Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Barfi (Hindi) - Pritam

The promos of Barfi got me really curious because the visuals had a distinctly French Cinema feel to them and so did the art design. I wondered how Anurag Basu (of all people) could conceive a film that looks very European. When the music released, I did not really take keen attention because the composer was Pritam – a composer about whom I didn’t not have a very great opinion, given the number of songs he is known for copying. One of the most baffling mysteries for me has been “Did Pritam really compose the classical-dance based ‘Mere Dholna’ in the film ‘Bhool Bhulaiyya’? If yes, how the hell did he pull it off?” But my first listening of Barfi album made me really sit up and take notice. The tunes and arrangements were unusually retro and that too, more in the style of blues and country music rather from Old Hindi Film Music. When I heard the album the 2nd time, I knew that this is one surprise cracker and I had to pen my thoughts about the album.

Barfi & Ala Barfi – There are two versions of this song – one by Mohit Chauhan and one by Swanand Kirkire. It is difficult to pick the best version. The song is a throwback at funny songs of Kishore Kumar. The tune and the vocal expressions completely go into Kishore territory of comically-conversational tone while the arrangements are largely in the country music genre, with guitars, accordion etc. The lyrics aptly fit the lyrics, complementing with funny lines in equal measure (Munna mute hi aansoo bahaye!).

Main Kya Karoon – Pritam chooses country blues with simple guitar strumming and a lilting conversational tune with Acapella harmonies. The vocals, by Nikhil George, with intentional croacking to bring in the cutesy feeling, are somehow suited to the kind of the tune and the lyrics that this song is laced with. Wonderfully composed interludes, replete with Irish violin, render the European touch to the song. The song has only 1 stanza but doesn’t feel short – probably because of its nice melody and great arrangements.

Kyon – Pritam goes retro again, this time into the Frank Sinatra mode. The swinging rhythm and hummable melody, with right vocals paint the playful mood evoked by the lyrics. This is one of those songs where everything is just about right. Right choice of singers (Papon, Sunidhi Chauhan , adequate arrangements, melody and simple lyrics. The way the strings section soars in the interludes, with bells – its Pritam’s ‘coming of age’ moment in exuding what is called as ‘class’, atleast in my perception. Oh yes, this song “might” resemble many country blues songs of the yore, but as I cannot locate any one definite song that seems like an original source, I’d like to give it to Pritam for crafting a wonderful composition in that genre.

Phir Le Aaya Dil – There are two versions of this composition, which I’d rank as the best of the album. One by Rekha Bharadwaj and one by  Arijit Singh. While Rekha’s version is more like an unplugged version (with only guitars and minimal percussive elements), Arijit’s version does have some good elaborate arrangements. The composition is more like a “Shankar Mahadevan meets Ghulam Ali” mould where the melody is very Ghazal oriented and rendition somewhere reminds me of Shankar’s style. The Piano interlude in Arijit’s version is very Rahmanish in treatment while lyrics by Swanand are top notch. This is perhaps one of the finest compositions of Pritam. And to be fair, both Arijit and Rekha did a great job in rendition.

Aashiyaan – sung by Nikhil George and Shreya Ghoshal, this song is strongly reminiscent of C.Ramchandra’s “Gore Gore” (which itself was copied from a western song). That said, this song does hold onto its own in terms of melody and instrumentation. Though Pritam is notorious for lifts, I am inclined to believe (going by the overall output in Barfi) that he only took C.Ramchandra’s song as reference Pritam took this song as reference (similarities exist) and developed this composition with his own ideas, adding a new colour and dimension to the melody thereby changing the original substantially. Very playful in tune with well-conceived arrangements having accordion, violin, string section etc., this one is as lilting as Kyon.

Saawli si raat – Arijit Singh’s deliberate flattened vocals could be a dampener slightly but the melody largely follows a nursery rhymish format (kiddish) – probably apt for the situation in the film. But Pritam pulls it off impressively with minimal arrangements (guitar) that slowly evolve into slightly denser with string arrangements and tabla. Simplicity is the key to this song.

