Movie Reviews, Commentary & More

Ilayaraja's Melodies - IX

1. Thendral Vandhu, Avatharam - For days, I tried to convert the sound waves impacting my ear drums into words, but somehow found them falling extremely short of the exquisiteness of the song. I even asked for help from two guys whose knowledge of music is way better than mine. After sinking and soaking in the song, they gave me blank stares. With my very limited ability to express and even limited understanding of music and with trepidation I started verbalizing how I felt after listening to this song, but I had to stop my futile exercise as I wasn't doing justice. Make whatever you want to make out of from the below mentioned paragraph. But I'm happy that I stopped short of paraphrasing, because sometimes what's left unsaid is beautiful than saying it.

The opening score, which is a sandwich of violin & guitar between a multi-layered chorus is something of an exercise - not only to future composers, but even to listeners who are interested in tracing the tail of every note. Its quite complicated to appreciate the beauty when I try to single out a voice or an instrument, but when listened to as a song, the completeness of the union of individual musical instruments just blows me away. Talk of fusion: the song is very richly orchestrated with western style written all over it, but the lyrics lazily wallow in a folk soup (evarum sollamale kuyilellam thena padudhu). The soaring grandeur of the song represents the height and range of the imagination of a blind girl keen on grasping the idea of colours; and the association of a hue with touch, smell, feelings, thoughts and sound in an abstract discussion between two folks, in their very own folk style is as rich as the orchestration of this composition.

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Ilayaraja's Melodies - VIII

2. Valayosai, Sathya - This song provides a window into the soft inners of a rough surface. Sathya (Kamal Haasan), the angry-young-man whose blood pressure shoots up at the sight of injustice, this time listens to the romantic jingle that flutters inside him. The song jump starts into action with pseudo adjectives like 'galagagalavena', 'silusilusiluvena' but then as soon as we step into the second line, as if our hero has found some time to appreciate her beauty, he takes speed off for the words 'chinna penn pennalla vanna poondhottam'. This pace variation, which to me symbolizes the adjustment of the hero's crudeness to politeness, spills over into the charanams too; such an unusual structure for a melody, but upon listening to it you wonder if there's any other way this tune could have gone.

The first interlude is classic Ilayaraja: short breaths of flute, a lovely guitar piece and then a group of tantalizing violins; the way one instrument takes over from another is how professional atheletes would pass the baton in a relay race - the precision and smoothness of transition is amazing and beautiful. The lyrics are emotional & sensual: when she says that his eyes have shot arrows into her heart, he responds that his touch will heal her wounds. Compare this sensitivity to what passes around for lyrics these days! The choreography which involves Kamal & Amala in a slice-of-life city lovers who don't lip-synch with the playback makes it all the more complete.

What strikes me about this song is its damn freshness - there are so many songs I enjoy from the 80s, but I know that they have aged well. But every time I listen to this one, its as if I'm falling in love with a new song.

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Ilayaraja's Melodies - VII

Enna Samayalo, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi - Almost a blasphemy to line up this little-known along with some of maestro's famed compositions. But where's the surprise in a top 10 list without any dark horses? But this isn't included for the sake of shock/surprise value; this song is really beautiful, melodious, touching, entertaining and lovely. The situation is quite universal - kids whining at the dining table: "why is it the same thing everyday?" and the mom retorts "why don't you jump into the kitchen today?" Only here it isn't mommy-sonny but brother/sisters-in-laws. The song begins in a conversational style, with S.P.B asking "enna samayalo? edhirthu ketka yarumillai" and is loaded with kitchen responsibilities.

Those familiar with the movie will recall that this is the house of a famous carnatic singer and befitting his stature, his kids ooze music; when asking "sadhamaga thamadhama?", the first word flows with the exact swaras sa da ma ga. Such beauties are abound in this song ("dhaniya podi enge?" has a da ni prelude; "gamagama vasam varudhe" has a ga ma prelude). The lyrics (Vali?) are blatantly childish & playful: the raga kalyani is later broken into kal & aani; in a line that touches Vasantha, it goes "ragam vasantha, naanum rusuthi parkka rasam thaaa". Instruments that are categorized as seriously classical like mridangam, veena and nadaswaram which lack the sexiness expected of cinema light music graciously blend and form the crux of this song. S.P.B is known for taking the reins and indulging in his very own 'oohs' and 'aahs' which results in quite frequent attacks for hijacking the music director's version. This song is almost a paradise where the tune never gets serious enough and always hovers near dialogue. Chitra, who usually is known for faithful renditions of the composer's idea here voice her notes joyfully almost like S.P.B.

