Nov 28, 2006

Reach for the migraine pills

Nov 27, 2006

Speaking Indian

Nov 22, 2006

Faux News - 10

Nov 21, 2006

AapaN yaannaa paahilat kaa?

Nov 19, 2006

The music of Guru

Nov 16, 2006

Exploring the music of Iruvar :: 'Poo KoDiyin Punnagai'

song: poo koDiyin punnagai
singer: Sandhya

film context
Poo KoDiyin Punnagai is chronologically the third song in Iruvar (we'll look at the second later). Just like Narumugaiye, it's a song for a film-within-the-film, featuring Anandan and Ramani (Gautami) as his heroine. They've starred in an earlier hit (Anandan's first success as a hero) and the song mirrors their growing relationship in real life. (Anandan's wife Pushpa has earlier died during childbirth.) Incidentally, "Ramani" is the role in the movie that corresponds to V.N.Janaki in real-life, the actress who marries "Anandan"/MGR.

The song is immaculately featured as a set of classic set-pieces of the 60s, usually with a (fake) garden backdrop at night (painted moon glittering in the yonder pond). The heroine has bashful dance-steps around the hero, who in contrast, stands confident and solid, dressed in his suit (yes, then a lot of Tamil film heroes wore suits and ties in films in everday life!) and doesn't have to do much of the dancing. Or set in a huge palatial house with stairwells. Puff blouses and flowers later, you get the picture.

the music, the playback
You could be mistaken for thinking this was a lost Viswanathan-Ramamurthy song. The song captures the essence of their "light" film music - simple orchestrations for the love songs, very dulcet and soothing amidst a light rhythm beat (Rahman uses a tablaa).

V-R songs were quite melody oriented and marked a shift from the previous styles involving heavy classical influences, which can be clearly contrasted by comparing Narumugaiye and this song. They also used instruments which were not common in TFM or Carnatic classical, such as more North Indian or Western instruments. Rahman achieves the effects by similar means. The instruments I thought I could recognise were the accordion, flute, tablaa, santoor, violins and other strings, shehnaai, triangles and reso-reso, sarangii, which may sound like a lot, but gave the music a texture that perfectly recalled the past. In the end, it came down to the melody which was just wonderfully spot on.

Rahman has a talent for picking out the patterns that identify a genre or an era and using that effectively. This was on show in this film and particularly this song.

the playback
Again, like the first song, the choice of the playback singer gave the song a big lift. Sandhya sings this song in a voice that is P. Susheela's. Not a voice that is borrowed or mimicked, but the same. (I've read Sandhya is P.Susheela's niece and daughter-in-law.) Their voices are so similar that for several days I thought they had actually roped in P. Susheela to sing this song (incidentally, this album did not make use of anyone actually associated directly with that era, which makes this effort even more commendable).

P. Susheela was one of the finest voices on the TFM soundscapes and along with the likes of S.Janaki, defined the female crooning voice of Tamil silver screens for much of the 60s, 70s and 80s (she also sang a song for Rahman in the film Puthiya Mugam). Since I haven't heard any songs of Sandhya outside this, I don't know if she's changed her voice to sound like her aunt for this song, but the resemblance is incredibly uncanny.

the lyrics
Vairamuthu opts for a much more comprehensible set of lines that appropriately aren't too aggressive, but are poetic and metaphorical as was usually the case with those times. A soft expression of love from the feminine point of view has been well penned. I don't quite know if it references any of the songs by the likes of Kannadasan, the leading lyricist of his and those times, but the manner is the same. The progression of the lyrics also reflect Ramani's actual emotions for Anandan and her increasing need to escape her current circumstances.

the picturisation
The picturisation and choreography were very fascinating in this song. As mentioned before, the set-pieces were mounted very well. The song opens with sepia-tinted lighting at night, with trees and a pond and the reflected moon. As the song plays, we also see off-camera moments that indicate how both Anandan and Ramani continue to fall for each other, as also the growing frustrations of Ramani's uncle ('Nizhalgal' Ravi) on seeing their mutual fondness.

Gautami does a Saroja Devi - of this there is little doubt. She has on the famous ribbons and double-tails, with first the paavaDai-daavaNi and later the puffy blouses. The coquettish dance movements (Raghuram also appears in the song as the dance choreographer) are patently like Saroja Devi (Saroja Devi was one of the leading stars of her age - not one of my favourites, for she had a very screechy voice and ultra-melodramatic style, which was probably not her fault!. She also shared great on-screen chemistry with the likes of MGR and Gemini Ganesan.) Gautami does an excellent job, not only as the dainty danseuse, but as the increasingly abused girl who still has to go out there and give a cinematic shot of a love-struck star. (A memorable moment is when she's quickly practicing her steps after make-up and turns towards her uncle in perfect step to the rhythm.)

