Monday, May 28, 2007

Cheeni Kum - Music Review

Disclaimer: It is a well-known fact that the songs of Cheeni Kum are new versions of original compositions of Ilaiyaraaja. The original songs are classic compositions and i purposefully do not wish to talk about original compositions here because one is likely to compare the new versions with the originals. When compared, the originals stand on a higher pedestal for sure. This album is listened to/analyzed/reviewed purely on the merits of its own and not by comparing it with originals.

Cheeni Kum is the directorial debut of Ad-maverick Balakrishnan, who is famously known as 'Balki'. He confesses that he is a very great fan of ilaiyaraaja, which is why most of the advertisements designed by him have ilaiyaraaja tunes, the most famous being the signature tune of Idea Cellular, which is "Naguva Nayana" from "Pallavi Anupallavi". Its no surprise that Balki chose Ilaiyaraaja to compose the music for his film. While Ilaiyaraaja was ready to compose fresh tunes, Balki insisted that he wanted some of his favourites to be re-composed so that they would cater to a wider audience. Everything is fine till there. The only mistake Balki made was chosing the highly commercial Sameer as lyricist. In my opinion, Sameer to lyrics is same as what anu malik is, to hindi film music. Especially when the movie's story had a sensitive theme around the romance of a 64 year old man with a 34 year old lady, couldnt Balki chose a lyricist with better sensibilities, such as a Javed Akhtar or a Gulzar!

The compositions of Cheeni Kum are adapted from the originals which were handpicked by Balki. And Ilaiyaraaja chose his (and my) current favourite Shreya Goshal to render them. The entire album has a wonderful blend of electronic(synthesizer) music and acoustic music, something which made ilaiyaraaja what he is today!

Cheeni Kum: Shreya Goshal

The song starts off with Shreya Goshal's vocals and lively synthesizer back-up with playful sounds. Right in the beginning the keyboard chord(his favourite) movement surprised 0:14 to 0:17 mins. The actual Pallavi(mukhda) has the same funky yet melodious feel and before you conclude that this is a techno song, ilaiyaraaja introduces his first string section passage..when Shreya finishes "Dil ki Sadaa Bhi..".Reassuringly, the 1st interlude has 80s feel to it, with his violins and saxophone laced with keyboard chords. The charanam/anthara has interesting elements too.Whats striking to me are the bass-lines..very short and abrupt but continuously stretching along the charanam. Ilaiyaraaja's bass lines have always been very distinct from the actual song and its the same here too. the lagging saxophone gives that Salil chaudhary-ish touch. the cascading of strings (with cellos too) when she sings "Dekhle..dekhle..aazmaake" simply infuses more vigour at that moment. the chords change upon when the charanam is drawing to a close and just when you expect that she would take a high pitch, ilaiyaraaja makes her mellow down at a lower octave. The 2nd interlude sounds little serious..with string section and keyboards, all following the chord structure. The 2nd charanam/anthara has the same ideas as the 1st one. Shreya Goshal does decent job with this song while the the key strength's of the song are the tune and the funkyness given to the melody. The song is predominantly set in Raag Keeravani although ilaiyaraaja changes the notes in the charanams/antharas.
Baathein Hawa: Shreya Goshal

This song appears twice in the album. One version is interspersed with some as-a-matter-of-fact oneliners by Amitabh Bacchan. Right the word go, ilaiyaraaja gets on with his unique bass notes which extend above the keyboard chords used. the rhythm is pretty straight and simple. the string section used in this song reminds of symphonies, because of the sound texture maintained. Quite interesting, Bacchan quotes about Royal Albert Hall music when ilaiyaraaja plays around with his violins ensemble ending with flute to which the cellos suffix every musical brief phrase. For me, the likeable pat of the song comes in charanams/antharas. When Shreya Goshal sings the 1st line of the charanam/anthara, the violins mildly takeover and make her connect to 2nd line. the combination of keyboards and violins is interesting, so much that when the octave changes the sound simply evolves and transforms..slowly into flute. and the grandeur of violins is very much intact as countermelody when the charanam/anthara approaches to its end. The 2nd interlude has a rocky guitar phrase dissolving into african rhythms and saxophone and suddenly the piano lights up. this song has many finer elements, such as bass-work, which engages a listener when it is heard in earphones.

