Thursday, 11 August 2016


There is danger in being a third man.

No, I am not talking about the cricket fielding position and surely not about attempting a catch for an ‘upper cut’.  The ‘third man’ I am referring to is a person who enters a specific field (not cricket) when there are already two people(considered to be icons) around. Take the case of Vengsarkar. When he entered the Indian Cricket Team, there were two ‘little masters’ who were considered to be two of the greatest batsmen in the world. So, despite being a highly talented batsman who could handle pace, swing and spin with consummate ease, Vengsarkar had to live in their shadows for a long time. Even now, people who recollect the names of Gavaskar and Viswanath within a split second, take a while to recollect the name of Vengsarkar.

This could well have been the story of Panchu AruNachalam too. When he entered Tamizh film industry as a lyricist, there were two ‘Jaambavaans’ already. It is a different issue that one of them was his own uncle. But not the one who enjoys being in somebody’s shadows, he spread his wings and though he did not write too many songs till 1976, he wrote story-dialogues for some movies and also started producing movies. This of course continued post-1976 too but significantly he started penning more songs after this and the reason is not difficult to guess. More about this soon, but the fact that his lyrics were distinct and beautiful is not known to many. Today he is known more as a story-dialogue writer and producer who also wrote songs. This according to me is the saddest part.

Sad, because he wrote so many songs using very simple words but with powerful meanings and yet many don’t seem to recognise his greatness in this aspect. People may quote his lineage but the fact that he had a unique style cannot be denied by serious lovers of Tamizh songs. Take ‘Vizhile Malarndadhu..’ Though it is inspired by Kamban, the very first line tells a beautiful love story. ‘She blossomed in my eyes/And mingled with my soul’. Doesn’t this line alone stir the soul? And see the line in the CharaNam- ‘Paalil nei aLavu parandha punnagai’(Her smile is like the ghee in the milk). Fertile imagination!

And see this line from ‘Vaa ponmayile’..

Kaadalin Jaadaiyellam Kannazhagile’(sign of love shown in the beauty of her eyes).

And from ‘Kaadalennum Kovil’- Kaadalennum Kovil Katti Vaiththen Nenjil/Poojai Seithen Paatisaiththen/Devi VandaaL Neril( I built a Temple of Love in my heart/ I worshipped doing Pooja and Sang/ She came).

If these show his romantic side, songs like ‘Vaazhkkaiye Vesham’, ‘Oru Veedu Iru ULLam’ showed his philosophical side.

That reminds me of an eternal favourite of mine- ‘Oru NaaL Unnodu Oru NaaL’- in which he ends the song with ‘Kaaviyam Pole Vaazhndiruppom/Aayiram Nilavai Paarthiruppom’. The irony here is that the couple knew they would die very soon.

These are just samples and I can go on and on. I remember writing in one post sometime back in one of the online forums that whenever possible, I would surely write more about his poetic sense. Finally, it had to happen today. But this will be an ongoing process and I shall take up his lyrics now and then in my posts.

The fact that he was the one who introduced somebody -despite some stiff  resistance and opposition- who has now become my raison d’être, is reason enough for me to thank Panchu sir a million times. But it is also a fact that I love his lyrics which sound more beautiful in Raaja sir’s music. I am reminded of my childhood days when I would jump with excitement whenever the announcer (on radio) said ‘Paadal- Panchu AruNachalam’ because I knew what would follow(Isai-ILaiyaraaja). Of course occasionally I have been fooled too when they played ‘Ponnezhil Pooththadhu’ or ‘Nalla Manam Vaazhga’-though these are good songs too!

Let me pay my gratitude by taking up a song in this combination- a song not known to many now.

One of the qualities of Panchu sir’s is his compassion. A very soft spoken person, he was very affectionate to his family and most importantly with all his crew members. He did not have even a single enemy as he was loved by all. Precisely because of this, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss about a song in which affection runs like Cauvery.

Whenever I listen to ‘Sandanamittu Sadiraadum Mottu’ from ‘Rusi KaNda Poonai’ (1980) my heart melts. The tune in a classic ShankarabharaNam plays no smaller part in this, but the wordings too play a huge role and this is undeniable.

Long back, his uncle wrote ‘Thottaal MaNakkum Javvadhu’( feel and touch the child and you can smell ‘javvadu’) in ‘Naan PetRa Selvam’. Here the nephew calls the child as ‘a dancing bud with the sandal paste (on its forehead)’ and ‘words as sweet as the honey’.

