Classical Ilayaraja 5

This is the 5th of 15 articles titled Classical Ilayaraja appeared on Usenet in the 90s.
I’ve added links to the songs, so you can listen as you read.
You could also try my Tamil song search.

In cinema music, starting from the period of Ilayaraja, the lyricists got into a pact of servitude with the music directors. They were dictated by the mighty music directors. Since the selling of audio cassette and the success of the movie were only depended upon ‘how catchy’ the tunes were, and not on the quality of the lyrics, it became the unquestioned ‘rajyam’ of the music directors like Ilayaraja. He would come early in the morning to the Prasath recording theatre. Probably by that time the lyricist would be waiting there already. Maybe they even routinely prostrated before him as he entered into the theatre like the God incarnate himself! Then he would fill the theatre with his tunes in the ‘thanthana thaana thathana thaana thaana nanana’ form. The lyricist had to get this into his intellect and rack his brain to get words that would replace the ‘thaana thathana’ junk! What a pity! If Subramania Bharathiar had been alive he would’ve shed blood tears at the sordid state of Thamizh in cinema! Ilayaraja was definitely one important reasons for this abyssmal degenerancy in the state of ‘kanni’ Thamizh! (Maybe the LTTE/DMK/DK combo have Ilayaraja in their murder hit list for causing this change to their beloved Thamizh!).

There is one guy who repeatedly proved that he could stand upto the pressure of Ilayaraja. He gave new form to cinema songs. After the period of Kannadasan (even though Vaali and the lot were giving some good meaningful songs), on an average, Vairamuthu gave much much better cinema songs. Some of his cinema songs even had splashes of supreme ‘kavithuvam’. The song in which he made his debut was a feast both in music and lyrics.

That song came in the movie Nizhalgal. The situation is that, hero Rajasekhar (a ganja case in that movie) returns back to his home in an elated mood. It was not shown whether he has a puff of ganja before that song! If you were the music director, what tune (to our discussion, what raaga) would you want to score in this situation? The points that director Bharatiraja gives you regarding this situation is: ‘evening time/hero/ganja case/very happy/sings.’ Thats all. Isn’t your mind fully blank about what raagam to choose? Okay, if you were the lyricist (that too, making your entry into the cine-world in this song), what would you write? Ilayaraja chose to use the all time pleasantry of Kedaram in this situation! Vairamuthu decided to write pon maalai pozhudhu.

Kedaram is a fantastic raagam. It is one of the innumerable janyams of the 29th melakartha Sankarabharanam. It has got a small U turn in its arohanam (vakram!). Sa Ma Ga Ma Pa Ni Sa. Avarohanam is Sa Ni Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa. Though this looks simple, there is a specific phrase in its avarohanam to make the raaga identity clear. That is, Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa is not just the same when you sing, you have to sing/play like Pa Ma Ga…. Ri Sa Ga Ri Sa. The temporal duration (kaarvai) of gandaram is more. This is what gives beauty to this raagam. Before Ilayaraja used, I know of only one song which is in Kedaram. That is, raamasaami thoodhan naanadaa in Sampoorna Ramayanam. Lord Anjeneya sings this song to Ravanan!

Ilayaraja’s use of Kedaram is splendid. He uses the key phrase of Kedaram in the opening of that song itself like ‘Sa Ni Pa, Pa Ma Ga, Ga Ri Sa, Sa Ni Pa’ travelling from madhyama sthayi upper shadjam to manthra sthayi panchamam in a single stretch. At the time when the movie was released, I was amused by the chirping of birds in the prelude. How could they catch many birds and bring it to the recording theatre and make them chirp according to their will and wish and record it? Now that I’m a little older, and know that you can make birds chirp, lions roar, kuyils ‘koovufy’, just by pressing a single button even in your $ 30 casio, I’m more amused by the use of Kedaram in the song. The use of accordion in the first interlude ‘Sa Ni Pa Ni Pa Sa Ni Sa Ni Pa, Ga Ma Pa’ is excellant. In the second interlude he suddenly introduces a meloncholy with a solo violin piece well within the scope of kedaram. I don’t know why he did it. Why that sudden sadness in the tune?

The intellectual, poem writing part of Vairamuthu’s neuro-circuitry reached the boundaries of imagination in that song. He writes:

Idhu oru pon maalai pozhudhu
vaana magal naanugiraal
vaeru udai poonugiraal

Oh God! What a ‘karpanai’! He personifies the evening sky as a girl and says: she is changing clothes from evening to night, and blushes out of shyness because everybody is seeing her! Can anybody refer to redness in sky during dusk any better than this? There might be light scattering and such kind of hi-tech physical events that might cause this phenomenon! But, look, what the poet has to say about this from his point of view! In the charanam, he goes a step further and starts characterising the normal events occuring during dusk in a poetic way. He says:

Aayiram nirangal jaalamidum
raathiri vaasalil kolamidum
vaanam iravukku paalamidum
paadum paravaigal thalamidum
poomarangal saamarangal…

Proper translation would be: Birds would sing and clap welcoming the night; evening sky would establish the bridge for the coming of the night; all the trees would sway hither and thither and produce gentle breeze welcoming the night; the appearance of thousands of colourful lights all over the world would be magical; it would be like a ‘kolam’ in the gates of night!

