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!

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