective of the mediocre quality.

Just about the same time, we started getting a few Tamil channels in our cable television and it was as if the skies opened up after years of drought. I was so ecstatic and used to wait for all Tamil movie trailers to see who the composer was and if it was ARR, I used to rush to the town centre to get the pirated cassette as I could not afford the original cassette (which was around Rs 45-50, while the pirated one was just Rs 25-30). One more relief was if someone used to come to my place from South, I used to ask them to get all the latest songs recorded and enjoyed listening to them in original quality. I listened to the songs of Thiruda Thiruda, Gentleman, Aasai (Deva) etc. I remember vividly when my sister came from Chennai, she was having the original AVM audio Minsara Kanavu cassette and I loved the songs so much that I asked her to leave it for me. I listened to the songs so many times that the cassette became blank.

Finally, I had a reunion with all songs on a real-time basis when I moved back to South for my college studies. So, my relationship with ARR’s music strangely preceded that of my relationship with IR’s music though I was not new to IR’s music. The most-listened song by me from ARR’s list is Ennavale, I must have listened to it at least 500 times, it was like daily medicine. This was the story of my initiation into ARR’s music and I also admire ARR as a person for his remarkable humility and for starting the KM Conservatory so that many others get the privilege of learning music.

 

Needhane En Ponvasandham: Rise of Raaja

22 Sep

The greatest joy for an Ilaiyaraja fan is to see the maestro come back to his past pristine form as he was in the glorious 80’s. It surely has happened with Needhane En Ponvasandham (as it has with a few albums recently like Sri Ramarajyam, Dhoni etc). Almost all the 8 songs are brilliant and here are the best things (worst only where applicable) about each of the songs. Saying that I was awaiting this album would be an understatement and I was very scared whether the album will match the hype and I am so elated that Raja has indeed delivered and how! Its like having your prayers answered.

  1. Kaatrai Konjam: A song which became an instant hit at the time when it was previewed itself. It triggered lots of discussions in the web and increased the hunger of all the fans. Its a masterpiece as its quite complex and the staggering variety of instruments used in this is heard to be believed. I have listened to it almost 50 times in the last 20 days and its a song with so many layers. The usage of strings (London Orchestra), the mild electric guitar, the piano, the 7/8 beat. the saxophone counters, we can go on & on about it. The choice of Karthik also is perfect and he sings it with great gusto and gaiety. The tune progressions in the charanam and the supporting counterpoints are too amazing and Ilaiyaraja’s class is written all over the song.
  2. Mudhal Murai: This is called an high-energy song. IR shows that you need not create a heavy-beat Kuthu song, you can infuse enough energy into a song with a bunch of cellos/double bass/a great voice like Sunidhi Chauhan! What a wonderful song it is and the most striking thing about it is the first interlude where the violin is played in a high-pitched western style, its pure goosebumps stuff. Once again choosing Sunidhi for this was a great idea and she delivers more than expected.
  3. Sattru Munbu: Ramya is a revelation and her western-styled voice suits this song to a T. Once again a fantastic tune by the maestro and he leverages the power of the live orchestra very well in this song. As usual, the charanams are fabulous and so unique with the notes being multi-layered. This is a song in the album which just grows on you after a few listens.
  4. Saaindhu Saaindhu/Yedhi Yedhi: I have purposely added the Telugu version of this song beause Yuvan is unbearable in this song. He just kills the glorious tune. That is why I have the Telugu version of this song sung wonderfully by Shaan & Ramya. This is a vintage Ilaiyaraja tune loosely based on Mohanam and makes for a great listen. Yuvan definitely must not sing and his voice is suitable only for niche songs as the one below.
  5. Pengal Yendral: This is a song which I used to skip as I stupidly assumed that it would be bad owing to the rock tune and Yuvan singing. I was totally wrong and this song suits Yuvan’s voice and is a killer tune. The distortion guitar usage and the unpredictability of the tune are the things that make it unique. I strongly feel that this is one of the best songs sung by Yuvan ( I know that list is very small). One more beauty in this song is towards the end where the distortion guitar starts playing after skipping one beat after Yuvan finishes the line and its gives an awesome effect.
  6. Pudikale Maamu: Somehow I have not yet started liking this song, who knows I may be wrong again🙂
  7. Vaanam Mella: Once again a good tune and maybe the choice of singers could have been better. IR & Bela Shinde singing this diminishes the beauty of the song and I strongly feel that with better singers singing it would have been much better. Strangely even Bela who normally sings well, sounds out of sorts in this song especially in the higher octaves. The orchestration again is very good with great usage of strings and some wind instrument (not sure what it is, maybe Oboe).
  8. Yennodu Va Va: A superb song sung amazingly by Karthik, it has a retro feel to it and the first interlude is sheer magic. The charanam progression is almost like waves falling on each other and I am constantly humming this song., the second interlude becomes a little synthy but thank God its not too overpowering and Karthik’s voice stands tall. IR again uses a blowing instrument which sounds totally apt for this retro’ish tune.

