Thursday, June 07, 2007

When God was in pants

My posts on God often don't run for pages. Simple reason. I’ve nothing to say about Him. But, some times, reverence takes over common sense.
Anyway, this isn't like a pre-80s Raaja essential listening or some such. Listing four songs as “essential listening” is farcical. This is just a sample listening. But, I think it offers a chronological perspective on the early phase of Raaja. Or, so I wish.

1. Kannan Oru Kaikkuzhandhai
2. Vasantha Kaala KolangaL
3. Aazhakkadalil Thediya Muthu
4. Kanden Engum (A song that gave its dharisanam some weeks ago and has kept me in rapture since then; I had wanted to write the customary, short rave-post.)

Now, all these songs are MSV-ish – strictly melody-based, emphasis on tune and exquisite singing, minimal arrangements, no majestic orchestrations, no complex rhythm patterns, just simple and straight.
Long story cut short – and, MSV fans must pardon me here, I think, in these songs, Raaja wonderfully demonstrates with great flourish what all can be done in MSV-style compositions.
These songs epitomise the early, MSV-ish Raaja, for me, and demonstrate how He simply surpasses MSV at the latter's own game, so to say. (Yes, call me a fanatic.) Readers may please add what they think is “MSV-ish.” For chronology's sake, readers may limit themselves to pre-80s.
(A more fanatical way of putting all this is to challenge the reader to show me some MSV songs that match up to these. I’ll tell you upfront, I’d only be delighted. I must also add an escapist but true disclaimer here: I am not greatly familiar with MSV’s works.)

Of course, these songs, in many ways, carry the unmistakable Raaja stamp too. The preludes and interludes, even if “simple,” (by Raaja’s standards, that is) are mostly quintessential Raaja.
Also, please note, this selection is restricted by design to only those songs in which He “emulates” MSV, whatever that means. So, there's a reason why you didn't find His majestic, classical showdown-pieces or the path-breaking Raaja-folk pieces of the pre-80s.


  1. "msv style" composition-a? i don't think Isaignani consciously tried to 'emulate' MSV. Those songs were the product of those times. And perhaps I agree with you that isaignani could succesfully bridge the gap between two eras, if you meant to say that.

  2. Heh, whoever said that He consciously tried to emulate MSV?! (And, that's why I had put the word 'emulate' in quotes as well -- to indicate that it's not to be taken literally.)

    Let me put it this way: In these songs, He abided to the then existing "grammar" of film music (MSV being the major influence) and not only came up trumps, but simply transcended it to another level altogether.

    Also, my point was not just about "successfully bridging the gap between two eras." In fact, quite on the contrary, it's about how he simply stood apart from his veteran peer in the latter's own ballgame.

  3. Infact the other song from Katrinile Varum Geetham - oru Vaanavil Pole falls in the same category too. The tunes and interludes. Except for the excellent bass guitar/vocal counter point which follows the tunes and raises everything to that unimaginable level.Typical Raja touch.

  4. Saraks,
    Oru Vaanavil Pole doesn't really belong to this league, in my books. It's a pretty good song, but not one I'd pick as a song that epitomises "Raaja in MSV-ish mode."

  5. 1.poopOlE un punnagaiyil - kavarimaan
    2.nallavarkkellam saatchigaL reNdu - thyAgam
    3.nEramithu neRamithu - rishimoolam
    4.thavikkuthu thayanguthu - nadthiyai thEdi vantha kadal
    5.sugamO aayiram - thuNaiyiruppAL meenakshi

  6. Interesting piece. Thanks.

    By the time Raaja came to BadhrakaLi he had to prove that he is much more than western chord arrangements (macchanaip paaththeengaLa) and folk-tinged melodies (annakkiLi unnai thEduthE) - the result - Kannan oru kaikkuzhanthai. Yes, during 70's Raaja had to silence his critics by providing continuity.

    But to say MSV is minimal on orchestration and arrangements is superficial. MSV imbibed some of the finest concepts in Jazz arrangements (you may be interested in reading my series on the Influence of Jazz in Tamil Film Music and toyed with several ideas of R&B, Gospel and pure Blues. He was the first Indian film music composer to tread these paths.