He continues saying ‘My mind blossoms the moment my eyes catch the sight of your face’. Of course the ‘He’ refers to the poet but let me start saying ‘she’ henceforth as the song is rendered by the mother (Suseela at her best!).

‘Beautiful smile on the lips/Golden smile on the eyes’.
‘A mother knows her child and a child knows her mother’.
‘Song from the tender heart/Dancing Memories/Resonance of relationship’.

Compassion personified!

And that honey-soaked language called Tamizh.

Without any doubt, the words shine more in the beautiful tune. But more than the tune, it is first the ‘L’ Raaja who captures my attention. So, let me start the description with the Laya aspect.

Percussion (Tabla) makes its appearance only towards the end of the Prelude though it follows the 4-beat chatushram. Even in the Pallavi, it enters only after 4 phrases. Now, it plays just one syllable-ta- for each beat and plays the first and third at the end of the second cycle.

In the first interlude, it is the western percussion and that too only in the second segment with the first and the last segments going without percussion. It is seen for a lesser duration in the second interlude.

But it is the tabla in the CharaNams that calls for a special mention. It yet again makes an appearance only at the end of the first cycle playing the first and the third syllables. Right from the next cycle, it plays one syllable per beat for the first three beats and then the first and third at the fourth beat. This continues but the master innovator makes a subtle change in the second part. The Tabla plays ‘ta’ for all the beats in one cycle and then plays the first and the third at the end of the next cycle. This pattern continues for the next two cycles. Note also the sangati when the first line is rendered the second time.

The Master of Orchestration and Arrangement does it yet again with the wonderful use of the violins, flute, the keys and the guitar.

The interplay between the violin and the flute in the prelude is tranquil. The violin in fact gives the special ‘pidis’ of ShankarabharaNam effortlessly with the flute following suit. All through, the keys bubble with energy.

It is the violin again in the first interlude. Or rather violins.. The interlude starts with the solo violin which plays with a finesse. Suddenly two violins decide to enter with one playing in Indian classical style and the other in Western classical style. Of course both play together giving a very special experience.

The violin enters again in the second interlude but this time playing the same piece repeatedly to the backing of the bass guitar. It does this because it wants to give a chance to its friend –the flute- a chance and what an opportunity it is for the flute now. It glitters, sparkles and dazzles.

It is O’Henry Raaja again with the guitar making a sudden vibrant entry.

It is vibrant, dazzling, serene and most importantly compassionate.

And this was what was Panchu AruNachalam’s life all about..

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


Three things prompted me to write this post.

1. An article about a recent song which is ‘inspired’ from a Carnatic varNam and a Thiruppugazh.

2. An article about how TFM has warmed up unusual and unconventional voices.

3. A translation project in which I am involved. 
First of all, let me clarify that the idea behind mentioning (1.) is not to discuss, review or denigrate that song as I am very clear that other music directors will not be compared/criticised in this forum. By saying this, I am not sitting on any judgment about the song (I am sure 99% of the people here know what song I am talking about).  But I shall surely explain as to why it finds a mention here.

The author, it seems was made to listen to the song by his 12-year old daughter and was very impressed with the ‘varNam’ and mainly ‘Thiruppugazh’ inspiration. He goes on to say that he explained about the latter and that to his surprise, his daughter-who is known not to go to anything other than ‘modern’- started showing a lot of interest and got to know something about AruNagirinathar. The author concludes that it is an herculean task to make ancient literature attractive to an indifferent audience and if popular film music be the medium to attract such skeptics, one should welcome it. But not before he also makes a mention of the Hindi film songs of the ‘80s which simplified the Qawaali form and as to how the audience (listeners) lapped it up.

The second article is on how the present day music directors use very different voices – not essentially musical- to ‘enhance’ the appeal. It says the voices are used more because of the situation in movies and how novel this is.

The third one may not directly concern music but the article I translated, is on one of the traditional forms of folk arts.

Let me now go one by one.

I do not have any problem with what the author of the first article said. But what I found rather strange –and even uncomfortable- with the article was that there was no mention about ILaiyaraaja or his songs when it is a known fact(at least to the cognoscenti ) that he has done so much to bring our classical music and folk music within the reach of the common man. I am not going to list out what all he has done (I have already been doing it in my posts here) but am only going to give one example today. But how the author-who is a professor in a prestigious institution and who I am sure has a good ear- missed even making a passing reference to ILaiyaraaja, beats me.