In my opinion 6 of the 8 songs are extremely good and this is definitely a Grand Slam album by Ilaiyaraja. A million thanks also to Gautham Menon for making Ilaiyaraja push his boundaries. Somehow he has the knack of having great music for all his movies.

Ilaiyaraja and Hariharan

25 Apr

We must be indebted to A.R.Rahman for introducing Hariharan to Tamil film music with the song Tamizha Tamizha in Roja. Hariharan is primarily a ghazal singer who had sung a few songs in Bollywood after making his debut in the Hindi film Gaman under composer Jaidev. Unfortunately most of his initial songs in Hindi went unnoticed though few were good. Once Hariharan started with Roja he started becoming a regular singer in Tamil and even other composers started using his mellifluous voice. Till date he must have sung around 300 songs in Tamil and another 300+ in other South Indian languages.

Ilaiyaraja took to Hariharan in Kadhalukku Mariyadhai with the superhit song Ennai Thaalaatta Varuvaala and the rest is history. Since then, Ilaiyaraja has used Hariharan quite frequently and this combination also has had its unique charm. ARR must get the credit for giving Hariharan some brilliant songs and their combination is one of the best ever in Indian music history as seeing both the geniuses complement each other is sheer joy for the fans. In this context the IR-Hari combo is different but it also stands on its own considering the different type of songs that IR has given Hariharan even outside Tamil. My best picks under this combo would be the following in mainly Tamil/Malayalam:

  1. Ennai Thaalaatta-Kadhalukku Mariyadhai
  2. Meetaadha Oru Veenai-Poonthottam
  3. Thendralai Kandukolla-Nilave Mugam Kaattu
  4. Nilavu Paattu-Kannukul Nilavu
  5. Vaanaville-Ramanaa
  6. Poongaatre-Friends
  7. Nee Paartha-Hey Ram (one of my personal favourites)
  8. Aathorathile-Kaasi
  9. Kaatril Varum Geethame-Oru Naal Oru Kanavu
  10. Aaro Padunnu Doore-Katha Thodarnnu
  11. Amruthamaay Abhayamaay-Snehaveedu ( a recent song in Kalyani raaga, so melodious)
  12. Vilayaataa Padagotti-Dhoni (very touching tune)

Movie Review: Sri Ramarajyam

27 Dec

After the stupendous success of its music, the expectations from Sri Ramarajyam movie were pretty high and I can safely say that the movie did not disappoint. Here is a look at the positives of the movie:

  1. Good Script: The script of the movie is based on the Uttara Kaanda of Ramayana after Sita comes back to Ayodhya and the movie has no unnecessary deviations. Veteran director Bapu gets on with the story with no fuss or interruptions. The sanctity that such a great epic deserved is intact and full credit to the director and his team.
  2. Acting: Almost all the characters have done a professional job of their respective roles. Special mention to be made of Balakrishna (as Rama), Nayantara (as Sita, her career-best role), Valmiki (the legendary A. Nageshwar Rao) and the Lava-Kusa kids. This is the first time I saw a Balakrishna movie and I was impressed with the dignity with which he carried the role and Nayantara exuded such grace and poise that she almost lived the role. There is no overacting as there was a lot of scope in this story.
  3. The Sets/Costumes: The sets and costumes were very grand and it lent a lot of authenticity to all the characters. One niggle was the graphics, which looked a little out of place and this is a small drawback in the movie considering that almost all other aspects were very good.
  4. Music and Background Score: The picturization of all the songs were wonderful and the background score was awesome. The song sequences are so good that even when we watch them on DVD we would not be able to forward them. Ilaiyaraja using the Budapest Orchestra for the BGM’s added the required grandeur to the great story. The outstanding BGM’s are in the climax and the end-titles after the movie ends.

