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.