Friday, October 31, 2008

Raaja and I

Suresh had tagged me, a month ago, to write about Raaja in my life. And I've finally come to take it. I've rambled a lot (and broken some of the conditions) while answering the questions. So please bear with me.

1. The moment that introduced you to Raaja.

If it's about the first ever Raaja song that I got hooked to, I don't remember at all. I've listened to Tamil Film Music all my life. Music, to me, has always meant Film Music. So, naturally, I got hooked to many a Raaja number even during my childhood. I'm not able to particularly recollect any specific song, but as a kid, I remember loving his chartbusters from the late 80s (abUrva sagOdharargaL and the like) and very early 90s (anjali, thaLapathi et al.). The first ever audio cassette we kids bought on our own was a combination of chinnath thambi and gOpura vAsalilE. And I remember loving the latter much more than the former, dhEvadhaip pOloru then being the song closest to my heart. But I'd not call any of these “my first Raaja experience.”
With the advent of Rahman in the Tamil Film Music scene, I quickly turned into a huge Rahman fan. He was the first music composer whom I began to follow very closely, and became a gushing fan of. I used to feel smug about my affection for the most offbeat of his works amidst other fans who barely knew that he did those albums. Those days, I thought of Raaja as a yesteryear legend who has composed some great albums (my familiarity with his works was strictly limited to his association with leading actors and directors), but I was never a true-blue fan.
I truly came to witness the genius of Raaja only when I went to college. It happened as I got to listen more and more of 80s Raaja. I vividly remember the first time I bumped into some of these songs that simply bowled me over. Listening to IramAna rojAvE while eating in my hostel mess (they occasionally used to play songs from the '80s) when I was in my first year. Listening to the college music troupe perform a rockish version of nI thAnE en ponvasantham. And then there's thenRal vandhu ennai thodum listening to which I used to get so ecstatic and even used to “sing” the full song (including the interludes) sitting in the classroom with no concern whatsoever as to how my mumbling would sound to the guy sitting next to me. I remember being completely enamoured by songs like AgAya gangai, AgAya veNNilAvE around the same time.
By the time I was in the third year at college, I had a computer in my room (till then I used to listen to songs from an “mp3 station” that some kind soul had set up in our intranet labs), and soon my daily play-list had nothing but Raaja. And the greatest reverence was reserved for Raaja-Yesudas combo.

2. Name one occassion where Raaja's music directly/ indirectly influenced your life.

I'm a proper stoic. In that respect, the joy I get out of listening to Raaja's music is quite singular. At times, I've been almost moved to tears. That's as much “direct influence” his music has had on my life. Listening to Raaja transports me from thoroughly quotidian moments to a different plane wherein what I am, ceases to matter. I'd of course come down after a while, but then there's always another Raaja song that's already out there, that I've not yet bumped into.

3. Lets take Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi into account. Assuming that one of this is either your mother tongue or native language, name a favorite song in each of the other 4 languages that immediately comes to your mind.

This is quite embarrassing because I've not listened to that many of his works in Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada at all, and I'm very conscious of it. But anyway, here goes.

Telugu – suvvi suvvi, rAma kanavEmirA and mounamEla nOyi. I know, technically, these are as much Tamil as Telugu, but since they were originally composed for the Telugu versions, I'm picking them over other Telugu songs of Raaja that I've got a chance to listen to.

Kannada – jOtheyali, the violin instrumental theme from pallavi anupallavi (which was later reworked as mella mella ennaith thottu).

Malayalam – tumbi vA. Endlessly beautiful.

Hindi – Har koi samjhe. I actually had the audio cassette of the Hindi version of Hey! Ram. That's probably why I've always felt that this is a proper Hindi song. However, it's been a long time since I last listened to the Hindi version.

4. One song of Ilaiyaraaja that you consider rare and think a song that many people should have known but don't.

Okay, I'm going to take some liberty and list a few.

