Maestro Musings


After a long time, I watched the video of the remixed, hip-hop song Madai Thiranthu by Yogi B and Natchathira. When I watched it for the first time, the beginning didn’t make sense to me. One guy says, “Inna, Raja-saar?“. I later found out the ‘Raja-saar’ in question was Ilayaraja, who’d composed the original.

I wanted to listen to the original yesterday. Good ol’ Guruji dot come slash music came in handy. I searched for Ilayaraja, and man! I’d never realized before this that so many of the songs I grew up listening to were from him!

For starters, the soundtrack of Hey Ram. Each song is so rich by itself. I particularly liked the fusion of Vaishnav Jana To with Vaaranam Aayiram with South Indian wedding beats.

Another movie set in the same time-frame – Sirai Chaalai, dubbed in Hindi as Kalapani.

And then Agni Natchathiram. I didn’t pay attention to the storyline or anything, but I totally loved the tapori Raja Rajadhirajan indha raja which had in it typical ’80s disco beats. It totally suited its purpose – it was the intro track of a totally rebellious youngster (played by Karthik, who ceased to be a youngster a decade-and-a-half back), which instantaneously won a lot of hearts.

On the same lines there is Ilamai idho idho from Sakalakala Vallavan. Intro track of a richkid Kamal Haasan who’s actually a poor do-gooder in disguise to teach the baddies a lesson. He wears a blonde wig, and says “Hyappy nyu yeear yevverybody”… this was ten-fifteen years before his ‘I’m in the undezhhbeolly uf the aizhhczhaft’. Whatae lyrics… “College teenage penngaL ellorum enn-meedhu kaNgaL“… whou… ages since any song acknowledged the existence of women ogling at men, and even longer since a man flaunted that in his intro song. Rather liked this song after it was used to great effect in a Pepsi commercial starring Madhavan and a bunch of ‘college-teenage penngaL’… and a fat guy in a vest and lungi and a squeaky voice… and a Pepsi bottle.

Rather surprising is Raja-saar’s success in dik-chik dik-chik disco tracks, considering his best-known work is for Bharathiraja films. Which mostly if not always have a village theme.

One of those really nostalgic songs is Adi Aathadi from Kadalora KavithaigaL. Sathyaraj playing a village idiot… whoa! Insane movie, but very well-directed. And the music… no words left.

The soundtrack for the Parthiban-Nandita Das (yes, of 1947-Earth and Rockford fame) starrer Azhagi was another. It is a rather recent movie, with the first half set in a village. In an age where you only heard jing-chak urban songs and village meant gaana (think Pettai Rap and Nakka Mukka), it was really refreshing to have some different music, which was a throwback to an earlier era personified by Bharathiraja introducing the movie with “Enn iniya Tamizh-makkaLe…“.

He also did neutral-ish tracks well – sample Nizhalgal. Madai Thiranthu was about a wannabe making it big in the music industry.

And Anjali – staple Children’s Day fare in the days of Doordarshan. One of the very few movies for kids back then, it enjoyed cult status with folks of my age-group. And hence the soundtrack was popular too. The videos were of kids bossing over the adults… having code claps… screaming ‘yaaay!’ all the damn time… ubercool gang… what more does a kid aspire for?

And my favourite at the moment – the soundtrack of Nayagan. In particular, the ‘item number’ – Nila adhu vaanathu mele. Insane lyrics that make no sense to me. But catchy. And the tune is no less.

When I was playing these tracks, my sister looked askance at me and gave me an expression which suggested my tastes had steadily deteriorated. She doesn’t know the nostalgia these tracks inspire, being born when Rehman had begun to reign and gotten interested in music when Himesh did. She doesn’t know these are the best there was back then, when synthesizers were a non-existent entity. To her ears, Ilayaraja sounds tacky – neither the mellow respectable tone of old songs nor the snazzy attractiveness of the new. And his voice… too forceful for someone that looks like him. And vocal sound-effects like ‘ta-jing, ta-jing’ have become slotted into uncool. The disco-ish beats of the faster songs sounds confused to her, who is used to It’s the time to Disco and Where’s the party tonight. The videos of these songs aren’t very inspiring to her, considering they were shot in an era where a nightclub was supposed to have bright colourful bulbs, and tackily dressed dancers.

She wonders how come Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu got voted as one of the top 10 songs of the millennium in a BBC-conducted online poll. Why not Rehman’s Vande Mataram?