    Raaja is more influenced by Carnatic and Western Classical that it took three decades before he experimented with Jazz in Mumbai Express. MSV played in these domain s with gay abandon much earlier.

  7. I think 'Ore Naal Unai Naan' from Ilamai Oonjalaadugirathu is another important song which falls under this category, a simple and beautiful composition in MSV style...

  8. This post is interesting.

    Goes on to prove, once again, that no music director, including Ilayaraja can be without MSVs influence (not to forget that KVM, is more soul-stirring)

    Want something truly 'Raaja-ish' ?

    1. The violin bit after the pallavi and before the 1st stanza in the song 'Needhane Endhan Ponvasantham'

    2. The opening piece of the song, 'Mella Mella Ennai Thottu' from 'Vaazhkai'

    3. Another one before the third stanza in the song, 'Vaanam Keezhe Vandhaal Enna' from 'Thoongadhe Thambi Thoongadhe'

    Cheers... Ranga...

  9. Along the lines of what Venkat said, MSV has experimented more with orchestartion than he is usually given credit for by diehard raja fans who grew up in the 80s and strictly use the music of that era as some sort of reference. If you go past the superficial top-100-songs-of-MSV kind of lists in sites like musicindiaonlineor raaga and dig deeper you will see what the man did. He was ahead of his contemporaries( So was Raja). MSV was'nt exactly a slouch in the orchestration department. Like Venkat said, some of his Jazz arrangements(which unfortunately were lost sometimes in obscure movies) were'nt heard in Hindi film songs of those times(the 60s). Then came RD Burman. Then came Raja. MSV was a trendsetter in different ways.

    Just listen to Ninaithaale Inikkum and note how MSV re-tuned himself to compose music for the the then "youth" audience of the late 70s/early 80s who were warming upto Raja's music. This was the same guy who started off with Devdas(remember ulage maayam?), 30 years back in 1952 composing in place of his mentor CR Subbaraman who was sick and could'nt complete the album. He re-invented himself several times over the course of his 30-year music marathon. The engeyum eppodhum song-surprisingly not remixed yet by the current Tamil (de-)composers-still sends the adrenaline flowing.

  10. Thanks for all the responses, folks. I'll respond to the individual comments once I get the time to do so.

  11. IR has been very much influenced by Jazz during the mid-80s itself..Right from Mandram vantha, Ilaya Nila, Puthu Maapillaiku etc but all those song had jazz elements infused into the genre that is Ilaiyaraaja. Mumbai Express is the only album whether he conformed more to the genre standards(giving a more pure jazz) and the Raja genre took a back seat.

  12. saraks - but do you know Guitar Prasanna has mentioned even the music of 'Mumbai Express' is not pure Jazz... he said it is IRished jazz, a pure jazz composition is something which paves way for more and more improvisation....

  13. Yes thats why I used the phrase "more pure jazz". Not only to the content, he always has an impact on the form as well. Such a non-conformist I say..

    P.S:In fact an international jazz magazine reviewed ME and trashed sayings its more of Indian classical.Stupid buggers.

  14. And, here's the response that I had promised. Terribly late, I know. Apologies.

    The songs in your list are so typically MSV-ish, of course. The TMS-sung songs, especially, are so un-Raaja-like! And, to go back to the point of this post, these songs don't transcend the genre, in my view, but play to the genre.

  15. Venkat,
    Yes, 70s Raaja had to "provide continuity," as you put it. I am fascinated by his compositions in those times because not only did he conform his compositions to a certain structure, but came out with compositions so wonderful as the ones I've cited in this post, which simply transcend the genre in many ways; and, also, in a way, bridged the gap between the existing form and the Raaja form.

    Regarding MSV, I am not so much familiar with his works, but I am a fan of his.
    My ignorance aside, the remark about MSV's compositions having "minimal arrangements" was in a relative sense. (Yes, I do feel his arrangements are minimal compared to Raaja.)
    Your series on the Influence of Jazz in Tamil Film Music was really interesting and I enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

  16. V,
    Firstly, I'd have to listen to more of MSV to comment on his experiments with orchestration and arrangements in general. My comment was only in a relative sense.