Adum nEram idhu dhAnsUra samhAram. An earlier post on the song.

maNNaiyum ponnaiyumnAdOdi pAttukkAran. What a wonderful song! It's one of those songs that I really wanted to write a customary gushing post about in this blog. Divinely endearing chorus, virtuoso arrangements, beautiful solo vocals. Just brilliant in every single way. The seamless transition from the nAdhaswaram to the flute to the violin in the first interlude has me in total rapture every time. The song changes its scale whimsically, taking seemingly arbitrary turns, but there's something mystifyingly organic about the whole of it. An incredible mix (mishmash if you will) of irresistible pieces that's all the more seductive as a whole.

kaNdEn engum pUmagal UrvalamkARRinilE varum gItham. This one is quite popular, but nobody is talking about it as much as they should be. A masterpiece that's just perfect in every single note. The uninitiated must listen to both the Janaki version and the Vani Jayaram version. I'm told there's a third version as well, sung by P Susheela, but unfortunately, I've not got a chance to listen to it.

5. Raaja's number that you are hearing right now/ most recently heard..?

mAnAdak kodi from mudhal vasantham. I got hooked to this song a few weeks back and it's been playing in repeat mode since then. I went back to the song as I began typing this post.
Also, maNNaiyum ponnaiyum. I was discussing about the song with my friend to whom I had gushingly recommended this song some time back.

I tag all those who are reading this post. Feel free to use the comments space of this blog.


  1. Wandered over from Baradwaj's (I go by Deepauk M there). Let me address the Sadanand Menon article convo first. It (the article) does address the caricaturing being proportional to intensity of the adulation but to extrapolate that to the transference of the caricaturing to the most popular icon is not explicit. One could make that inference however.
    Regarding the NTR thing, he had a potent combination that he took advantage of religion and cinema. That has happened up north too. While no film star has done mythological characters of any stature, I do remember Arun Govil dressing up as Rama for some elections. Same wine different bottle, right?
    Excellent post (as usual) on Raaja. This already long comment will continue to extend if I reply here, but would just like to state that my adulation for Raaja was retroacting just like yours. I'll pick up the tag, if you dont mind. Can we expect regular posts here on in?

  2. Deepauk,
    Thanks. And please consider yourself tagged by all means. I'm looking forward to your post. As for regular posts here, I'd like to see myself do that. ஆனால், சட்டியில் இருந்தால்தானே அகப்பையில் வரும்!

    About the Outlook article, I thought it explicitly alludes to the "transference" in the very beginning: "Bollywood's perennial caricature of the ostensibly comical hybridity of stars from the South merely masks its own anxiety at being unable to fathom the infinitely greater bonding of Southern heroes with their audiences." (Emphasis mine.) And it winds up on the same note, with the sly remark that all this is "[e]nough for him to be reduced to a caricature."

    My comment was not on the lines of people from "down South" vs. people from "up North" at all. (Actually I'm quite embarrassed that I'm making this clarification.) Of course, this kind of mythologisation is manifested in various forms in the North (which only means different parts of Northern India each palpably different from the rest in their own ways) as well. The point is only with respect to Bollywood.

  3. I understand that your comment wasn't along those divisive lines. I just have an issue with the unilateral nature of the article. It states rather superficially the differences without delving in to why. Of course an in-depth understanding might never have been the point, so we'll just let it be.
    உங்க சட்டியில இல்லாததா! And regarding the Raaja post, in the interest of being comprehensive I am trying think of songs that I think are not popular (it becomes a sort philosophical argument with myself- who am I to think that others have not heard of this song etc...) to answer some of the questions. Hopefully it'll be something worth reading.

  4. Yes, I don't think delving into the "why" was the point of the article. Seeing it as a response to Bollywood's 'Ennada, Rascala!' kind of caricature of the Southern hero would give a better perspective, I think.

    What you say about picking rare songs is very true. Quite a few songs popped into my mind actually, and I had to narrow down the list to keep it short. It's hard to keep oneself in check when trying to say anything about Raaja.

    And, do write. I'd like it if at least one person took the tag from me.

  5. Good.

    Some rare references, atleast to the newer generation.

    BTW, what do you think is Ilayaraja's best song so far ?

    - Ranga...

  6. This is fun to read now - like a "flashback of how they met" section of a movie whose characters by now you are introduced to in their camaraderie- vicarious pleasures