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'

3 comments:

Zero said...

Nice one again, Ramanand. The allusion to Saroja Devi and the like in Gauthami's role is one of the many instances in which the film intentionally departs from the real-life story to pay delicious homage to the reel-life story!

The angle of the abusing uncle certainly seemed like a nod to (or, call it inspired from) Benegal's Bhumika. Mani Rathnam once mentioned about the impact of Bhumika when talking about making Iruvar in one of his interviews. Ok, here's the link.

Ramanand said...

Thanks for the link, Zero - I didn't know about this angle. I had read somewhere that Janaki had divorced her first husband, so I thought they just worked in an uncle instead of the husband. Haven't seen Bhumika - it's on my "list" :-)
Also realised that I haven't quite mentioned the significance of the Ramani character vis a vis the real life analogy - so updating. Thanks for your comment, as ever.

Ramanand said...

Zero: Forgot to ask - is anything more known about why Janaki divorced her first husband?