Let me move on to the second article. This article too fails to make a mention about Raaja sir’s usage of very different and unusual voices(Samuel Grub in ANNe ANNe or Dr.Kalyan in ‘Sing Swing’).  Ad also about the fact that apart from using different voices, he also made the famous singers change and modulate the voice to suit the situation( Malaysia Vasudevan in ‘Kaadal Vandhirucchu’, SPB in ‘Nachchina foodu’ or both in ‘Engengum KaNdenamma’ are just some examples). We are going to see one more example very soon anyway.

As I said, the article which is part of my project does not have anything to do with music or ILaiyaraaja but the way it talks about a group of people involved in reviving ‘Therukkooththu’ is very inspiring and I thought a mention must be made about this fact in this post.

I said that the cognoscenti knows about what ILaiyaraaja has done in terms of bringing classical music(and even arts) close to the common man. Now, see this..
Raa ra veNu gopaala’ is a swara jati taught to all beginners in Carnatic Music. Swara jati is taught after geetam and before varNam. I can understand that all these terms sound foreign to some of you but let me assure that I shall define and explain all these forms in one of my forthcoming posts in my other blog.

But for now, let me focus on this ‘VeNugopala’ and its relevance here.

The 1981 film ‘Ellam inbamayam’(which itself is a takeoff from a very popular yesteryear song sung by MLV and P.Leela) was conceived to tickle the audience’s funny bone. That it failed in its mission is a different story altogether and since I know this is not Vintage Raaja thread( written in a group run by me in fb) where I tear the Tamizh film directors to pieces, I am not going to talk about this. But the film had some very funny songs (one was a ‘sneezing’ song!). In any case, I have always been enamoured of ‘Maaman voodu’ not least because it used the tune of ‘Raa ra veNugopaala’.

It is one thing to be inspired by a tune(or even copy a tune) and quite another to use it cleverly and brilliantly. Needless to say Raaja sir is adept in using even an inspired tune with great felicity and innovation. In fact, the dialogue which precedes the song (after the initial naiyyaaNdi meLam) throws light on what made him use a traditional song. Surely the situation demanded the usage of such a tune in a song sung in a slum with the audience comprising of people from higher echelons of society (listen to the dialogue carefully).

But what is most striking is the way the tune has been used-without in anyway deviating from Bilahari. And what steals my heart is the way the percussion goes in tisram while the vocals go in chatushram(here too, note the dialogue between the ‘percussionist’ and the singer). 

How wonderfully the voice of Malaysia Vasudevan is used is a point which has to be noted by the present day generation and most importantly the people who write articles about ‘voices’ without paying attention to the yesteryear songs.

The nagaswaram and the urumi meLam form the fulcrum of the song while the mandolin and guitar support these perfectly. The friendly banter between the instruments and the lyrics will never fail to bring a smile on anybody’s face.

And along with that smile will surely be an expression of wonderment, awe and even guilt on the faces of people who have missed this song all along and claim that it is the present day music which takes us back to our roots.

And when it happens, my face will sport a very special smile..

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Linear and Sinuous

What makes the Sea look so beautiful?

Is it that azure blue colour?

Or is it that grey and green shade?

Or is it that reflection of the sun rays during the day and reflection of the moon in the night?

Is it that sunrise or is it that sunset?

Is it that boat/catamaran/ship floating at a distance?

Yes, all these are beautiful and no doubt embellish the sea but in my opinion, there are two more things which combine to make the sea an eternal beauty.

One is the Horizon and the other is the Wave.

The former is considered to be an imaginary line but whenever I see the sea, I am flummoxed and astounded by the straightness of this line. Whoever has drawn it is the best artistic engineer ever. How can somebody be so perfect?

Talking about the waves, these are formed as a result of the wind blowing over the surface. This is what science says and I would like to be less of a scientist (anyway I know very little of science) and more of an artist(this too, I know I am not but who can stop me from imagining?). When I look at the waves, I look at the zig zag pattern and the way these approach the land, fade away and then come again. What an amount of energy these have! Don’t these tire at all?

When I look at the sea, I don’t look at the horizon first and the waves next(or the other way around) but look at both together. And whenever I do this-looking at the sea from a distance and then looking at the horizon and the waves at the same time- I can’t help marveling at the beauty of this sight. This is a perfect example of contrast. At a far distance, there is that perfect straight line and closer to us is this zig zag curve. Isn’t this poetic and musical?

People familiar with my posts know how much I love the contrasts in poetry and in life. If poetry and life combine together, don’t we get that ‘M’ word without which I cannot breathe?

Contrast in music is a very wide topic and it would serve little purpose if I were to take up that topic- which is full of technical details- here. However, this C word is also so simple that all it need are the ears, a little observation and focus.