The second Kedaram from the theatre of Ilayaraja came in Kamal’s Michael Madana Kaamarajan. sundhari neeyum is a fantastic song. It is not as pure as pon maalai, but it is a good Kedaram. Though, it was MSV who discovered Kamal’s singing capabilities (nyayiru oLi mazhaiyil thingaL kuLikka vandhaan; was it Kamal’s first song?), it was Ilayaraja who gave him chance to sing repeatedly in his movies. In fact, in one non-Kamal movie he made him sing for some other hero (ponmaanE theduthE, en veeNai paaduthE: O Maane Maane). Kamal and Janaki have done a wonderful job in sundhari neeyum. Ilayaraja has given the required weightage to manthra sthayi Pa Ni Sa sancharas in this song too. In the charanam, during ‘kannana kannae en sontham allo’ he uses, Sa Ga Pa Ga Pa Ni, Pa Ni Sa Pa Ni Ri which is definitely unbecoming of kedaram. But, I guess we have to forgive this, because this is cinema music and not a katcheri! The second interlude flute pieces are exceptionally good.

A.R.Rahman’s ennavaLE ennavaLE in Kaadhalan is very frequently alluded by some as Kedaram. Reportedly ‘thatha’ Suppudu also commented about this song in some interview as ‘Kedarathuku sedharam’, meaning damage to Kedaram. Personally, I am not able to place this song under any raagam. It starts like Sa Sa Ni Pa Ma Pa Pa Ni Pa Ma Ga, Sa Sa Ga Ma Pa Ga Ma Pa…later it deviates with liberal usage of chatusrathi daivatham, chatusrathi rishabam, with one flash of shatsruthi rishabam too (kaadalinaal varum avasthai enru kandu kondaen). But it is a very good song, establishing A.R.Rahman’s typical marks throughout the song. Unnikrishnan has done a good job. But unfortunately, Vairamuthu has made lot of ‘paethals’ in that song. Time and again, Thamizh ‘pudhu kavignars’ have written (to emphasise the dramatic impact of love on the lovers) ‘after seeing you, and falling in love, I’ve even forgotten my name’! Vairamuthu has gone a step ahead and tries to characterize why the hero lost his speech (literally) after seeing the heroine:

Vaai mozhiyum enthan thai mozhiyum
vasappada villayadi.
Vayitturkum thondaikum naduvinil oru
uruvam illatha urundayum uruludhadi.

Poets frequently indulge in abstract thinking trying to define inexplicable ideas. In another song he says, ‘pookal pookum osaigal kaadhil ketpadhilai’ (engE en jeevanE in Kamal’s Uyarntha Ullam), when he writes about the onset of love. That is, as the sounds of flower blooming cannot be heard, the onset of love is indiscernable! That is a good abstraction. But in the above said song he has grossly failed in his abstraction, trying to explain the effect of love on an individual. In the charanam of this song his ‘paethals’ continue: Unthan koondalil meen pidipaen, Un viral sodduku edupaen… and so on. Luckily he did not go to say ‘Oh, my love, when you shout from the toilet, I will bring the tissue paper’!

Nalinakanthi is another Sankarabaranam janyam. Structurally, it is closely related to Kedaram. It has got a sharper U turn (vakram!) in its arohanam. Sa Ga Ri Ma Pa Ni Sa. The avarohanam is Sa Ni Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa. So kedaram differs from Nalinaganthi in only in the arohanam. Of course, you can sing the avarohanam of Nalinakanthi as it is, while in Kedaram, you have to add some special dealings of the swaras. Ilayaraja has one good Nalinakanthi in Kamal’s Kalaignan. It came as a surprise in that movie because all the other songs were ‘kuppai’. endhan nenjil neengaadha has been sung by Yesudoss and Janaki. Ilayaraja captures the essence of the raaga in the start of the song: Sa Ga Ri Ma Ga Ri Sa Ni Sa Ga Ri Ma GA…There is no deviation in that song at all. In the second interlude there is a short thara sthayi swara alapana too. He should have avoided that alapana, and that person too, in that song! (I think it is he who has rendered that short piece!). It seems like he has used gottu vadyam in that song.

Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Brackenridge Hospital,
Austin, Tx 78701.

Classical Ilayaraja 4

This is the fourth of 15 articles titled Classical Ilayaraja appeared on Usenet in the 90s.
I’ve added links to the songs, so you can listen as you read.
You could also try my Tamil song search.

Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan is a very popular carnatic violinist. He is one of the successful rebels in the field. His katcheris are a mixture of classical and commercial blend. In his classical concert he will play kallum muLLum kaalukku meththai (Iyyappa song) and in the end say ‘samiyae saranam Iyyappa’ in his violin. If you go to his house he will say ‘vaanga saar vaanga, enna sappidaringa? Kaappiya, teaya?’ in madhyama sthayi in his violin. If you say tea then he will turn inside and signal his wife in the kitchen ‘adiyae… saarukku oru cup tea konda’ in thara sthayi, of course, in his violin! He doesn’t talk much, you know…. Only his violin….!