One of the main reasons why I loved the movie was the courage and initiative of the producers and the director. It takes immense passion and hard work to make a movie based on mythology and to make it so well (in this age of commercial masala movies).

I am just waiting for the original DVD of the movie as it is not a one-time watch but a movie to be watched and savoured again and again for its great message and brilliant music.

Sri Ramarajyam: Divine Ambrosia

28 Sep

Ilaiyaraja after composing music for 30+ years needs something remarkable to bring him back to his genius ways. The normal movie nowadays does not extract the best from him as he has composed a zillion tunes for the same situations. It was divinely destined that Ilaiyaraja should compose the score for Sri Ramarajyam, a Telugu movie based on the Ramayana.

I can say that Ilaiyaraja literally reinvents himself in this OST. When I first heard that the Maestro was composing for this movie, I was cautiously optimistic but now am delighted! The best thing about the OST is that the synth-usage is minimal and there is a generous usage of Live instruments, something akin to Uliyin Osai. I loved almost all the songs in the movie but the below ones deserve a special mention:

  1. Jaganandhakaaraka: This Shuddhadhanyasi-based tune gives a flying start to the album and as expected SPB/Shreya Ghoshal are in top form. The tune is top notch and is supported by Veena and flute interludes.
  2. Evadunnadu: This short song of 2 mins captures our attention for its variety and great rendition by SPB again. If you understand Telugu, you would also appreciate the superb lyrics praising Lord Rama.
  3. Sri Rama Lera: This is the ultimate gem in this album. The lyrics are in such chaste Telugu that it almost sounds like Sanskrit at many places. The interludes, the singing (Sriram Parthasarathy/Shreya) and the two differently-tuned charanams, all add up to the magic of this song. It is set in Pantuvarali raga and is probably the best composition of Ilaiyaraja in this raga.
  4. Seetha Seemantham: Set in Hindholam raga, this song has an old, oriental feel to it. You would imagine the Seemantham ceremony on hearing this song.
  5. Rama Rama: This folk song is a welcome change in this album. I loved the use of the traditional, native percussion instruments. As usual, the tune is amazing with unpredictable, Raja-style progressions. Special mention must be made of the good Telugu pronunciation by the singer Shwetha Mohan.
  6. Kalaya Nijama: This tune will captivate you the very first time you hear it. It is one of the best songs sung by Tippu and his voice shows how much he has improved in the last few years. I am very happy that Ilaiyaraja chose this underrated singer for this song and Tippu has delivered and how!

The greatest triumph for this album is the pure, poetic and pristine lyrics by Jonnavittula. The music and lyrics are clearly made for each other and they also sound different than the usual “devotional” albums. When the songs are played the scenes will play in your mind, such is the marriage between the tune and the lyrics.

Hats off to Ilaiyaraja/Jonnavittula/the director for coming up with such a masterpiece of a soundtrack. It is a welcome change in this age of run-of-the-mill commercial albums.

UNIQUE songs from Ilaiyaraja

21 Nov

In film music, the opportunity to innovate is quite limited for any composer as the situations for most the songs will be mostly romantic and lucky are those composers who get good directors who challenge them to compose something out-of-the-box for some uncommon situations. Maestro Ilaiyaraja has been extremely luck to have worked with many types of directors with different sensibilities, who have used the genius of the man to get some great music from him. I list down a few songs from Ilaiyaraja which have something different about them.