What adds beauty to Raaja sir’s music is this C (oh, doesn’t it rhyme with ‘sea’?). People who attended Geetanjali-2014 , I am sure remember my presentation on ‘Contrasts in his music’.

On this World Music Day, I thought it would be very appropriate if I took up a song which is full of contrasting elements. In my opinion, ‘Kaalaipaniyil aadum malargaL’ from Gayathri(1977) should rank as one of the best compositions in the world.

Let me first mention what all I find to be unique in this composition and then move on to describe some of these. I say ‘some of these’ because certain things don’t need descriptions and this applies as much to music as to life.

First is the tune. Generally, an Indian film song follows a particular raga(not talking about exceptions-which are in fact too many now- which have only ‘rogaa’) or a scale. This topic too is huge and beyond the scope of this post. However, let me say that a composer composes the song in a particular scale which has a repetition of some particular notes while ascending and descending. This particular pattern can be said to follow a raga, but most of the composers take liberty with this and add alien notes.

Raaja sir is known for using some beautiful known, rare and unknown ragas in his compositions with or without alien notes (for more details on this, check out my posts in my other blog At the same time, he has also composed tunes which cannot be termed as falling under the classification of any raga. ‘Sendhoorappoove’ and ‘ILamai enum poongaatRu’ are just some examples of this. ‘Kaalaipaniyil’ too falls in this category.

The Pallavi has notes of Kharaharapriya while the CharaNams have the other ‘ga’(ga3) and also the other dha(dha1). What is amazing is the fact that in some phrases, both the ‘ga’ s and both the ‘dha’ s appear one after the other giving that chromatic effect. For example, in ‘kalaigaL aayiram’(first charaNam), the ‘dha’ s appear one after the other and in the third and in the sixth phrases of the humming at the end of the CharaNam, we see both the ‘ga’ s.

There is also change in the shruti in the first segment of the second interlude.

But what is more wondrous is the ‘usi’ in the humming at the end of each CharaNam. The concept of ‘usi’ in a taaLa has been explained by me in some of the posts here and also during Geetanjali-2015. Wait for more detailed explanation in this year’s Geetanjali.

Usi’ is a speciality of Carnatic Music and we see the pattern is in usi when the stress is on the even count(2,4,6..). ‘Kaalaipaniyil’ is set in the 3-beat cycle tisram or one can even say in the 6-beat rupakam depending on the way we look at it. I know I am getting too technical but certain things surely need explanation so that the brilliance of the composition (and therefore of the composer) can be appreciated more. The pattern changes to the 4-beat cycle chatushram during the humming part towards the end of each CharaNam. Not only does 3 change to 4, but also the stress (percussion) is on the even beats.

Usi at its uchcham (best).

Now, count the contrasting elements-

1. two variants of two swaras occurring one after the other

2.tisram to chatushram
4.change of shruti in the beginning of the second interlude.

There is one more (the fifth one) about which I shall explain soon.

So, does it mean that the composition has only the contrasts?


It has a beautiful straight line called as ‘melody’.

One feels the evanescence of the morning mist while listening to the song.
The initial bell sound reminds one of the dew drops falling off the petals of the flowers while the humming of Sujatha(her second Tamizh song after ‘Kaadal oviyam’ from ‘Kavikkuyil’) is like the morning breeze. The santoor depicts the swaying of the branches.

The Pallavi is a blend of intuition and expression with the sangati after ‘maayam’ shining with a special radiance.

I mentioned about a ‘fifth contrast’ while listing out the C, didn’t I?

This occurs at the beginning of the first interlude. The sitar follows tisram while the rhythm guitar which backs it follows the chatushram.


Crossing others’ path is not good manners generally but if the rhythm crosses like this, isn’t it lovable?

The violins and santoor-to the backing of the tabla in tisram - guide us to the first CharaNam.
This Laya Raaja can never rest. Or at least he will not let us rest. He loves to play with the TaaLa and he does it in the CharaNams too. The tisram  which goes as ‘1 2 3’ on the tabla in the first part of the first line(paarvaiyodu paarvai seRum ) changes as ‘1 2 3 4/1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4’ in the next half(bhavam mudhalil and siRu naaNam manadhil).

And ah yes..that wonderful humming where the notes go in pairs with the percussion in usi.

The second interlude is more powerful than the first with the santoor sounding like a bird in the beginning and the violins moving ardently. But the piece I love is the one by the violins after the sitar- which sounds with sobriety. There is a very brief classical touch in that piece of violins which always touches a chord in my heart. The brief rendezvous between the sitar and the keys in the end, is musically romantic.

