Saturday, October 01, 2011

Sri Rama Rajyam - Ilaiyaraaja

When veteran film-maker Bapu chooses Ilaiyaraaja, to score music for a mythological film, it indeed sets the expectations. Their last collaboration was back in 80s, when Bapu made Manthri gaari Viyyankudu. This time around, the collaboration has 2 more tags to deal with, apart from their own celebrated names - “mythology” and “2011”. How can they strike the balance of tackling the mythology-film requirements with contemporary audience taste, yet sticking out their individual style? Lets see…


1. Jagadaanandakaaraka – Lush vioins, wind instruments and harp initiate the celebratory proceedings. S.P.balasubramanyam and Shreya Ghoshal sing is beautiful composition set in Suddha Dhanyasi raaga. The song has generous usage of saarangi while guitar-strums Tabla-Dholak like percussions laced with guitar strums form the basic layers on which the song is constructed. Synth usage is ornamental and never overpowering. The charanams obey the “Ilaiyaraaja’s Suddha Dhanyasi” syntax so perfectly that one cannot help recollecting the sweet “Ghallu Ghallu” from Swarna Kamalam. Base lines, through on synth, carry the usual Ilaiyaraaja intricate patterns. When the charanam ends, the listener concedes to the composer with the thought - “but ofcourse, there is no other way we can conclude this”. Jonnavitthula’s lyrics are good. Raaja shines. (9/10)


2. Evadunnaadu – This is more of a song-padhyam that the mythological films of 50s-60s used to have. Very simple and straight, nothing much can be written about it since it is very short.


3. Sitarama Charitham – This is a song that reminds us of songs from old mythological films such as Lava-Kusa. The is not a typical song with a pallavi & charanam, but the structure is set to a story-telling form. The music changes according to the situation depicted in the story (Ramayana) that is being sung. Even the percussion patterns change accordingly.  This song might have required complete attention because it is constantly changing its course and never returning to the previous phrases. No hooklines, no repeating phrases. And yet, the listener is absorbed in the song because of the turns it takes. Not an easy task. The raagas change a lot. Few portions tread along Chakravakam while few lines almost touch lalitha raagam too. Ilaiyaraaja must be commended for deftly composing the song in unconventional pattern. Jonnavitthula provides non-complex lyrics. (8/10)


4. Sri Rama Lera – Easily the best composition of the album. The song begins on Amrithavarshini scale and the transforms into panthuvaraali/vasantha type raaga. Ilaiyaraaja majestically descends from one raaga to another. Shreya Ghoshal and Sriram Parthasarthy exude lot of maturity in this composition. The first interlude is classic Ilaiyaraaja 80s stuff – veena, string orchestra, flute and synth violins. The piece is effective because of the way it shows the contours of the raaga, with his style. Shreya Ghoshal’s aalaaps at the end of 1st interlude is a surprise (he used to do it in 80s only). The 1st charanam sounds more Panthuvaraali and faithfully builds up to a crescendo, much in his style (complete, with the violins counter-melodies). The 2nd interlude is again a throwback at his 80s wizardy. Meditative. The 2nd charanam, surprisingly, has a different tune from the 1st one. Imaginatively done up. Lyrics are wonderful too. This song, is a classic. (10/10)


5. Devullu Mecchina – Chitra & Shreya Ghoshal sing this composition, that sounds very much tailored for common man, who doesnt care/know about raagas and applications. The duk-duk kind of rhythm and the tune obey the same dictum. While previous compositions appear slightly elevated, because of the complexities woven, this song sounds lighter. Intentionally kept so may be. Simple lyrics again. (6/10)


6. Gaali Ningi Neeru – A pathos laden composition, this Keeravani based song is sung by S.P.Balasubramanyam. The song oozes melodramatic pathos. No subtleties but typically played out pathos. Nice interludes. The percussions are synth. At times, I felt SPB went overboard with his vocal expressions. Yet, given that this is a situational song, Ilaiyaraaja hits the right notes in the tune, to compensate for the melodrama. (7/10)