I read that Pritam usually reserves his best for director Anurag Basu. I have liked only one song from one of their previous collaborations – “In Dinon” from Metro. But I seriously did not expect that their collaboration could be this good. Barfi is by far Pritam’s best album in his repertoire and perhaps his most innovative one. Probably saying so doesn’t hold much water because I hardly listened to his work but from the ones I have heard so far, this is the album about which Pritam must be feeling proud and he should be. With absolutely hummable melodies, soaked in country-ballad arrangements with very great support from vocalists as well as the lyricist, Barfi is a cut different from the music we have been listening to off-late, because of the unpretentious simplicity it exudes. A fantastic bouquet without a single thorn, Barfi will probably stand the test of time, unlike the pyar ki pungis and other stuff Pritam usually creates. I hope Pritam treats this as a new beginning.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Puthiya Theerangal (Malayalam)

Sathyan Anthikkad is one of the popular film-makers in Malayalam. While his films till 2000 had music by composers such as Johnson, Shyam etc., he has been roping Ilaiyaraaja for most of his films after that. Most of his films in the last decade share a unique characteristic – the songs were small in number but fine on melody. His latest “Puthiya Theerangal” is his 10th film with Ilaiyaraaja and has 3 songs.

Maaripeelikaatte – Hariharan (another version by Madhu Balakrishnan)
The song begins on synth wind-instrument sounds and thumbing electronic percussion with a very poignant humming by Ilaiyaraaja himself (I think). A warm melody backed by guitar, this song’s tune bears Ilaiyaraaja’s signature all through. The quietly flowing string sections in the interludes aptly connecting to the charanams evoke a sense of calmness that some of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions have. After Vilayatta Padagotti from Dhoni, this is perhaps the best soulful composition that Ilaiyaraaja reserved for Hariharan. Though there is another version by Madhu Balakrishnan as well, I liked up Hariharan’s version a lot.

Sindhoora Pottumthottu – Madhu Balakrishnan
The song begins with guitar strumming that makes us prepared for a country-music kind of song but Ilaiyaraaja quickly moves our attention to the native south-indian rhythms. The percussive elements in this song are a highlight. The melody, set in Mohanam raga, is more folkish in its execution with Madhu Balakrishnan and male chorus delivering it perfectly well. Ilaiyaraaja doesn’t keep it completely acoustic. The synth-elements he uses to fill-up the backgrounds when the pallavi comes to a close are typical Ilaiyaraaja ideas which vie for our attention just as he conjures up a brilliant closure to the taala pattern there. Interludes glide from one instrument to another while guitars and bass-lines stand-out in the charanams. Watch out for the 2nd interlude, which ventures into his recent “Neethane En Ponvasantham” orchestral sound.

Raajagopuram – Vijay Yesudas, Shweta Mohan
A weird combination of Mridangam and Harmonium set this hummable melody on roll and just as one begins to doubt if this song would ‘sound’ just this bland, Ilaiyaraaja abruptly changes the soundscape with violins, acoustic guitars and a swinging rhythm backed by some staccato effect. While the 1st interlude just warms up to the song, the charanams have impressive synth portions as the melody keeps changing the scale. In this song too, it’s the 2nd interlude that is goose-bumpy with just snapping of fingers as the rhythm while the guitars (and keyboard) play variants. This composition is lilting melody that many would like.

Like some of Ilaiyaraaja’s recent Malayalam films, this one too is very short but has remarkably wonderful music. It is difficult to pick the best one out of the 3 songs, although I personally feel that it’s a tie between Maaripeelikaatte and Raaja Gopuram. After the full-throttled music in Neethane En Ponvasantham, Ilaiyaraaja belts out a short, calmer and sweet album. Looks like he is back to his old ways – of not letting us completely soak in one album.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Neethane En Ponvasantham / Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu

When tamil film director Gautham Menon (whose last film was Vinaithaandi Varuvaaya) roped in Ilaiyaraaja for his next urban romantic flick, it triggered many expectations. Then, photographs of his recording sessions in London with symphony orchestra musicians there were all over facebook, which fuelled them more. When the first teaser of song Saindhu Saindhu released, the expectations half-crashed (for some people like me). But when the album is finally out, I realize that Ilaiyaraaja has other plans - of taking the audience on an enthralling journey. The director, Gautham Menon, must be commended for giving so much leeway to Ilaiyaraaja (in terms of budget etc.) that ilaiyaraaja could accomplish his vision for this score with such finesse. Telugu version (Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu) songs are also out although the lyrics are nothing great to write about. Here is my take on album:

