Friday, 24 June 2011

Music of Words, Dance of Music

What determines a great film song? Wordings or the tune? Meanings or the orchestral arrangement?

Well..this topic has been discussed and debated ad nauseam in the media and in many forums.But I am not sure if a proper answer has been found. As a matter of fact, it is next to impossible to find the answer because we are all guided by our perceptions, tastes and most importantly the way our ears have grown up over a period of time.

For example, a song like ‘KaalangaLil AvaL Vasantam’ or ‘Pon enben..’ still linger in our memory because the words, tune, rendering have gelled together so well(these are just 2 examples of the many immortal songs of the past).

During the earlier days, songs were tuned for the already written lyrics. Post-1970, this scenario changed and the wordings had to follow a metre set by the music composer(unlike what is popularly believed it is not ILaiyaraaja who introduced this concept though he was the first one to implement this fully!).But still, the final output-the songs- were great.

After 1976, all music directors invariably started following ‘words for tune’. But the difference between others and ILaiyaraaja was the orchestration, arrangement and the way instruments were used even as the lines were being rendered. But this does not mean that his tunes were in anyway inferior (in fact, I had discussed about this in detail in one of my earlier posts).Being very knowledgeable in Tamizh, Raaja always gave importance to the wordings.

And being a musically inclined person, Kannadasan had no difficulty in adapting to the new scenario(the same applies to Vaali).His creativity was as great as ever with words flowing like a non-stop stream as soon as the tune was played to him. His wonderful meaningful words added beauty to the music. As already mentioned in this community before, he gave as many as 16 different stanzas for ‘Ezhu SwarangaLukkuL’(Apoorva RaagangaL) and MSV sir and the director Balachander were in a quandary as to which one to use and which one to leave.

On his Birthday, I salute this greatest poet tamizh cinema has ever seen(and will ever see).He continues to live in his songs..

Much has been written in this blog(on the special birthday posts in 2009 and 2010)about the special relationship ILaiyaraaja and Kannadasan shared. And that is why, he respects Kannadasan a lot and even today given an opportunity, he praises Kannadasan to the sky (and not without reason).Starting with ‘Kannodu Kannu’(Paalootti VaLartha KiLi-1976), the Raaja-Kannadasan combination has given some marvels until ‘Poongaatru Puthithaananthu’ and ‘Kanne Kalaimaane’.

On this special day, we are going to see one of the gems which also has a very interesting story.As mentioned in the fifth paragraph, the names ‘orchestration’ and ‘arrangement’ acquired new dimensions after the entry of Raaja.At the same time, his detractors kept insisting that his music was drowning the lyrics and that he did not pay proper attention to the words.

Not sure if Raaja took this to heart and if wanted to prove a point. But one day during a composing session, something struck him suddenly.Maybe it had to do with the request of the Director I.V.Sasi-who would often quote a old hindi tune and ask for a tune similar to that.Raaja, who always loves challenges and who is also known for his rebel streak immediately decided to do something different.

The session was for a movie called ‘Pagalil Oru Iravu’and the year was 1979.I.V.Sasi explained the situation. The character(played by Seema) dreams of her marriage with the Hero Vijayakumar.The joy, ecstasy, happiness have to be shown in this sequence. As usual, he hummed a old hindi tune(I think a song from the film ‘Junoon’) and asked for a tune similar to that.Raaja took the harmonium, hummed a tune, wrote the notes and went straightaway for recording. And yes..before that Kannadasan was called and the lyrics were written in a jiffy(writing was a child’s play for Kaviyarasar).

Raaja now told him that he was planning to record the song without any melodic instruments and that the lead singer and the chorus would either hum or say dance jatis during the prelude, and the interludes.The baffled Director was all at sea. Already, it was not the tune he had asked for..Added to that was the absence of the instruments.But still he gave Raaja the green signal since he had a lot of confidence in his abilities.

The prelude: Just the humming from a set of lady chorus voices. The next set joins.Very subtle sound of the bells in the background and the voices climb up reaching a crescendo. Mohanam is in full flow in a matter of seconds. The first set of lady chorus again but this time the male chorus accompanies them in lower octave. New addition-Bass Guitar (conceived, and composed by Raaja without any trace of doubt!). A short question and answer session between the female and the male chorus is followed by the tisram ‘Dheemta’ 12 times.It is rounded off with the graceful humming that sounds similar to the beginning but a close listening shows the subtle change that leads to the Pallavi.

Now substitute these 7 variations with instruments like violin, veena, flute, guitar.Will the sound be different or will it be the same?

Pallavi:The poet uses the jatis beautifully and says, ‘My heart that dances ‘tam ta’ ‘dheem ta’ sings an epic.Tala is ‘dheem ta dheem ta’ Mela is ‘dheem ta dheem ta’and the Ragam is Mohanam. The entire sequence depicted in a matter of 3 lines!