In fact, everything in this world is romantic- sky, sea, horizon, waves, music.. and.. ..contrasts.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Flora and Fauna

Ask an eight- year old or even a five-year old the following question:
What is the significance of Feb 14th?

..and you will get the answer before you count 1.
Now, ask this question  – What is the significance of June 5th ?

..and I bet you will see blank expression.

It is not the child alone who will blink but even a majority of adults can be seen scratching their heads(and hence become potential models of anti-dandruff  shampoos and creams!).

In a country where the ‘special days’ are celebrated (and this includes Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Friendship Day  and many such ‘Days’…) more to keep cash registers in the small and big malls ticking than out of any real love or concern, it is not a surprise at all that the significance of June 5th is not known to many.

The United Nations has declared the day as ‘World Environment Day’ to bring awareness about our environment.

Though the word ‘environment’ should give positive vibes to all concerned, to many it still remains a ‘dull word’ devoid of any value. It is because we care less for the world and more for our comfort. The fact that both are mutually inclusive is unfortunately not realised by us and the result is there to be seen.

The Gangotri glacier has retreated by as much of 3 kms in the last 200 years. Some of you may know that this glacier feeds Bhagirathi, the source stream of Ganga. The rate of retreat has been alarmingly increasing since the ‘70s(20th Century). The basic reason is the increase in temperature and this is an effect of global warming.

If this is the state of a natural stream which has a direct impact on human beings, let us see the state of other living beings and how we have been treating them. In the ‘National Parks’ like Bandipore and Nagarhole, snaring of spotted deer, peacocks and wild boars is reported frequently. 

Elsewhere- in the TN-Kerala border-parakeets, a beautiful species of birds are smuggled and raised as ‘pets’ in cages. Their wings are clipped (literally and figuratively) and even the beaks are damaged. Apart from this, many animals are poached and killed because of superstitious beliefs that the animal-based medicines will do wonders to the man’s potency and can also act as pain killers.

Such things are not confined to India alone. Just a week ago, 40 tiger cubs were found frozen in a freezer in a Buddhist Temple in Thailand (what an irony!). If we cannot treat the animals on par with us, we can at least let them be the way they are.
Then, we have our most favourite ‘tree-cutting’ which is done most of the times by the people who rule us. But the blame lies equally lies with us too.. We, for our selfish needs do not hesitate to chop a tree. I have seen this happen at times in front of my eyes in my neighbourhood and have felt helpless.

The theme of this year’s ‘World Environment Day’ is ‘Go Wild for life’. Let this not be misinterpreted. It means ‘Respect the wildlife and stop illegal wildlife trade’
If ‘global warming’, ‘animal-poaching’ , ‘wildlife trade’ etc., sound too technical and even beyond our control, we as human beings and responsible citizens can at least ensure that we don’t indulge in activities that we know will affect the environment. Or at least, spare a thought for our surroundings.

The rare gem of the day in fact makes us feel for the nature. Not just feel for it, but also be one with it.

Poonthottam Poovil PeNNin JaadaigaL’ from ‘Nadiyai Thedi Vantha Kadal’(1980) describes the beauty of nature in simple words and beautiful music. This must rank as one of Shailaja’s best, as the composition needs a lot of breath control (isn’t breath a very significant factor in environment and nature?).

I really don’t know how many times I am going to say the tune is great and the orchestration is excellent. But if he puts me in a quandary by repeatedly giving marvellous compositions, what can I do? At the most, I can change the adjectives and also come out with new kind of sentences. Let me try it henceforth. But for the time being, let me have the privilege of saying yet again that it is a beautiful tune with awesome interludes.

The natural sounds he manages to produce in such songs is something that needs a very deep study. In ‘Poonthottam..’, the chirping of birds make us feel that we are in the midst of the forest. But apart from these natural sounds, he also makes the instruments sound so naturally giving us a natural feeling.

Take the prelude. It starts with the humming of Shailaja which in fact gives the sketch of the Pallavi. Even as the chirping of the birds is on, there is that pizzicato on violin. The effervescent flute makes a circular movement. The keys sound(sound he used to give during the ‘70s and early ‘80s) follows and the strings play with delight. What an amazing experiment with sound!

Note that the theme of the prelude revolves around the melody of Pallavi and yet sounds different.