Rehman is God in his own way, no doubt… I’m very impressed by the artfully-out-of-tune songs he composes – Kabhi Neem Neem and Yaaro Yaarodi, and I worship a lot of his other soundtracks, but of late I’ve begun to feel his songs lack the boldness and confidence Ilayaraja’s had. His songs do not bring out the beauty in lyrics or in the voice of the singer as much as Ilayaraja’s does.

A decade earlier, I would have said Rehman’s is for the urban elite, while Ilayaraja appeals to a wider section of the crowd… but now in the natural scheme of things, you have everyone in India not just TN humming Rehman’s tunes, and folks don’t much remember Ilayaraja’s usage of orchestras creatively in his music.. either ways, he didn’t get much reach outside of his home state… and maybe in Karnataka, thanks to soundtracks like Geetha(think Jothe Jotheyali). And Gultland, thanks to dubbed Tamil movies.

But finally, I’ll Raja-saar’s music has an earthy appeal to it. They are easy to sing, unlike other recent songs which rely less on the voice and more on effects. Even if you sing it wrong, it doesn’t sound so far-gone. It’s almost like he gets into the mind of the wannabe crooner and writes songs. Like he sings in the item number from Nayagan, ‘Adi Aathadi, naan paattaLi, unn koottaaLi‘ – ‘Lady, I’m a commoner, your comrade’.

PS: If you have no clue as to who Raja-saar is, he originally composed the music that was used in the soundtrack of Cheeni Kum.

PPS: This isn’t a very well-researched post. Please feel free to correct and provide addenda.

PPPS: What’s with my overwhelming Tam-ness these days? I’ve even begun to say ‘Yaazhpanam’ instead of Jaffna! My mum is beginning to wonder what is happening to me that I’m going ‘astray’ into deep interior Tamil Nadu from Bangalore, preferring Ilayaraja over Rehman, saying Ponniyin Selvan is an excellent book, reading Naachiyar Thirumozhi… maybe it’s just a phase. And… I’m still a true-blue Bangalorean at heart. I prefer MTR/Maiya’s over Adyar Ananda Bhavan any given day. And I is still the speakings of Benglur longvages. I’m sure you can be considerate enough to ignore the slight Tamil accent in my otherwise okay-ish Kannada. Oh, and I can read Kannada faster than I can read Tamil.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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12 Responses to Maestro Musings

  1. ego says:

    Raja sir provided some excellent music for Non-Tam movies as well.. Prominent ones which I can recollect right now: “Laali Laali” from the Telugu movie “Swathi Muthyam” (Which was remade as Eshwar in Hindi and Swathimutthu in Kannada. The Kannada version retained this song), “Ve Vela Gopemmala”, “Mounamelanoyi”, “Takita Thadhimi” and “Naadha Vinodhamu” from the Telugu movie “Saagara Sangamam”, “Naguva nayana” from the Kannada movie “Pallavi Anupallavi” (This tune is currently used in Idea cellular ads), songs from “Nammoora mandara hoove” and the recent one “Sihi GaaLi” from the Kannada movie “Aa dinagalu”.

    Since he happens to be one among my mom’s favourite composers, I grew up listening to some of these songs.

  2. Shreevatsa says:

    Heh, some of this is quite nostalgic for me too, even though I haven’t seen/heard much Tamil music… I remember my *grandmother* took me to see Anjali πŸ˜€ (That’s about the only thing I remember about that movie.)
    Cheeni Kum is a sad example because (IMO) everything in it sounds much worse than the corresponding original songs…
    What’s the relative correctness of ‘Rehman’/’Rahman’, BTW? πŸ™‚

    Also sometimes I wonder if Kannada is naturally faster to read than Tamil (and English faster than either, and presumably French even faster) because of the amount of parsing/processing involved. (Greater redundancy and more shape recognition and less ambiguity making decoding easier — isn’t there some coding theory about this?)

  3. wanderlust says:

    @ego:
    didn’t know about nammoora mandara hoove. Rest sound sort of familiar. And i absolutely love naguva nayana… how did i miss it here!!
    @shreevatsa:
    im surprised you don’t remember more about that movie…. didn’t you used to watch it every single children’s day on doordarshan like i did? (it used to alternate with masoom).
    Rehman/Rahman… like potaeto/potaato? Transliterations from Tamil are tricky… you can even call him ragumaan.
    I guess I read kannada faster owing to multiple reasons – i learnt it at a rather young age, and am more familiar with the script that at times it’s intuitive. I can’t say the same about Tamil, where I confuse between na and ra, read zha as ma and miss distinguishing ja from ai.
    i also come across kannada more often than tamil (and english more often than either), so it’s also a question of practice.
    basically i guess it’s faster as english is stored in cache memory and tamil on hard disk.

