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! Ilaiyaraaja 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 Ilaiyaraaja, 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 ragas, 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 ragas 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 ragas are explicit, and to a non-classical rasika, they are just great tunes! This was one of his specialities, to give the raga in almost good shape and also make a good cinema tune out of it. And ofcourse, 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 raga 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. Ofcourse, not to mention, that the lyrics is very bad, fighting to degrade the song from semi-classical to light music. In the charanam the heroine says "kalyaanam aagama paay poda venam, ennala aagaathu aamaam". You know, some good heroines with morality do say such deterrant, anti pre-marital sex things to the always advancing heroes!
Ilaiyaraaja 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 Ilaiyaraaja's first malayamaarutham was "poojakaana neram" in "kaadal ovium. That was a good song too. Dheepan chakravarthi had struggled to keep in pace with that tune (like some violinists get into trouble with Seshagopalan's pace!). Then came "Thendral vanthu muthamittathu" in malayamaarutham in "Oru odai nadiyagirathu"(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 raga exists in carnatic music with any known name. Those two songs are "amudhae thamizhae" (kovil pura), and "nila kuyilae" (magudi). They are simply excellent. One should be an artist and play those songs to know their quality. Amudhae 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 vendan & 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 etharku" (kuva kuva vathukkal?) 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, eventhough theorists might say 'janyam of Harikambodi'). Maybe, that song is indeed Valaji. Ilaiyaraaja has few songs in Revathi, another 16 janyam. Perhaps the best onces are "sangitha jaathi mullai" (kaadal ovium) and "kanavu onru thonruthe" (oru odai nadiyaagirathu). 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 Ilaiyaraaja. In chembaruthi, two of the 4 carnatic songs, are in Sindu Bhairavi raagam. They are "kadalile ezhumbura alaikalai" and "kaadhalile tholvi". Ilaiyaraaja himself has sung the former ( thso, thso rendition ) and Nagoor Hanifa the latter. Both these songs are excellent Sindu Bhairavi's. One in three of all cinema songs are in Sindu Bhairavi scale (one of the commonest cinema melodies, like the 20th mela Natabhairavi). Ilaiyaraaja 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 "kadalile ezhumbura" the lyrics is unusually good. Probably, muthulingam or whoever was the lyrisict, 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 's fishermen's sweat). Good idea, ain't it?
Lastly,there is one song in Kaapi raaam in Chembaruthi: chembaruthi poalae (after decades, Banumathi Ramakrishna sang a tail piece of this song). His other Kaapi are ada maapila (maapilai), hei paadal onru (priya). As far as I know Ilaiyaraaja is the only one who used kaapi in cinema. All of them are good. He starts 'ada maapila' like, Ma Ga3 Ga3 Ma Pa, Pa Ma Ga3 Ma Ni2 Pa Ga2 Ri Sa Ni3 Sa Sa. Wonderful start! To start kaapi 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 'chembaruthi poale' he uses the bashangam of kaapi, in the very beginning, like, 'Pa NI2 Ma Pa Ni3 Sa'. Why did he choose to score tune in kaapi 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,
NORMAN, OK, USA
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