As always, he plays with the rhythm too with the bass guitar along with a percussion instrument sounding ‘ta ka dhi mi ta ka’- tisram broken down as 6 micro-beats. This occurs during every even count of the taaLa with another set of percussion playing during the odd count. Of course, this pattern is seen only in the Pallavi when it is sung in the beginning and whenever it is sung after each CharaNam.

It is the reign of the strings in the first half of the first interlude, and these move with unique elegance even as the flute makes an entry in between. A kind of funny sound from the keys(probably depicting a jumping animal) is interspersed in the melody and after the flute takes a respite, the pizzicato appears again. So does the chirping of the birds.

The CharaNams have delectable lines with the folk-stringed instrument backing the vocals in the third and the fourth lines.

The keys punch with joy in the beginning of the second interlude but it is the violin which literally scores in this interlude. There is pizzicato again and the solo violin plays a kind of offbeat melody making us float in the air.

The third interlude is lilting with his favourite key sound playing a piercing melody first which is repeated by the solo violin rather subtly. The flute plays a different melody parallely though it is also in the same scale and can be called as an extension of the melody played by the violin. Now the keys change the scale and move as if in a trance while the violin continues its melody.

Unnaturally natural?

But in more than one ways, it depicts the diverse nature or to use a commonly used term- Unity in Diversity.

What does this teach us?

Rather than my saying-or even sermonising- as individuals you think about it and put your thoughts into action.

Happy World Environment Day!

Sunday, 22 November 2015


I read something today and I found it to be very interesting.

The bird species, it seems knew about the impending rains in TN much before. That they knew this without Mr.RamaNan and the advancedequipments is amazing. About 3000 flamingoes which were spotted near Pulicat lake a couple of weeks back are totally missing now. Sensing what was coming, they have moved to SHAR road in Sriharikota away from the sea. The Great frigatebird-a sea bird- was spotted in a place away from the sea recently. Reason for this unusual activity? Cyclonic currents are felt by these pelagic birds much ahead. The Dark-sided Flycatcher was spotted in a suburb in Chennai some 4 days back. These species were spotted exactly 4 years ago when the city had similar kind of heavy rains. And this sixth sense is not restricted to the avian friends alone. Even the insects (‘puzhu’ in tamizh) can sense the heavy rains.Beetles and red velvet mites wriggle from beneath the soil onto the surface because they know that the water table goes beyond the considered safe limits.

Apart from this of course we have our own beautiful peacock which dances the moment it sees the dark clouds..

Ah..This reminds me of a song.

As a matter of fact, I have been humming many rain songs since two days(recall that I have already discussed some rain songs in the group). And the moment I read about our avian friends today, this song crossed my mind.

Mazhai Varuvadhu Mayilukku Theriyum’ from ‘Rishimoolam’(1980) may not be a typical rain song. But it does give me a feeling of getting drenched in a drizzle (an act which enjoy a lot). Just like many of his compositions, it is great melodically and technically. And when we haveKaNNadasan, aren’t we assured of a poetic treat as well?

First of all, it is not an easy song to sing. Many phrases in the Pallavi and the CharaNams demand a lot of breath control and who else can one think of except Janaki? The present day singers must listen to this song repeatedly to understand the importance of breathtraversing from higher octave to lower octave and most importantly, the diction.

So, what makes this composition great and why do I call it a tough song to render?

Look at the Pallavi. It starts with the lower octave ‘pa.’ and ascends from there on up to ‘ga’ ( ri ga). After a ‘sa ga ri’, in between, it climbs down as ‘sa’ That is, it starts from the lower ‘panchamam’, climbs up, climbs down and ends with the lower panchamam. To put it simply, the last phrase is the reverse of the first phrase. I am not aware of any other first line in the Pallavi following this kind of a pattern.

The third line has a smattering of lower octave notes but the following two lines clearly show the ‘Gnani’ to the world. The lines have only oneswara-‘ma’ which occurs continuously 22 times!

The third, fourth and the fifth lines are rendered in single breath!

If Pallavi is like this, can CharaNams be quiet and sober?

In the first line, we see the repetition of the gandharam(ga) in the first half while in the second line, the swaras go on the ascent-up to thedhaivatam(dha). The third line is another beauty with the lower octavenishadammandara stayee ni.) occurring suddenly after the mid-octave ‘ni’and this continues in the fourth line as well.

What can one say about the ‘akaaram’ at the end where swaras pair up and go descending as Sani nidha dhapa pama maga gari sani. Note that it goes up to the lower octave ‘ni’ after starting with the higher octave ‘Sa’. The humming ‘lalaa lalaa..’ sees the repetition of the rishabham(13 times) and finally end with the ‘pa’.
Hope by now you all know as to why I said it is beautiful technically as well as melodically. Before we look at the orchestration, I want to mention one more feature.