Kunnakudi produced one family movie. It was a true family movie in the sense that he produced that movie, his son-in-law Mr. Ramakrishnan directed that movie (hope it is correct), and maybe, a couple of his other relatives were employed as the light-boys in the production of that movie. Unfortunately,the movie became an example of a perfect family movie in another sense too, that is, only Kunnakudi’s family saw that movie! I was one poor soul who got to see that movie Thodi Raagam by the quirk of wicked fate! The hero was T.N.Seshagopalan. His lovely heroine was Nalini! Kunnakudi had tried to make some typical cinema story like, Seshagopalan, a famed musician pledging Thodi raagam to the villain, and finally redeeming it in the last scene. I forgot if there was any heroic stunt sequences in the last scene, when Seshagopalan redeems his Thodi back by befelling a dozen villains in a single punch with his fist! In this materialistic world who can escape ‘sabalam’? Seshagopalan probably thought that the movie would be a big hit like Shakunthala starring G.N.Balasubramaniam and M.Subulakshmi, and that he could become super hero like Rajini and make lot of money!

Anyway, coming to the point, there was a good song in that movie in the raagam Kalyani. It was vaa vaa thalaivaa vaa. As I vaguely remember, it was a good Kalyani. But, because of the dismal fate of that movie, that song did not become a hit. Even if the film had been a success, I doubt whether the song would have been received favourably by the common rasika. Because, the song is like a mini-katcheri! It is unlikely that a duet in which the hero and heroine exchange their love in a katcheri format will be liked by the common audience of the present day cinema world. So, you have no other go other than cinematizing a raaga so that it is appealing. You may have to compromise in loosing some purity of the raagam.

Considering this tight situation that music directors face in handling a raagam in cinema, I really wonder how Ilayaraja could give the same Kalyani as in Kunnakudi’s vaa vaa thalaivaa without even an iota of compromise in the purity, and yet be very appealing to the common rasika. Oh God! How many Kalyanis he has to his credit! The single most common melakartha raagam that he used was Kalyani. He should have scored at least 25 songs in Kalyani. This 65th melakartha raagam, is neither too much gamaka oriented nor very light. It is this quality of Kalyani that made him use it left and right! You don’t have to employ violent shakes of the swaras to show the colour of Kalyani! Simple swara phrases would suffice, to establish the raaga identity. Since not much of gamaka is needed, you wouldn’t be violating the so called cinema melody.

Probably his first Kalyani came in Uthiri Pookal. It was a fantastic movie, directed by the avant garde director Mahendran. Aswini and Vijayan are husband and wife. Vijayan is hero cum villain. Aswini’s younger sister (I forgot who it was) is a jolly type teen female. She is the one who sings that Kalyani song naan paada varuvaayO in that movie. She sits in a small sand crest in the middle of a river and sings that song. S.Janaki had done a real good job making all sorts of ‘konashtai’ in that song! This female is later raped by Vijayan, and that becomes the key knot in that movie. Uthiri pookal was a much talked about movie. After that, how many Kalyanis followed like train of programmed events from the recording theatre of Ilayaraja!

jananI jananI in the movie Thai Mookaambigai was a terrific hit song. It was an excellant classical piece sung by Ilayaraja, Deepan Chakravarthy & Co. (He had the arrogance to push better singers to the back row, you know!). That song was rich in lyrics too. He has taken extra care to pronounce Sanskrit words in that song like ‘shakthi peetamum nee, sarva mokshamum nee’ as Sanskrit sounding. Good job! Look at the ‘dhamathoondu’ version of Adi Sankarachariyar’s advaitha philosophy in that song. ‘Janani janani, Jagam nee agam nee’. He said the same thing, right?

Then came his superb Kalyani in director Maniratnam’s first movie Pagal Nilavu. That is vaidEgi raaman kai sErum nEram. S.Janaki again. Radhika dances for this song. The rhythm in this song is wonderful. A blend of guitar and mridangam. He gave some of his Kalyanis in lighter form like those in the songs thEvan thandha veeNai (Unnai Naan Sandhithen) and veLLai puraa onRu Engudhu (Pudhu Kavidhai) etc. thEvan thandha veeNai has one speciality to it. It was a song written by Kaviarasu Kannadasan and it was posthumously used in the cinema. Look at Kannadasan’s opening lines in that song: thEvan thandha veeNai, adhil dhEvi seydha gaanam, thEdum kaigaL theeNdinaal adhil raagam inRi pOgumO? Yes, anybody could have a veenai, but to get a raagam out of it only some fingers can do it!

In the movie Sindhu Bhairavi he tried to do some technical innovation in Kalyani raagam. That is, in the song kalaivaaNiyE, it was widely publicised by K.Balachandar & Co, (who were literally at the mercy of Ilayaraja for the success of the movie), that that song was composed in aarohanam alone. Okay, what if a song is set in aarohanam alone, does the rasika get a special kind of melody? It was just an ordinary song. But a good piece of Kalyani. The song in Uyarnda Ullam, vandhaaL mahaalakshmiyE was a fantastic Kalyani. The situation for that song was funny. Kamal Hassan, a derilict, who loses all his money sings that song in praise of Ambika’s entry into his house (of course, she sets him right and stands a great support to him). S.P.Balu had made all sorts of ‘konashtai’ in that song. This is one good example for how to popularize classical music. It is pure 24 carat Kalyani. In Soorasamharam he has given another form of 24 carat Kalyani (naan enbadhu nee allavO). He introduced his troup’s flautist Arunmozhi as singer in that song. In the charanam, when they sing paadinEn paN padinEn, it is beatiful combination of swaras Ni Ri Ga Ma Pa. It is simply superb. A similar song is malayoram mayilae in the movie Oruvar Vazhum Aalayam. Almost each of the lines in this song, he renders in two sangathis, like for example vilayaattai solli thandhadhaaru first in Pa Pa Pa Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa Sa Ga Ri GA Sa. Then later, the same line is given in Pa Pa Pa Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Ma Ga Ri SA. Great Kalyani! I think his latest Kalyani is ammaavenRazhaikkaatha uyirillaiyE (Rajni’s Mannan). In Thalapadhi also there is one good Kalyani: yamunai aatrilE… Some north indian singer (Mithali) sang that song.