7. Ramayanamu – Chitra & Shreya Ghoshal team up again for this sindhu bhairavi raaga based composition. The song has typical Bhairavi phrases (as in some bhajans) to begin with, rendering the melody while Ilaiyaraaja experiments with the structure, much like the “Sitharama charitham” composition. And over the course, the turns given to the song are surprising – although the raaga doesnt change much. Both Chitra & Shreya sing with aplomb. There is nothing that can be called as “Typical ilaiyaraaja” and therein lies his genius. He has surrendered to the director’s vision so perfectly and yet left his marks in the way the song is handled. (8/10)


8. Dhandakam – A very small song, this one sounds like maaya Maalavagowla to me. Too short but.


9. Seeta Seemantham – Ilaiyaraaja’s experimental streak again. This Hindolam based composition has a qawwali style tabla percussion. The mridangams, flute, veena, bass-lines and claps – all evoke the celebrative mood in the 1st half. Surprisingly, the 2nd half of the song has lesser number of instruments and as the song approaches its end, the percussions completely vanish (only synth pads appear briefly later). Although the melody remains the same, ilaiyaraaja transforms the mood of the song with the arrangements. absolutely interesting. (8/10)


10. Rama Rama Ane – A folk delight this is. The song has less of Ilaiyaraaja signatures and more of Bapu’s signatures. It is amazing how ilaiyaraaja could weave something that caters exactly to the director’s taste. Bapu has used songs like these in his 70s & 80s films. This playful song about a playful Rama, has a lilting rhythm intermittently stopping before starting again. Ilaiyaraaja’s choice of instruments speak volumes about his understanding about what is needed to project folk music within the film music idiom. The singers – Swetha and Anitha – do a fine job. Definitely an unusual song, in a very good way. (9/10)


11. Kalaya Nijama – Tippu, one of those singers who never impressed me till now, surprised me completely. A beautiful composition that has shades of Hindustani raaga (Pathdeep?), this song has Tippu is fine(est) form. Ilaiyaraaja’s composition is extremely moving and just when the song has begun to take over you, Ilaiyaraaja cheats you by ending it. Unfair, for the quality of the melody instilled in it. (10/10)


12. Idhi Pattabhi – A usual rustic village folk song. Ilaiyaraaja might have done 100s of such kind and this one is no different. While Rama Rama Ane song treads the fine line between folk & Bapu’s class, this one sticks to the former alone. The interludes are typical 80s Ilaiyaraaja. This is probably the weakest song of the albums. Has to be, given that the other songs are more engaging. (4/10)


13. Sapthaswarathamarudham – A small song set in Naata raagam. SPB sounds good, thus reminding that he is the only go-to-singer, when it comes to singers like these, if ever made, by any composer.


14. Mangalam – Too short to write about.


Summary –

A word about the lyricist. Jonnavitthula provides adequate, and at times wonderful, lyrical content that suit the tunes and the premise. The lyrics are not complex but very simple. I dont know if it is intentional or if he couldn’t deliver more intellectually loaded content – but given the director’s preferences in this era, I assume it is the former and his lyrics are just right. He has good a decent job or should I say, a wonderful job, if we compare with kind of lyrics we get to hear these days.

Ilaiyaraaja does a great job in understanding the director’s vision/taste and he catered exactly to that, still retaining the strengths and characteristics of his music. And melding them together isn’t just the job done. Combining the elements that appeal to a larger audience (public) is another task and ilaiyaraaja achieves it perfectly. Rich orchestration, great balance between classy tunes and simple-light-music kind of tunes, a brilliant balance between acoustic instruments and synth usage, good choice of singers, heavy experimentation within the allowed structures – these are some of the enablers that raaja has used to succeed in this endeavour. And that he certainly does, with panache. Ilaiyaraaja’s collaboration with Bapu exceeds expectations. Brilliant!


rads said...

wow! That was some analysis! :)
Very neatly written. If you are writing after awhile, then this is one heck of a comeback post. You must write more..

Obviously am shallow in how I hear a song, but that's me, and as much as Ive tried, I don't have a ear for the nuances. :(

Suresh S said...

Nice to see you back writing. Yes, you must shake off that laziness and start writing regularly.

