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,
Austin, Tx 78701.