Tag Archives: ilaiyaraja

My Discovery of Ilaiyaraja’s music

27 Dec

I am posting after eons and I have made a resolution to blog regularly hereafter!

I will take off exactly from where I left. I was keenly following Tamil music during my Class X, especially after leaving Coimbatore and living at Jamshedpur (Jsr)in East India. I was kind of homesick to listen to Tamil songs as that was the time when I started appreciating the nuances of orchestration, the depth of a tune etc and my music quotient started becoming mature. Since I was in Jsr, there was only one Tamil channel, which was DD Podhigai and all others were Hindi channels. The Hindi songs of those years were just okay compared to the fantastic stuff that ARR was churning out. I remember those were the years when Kadhal Desam released and whenever the trailer was shown alongwith the songs, I was so happy and excited to listen to that refreshing music.

I had a neighbour who lived next door who was also a music lover and he also used to play many Tamil songs and they were not just the Rahman ones but another composer. We became good friends and when we started discussing about music, I was raving about Rahman and his recent albums. He said that there is another composer who has been composing for over 25 years and he was explaining about the genius of Ilaiyaraja and his achievements and I was very impressed. I asked him for the songs of Ilaiyaraja and he gave me many of his audio cassettes. When I started listening to the songs, I was captivated and realised that many of those songs were ones that I too loved and since I was small that time, I did not bother about who the composer was! Some of those songs were Sangeetha Megam, Rasathi Unna, Nilaave Vaa. I started keeping an eye for new Ilaiyaraja songs from that time and I basically started enjoying good Tamil music, irrespective of the composer. That was the time, Kadhalukku Mariyadhai had released and Ilaiyaraja’s music in it was quite different than his usual stuff. To digress a bit, from the 90’s, Raja had changed his orchestration style as many composers were having “techno” music and he too adapted himself to the changing trend though sometimes his synth sounds were terrible.

Kadhalukku Mariyadhai was refreshingly different because Raja skilfully mixed the synth sounds with his trademeark live music (he was using Saarangi after a very long time) and it was a welcome back to form, considering Rahman was ruling the roost with back-to-back hits.Almost all the songs in the album were very good with special mentions for Ennai Thaalatta and Oru Pattamboochi (which had the fantastic Saarangi interludes). My uncle had been to South and knowing my interest in music, he purchased the cassette and gifted it to me. I started listening to the songs and it became like a daily ritual, I was very happy because here was a hit album from Raja in the midst of hits from other composers. During that time, the songs of Poomani too had released but I found the songs pretty bland and this coming after that was a welcome respite.

Once you become a fan of someone and its pretty much a lifetime relationship with them and a maestro like Ilaiyaraja is no exception to this rule. Over the decades, my love and interest for Raja’s music has increased exponentially and being a voracious reader, I have read innumerable blogs, forums discussing Raja’s music and it has made me appreciate his music even more. All this has led me to one of my permanent hobbies of digging, collecting rare Raja songs and to popularize them. Many of these songs are as good, if not better than the known hits.

One point I would like to stress here is that though I am a Raja fanatic, I am not blind to other’s music and I enjoy listening to music from all composers and some of them are really good and in terms of talent, they can even be compared to Raja. There are no barriers with respect to composers/languages/genres in music and any music that gives us happiness and bliss is always welcome.

On a parting note and at the risk of sounding parochial, I must admit that I consider myself very fortunate to be born a Tamilian as I got introduced to Raja’s music and it has almost been like the centre of my life. Even those who know Raja’s music in other languages are lucky (basically all South Indians) because they have been introduced to the highest standards of music. I will write more about Raja’s music in the ensuing posts and will share more insights and details of his unknown gems.



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.


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.

Azhagi Title Score: Heartwarming

9 May

Ilaiyaraja has given innumerable title scores for movies which have become like a textbook lesson for many other composers as to how they should handle background scores. It is quite difficult to pick which are his best BGM pieces among the 900-odd movies for which he has composed the BGM’s. Whatever be the situation or emotion: sadness, happiness, fear, chase, naughtiness, reunion, death, separation , you name it, Raja exemplified the emotion of the scene with his music score.

One particular BGM that has fascinated me from when I have heard it is the Azhagi title score which is a variation of the Oliyile Therivadhu song. This is where Ilaiyaraja shows his versatility by making the BGM sound very different than the song, though both are almost same. He adds such beautiful layers to the BGM that it almost melts your heart every time you hear it. The primary flute piece with the keyboard piece, backed up by the western classical violins/violas/cellos (playing fantastic counters) sounds so divine and pure. This piece is so wonderful, it definitely deserves a post for itself.