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.

  1. Anonymous says:

    To me that song sounds like kedharam … not sure though

  2. radha says:

    In Janani song if his diction sounded perfect… that is because he learnt sanskrit. So, theres nothing to wonder about his pronunciation.

  3. krishna says:

    devan thandha veenai is just a beautiful song with such a wonderful lyrics