Amir Kalyani is a janyam of Kalyani. Though it is Amir Kalyani, it is ‘garib’ in its scope. Not much, you see…! The key phrase in it is Ma2 Pa Da Ma1 using both the madhyamams. Viswanathan/Ramamurthy made an indelible mark in this in their ‘ennuyir thozhi’ in karnan. Then, V.S.Narasimhan established his classical heritage (I heard his father is some carnatic big shot) in the song manasukkuL ukkaanrdhu maMiyadiththaay in Kalyana Agadhigal. At last came Ilayaraja’s Amir Kalyani, in veeNai Endhum vaaNiyE (Vietnam Colony). I heard that Bombay Jayashree has sung this song. It is a good Amir Kalyani. Let us see if Bombay Jayashree attains eminance like Unnikrishnan in cinema music. More ‘dabbu’ in cinema, man!

Saranga is another Kalyani janyam. A beautiful, vakra raagam, again with double madhyamam. (Why Kalyani has many double madhyama janyams?) MSV has scored an excellant Saranga in konjum nEram ennai maranthen. TMS voice is honey in this song. Ilayaraja gave one pure Saranga in kanniyar paarvai thanai in the movie Parvathi Ennai Paradi. It is the title song. When the title song was in such pure Saranga, I was lead to beleive that the subsequent songs might be in classical raagas too. But, alas, a big disappointment! You can never try to speculate what you will get from Ilayaraja at all. He has composed a fantastic song in one of Vijayakanth’s latest movie with Kasthuri. That song is kunkumam manjalukku inRu thaan nalla naaL. In that song he has used all the swaras in Kalyani other than daivatam. I don’t know whether any such raagam exists with Sa Ri2 Ga3 Ma2 Pa Ni3 Sa aarohanam and avarohanam. If so what is its nomenclature?

Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Brackenridge Hospital,
Austin, Tx 78701.

Classical Ilayaraja 3

This is the third of 15 articles titled Classical Ilayaraja appeared on Usenet in the 90s.
I’ve added links to the songs, so you can listen as you read.
You could also try my Tamil song search.

Subhapanthuvarali is a ‘bayangara soga’ raagam. If you hear it you will cry; I will cry; ‘saraa log’ will cry. Given the conditional event of Rajiv Gandhi or Indira Gandhi’s death occuring, Subhapanthuvarali played on the radio or TV by some ‘thenga moodi’ bhagavathar during the days of mourning will make even those music insensitive Indira Congress leaders shed at least ‘crocodile tears’! Can you imagine this raagam being used in the cinema for a sexy scene like that in ‘Hot Shots’ in which the hero Charlie Sheen fries eggs on the heroine’s umbilicus as though it was a bunzen burner?! Yes, there is a song in Subhapanthuvarali for a situation like the above said, in the movie Getti Melam. That was the first movie in which director Visu joined Ilayaraja, starring Karthik and Sasikala. Visu had tried some sexploitation in that song sequence by bringing Sasikala in swimsuit for few minutes, Karthik grazing over her all the time! The song is dhagamae undanathe, thindaaduthe manamae. That was pure Subhapanthuvarali. Maybe it evoked sexy mood. Maybe not! Neither the movie nor the song was a big hit. Perhaps the failure was only due to the ineptitude of the raaga selection. Visu never joined with Ilayaraja after that!

Ilayaraja has used Subhapanthuvarali umpteen number of times for sad situations. His first Subhapanthuvarali came in vaigaraiyil vaigai karaiyil in Payanangal Mudivadhillai. S.P.B had done a wonderful job in that. The song was a big hit as were the other numbers in that movie. Ilayaraja and director R.Sundarajan reportedly had a physical fight about who was the main reason for the movie’s hit! Childish fellows! After sometime, R.Sundarajan became a pal with Ilayaraja once again, reconciling to the fact that Ilayaraja was indispensable at that period of time when he was at his peak. Some of his other Subhapanthuvarali are madhavan azhakiraan in Rajni’s Raghavendra, one song in Valli (enna enna kanavu kandayo). In Paadu Nilaave he used Subhapanthuvarali for one situation in which the hero and heroine enter into some sort of music competetion. That song is vaa veliyae intha kootai vittu. Mano and Chitra. Mano had shown his vocal gymnastic skills in the thara sthayi sancharas in that song.