Mohanlal, for his part, shows the transformation that Anandan is going through - he is now increasingly self-assured in his body language (being a star and having been introduced to the value of mass adulation by Tamilchelvan feeds into this characterisation of Anandan). When the song moves outdoors, Anandan is doing the famous swagger-walk twirling his coat in a manner that clearly references some of the cult MGR mannerisms. It is quite amusing to see these songs these days, when the hero just stood there gazing at the heroine prancing about doing semi-classical steps infused with a new cinematic idiom (it would take the days of Rajesh Khanna and others to finally burst the macho imagery and indulge in some flippant dance moves with their leading ladies!).

Useful web references
1. Lyrics with serviceable English translation
2. Another lyrics page
3. TFM forum pages mentioning the relationship between Sandhya and P. Susheela: 1, 2
4. A P. Susheela website
5. Kannadasan bio
6. Saroja Devi bio
7. Janaki Ramachandran

Next post: uDal maNNukku
Previous post: 'Narumugaiye'

Nov 15, 2006

Monty Singh Pun-saare?

Nov 14, 2006

The Philosopher's Stoned

Gazzag

The world's first competent programmer

Nov 13, 2006

Station Aaargh

Party's over

Nov 12, 2006

"Connubiality" - A "retrospection" by Subhash K. Jha

Mrs. Nimbalkar...

Nov 10, 2006

Apna Sapna Many Many

Nov 8, 2006

TIME "60 Years of Asian Heroes"

To their discredit

Nov 7, 2006

Bringing home the blog-truths

Nov 6, 2006

Exploring the music of Iruvar :: 'Narumugaiye'

song: narumugaiye
singers: Unnikrishnan, Bombay Jayashri

film context
This is the first song of the film. It is a period of great happiness for Anandan (Mohanlal), for he seems to have finally landed his big break, working as a 'hero' for the first time and he has also just married Pushpa (Aishwarya Rai, version 1). The song is principally structured as a duet for that film-within-film featuring the leads (Madhubala in a guest appearance) while masterfully cutting back to real-life to the locally honeymooning (!) couple, with Anandan showing off some his histrionics to his new wife.

The setting seems to be from the story of Shakuntala, with Dushyanta riding into the ashram to encounter the dazzling damsel (the famous Raja Ravi Varma pose is elegantly referenced in one of the dance poses).

the music, the playback
A.R.Rahman tuned an exquisite Carnatic classical based song for 'Narumugaiye' using the traditional mridangam, ghaTam, violins and veeNai (if I recognise it correctly). (It would surprise some who saw him merely as a pop musician.) The song blends in wonderfully with the visuals and the lyrics, and is one of the great melodies of the Rahman catalogue.

the playback
The choice of the playback singers was particularly of interest. Unnikrishnan and Bombay Jayashri, both classical singers of some repute, gave their voices to this song. Unnikrishnan had already made a stunning debut (for Rahman), winning a National Award for "ennavaLe" (Kadhalan) and "uyirum niiye" (Pavithra) a couple of years ago. Bombay Jayashri was the bigger surprise packet - she was well-known in the Carnatic music circuit for a while for being one of the best singers from the younger generation, and this was a big step in terms of more commercial fame (of course, she became much more famous for 'Vaseegara' (Minnale)).

In the early days of TFM, the participation of classical singers in playback was a fairly common occurrence, for after all, they were the experts. The likes of M.S.Subbulakshmi (famously, an actress too) and M.L.Vasanthakumari (whose daughter Srividya would later join films) were associated with several big numbers. The parting of ways and the snobbery associated against film music would happen later given the nature of the productions (though in recent times, we have seen more practising Carnatic singers take to the mike for non-classical times in a long time - of course, K.J.Yesudas was a different phenomenon). The songs of that point were heavily influenced by the classical tradition, which is why the choice of the playback singers for this song was so relevant.

the lyrics
Vairamuthu's lyrics invoked the now highly abstruse classical (Sangam) Tamil, in which much of the great classics of Tamil literature were written. It's far removed from the common forms of Tamil these days, which makes it hard for people like me with no formal schooling in Tamil to follow. Vairamuthu made some direct references to some of the great works, using phrases from them and thus evoking the classic age. The result was a very fine marriage between words, visuals and music.

the picturisation
Madhubala showing off her bharatanatyam skills as the fragile Shakuntala watched by the warrior Dushyanta, surrounded by deer, waterfalls and such mytho-historical knick-knacks forms the "movie" side of the song. This is shot in Black and White with the old-fashioned stylistic dissolves and spiral wipes that establish the "period" of the visuals very well. The real-life romance is in colour, in much more plebian surroundings with the smitten Anandan illustrating to his bride some of the movie action - a contrast that is great to watch and is excellent for character development. Santosh Sivan's camera begins to have a dynamism of its own in these songs.

Useful web references
1. A post on Naadodi that gives some literary context to the lines "aTTrrai thi.ngaL avveNNilavil"
2. A typically passionate TFM forum discussion on bringing literature to the common man via film songs
3. Another TFM forum thread about the merits of Vairamuthu's references
4. Lyrics of the song (in Tamil only, untranslated)
5. Lyrics with English translation
6. Bombay Jayashri's website
7. Unnikrishnan bio

Previous post: Introduction -II
Next post: 'Poo KoDiyin Punnagai'

Nov 3, 2006

Dearly "Departed"

Chal meri lunar module