  1. Enna Samaiyalo-Unnal Mudiyum Thambi-A song having cooking as a situation and Raja uses four raagas in this song viz. Mohanam, Kalyani, Vasantha and Madhyamavathy. The lyrics by Kavingar Vaali are too good where the lyrics match the swara sung in the song exactly. This is a perfect example of two geniuses (Ilaiyaraja and Vaali) working together and complementing each other.
  2. Naan Porandhu Vandhadhu-Maaya Baazar-This is a stupendous song  from the Maestro having only human voices and nothing else. The vocals, interludes and everything in the song is done only by human voices. This concept is quite common in western music but Raja shows that he is the master of almost any genre by composing and orchestrating a song like this. You must hear it to understand the masterly arrangement of human voices making all kinds of sounds including the astounding use of rhythmic laughter! This song came in 1995 when A.R.Rahman was ruling the charts and hence was not noticed by many people. As we say “Class is permanent”, Raja composed such a song even in his supposed “bad days” when people almost forgot him as Rahman was producing some brilliant music.
  3. Om Sivoham-Naan Kadavul-Ilaiyaraja shows again here that he can compose a competent sthotram-like song but only that this is more intense according to the situation in this dark movie. To quote my favourite movie critic Baradwaj Rangan: “This song is six minute detonation of musical fury.” It is composed in Pantuvarali raaga and the best thing about it is the live percussions used which make you almost feel as if Lord Shiva is doing a Shiva Thaandavam. Special mention must be made of Kavignar Vaali who has written wonderful Sanskrit lyrics extolling the various virtues of Lord Shiva. This is the quality of geniuses that they continue to surprise us when we do not expect anything from them.
  4. Aalamadankala Mythavanalle-Pazhassi Raaja-If the previous song was for a devotional situation for Lord Shiva, Raja now cooks up a musical feast for an Islamic devotional song and this is as authentic it can get with all the Islamic chants. When I first heard this song, I forwarded it but when I saw it in the movie, I was stunned as it sounded so perfect in the movie when all the Islamic priests gather together to pray for the well-being of the country. This song will make you imagine the old Arabic tales, it is so haunting, hats off to Ilaiyaraja!!!
  5. Agandhaiyil/Kallil Uyir-Uliyin Osai-I have already written about the music of this movie and these songs are still in my playlist. This is the heights of classical mastery where Ilaiyaraja uses the concept of Gruhabhedham in these songs. Gruhabhedham is the process of shifting the shruthi (scale) to another note in the raaga and arriving at a different raaga. It is not as simple as it sounds and recently eminent violinists Ganesh-Kumaresh had brought out an album using this concept. Ilaiyaraja has used this concept as early as 1985 but I feel these two songs are simply outstanding examples of this concept.

Movie Recco: Pazhassi Raja

22 Sep

I saw the Malayalam movie Pazhassi Raja (well-directed by Hariharan) recently after many months of planning and it was a case of better late then never. To begin with, I found the movie literally flawless and giving a pretty realistic portrayal of an unsung freedom warrior. Here are a few reasons why you should not miss Pazhassi Raja:

  • There are no unnecessary deviations in the story (like romantic angles, too many songs etc.) and it is an engaging account of a king who was courageous to revolt against the British empire.
  • The acting was stupendous and each character fitted the respective roles perfectly. Notable mentions were the normally-typecast Sharath Kumar, who was a revelation in his role (as the deputy of Mammotty) and Padmapriya was brilliant as a strong woman who has learnt the traditional fights and fought for Pazhassi’s army. Even the foreign actors who acted in this movie have done their roles extremely well.
  • Needless to say, Mammotty was all class and elegance in the main role as Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja. His body language and dialogue delivery is seen-to-be-believed. Not once did he look like an actor in his 50’s!
  • The cinematography and locations were fresh and appropriately suited to the time in which the movie is set. Even the traditional ethnic costumes of the actors looked so natural amidst the backdrops.
  • Ilaiyaraja has bagged the National Award for best background score for this movie and the Maestro’s subdued BGM’s further elevate the scenes to another level. The songs in the movie too, were picturized beautifully and no song seemed out-of-place.

I would rate this movie as good as The Legend of Bhagat Singh, which in my opinion is one of the best movies on India’s freedom struggle. Any story about India’s freedom struggle is not easy to make and these 2 movies have set benchmarks in this unique genre. Credit should go to the whole team and especially the directors who dared to take up such themes and come out victorious!

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