Subhapanthuvarali is the 45th melakartha raagam. One raaga before that, (i.e. 44th) we have Bavapriya raagam. Ilayaraja has composed one song in this scale. That is kandupudichchEn kandupudichchEn in Guru Sishyan. One of my friend said that some carnatic big shot (Sudha Raghunathan or someone) told in an interview in MTV that it was a good Bavapriya and that Ilayaraja had used this ‘soga raagam’ in that funny situation in which Prabhu humours Rajini about his new love affair with Gowthami. I would simply say that it was a good song in Bavapriya scale. Thats all! Similarly there is a good song in the suddha madhyama raaga scale of Subhapanthuvarali, that is, Dhenuka. It is the song in Thooral Ninnu Pochu: en sOga kathaiya kELu. Let us simply call this as set in Dhenuka scale (with few slips) and not as Dhenuka raagam.

The sixth raaga from Subhapanthuvarali, i.e. 51st mela raagam, is Panthuvarali. Ilayaraja has conspicuously not produced any good number in Panthuvarali.The only one that I know is the re-recording in Raja Paarvai in which blind Kamal plays violin with the troup. I forgot the situation for that in the movie. Sa Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa Sa Ri Ni Sa… that is how the recording goes. Though it is usually quoted as good Panthuvarali, I did not like it very much. He had tried some fusion in that. Nothing can beat MSV’s ezhu swarangalukul in Panthuvarali. It is like listening to a katcheri. Vani Jayaram’s performance was terrific. Did she get national award for that song? Perhaps, it is because of this song that she always says that MSV is the best music director who gave carnatic music in pure form, forgetting about Ilayaraja’s inRaikku yEn indha (Vaidhegi Kaathirundhaal) and other innumerable etceteras. Maybe, Ilayaraja stopped giving her chance to sing in his movies only because she praised MSV all the time!

Ilayaraja was very prolific in the sudha madhyama counterpart of Panthuvarali, that is Mayamalavagowlai. Since Mayamalavagowlai is relatively very flexible, you can distinctly show the colour of the raaga just by traversing its notes alone. Not much of gamakam is needed. You can use this for all kinds of situation like sadness, happiness etc. Ilayaraja has completely exploited this raagam to the point of its fullest use, so that no other music director can bring out any better than him from this raaga. His first song in this scale probably came in Ponnu Ooruku Pudhusu (enna paattu paada enna thaaLam pOda!). His other Mayamalavagowlai are manjaL nilavukku inRu (Mudhal Iravu), andhi varum nEram (Mundhanai Mudichu), madhurai mari kozhundhu (Enga Ooru Paattukaaran), uyirE uyirE urugaadhE (Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam), illam kaadhal veeNai (Vellai Pura Onru), raama naamam oru vEdhamE (Sri Raghavendra), maasaru ponnE varuga (Thevar Magan), en thayenum koyilai (Aranmanai Kili), kottu kali kottu (Chinnavar), poova eduththu vachchu (Amman Koil Kizhakaalae). There are so many songs, that quoting all would be cumbersome. Some of them have actually been tuned in tappanguthu situations. In Bharathiraja’s Ennuyir Thozhan, there is a song machchi en mannaru. It is a pukka Mayamalavagowlai (even though it is tappanguthu). That song has the following lyrics:

Machchi en mannaru mansukkula bejaru,
Touch pannaru, takkara poanaru,
Daavu oru daavu naan kaatum naerum…
Sammunu sammunu vaasam sallunu sallunu veesum…

Though I’ve not seen this movie, from the lyrics I guess that the song situation should be like this: The poor pettai rowdy hero buys a new autorickshaw and shows it to his lady love and sings a song! In the charanam of that song look what the heroine asks the hero to buy for her! Not jewelry! Not house or ‘bahuth keemthi property’! Not new silk dresses! Just two tickets for matinee show to a Rajini’s movie so that they both can go! Thats all! Also, in the charanam the hero says to the heroine ‘kaavEri aaraattam odaathE nee mE… koovam thaan naamE..’ Funny! Isn’t it? It is as though these people are just talking in Madras language in that song. Good depiction of poor class life. Even though the thamizh kaavalargal purists might say that this song is a kuppai, I liked the lyrics very much. How else can you write for a situation in which ‘pettai rowdi’ sings a song? In kottu kali kottu (Chinnavar), he has extracted heavy vocal support from SPB and Chitra, making them go up and down the scale in beautiful array of swaras. You should have listened to it to appreciate it. One of his Mayamalavagowlai closely resembles one of MSV’s song. It is enge naan kanbaen in A.S.Prakasam’s Sadhanai. It is just like kallellaam maaNikka kallaagumaa (Aalayamani). He should have definitely got the idea for that song from MSV’s above said song. Some MSV fans might call this as blatant plagiarism! Is it? I don’t know.

Considering the panchama varjaya raagam of Mayamalavagowlai, he was the only one who ever used it so far! That is the Lalitha raagam. It seems to be a recent attraction to him. The first Lalitha came in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, when Kamal sings a duet with L.A.K.Malam, as the heroine Seetha calls herself (as shit!) derogatively in that movie! idhazhil kadhai ezhudhum is a great Lalitha. Ilayaraja should have definitely got the idea for this tune from Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s heranmayim lakshmim. To me, the movements of both the song and keerthanai seem similar. But Dikshitar ingeniously starts the keerthanai in suddha daivatam. The continuity of the tune that Ilayaraja has maintained in idhazhil kadhai ezhudhum, the step by step progression from one swara to another, the development of superb sangathis, each and every bit in that tune is simply excellant. This song is like a milestone in Thamizh cine-music. Gangai Amaran’s lyrics is unusually wonderful, matching his another brother paavalar Varadharajan’s maNNil indha kaadhal (Keladi Kanmani). He proved himself a poet in this song! Subsequently, following the hit of his first Lalitha, Ilayaraja tried another shot of ‘half-boiled Lalitha’ in iLam kuyilE kuyil tharum isaiyE (Priyanka). The start of this song is like Ma Ma Ma Da Sa Ni Da Ma Ma Da Ma Da Sa Ni Ma Da Ga Ma Ri Ga Sa. A beautiful start indeed! But the tune gets spoiled in the charanam. I am told that there is another of his Lalitha trials in Veera too. I understand that it is like a small virutham (thirumagal un) sung by Arun Mozhi. I have not heard it so far.

Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Brackenridge Hospital,
Austin, Tx 78701.

Classical Ilayaraja 2

This is the second of 15 articles titled Classical Ilayaraja appeared on Usenet in the 90s.
I’ve added links to the songs, so you can listen as you read.
You could also try my Tamil song search.

There are very few instances in which the identity of a rare raaga in a cinema song is so well handled and shown (to the extent that) we could even use these songs as good a reference as keerthanas for those respective raagas. To quote a few, K.V.Mahadevan’s paattum naanE (Thiruvilayaadal) in the raagam Gowrimanohari, M.K.Thiagaraja Bhagavathar’s soppana vaazhvil magizhndhu in the raagam Vijayanaagari. These are uncommonly sung raagas. It is true that there are excellant keerthanais like gurulekha (Gowrimanohari) in these raagas. But to a common rasika, it could be gone ahead and suggested paattum naanE to understand Gowrimanohari, because KVM has handled it in splendid form. The way T.M.S starts the song in thara sthayi rishabham with his perfect voice and renders it, it is like eating a ‘nila pournami’ feast in the banks of kaveri. That song has become an absolute reference for Gowrimanohari. The question is: Has Ilayaraja any such ‘reference’ songs to his credit? Yes. Many!

Bhaavani is the 41st melakartha raaga. It is the 2nd raaga to the right from Jalavarali! It has the following arohanam and avarohanam: Sa Ri1 Ga1 Ma2 Pa Da2 Ni3 Sa, and Sa Ni3 Da2 Pa Ma2 Ga1 Ri1 Sa. I have never heard any keerthanai in this raaga. How did Ilayaraja get the sudden idea of scoring a tune in this complex vivaadi raaga? Would it be a hit with all its vivaadi swaras? Did he or Kamalhaasan have any apprehension? If they had had, maybe we would’t have got this wonderful song paarththa vizhi paarththa padi in Guna. It is a perfect song suiting the situation in which Kamal (a nut case) sees the heroine in a temple and falls in instant love with her. That heroine, Roshni (or something) was a delight to see in that movie. The song starts like this Sa Pa Pa Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa Da Sa Ri Ga… Before the song there is a virutham like piece sung by the chorus. He has handled the beauty of the vivaadhi swaras in that raaga very very nicely. When you hear the words ‘charanam charanam’ set in the swaras, Sa Sa Ga Ri Sa it sends a thrill in your perceptual apparatus. Since the uttaranga swaras of this raaga consist of chatusruthi daivatham and kaakali nishadam, it has a quality like that of Kalyani (with a pradhi madhyamam). In the interlude of this song the chorus traverse in the melodious regions of the raaga (Pa Da Ni Sa). Unfortunately I don’t remember the words. Maybe the lyrics is good too. Yesudoss has done a fantastic job. Even though the recording scale of this song is only around ‘oru kattai’, how is that it sounds as though he is reaching big heights when he sings the same pallavi in the thara sthayi? It sounds so pleasant to hear! This song is a very good good referance for Bhaavani raagam.

Guna has another fantastic ‘light’ song kaNmaNi anbOdu. Maybe, neo-rasikas will go ahead and call this song as Sankarabaranam!

Are there any cinema songs in raagam Hemavathi? It was a good surprise recently when I came to know that Ilayaraja has ventured into this raagam also for first time (maybe, in thamizh film song history). That song is in the movie Pudhupatti Ponnuthayee starring Radhika. manam pOla maangalyam is a good example of Hemavathi. S.Janaki (the best vocal support he ever got) has sung this song. This movie is like some modern Thillana Mohanaambaal. Some big shot has given accompaniment in nadhaswaram in this song. He has started the pallavi in thara sthayi gandaaram. Ga Ri Sa Sa Ni Sa NI Sa Ni Da… That is how the song goes. It is really good and pure!