  4. Logik says:

    Madai Thiranthu original was really good. n the ‘ip ‘op just made it better.
    I’ve a query. Are there examples of really bad songs that have churned out good remixes? [ common sense suggests that a bad song wouldn’t be selected for remixing in the first place, but still]

    Tamil on Hard disk.. Lol..
    I guess RAM sethu jokes would be too much..

  5. wanderlust says:

    @logik:
    ‘bad’ and ‘good’ are subjective… there was this ‘chadti jawani’ song whose remix was also quite bad. can say the same of ‘kaliyon ka chaman’.
    when you said RAM setu, i instantly thought of the POP3 (pope) in ROMe.

  6. Shreevatsa says:

    Somehow, I’ve managed to never see Anjali (nor Masoom, until recently — I’m half-surprised it was considered a children’s film). Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a TV at home until I was nine or so, but I can’t think of an explanation for after that…

    I was trying to articulate something more about readability, but I haven’t been able to think about it seriously — along the lines of the “it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are” example.

    Besides “RAM sethu”, maybe “page file” is the appropriate analogy to make here πŸ™‚

  7. Arjun says:

    The complaint I would have against Rahman is he hasn’t scored for a Kannada movie yet and Ilayaraja has given his best for Kannada. No, seriously, except for Mani Ratnam movies (‘Mouna raagam’ has his best ever background score. It was subsequently equalled, so to speak, only by Rahman in Roja.), his Tamil tracks are overshadowed by his Kannada ones. Zany experiments, immeasurably melodious tunes, background scores which would go on to become songs in Tamil or vice-versa, one-thousand-and-one instruments in one song, he’s done Kannada a great service.

    Otherwise, we’re never going to settle this ‘debate.’ And there’s no need to either, I suppose. Old guard made way for the new. Ilayaraja ruled till the mid-nineties. Rahman took over and hasn’t looked back. Maybe Harish will be the next great music director.

  8. wanderlust says:

    @arjun:
    you haven’t watched bharathiraja movies, or listened to the soundtracks? really brilliant songs. though they never got the recognition mani ratnam films did.

  9. Arjun says:

    Bharathiraja is a better actor than a director. He was amazing in ‘Aaytha ezhuthu.’ I’ll grant you ‘Sigappu rojakkal’ but ‘Pathinaru vayathinile’ was boring. For me, atleast. Rajini saved that movie. For all Kamal’s method acting, Chappaani was an irritating character and would find me cheering for his untimely demise.

    Yeah, we are maas aadiyens. Bleddy aart filam naansuns.

  10. wanderlust says:

    @arjun:
    oh yeah it’s one of rajinikanth’s best performances imo.
    but you forget about alaigal oivadhillai. and oru kaidhiyin diary. forget concept, forget method acting. they are simply good to watch.
    and just HOW is bharathiraja aart filam naansuns? mani ratnam is more aartsee, never mind his mandatory item numbers. bharathiraja just wanted to make money. he was more of a mass filmmaker than mani-saar can ever aspire to be.
    bharathiraja didnt have much to do in ayutha ezhuthu did he?

  11. Arjun says:

    No, but he was still good in his small role. I liked it very much indeed. Never knew he was capable of such menace in such a short time. Directors often surprise you. Like Anurag Kashyap in Luck by chance.

    By aart filam naansuns, I meant slow-moving. I have nothing against slow movies, since among my favourites are 2001, Sholay and TGTBTU(The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). But slow movies should be as good as these, otherwise they’re just boring. And unfortunately, for me, Bharathiraja is a little boring. For all his ‘I am the best maker of village movies,’ Balachander made a much better one in ‘Thanneer thanneer.’

    Alaigal oyvadhillai. Now, having watched “Naagarahaavu,” I got an overwhelming deja vu while watching this. It was still good, but Karthik was still coming into his own and wasn’t really impressive in this one.

    Yeah, Mani is starting to disappoint a bit, with those mandatory item numbers. His last two films have left me impressed by their style, but cold by their story.

  12. wanderlust says:

    what i dont like about Mani is his abrupt endings. they give you the feeling the movie hasn’t quite ended…. er… where have I felt that before in the past week? πŸ˜›

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