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!

Madraspatnam:Pure Music

1 Sep

It’s a little rare nowadays to find a music album where almost all the songs are pretty good and its rarer to listen to an album where almost all the songs are melody-based. Madraspatnam is an album which would surely fit into that category. It is definitely one of the best albums to come out in recent times and it is like a whiff of fresh air in Tamil music. The best thing about it is that it has all kinds of songs: A soft number, an inspirational number, a classical-based one, folk numbers etc. G.V.Prakash has demonstrated in the past that music is in his blood and here he further vindicates this fact strongly. GVP is also lucky to get a period-movie like this where he gets to compose all kinds of tunes and he has made the best use of it, credit also to director Vijay for giving scope for good music. Madraspatnam has 5 songs and 2 instrumental pieces and my favourite songs are:

  • Pookal Pookum Tharunam: A wonderful classical song based in Darbaari raaga, well-sung by Roopkumar Rathod & Harini. The english portion in the middle (sung by Andrea) is also well done as it does not sound out-of-place. This song is very melodious and has very soothing interludes notably the santoor pieces.
  • Kaatrile: A fantastic song performed with LIVE MUSIC and superbly sung with energy by Hariharan. The charanams also have a nice tinge of melody in them and GVP has used so many instruments: trumpets/trombones/french horn/strings section. Kudos to him as such songs have become quite extinct now.
  • Aaruyire: A very slow pathos-like song in Charukesi raaga sung by Sonu Nigam and Saindhavi. It starts lazily making us dismiss it as another boring number but slowly turns out to be a beautiful composition, especially in the part where the singers go high. Sonu Nigam is a very good choice for this song.
  • There are 2 other folk numbers which are good to listen and they will sound better when seen on-screen.

GVP gets everything right in this movie and the choice of singers is spot-on. The tunes too are very good and they stand on their own even without the orchestration,thats the real test of a good album.

As a music-lover, I wish he gets to do more movies like this which gives scope to show his talent as his strength is melody.

To Dear A.R.Rahman

5 Aug

Dear Rahman,

First things first, I am one of yours & Ilaiyaraja sir’s biggest fans’! My childhood was spent in listening to your awesome music when I used to rush to buy your new film cassettes (Tamil & Hindi) in an obscure city in North India. I have literally grown with yours & Raja Sir’s music, which has shaped my musical tastes strongly and forever.

I was elated and over-the-moon watching you get the Oscar award, when a zillion fans in India waited with bated breath to know whether their demi-God would bring back the coveted trophy and you made us proud Indians and put India in the global music map. I am aware that you have come up in life and music after so many sacrifices, trials and tribulations and you deserve every bit of this global popularity and more. Your life story is awe-inspiring, musical, melancholic and yet magical. I cannot forget how you gratefully thanked your Mother, while accepting the Oscars.

But, at the same time, I have mixed thoughts now as I am delighted that you have become a global phenomenon but I also feel (strictly personal opinion) that your music is missing its magic off late. This is with reference to songs in Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya & the recent Endhiran. In Puli, I did see the flashes of brilliance in songs like Amma Thale/Power Star/Namakame. This is because:

  1. The music is overpowering the human voice e.g. Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya songs
  2. The tunes don’t seem to stand on their own legs but the orchestration seems to prop-up the tune e.g. Most Endhiran songs
  3. To put it simply, I am not able to simply “hum” your tunes as they are increasingly sounding over-experimental and complex to me
  4. Your music is not appealing to me in the first/second instance but maybe after multiple listenings only

I am afraid that I will lose my Rahman to the West. But, amidst all these thoughts I am also aware that every composer/artist goes through these peaks & troughs where even the greats are not spared. So I hope and pray that this is only a passing phase for you and you will be the same Rahman whose songs were like medicine to me.

I also feel, maybe it is me who is feeling this but I have heard it from many of my friends’ too and I believe we as fans have that possessive right to express our frank opinion about our Idols’ because only those who love will chide/criticise.

As a fan, my expectations are very simple, I don’t expect a Roja in every album but I just want your music to touch my heart and lose myself to it!