Considering the sudha madhyamam of Hemavathi, the raaga giant ‘Karaharapriya’, Ilayaraja has few pure numbers in it. Of course nothing can beat M.S.Viswanathan’s maadhavi pon mayilaal. Probably Ilayaraja first tried Karaharapriya in pure form in poo malarndhida in the movie Tik Tik Tik. The interlude violin pieces and K.J.Yesudoss’s swara alapana in that song are fantastic. For such a good tune, the lyrics was very bad. I distinctly remember how the triple x filled words in the charanam like ‘padukayil…’ got more famous than the tune in our school! Ilayaraja should have paid more attention to the lyrics at least when his tunes were purely carnatic. Mmmmm…. Who cared? It was all money for him! His other pure karnatic Karaharapriya are aanandham pongida pongida (Sirai Paravai), thaanaa vandha sandhanamE (Ooru Vittu Ooru Vandhu). In aanandham pongida pongida, the upper sancharas are excellant, like Ga Ga Ri Sa Ri Ga Ma Ga… Again,the song has been sung by Yesudoss. His voice is superb for this kind of songs. thaanaa vandha sandhanamE came as a pleasant surprise in his brother Gangai Amaran directed movie. This song was not a big hit. Probably all the attention went to sorgamE enRaalum in the same movie in raagam Hamsanadam (but for few slips). In ‘thaana’ (SPB), he has handled some wonderful nuances of Karaharapriya, like Ga Ri Ni Da Ni… There are few more of his semi-classical tries in Karaharapriya, like maappillaikku (Netrikann) etc. Even his first song, machchana parthingala is in the Karaharapriya scale. He liked this scale a lot. Maybe, neo-rasikas would call all of them as pure Karaharapriya.

Probably the purest of his Karaharapriya came in Unnaal Mudiyum Thambi. The situation is Kamal and Gemini fight over something. The quarrel gets very intense. At this point Gemini’s dumb son (Kamal’s brother), takes his nadhaswaram and starts playing loudly, to stop his kin from quarreling further. You know what raaga Ilayaraja selected for this situation? Karaharapriya! That scene was a musical feast in that movie. The raaga was appropriately used. K.J.Yesudoss gave a charming vocal support to Ilayaraja (singing for both Kamal and Gemini). It was like a duet between Yesudoss and the the nadhaswaram! K.Balachander used this situation to show how music was a common enjoyment in Gemini’s house and how it could abate the heat of the quarell between the son and the father.

Talking about the panchama varjaya raagam of Karahapriya, that is, Sriranjani, probably Ilayaraja was the best music director to use this wonderful raaga. His first Sriranjani came as a tail bit in veLLi chalangaigaL (Kaadhal Oviyam). It was a very fast bit sang by the chorus ‘thannanthanimaiyil iru vizhi’. Even though veLLi chalangaigaL was tuned in Chandrakounse raagam, I don’t know what made him give the tail bit to Sriranjani (a very strange guy, you know!) The second Sriranjani attempt came in naadhavinOdhangal in Salangai Oli. Even in this song he tuned the pallavi alone in Sriranjani, with charanam in Hamsaanandi. This is what I dislike in cinema music directors. Why can’t they adhere to a single raaga? Why do they have to change from pallavi to charanam? Ilayaraja was the one who did best justice to carnatic music among modern music directors. But even he fell a prey to such deviations (from purist point of view) like changing the raaga for each line in few songs. His best Sriranjani came in naadham ezhundhadhadi in Gopura Vaasalile. Again, Yesudoss! It was really fantastic. Karthik had given a comic act in that song. Probably that song toppled M.S.V’s best Sriranjani naadham enum kOvililE. Dit it? I would say yes.

Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Brackenridge Hospital,
Austin, Tx 78701.

Classical Ilayaraja

This is the first of 15 articles titled Classical Ilayaraja appeared on Usenet in the 90s.
I’ve added links to the songs, so you can listen as you read.
You could also try my Tamil song search.

Recently, I watched the movie Chembaruthi on video. One of those unethical, “kuppai” screen printed video cassette, you know, that gives you a vision like that of a “soda-butti” watching TV without his spectacles! Ilayaraja has done a fantastic job in that movie. Though I had heared all those songs many times while I was in India, watching that movie created a reminiscent train of thoughts in my mind, about Ilayaraja, his music, the dramatic change he brought about in Thamizh cinema. I thought that it would be worthwhile to discuss his music, particularly the CLASSICAL aspect! I am aware that it is not possible to write about all his carnatic oriented songs, about how he has handled those raagas, how he has deviated from the classical style etc. But it would definitely be interesting to pour out our ideas once in a while in a random order of the raagas covered by him.

In Chembaruthi there are six songs, out of which 4 are carnatic based. All the songs were “sooper hits”. To a guy who knows carnatic music, the raagas are explicit, and to a non-classical rasika, they are just great tunes! This was one of his specialities, to give the raaga in almost good shape and also make a good cinema tune out of it. And of course, the rhythm should give scope for good dance movements so that the hero and heroine could share their love by dancing! Maybe, many of his tunes have to be branded as semi-classical or light music (even though the raaga form might be pure) only because of this rhythm factor.

Chalakku Chalakku Selai is one good number in Chakravaagam. There is no impurity in the tune (like any anniya swaram). He has confined to classical 16th, Sa Ri1 Ga3 Ma1 Pa Da2 Ni2 Sa. Of course, not to mention, that the lyrics are very bad, fighting to degrade the song from semi-classical to light music. In the charanam the heroine says kalyaaNam aagaama paay pOda vENaam, ennaala aagaadhu aamaam. You know, some good heroines with morality do say such deterrant, anti pre-marital sex things to the always advancing heroes!