1st Interlude: ‘Dheem ta’ ‘Ta dhi na’ ‘Ta ri ki ta tham’’Ta ri ki ta ta ka’.Dance syllables wonderfully sketched and painted with the colours called Laya and Raga.Marriage between Mohanam and Tisram!

1st CharaNam:’Time has come to realise and cherish my dreams.Love God has brought a lot of poems.Physically I have changed; mentally I have changed.The new river breaks the sluice gates and dances’.
Look at the brilliant use of words by the poet and the beautiful use of the raga by the composer with the subtle changes in the octaves until they reach the uppermost in the last line.The ‘janta swaras’ make the already beautiful Mohanam a Beauty Queen!

2nd Interlude:Three sections. First one only the jatis.Second one –a set very innovative and novel syllables.Third one- Just the sangatis in ‘akaaram’.

Laya Natana Raga Raaja!

2nd CharaNam:’’Beautiful new relation’ says the God today. The boon of youth-shyness- I feel it today. Fruit has ripened. My heart has blossomed. My happiness knows no bounds.But is this the end?Are there not many more things to follow?’

The last line is the clincher- Music, Dance and friendly spats..

Meaning and realities of life in just one line.

Spontaneity, creativity, intelligence and most importantly the propensity to do something new and different- Are these not the features that distinguish geniuses from mere mortals?

And that is why the songs of Kannadasan and the music of ILaiyaraaja exist and will continue to exist forever!

(Tailpiece: The awe stuck I.V.Sasi praised Raaja non-stop after the recording of the song and cursed himself for asking such a genius to imitate some other used tune.He went on to say that he would show many images of Seema while picturising the song to which Raaja replied that his duty was over and picturising was not his cup of tea.After watching the visuals about 30 years after the release of the movie, I felt that if only Raaja had interfered in the ‘visualisation’….one of the greatest compositions wouldn’t have been murdered so garishly and grotesquely!)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Let New Flowers Bloom..

Recently I was on a short vacation to a Hill station.What attracted me-more than the mountains, breathtaking views and the weather- the most were the flowers in different colours in the garden close to the place we stayed, and in two Botanical Gardens.

Strobilanthus,Orchids,Cyanotis,Rhododendran,Justicia Simplex,Dahliya,Rose..

How beautiful are the flowers..How Fresh they look..Don't they teach a lesson or two to us-the morose human beings..

Today is the Birthday of the greatest living film music composer and what better way to celebrate than taking up a beautiful gem of his that literally breathes freshness?

It is ‘Madhu MalaragaLe’ from ‘Magane Magane’(1982).

It is a beautiful amalgam of sorts as we hear a folksy tune with western interludes in a carnatic ragam.

We feel the breezy air as the folk string instrument and the Bass Guitar welcome us.The breezy air now becomes effervescent as the Flute joins. The single violin followed by a group of violins give a gentle and feathery touch to the entire atmosphere.

The pallavi-that gives shades of Kalyani- is full of suspense.

First, the female voice and the male voice sing only the first part of their lines.
‘Madhu MalargaLe’-Female
‘Pudhu Rasanaiyil’-Male

Both give a tonge-in-cheek ‘la la la la’.
The string that is juxtaposed between the lines add to the suspense.

Then, we get the answer.

At the same time, there is one more suspense-the Tala pattern.

The lines are rendered in 4 beats while the percussion is played very differently.Is it 7?or is it 5?We are confused just for a moment.

But finally, it turns out to be a 8-beat cycle with a division of 3, 2 and 3 with the last 3 being played in faster pace(mel kaalam).
So, it is 1 2 3 1 2 (1 2 3 4 5 6)-the last one in the brackets being 1 2 3 in faster pace.

The third and the fourth line are again short and are soaked in melody.

The first part of the first interlude is in western style with the violins playing within a well defined grid.The Bass guitar and the lead guitar that appear now and then rather subtly add to the beauty.

Suddenly, the gait changes and the flute moves rather fleetingly.The reverberating percussion beats-that now follow the normal division of 4/4- are appealing and revealing.

The CharaNam is different with the first 2 lines repeated and the last line being very short.But it succeeds in giving a sparkling melody with sustained vibrancy.

The entire Pallavi being repeated before the second interlude is another innovation by the Maestro!

In the second interlude, the guitar and the vibrant bass guitar followed by the needle sharp flute give a very sublime feeling. The vivifying strings give a feathery touch.

The mesmerizing tone of Janaki and the rather rustic tone of Malaysia Vasudevan lend impetus to the marvel.

Let new flowers bloom ..
Let the taste for good music and aesthetics grow ..