Jaane Do na: Shreya Goshal

This is my most favourite song in the album. i have a feeling that this song is set in Kapi. I may be wrong though. The song starts with a slow prelude by shreya Goshal and Piano. Ilaiyaraaja adds a cello and a rhythm to it and the song actually starts. ilaiayaraaja seemed to have embedded a synth-guitar to the rhythm of this song. and when shreya sing "naa aise zid na karo" hands automatically reach for the chords on the invisible keyboard infront of me. probably i have studied his music so much that i could atleast know when he would gives those chord-changes.The 1st interlude starts with a very leisure string piece which gets into background while keyboards come on the forefront. typical ilaiyaraaja. Then 2 sections of violins play a phrase together and then diverge away into lead-tune and the base. this reminded me of his ideas used in his album How to name It?. The charanam/anthara starts with some electronic music and synth bass playing on fast movements. intricate bass notes there again. For me the melody in this song is sweetest(other than the 'naa..aise zid na karo' part in pallavi/mukhda)when she sings "tehro tehro abhi..karo thoda yakeen..aisi bethaabiaan..acchi hothee nahii". thats because ilaiyaraaja again uses keyboard at right places in the background and not stopping there, he fills the sounscape with a violins countermelody.thats vintage raaja. and the bass climbs its way to the the peak between the lines "roko zaraa jazbaat ko..samjha karo haalaath ko". The charanam/athara ends with strings completing the crescendo and cymbals concluding the grand sounscape, coming back to the pallavi/mukhda of the song. The 2nd interlude is more violins-ly charged up in the beginning and reaches a upper scale where you feel the entire violin orchestra was made to play and fill a beautiful painting. Shreya Goshal is at her best in this song, tantalizingly mischevious tone and emoting to the lyrics (listen to her during the charanams/antharas) With this song ilaiyaraaja proves that a beautiful melody can still be packaged with these electronic gadgetry, without losing the essence of the acoustic instruments. thats fusion of another kind!

Sooni Sooni: Vijay Prakash

My only complaint to ilaiyaraaja is this song. The tune is same as "Cheeni Kum". This song, by characteristic, sticks to the actual original tamil song ie. it is a ballad. But the singer's voice is quite pale. Also, since it is a sad ballad, like the original tamil one, ilaiyaraaja could have and should have used the same interludes/orchestration as in the original. This version does have some beautiful string sections in the interludes. But when the accompanying saxophone during the charanams/antharas and that extraordinary basswork is missing, the flavour of the song turns pale.

Theme Melody

This theme track is not composed exclusively as a theme composition. It is a piece which appears manytimes in the background score of the film. A very soft instrumental kind, this piece starts off with piano which slowly changes colours as the strings join them and the mood changes to little tense & serious, when the electronic instruments play a shorter-cut-piece of "cheeni kum". Why?? no idea, but the summer-morning freshness feel associated to this track suddenly changes colour with that and i couldn't quite like it there.

Melody Saxophone

Even this piece is taken from the background score of the film. This more electronic in sound with lot of bass-ups and funky sounds. However, the saxophone plays a nice tune which actually could be made into a song too. lot of synthsizer stuff has been used in this track, with the rhythms mostly on loops. the funky sounds bubble up in between the saxophone phrases, adding a little groovy feel.

In all, the album is definitely one of the best we have seen in recent times. Some people complain that old tunes have been rehashed or remixed. But a friend of mine recently said that it is better to use the word "Rebirth" instead of Remix, given the fact that Remixes do not contain any melody. Ilaiyaraaja's strengths spanning what is called as orchestrational excellence, are very much evident in this album. The album's sound texture is good and the songs are unlike what we get to hear in Hindi film music these days. The lead singer, Shreya Goshal, again delivers her best to Ilaiyaraaja, not just in rendering them perfectly but also emoting them, according to both tune & lyrics, Particularly in 'Jaane Do' and 'Cheeni Kum' . Sameer's lyrics are average and ilaiyaraaja's music simply overpowers the pretty ordinary lyrics.
Barring Sadma, Ilaiyaraaja has somehow failed to make an impression in Hindi film music. This cheeni-se-bhara album however, cuts-across such hindrances and could draw an applause from hindi audience. I wish Ilaiyaraaja does more Hindi films, even if he retunes his old compositions. Cheeni Kum left me asking for more. I heard that Balki is now scripting another movie. i wish, he goes to ilaiyaraaja again and i wish ilaiyaraaja does his act again....that of being a Maestro. He indeed is.