Ilayaraja has only few Chakravaagams in his account. In the janya raagas of Chakravaagam, he has excellent numbers. Like, Malayamaarutham…. Sa Ri1 Ga3 Pa Da2 Ni2 Sa, Sa Ni2 Da2 Pa Ga3 Ri1 Sa. His first malayamarutham came as a pleasant surprise in Sridhar’s movie (for whom he always had a soft corner) Thenralae ennai thodu. I distinctly remember how the ‘Ananda Vikatan’ magazine wrote in glowing terms about kannmani nee vara kathirunthen song in Malayamaarutham. Yesudoss and Uma Ramanan had done a wonderful job in that song. Ga Pa Da Sa Ni Da Pa Da Pa Ga, Ga Pa Ga Sa Sa Ri. What a wonderful start! The sharp rishabam gave a beautiful colour to this song. Maybe Ilayaraja’s first Malayamaarutham was poojaikkaaga vaazhum in Kaadhal Oviyam. That was a good song too. Deepan Chakravarthi had struggled to keep in pace with that tune (like some violinists get into trouble with Seshagopalan’s pace!). Then came thenRal vandhu muthamittathu in Malayamaarutham in Oru Odai Nadhiyaagiradhu (another Sridhar’s movie). Gosh! That was a fast song too. Krishnachandar and S.P.Shailaja tried their best, but probably spoiled it. Particularly, S.P.Shailaja has sung like the shrill sound you hear when you apply the breaks on a car that you bought for $500! There are two other songs in which he has deleted both Ni and Ma in Chakravaagam. I don’t think that such a raaga exists in carnatic music with any known name. Those two songs are amudhE thamizhae (Kovil Pura), and nila kuyilae (Magudi). They are simply excellent. One should be an artist and play those songs to know their quality. amudhE thamizhae starts like Sa Ri Ga, Sa Ri Ga, Sa Ri Ga Pa Ga Ri Sa, Sa Ri Sa Da Sa… Pulamai Pithan’s lyrics glorified that song. In the charanam he says, if you listen to and speak Thamizh, oon mezhugai urugum, athil ulagam karainthu pogum, such is the beauty of this language! One cannot write any better, about the greatness of Thamizh language. (Those people like Thamizh Vendhan & co, who have no other job other than inundating the S.C.T with meaningless news about Thamizh Ezham, now, have a point!).

I vaguely remember a song “naan irrukka bayam etharkku” (Kuva Kuva Vaathukkal?) At that time, when I had primitive carnatic music knowledge, I had diagnosed that song as “Valaji” (Rishabam deleted in Malayamarutham, Sa Ga Pa Da Ni Sa, Sa Ni Da Pa Ga Sa, you can say that it is a janyam of Chakravaagam too, even though theorists might say ‘janyam of Harikambodi’). Maybe, that song is indeed Valaji. Ilayaraja has few songs in Revathi, another 16 Janyam. Perhaps the best onces are sangitha jaathi mullai (Kaadhal Oviyam) and kanavu onru thonruthe (Oru Odai Nadhiyaagiradhu). But I personally feel that MSV’s melodious use of Revathi is unparalleled in the song manthira punnagai (Manal Kayiru).

So much about Chakravaagam and its janyams and Ilayaraja. In Chembaruthi, two of the 4 carnatic songs, are in Sindhu Bhairavi raagam. They are kaadhalilE ezhumbura alaigaLai and “kadalile thanimaiyil”. Ilayaraja himself has sung the former (thso, thso rendition) and Nagoor Hanifa the latter. Both these songs are excellent Sindhu Bhairavi’s. One in three of all cinema songs are in Sindhu Bhairavi scale (one of the commonest cinema melodies, like the 20th mela Natabhairavi). Ilayaraja has innumerable songs in Sindhu Bhairavi, a variegated population from valai osai kalakala ena to shenbagame shenbagame etc. One cannot list all of them. But, probably MSV’s Unnakenna Mele Ninrai (Simla Special) is the best of Sindhu Bhairavi. In kaadhalilE ezhumbura the lyrics is unusually good. Probably, Muthulingam or whoever was the lyricist, had a strong tea before writing that song! That song goes to tell the pathetic life of fishermen. The lyrisict says in pallavi kadal thaneer karikudu kaaranam irukkudu, meenavar vidugira viyarvaikal kadalile kalakudu… (Sea water is saline because of fishermen’s sweat). Good idea, ain’t it?

Lastly,there is one song in Kaappi raaam in Chembaruthi: chembaruththi poovu (after decades, Banumathi Ramakrishna sang a tail piece of this song). His other Kaappi are ada maappiLLai (Siva), hei paadal onru (priya). As far as I know Ilayaraja is the only one who used Kaappi in cinema. All of them are good. He starts ada maappiLLai like, Ma Ga3 Ga3 Ma Pa, Pa Ma Ga3 Ma Ni2 Pa Ga2 Ri Sa Ni3 Sa Sa. Wonderful start! To start Kaappi in madhyamam and use its key phrase ‘Ga3 Ma Ni2 Pa Ga2 Ri Sa Ni3’ at the very beginning is an excellent approach to the tune. This is one of the instance in which his classical ‘vidwat’ was manifest. Even in chembaruthi poovu he uses the bashangam of Kaappi, in the very beginning, like, ‘Pa NI2 Ma Pa Ni3 Sa’. Why did he choose to score tune in Kaappi for both these above situations in which the bride and the groom are humoured by the ‘thozhan’ and ‘thozhiyar’ on the occasion of their betrothal. Is their any definite pattern that he follows in scoring tunes for situation? Maybe.

Lakshminarayanan Srirangam Ramakrishnan,
Internal Medicine Department,
Brackenridge Hospital,
Austin, Tx 78701.