1. Kaatre Konjum/Koti Koti – Easily my most favourite composition of the album. Reminiscent of the melodies Ilaiyaraaja belted out in 80s, this song belongs to ‘evergreen’ genre, though in reality, its genre can be called as jazz+western-classical. Karthik’s rendition is top notch. Ilaiyaraaja fills up the composition with lush orchestral counter-melodies, chord progressions and punctuations. The unpredictable flow of instruments in 1st interlude, the saxophone, the gliding down from the stanza, the special flourish that the string orchestra adds after 1st stanza – every moment has lot of meat. The song completely demonstrates what Ilaiyaraaja can do when he is given a philharmonic orchestra. Classy, modern and melodious!

2. Mudhal Murai/Atu Itu – Sunidhi Chauhan’s rendition is good. The tune sounds more international to me. Ilaiyaraaja elevated the composition with marvelous orchestration. I’ve been told Ilaiyaraaja used 10 cellos and 5 double basses in this song. The World Music evoking interlude piece has a nice electric violin by London based violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, while the stanza rides on synth-bass. Ilaiyaraaja conceiving this kind of tune is a surprise for me and he pulls it off with panache! Experimental song brilliant executed.

3. Saindhu Saindhu/Yedhi Yedhi – The teasers of this song sowed seeds of doubt about this album. While Ilaiyaraaja flings those doubts out of the window with this delectable melody, yuvan’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb for me. The Telugu version, by Shaan, is much better. But Ilaiyaraaja weaves magical dreamy interludes on piano and string section. One of the pleasant melodies, the pleasant-quotient depending upon how much you enjoy Yuvan’s voice which, by the way, was Gautham Menon’s choice.

4. Pudikele Mamu/Nachaledhu Maama – The progressive-rock feel in the prelude made me wonder if this is indeed by a 70 year old man. If the theme of “class bunking students, college fun” made Ilaiyaraaja do a “Botany Paatamundhi” in Shiva in 1989, then the same theme gets updated into this composition in 2012. Exactly one-half of the song was enjoyable for me – thanks to goose-bumpy guitar riffs and the tune. The song, however, goes downhill in the 2nd half.

5. Ennodu Vaa Vaa/Enthentha dooram – A trip back into 80s, this is a melodious composition set to a nice swinging rhythm. Karthik again shines bright with his rendition while Ilaiyaraaja laces the song with violins, clarinets, trumpets, cellos, metal-flutes – all creating a peppy riot. Watch the way instruments take flight during 1st stanza – delight! Ilaiyaraaja changes the canvas altogether in 2nd half when synthesizers completely take over, but keeping the melody of the song intact. However, the ‘type of synth elements’ (kind of sounds) used could have been much better – sounds that live up to the playfulness of the tune. Raaja had given such funky sounds earlier. Nevertheless, it is a very catchy and playful composition that will reach the masses.

6. Sattru Munbu/Intha kaalam – An operatic melody, this is another surprise that Ilaiyaraaja throws at us. Beautifully sung by Ramya, this song has Ilaiyaraaja changing scales in main melody like only he can. I really couldn’t predict where the song was heading to and yet, when it completed the whole crescendo, everything sounded so much in place and perfect. The usual orchestral embellishments charm us. Particularly, as the song approaches its end, the choir slowly ascends in intensity competing with the string orchestra, giving a great pathos effect.

7. Vaanam Mele/Laayi Laayi – This song begins like some of 80s Ilaiyaraaja songs – on chorus. A warm melody wrapped in orchestral delight, one cannot stop marveling at the scintillating arrangements in this song. The tune of the song itself follows a fugue like formula – a motif keeps repeating. The interludes are Grand! The stanzas however, are slightly predictable, if you have been following Ilaiyaraaja’s work. Also, I felt this song could have been much better if Ilaiyaraaja used the vocals of any other singer. Breezy this song might be and soft his vocals might be – but still they don’t seem to add up as 1+1 =2 for me. Even Bela Shinde’s voice feels slightly discomforting when she touches the high notes in the stanzas (Shreya Ghoshal missed). Nevertheless, as a composition, it’s a beauty.