This album is unique in the sense that it is the only album of Raja where every song has lyrics written first and then was tuned. Even in 'Bharathi' in which Raja tuned the poems of Subramanya Bharathi you had two songs written for the tune, 'mayil pola' and 'edhilum engum iruppan'. Not in this movie.

I personally like the way Raja uses Sindhubhairavi in 'Ramayanamu'. The same raga providing myriad emotions. Very few can do that in the course of a single song!!! Jonnavithula's lyrics are nice but given that this is mythology, he could have probably given some more striking imagery. Something Veturi would have done or Seetarama Sastri. But as you say, the lyricist may have written keeping Bapu / Ramana requirement in mind.

Overall an excellent album. Nice to know that it is being appreciated by the wider public, unlike many of Raja's recent albums, which only his fans appreciate.

Ananth said...

Excellent analysis. Let's just hope that Balayya does justice to the depth of the music on the screen, otherwise, it will become another movie gone into oblivion like many IR movies.

Raj said...

Well written post!

Just thought of sharing these details:

In 'Sri Rama Lera', he does Graha Bedam on the 'pa' of Pantuvarali(in the first interlude). As per theory, it does not give a valid raga.What one gets is :sa ri1 ga3 ma1 ma2 dha2 ni3 Sa. The genius brilliantly omits the 'ri' and 'ma2' in the arohanam and 'ma2' in the avarohanam and makes it Vasanta.This continues in the CharaNams as well.

'Kalaya Nijama' is based on Sallapam('ga' variant of Hindolam is changed-instead of ga2, we have ga3). In 'Isaiyarasi'(Thai Mookambigai), he used it for the first time.Subsequently, it was used as part of the ragamalika in 'Kannanai Kaanbaya'(Manithanin Marupakkam).

Thanks for the nice post..

Aakarsh said...

@Rads: Thanks a lot! I would still call it a plain review and not an analysis. An analysis is what well-knowledgeable bloggers such as raj (in the comments) write. But thanks for your kind comments.

@Suresh: I agree with you. Like I have written in the summary, Ilaiyaraaja had many things to keep in mind, for this particular album. mythology, Bapu's demands, current gen audience and as you said, pre-written lyrics. Given all these constraints, he still delivered a very nice album and that is quite an achievement.

@Ananth: Thanks for dropping by. We dont know if Balayya does justice. for the moment, the album has become quite popular. Thats a good thing.

@Raj: Thanks a lot Raj, for your kind comments. I think we call call "Sri rama Lera" as "raaja raagam". Good insight there :-) And thanks for the information on Sallapam. it is a new raagam for me.

naarayanan said...

dwimadhyama ragas are widely handled these days. they are suffixed with the label 'sri'.

raj, as per your swarasthanam, it is surya sri, dwimadhyama raga of suryakantham.

Raj said...

Hi Narayanan,

Both the 'ma's are not used here.
Graha Bedam is done on 'pa' of Pantuvarali and it gives sa ri1 ga3 ma1 ma2 dha2 ni3 Sa which is not a valid raga.

He omits the 'ma2' totally.So, what we have is sa ri1 ga3 ma1 dha2 ni3 Sa.Now,he uses sa ga ma dha ni Sa in the arohanam and Sa ni dha ma ga ri sa in the avarohanam.Therefore,it becomes Vasanta.

In 'Vaidehi Raman', he used sa ga2 ma1 dha1 ni2 Sa of Hanumath todi(after Graha Bedam) to make it Hindolam.More recently, in 'Oru Kaatril'(Naan KadavuL)-which is originally in Rasikapriya- he applied the technique of Graha Bedam and what one should have got as per theory is Mayamalavagowla.But he brilliantly hid 'pa' to make it Lalita.

He has done something similar in 'Sri Rama lera..'

Aakarsh said...

Thats a nice information Raj :-)

Ramesh V said...

wow thats really nice job.....gr8 work...keep blogging....telugu songs

Anonymous said...

Excelllenttt BLOG.. keep rocking.. and i have a doubt about raaga in 'kalaya nijama'.. doesn't it sound like srotaswini raga?? sounds like rara (chandramukhi pallavi i.e srotaswini) and oh vasantha raaja (maestro's excellent composition in srotaswini...