One of Ilayaraja's overlooked masterpiece.

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Ilayaraja's Melodies - VI

4. Sundari Neeyum, Michael Madana Kama Rajan - Has there ever been a pair of conservative Indian lovers who have not dreamed of marriage rituals, first night moves & rearing children? Though the picturization beautifully captures the essence of that dream, I think the musical part of it aids and exceeds the visual beauty. Kamal & Janaki mouth dulcet notes whose words are marinated in Palakkadu brahmin tongue, which are strangely absorbing that make you imitate their style - its 'sunnari neeyum' with a quarter 'd' between those two 'n's and not 'sundari neeyum'. The slowness of the main course, chorus hum & the interlude parts are deliberately delayed to add another layer of authenticity to the dream; even the drum beats are cushioned so as to not wake a sleeping child. A superb audio background on lonely nights for those in love and also for those who plan to be in love.

P.S: Kamal in one of his interviews said that Raja overheard him humming the tune and then decided to get him behind the mike. This is no easy singing exercise and stands as a testimony to Kamal's skill as a solid play-back singer

Previous Entry - Part V

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Ilayaraja's Melodies - V

5. Mazhai Varudhu, Raja Kaiya Vacha - The first time I heard the opening verse ('lalalala') of this beauty, I thought this was a plain vanilla imitation of a lullaby sung very boringly by K.J. Yesudoss. But as the pallavi opened serenely in the footsteps of those opening verses without any fanfare, it had a tranquilizing effect which makes you feel at ease and relax, like a lullaby but not put you to sleep, unlike a lullaby. Only by the first charanam do you get the rhythm (until which a brilliant bass guitar guides) and as the song changes gear, the grip with which it holds our attention tightens, which is again loosened by the second interlude where a group of violins (lead and back-up) calms down the musical climate. This masterpiece has a subdued sweetness that even after successive listening sessions, I feel like I can listen to it once more.

P.S: A minor but delicate arrangement in the charanams has to be pointed out: the mid-segment lines go on like ascending a staircase, then traces back by two steps and then proceeds again. It's not great, or inventive or unique, but its gently charming.

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Ilayaraja's Melodies - IV

6. Kaadhal kavidhaigal, Gopura Vasalilee - One more in the line of duet melodies that gets you high & foot tapping; a song that feels soft but set on a slightly higher tempo. As if the tune isn't sweet enough, S.P.B magnificently churns honey out of his lines and pours it drop by drop - listening to Balu's apt modulations is enough to hook you onto this song. But there's more: one of my best opening scores - a group of violins delicately paving way for a flute piece that descends into bells and then onto the masterly voice; an interlude that's just flute and beat; Chitra who unlike S.P.B, rigidly follows the notes; lyrics bordering lust but not quite crossing the fence. Even after a decade, this song remains fresh. Ageless, like love.

Ilayaraja's Melodies III

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Ilayaraja's Melodies - III

7. Oorarama Athupakkam, Idhaya Kovil - This entry may draw the stick from a few puritans who define only slow-paced soothing tunes as melodies. A few dictionaries say that a melody is an arrangement of notes that result in a pleasant sound. Well, this one is pleasant in the following sense: on a cloudy afternoon, open that old draw, dust off the photo album and browse through your parents memories who're posing in differently fashioned dresses with a funny hairstyle. This song evokes similar feelings in me: a forced hip-hop fast hum 'jim jimku jim' to begin with and lyrics that just go hither and thither as if they're trying to tell a story in a metaphor but later drop the act, diffuse completely and prides in it's aimlessness. The tune itself is supremely elegant but it's decorated in crazy rolling drum beats, a ludicrous (in a good way) chorus and a funny trumpet piece. Let me state my ignorance upfront - this could be a masterpiece of a composition, for a musical layman like me, this is Raja trying to do something that didn't naturally come to him. If they ever had college culturals in the 80's, this would have been their fall back for 'a disco song'.

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