Generally, many film songs are based on Natabhairavi and this is because of this combination of notes being the minor scale in western classical music. However, almost all these songs(99%) can be said to be in Natabhairavi scale(and not raga). ‘Mazhai Varuvuvadhu’ is an exception as one finds clear elements of the raga with brigAs and even the gamakAs.

Let us now look at the orchestration and arrangement.

The initial sound with the keys shows us the drizzle in a matter of few seconds. After cycles of chatushra ekam, the guitar plays a short melody with the bass guitar supporting it-albeit with different sets of notes. The tabla tarang plays the tune of the first two phrases of thePallavi with the violins responding with another melody. After a while, theviolins tread a beautiful path of western classical. The flute takes over and plays an undistilled Natabhairavi and the  veeNa responds with élan. The violins enter again, play the tune of the first two phrases of the Pallavi with the keys nodding their heads. The final flute piece which goes in a circular motion, shows us the dance of the peacock!

The higher octave strings appear after the two lines in the Pallaviadding a special colour to the entire Pallavi.
Western Classical Music and Carnatic Music alternate in the first interlude. The solo violin plays a piece in the minor scale with anotherinstrument appearing now and then. The bass guitar and the rhythm guitar act as percussion here. The flute then enters with a smile and brings along the tabla too, charting a melodic course in natabhairavi.The veena which first responds to the flute, now plays its own melody (again in natabhairavi). The guitar-which by all means can be said to be the western counterpart of the veena- repeats the notes of the veena with an unmatched resonance. The strings appear again but this time to the accompaniment of the tabla tarang which sounds after every beats.

The strings play in western style for 2 cycles after the first two lines like how they do in the Pallavi. But note that the notes are entirely different here. That is ILaiyaraaja for you!

One sees the rain drops jumping, flying, dancing and singing in the firsthalf of the second interlude. It starts with the tabla tarang which playsnatabhiravi/chatushram. The piano follows with the strings backing it. The tabla tarang joins again playing the same melody which it plays in the beginning of the interlude. Heavenly music indeed!

The flute and its friend veena then flow like a river with the higher octavestrings adding that golden tinge.
Is it Saraswati or Vaitarani?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t overflow like the floods in Chennai.
The flamingoes, the flycatchers and the frigate birds watch this spectacle with glee. After all, they are all well prepared unlike theauthorities who ‘govern’ us, and therefore enjoy the Rains and also Lifebetter than us humans!

Ps: When I started writing this post, I wanted to be as short as possible. However, as I went along it got expanded.This post has a lot of technical details almost like a post in my other blog and nothing was intentional. Probably, the weather made me go berserk!!

Thursday, 1 October 2015


’Maanjolai kiLithaano maan thaano..what a song! What a tune! But you don’t give such songs or music for my movies..” , said that gentleman to the young composer.

It was the 200th day celebration of ‘Kizhakke Pogum Rail’ in the presence of a galaxy of stars in Tamizh Cinema at that time (early 1979). No points for guessing who that ‘young composer’ was. But I am not sure how many will get it right if I ask them to say the name of the gentleman who made this statement.

It was none other than Sivaji Ganesan.

There is more than one irony in that statement but the most striking one is that the tune of the song quoted, was first composed for ‘Deepam’- the first film in Sivaji-Raaja combination- but was rejected by the director and the producer, a fact which Sivaji did not know. But the fact remains that the music ‘Deepam’ was no way inferior. This being the case, what would have made Sivaji say that in a public forum?

I feel that Sivaji, a man of details noticed the spark in the composer long back and he wanted him to raise the bar when it came to composing for his movies. And that is what happened after this. Irrespective of the quality of the movie, Raaja sir’s music was always special for Sivaji movies from then on.

Almost 14 years after this, Sivaji Ganesan openly admitted the admiration and awe he had for ILaiyaraaja and called him one of the greatest ever after the release and success of ‘Devar Magan’.

The admiration was of course mutual. When the great actor passed away, Raaja sir, who was running a high temperature, rushed from Bombay (he had just then completed the BGM of ‘Lajja’) and led the funeral procession along with the two popular actors.
Before I take up the rare gem, let me say a few words about Sivaji Ganesan, who I consider as one of the greatest actors Indian Cinema has seen.

In my opinion, Sivaji is one of the most misunderstood artistes. At one end of a spectrum, we have people who appreciate his histrionics in all sentimental movies and at the other extreme, we have people who ridicule the actor. Of course, in between there are saner voices who know who the real Sivaji is.

