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.

  1. R.V. EASWAR says:

    Dear Mr Ramakrishnan, I read with interest your learned article on some of the ragaas used by Ilayaraja. It was erudite and gave much insights to laymen like me in appreciating ragaa-based film songs. However, I do not think it is fair to compare one music director with another – each one was in a different era and there were very little common factors that can be used for comparison purposes. Actually, my humble opinion is to forget all comparisons and just enjoy the music, whoever has tuned the song. I look forward to more such articles. Yours sincerely, r.v.easwar (of MSV-Ilayaraja era)

  2. venkateshan.S says:

    You hail from srirangam and you have a scanty respect for bhagavathas which is very disheartening.

  3. DS Hari says:

    What about using lalitha is Sengamalam Sirikkithu in Dhavani Kanavugal..massive use of violin in the second interlude..PLEASE COMMENT.

  4. narayanraj says:

    excellent blog with lot of informations and tasty coomments,satire etc., madhura mari kozhundhu and kottu kali kottu are nadanama kriya .ok .
    narayanraj