    I grew up in the 90s (the ARR era), and got nuts over Raaja only in my late teens, but I hear you when say that it's unfair to "strictly use the music of that era as some sort of reference." That's why Raaja's works in the MSV era, in MSV mode, interest me a lot.

    And, of course, MSV was ahead of his contemporaries and was a trendsetter in many ways. Otherwise, we won't be talking about him or his style of composition in a post about pre-80s Raaja.

  17. Venkat,
    I think the absence of true jazz compositions in Raaja's oeuvre must be attributed to the lack of obeisance to various genres in his compositions. He might imbibe some elements of different genres in his compositions, but he makes them his own, invariably adding his touch (which has something to do with Carnatic or Western classical music!).
    The only forms of music that Raaja has been unreservedly obeisant to are Carnatic and Western classical. (Of course, even with these forms, he played around a lot, but he has also made pure compositions.)

  18. Ranga,
    Yes, MSV's influence is undeniable. And, you've cited just three songs for "something truly 'Raaja-ish'!" Hmmm...

    True! 'Ore Naal Unai Naan' is absolutely worth mentioning here.
    My perception of jazz music is utterly elementary. But, to my mind, Mumbai Xpress is IR-ished jazz, as you say!

    Why go that far, there's the wonderful Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal which did have had strong jazz undertones.
    And, regarding Mumbai Xpress, I won't say that the Raaja genre took a back seat, but he did pay more heed to true jazz form.

  19. While talking abt lyricist Vaali, in a recent interview Gangai Amaran told that 'Kannan oru kai kulanthai' is originally a Murugan devotional song composed by IR for a stage drama and he used the tune for the movie as they had very little time to record the song... and Amaran even sang the original version...and did u hear the G.Amaran and Chinmayi's chat abt IR in sudhish's blog.

  20. Suresh,
    Oh, thanks for that piece of information. I don't think I caught the interview where Gangai Amaran talked about Vaali.
    By the way, the "Kannan Oru Kaikkuzhandhai" marks the beginning of Raaja's association with Vaali; also, with Yesudas. (I can just go on listening to this just for that marvelous bit when Yesu anna goes "Gaayathri mandhirathai ucharikkum bhakthanamma...")

    And, I caught Gangai Amaran's interview with Chinmayee. It came off as one rant-fest for me. I mean, in the name of offering a neutral perspective and open critiquing, he was going on and on ranting about Raaja's way(s) of working.

  21. i dint see ur blog for quite sometime....irundhalum idhu romba over....ennappa Hari idhellam......?so here's the list of MSV songs tht comes to my mind ths moment....
    1.Naalai indha velai paarthu(uyarndha manidhan)
    2.Ilakkanam maarudho(nizhal nijamagiradhu)
    3.Mayakkum maalai pozhudhe(bhagyalakshmi)
    4.Malligai en mannan mayangum(dheerga sumangali)...these r few of my favorites of MSV which r absolutely great in composition.....

  22. Excellent post. I agree with you and you have put it in words wonderfully well. Nice title too :-)

    One more song (a masterpiece) worthy of analyzing is Kadhal Oviyam Kanden from Kavikuyil. The monstrous success of Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan obscured the remaining songs, as it often happens. But the tune if we are to listen is simple and typically MSV-ish.

    But the interludes are complex, so much so to involve a counterpoint (2 different tunes playing simultaneously). He uses Bach's style there with Indian instruments like the Veena. He himself speaks on it here:

    The song:

    The song is set to Ameer Kalyani raga. MSV has composed a song in the same raga with TKR in Ennuyir Thozhi from Karnan which is more rooted in the Carnatic genre:

    Raaja makes the raga lighter, the genre we more associate with MSV (mellisai mannar, literally). Yet he makes the song complex with Western classical bits which sound Indian due to the instruments used. What he climaxed with Bach in How To Name It can trace its roots here is mho :)