Somehow, he has always been identified with that sing-song dialogue delivery. But Sivaji was a great actor not because of this alone. His expressions are unmatched and can never be imitated. I remember reading how Rajaji-who hated films- appreciated his role as Bharata in ‘SampoorNa RamayaNam’(1958). Sivaji stole his heart in one particular sequence when Rama(NTR) leaves him in the forest after handing over his foot wear
The expression on Bharata’s face is incredible’, Rajaji would say later.

One of the many great qualities of Sivaji was his propensity to assume a great figure as his role model. For example, for his role as ‘Thirunaavukkarasar’ in the film ‘Thiruvarutchelvar’(1967), he chose  Kanchi Paramacharya as his role model, visited the Mutt, observed him very closely and enacted the role.

Before donning the role of a mrudanga vidwan in ‘Mrudanga Chakravarti’(1983), he studied in depth about the great legend and genius Palghat Mani Iyer. His movement of lips, aggressive body language while playing and even sitting with his elbow rested on the instrument and palm on the face before a concert were inspired by Shri.Mani Iyer(it is a different issue that people who have never watched the mrudangam legend in action and people who haven’t even heard that name in their life, criticized Sivaji for his ‘over-acting’  ).
Sivaji was also very well informed and had all details of the places (international) in his finger tips including the history and the geography. He had a photographic memory. During his make-up sessions, an assistant would read out the dialogues to him and that was it. To imagine that the lengthy dialogues which were part of the movies of the ‘50s and the ‘60s, were read out to him only once, is quite unbelievable but it is true.

I feel the synergy between ILaiyaraaja and Sivaji Ganesan was mainly because of the fact that many qualities are common to both. Punctuality, Dedication, Setting a totally new trend and starting a new era, eye for details, Photographic memory and above all the love, passion and devotion for the profession..

Time now for the Rare Gem.

In fact, this song used to be very popular those days but unfortunately not many from that generation remember this now. Supposing somebody asks me the meaning of ‘energetic melody’, I will play this song- ‘ThoraNam Aadidum’ from ‘VetRikku Oruvan’ (1980) without batting an eyelid. Though there are many features in this composition, the first thing that strikes one is the prelude. Look at the way the composition starts. A very different kind of percussion (is it an African drum?), playing ‘ta ki ta’ta ki ta’ 16 times(4 cycles of chatushram)..Isn’t it amazing? Then we have two different sounding instruments(not sure if both are sounds from key boards or if those are rare instruments) followed by the zestful flute. The strings move with precision to lead us to the humming.
Rain of melody in a matter of 40 seconds!

Before I turn my attention to the interludes, I must say a few words here. At times I have been accused of saying only good things about a composition. So for a change, let me say a couple of negative things too. First is the voice of TMS who sounds totally out of place. Mind you, he was past his prime and it would have been nice if SPB had rendered this song. Secondly, the lyrics. I am surprised that Panchu AruNachalam could write so badly. If there is no link between the lines in the first stanza, the awful and below average words in the second stanza make it even vulgar to a certain extent. Perhaps, this is where the tune ‘covering up’ pedestrian lyrics comes into play(remember his recent show dedicated to MSV sir!).

Now that I have expressed myself candidly, let me focus on the interludes.

The scintillating flute plays with finesse in the beginning of the first interlude and is intercepted by the special sounding instrument as it completes one part of the melodic piece. Yet another sound from the keys takes over and the complexion changes with the higher octave strings joining and the two making merry showing a burst of colours. The keys play ‘ta ki ta’ ‘ta ki ta’ continuously and acts as the percussion. The guitar enters with poise and moves along with the special sounding keys. The flute which was watching the fun from behind,now takes joyous flights and leads to the first charaNam.

The second interlude is yet another example of his mastery over orchestration. The strings first play impeccably pausing for a fraction of a second every time. The keys (another new sound) respond briefly after each piece. Now, the flute takes over and expands the melody played by the keys. What a progression!

The flute continues to delight etching a beautiful melody in the process. The resonant guitar enters and sounds with a touch of poignancy. By the time Janaki sings ‘aararo aaraarira ro’ to the backing of bass guitar, we are in a spell..
..  a spell cast by the musical magician.

Why man he doth bestride the narrow world…and we pretty men walk under his huge legs’, said the Bard of Avon.

It applies not just to Caesar..but to the two gentlemen  as well..
Sivaji Ganesan and ILaiyaraaja!