8. Pengal Endraal/ardhamayyindhinthe – Another non-typical Ilaiyaraaja song that spews lot of angst and Ilaiyaraaja used electric guitar (I think) as his primary-instrument here. Ilaiyaraja goes completely rock in this song. I have never seen him put in this much of into-the-face (metallic) rock quotient in any of his songs and it indeed shows that Ilaiyaraaja is genre agnostic. He just imports the genre, domesticates and leaves his stamp on it. Listen to this song as “Ilaiyaraaja song” and chances are that you might dislike it. But if you do have a flair for rock/progressive-rock genres, this might be for you. This song took some time to grow on me. But, Yuvan’s vocals did not impress me although the stanzas do sound better. I loved the guitar riffs a lot. Adding this after writing the review and listening to this song a lot: This song is perhaps Ilaiyaraaja's tribute to Mahavishnu Orchestra and the likes. Just remove Yuvan's vocals and replace with a solo violin - it can become a classic. Compared to the romantic-ballad feel the other songs carry, this song comes across as unimpressive because of the culture shock but don't dismiss it. The guitar riffs, the fleeting raag pathdeep+keeravani-ish traces and classic rock elements tease you as you listen along. This song is probably the most envelope-pushing song in this album where Ilaiyaraaja defies himself. 

This album has Ilaiyaraaja going full-throttle on symphony orchestra. he uses instruments such as violins, clarinets, bass, cellos, trumpets, oboe, Piano, French-horn, harp etc. to weave a rich fabric of musical canvas on which he skillfully paints his melodies of both eras – his ‘80s brand of melody’ as well his current form of experimental-self. There are few sore thumbs such as the choice of Yuvan as singer etc., but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Wonderful tunes, eclectic mix of genres (rock, jazz, romantic, fun, etc.), sweeping orchestrations are few of the many high-points of this album. This album is not Ilaiyaraaja’s come-back, for he has always been consistently giving good music. But it is one of those special albums in which gets to do a bit of everything – please his fans, experiment with newer melodies, bend genres, work with philharmonic orchestra, excel at arrangements and impress the wider audience. 

At an age when he no longer needs to prove his genius, this 70 year old composer is still writing great music replete with melody, orchestral richness, and intensity and is still eager to try something new. Neethane En Ponvasantham is an accomplishment of Ilaiyaraaja that vindicates this fact.  

Grab the Telugu mp3s here and Tamil mp3s here. But given the brilliant recording quality and the music, I recommend music buffs to buy cds. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Of Simhendramadhyamam & Tagore

It was an evening when my father-in-law recommended an album called "Yatra" to me once again. He recommended it to me about 15 days ago once and when he played the songs on his mobile, I was impressed. The album is a reinterpretation of some compositions of Rabindranath Tagore and is largely classical, with slightly modern embellishments in arrangements. Since I am an aficionado of Rabdinra Sangeet, it did not take long for me to get hooked to it. The artists in the album are Ustad Rashid Khan and Nachiketa Chakroborthy. Ustad Rashid Khan is a seasoned classical vocalist and I do not need to add more about him. Nachiketa Chakroborthy was a surprise for me. I earlier heard him in one of the songs in Bose - A Forgotten Hero, by A.R.Rahman and he had just a line there. But in this album, he has unleashed hos classical and Rabindra Sangeet prowess. His voice resembled that of Vijay Prakash (another wonderful voice I heard in recent years), atleast for me.  The renditions by both, Ustad Rashid Khan and Nachiketa were engaging and soul stirring. 

As the tracks changed, one particular track caught my attention a lot. A very deeply evocative piece titled "Baaje Karuno surey" got me in awe of it because of the way Tagore has structured it. It had a very strong scent of a raaga that I knew but I could not immediately recollect its name. The composition was extremely moving and the renditions lived up to the mood of the composition. The moment I started humming along with the song, I was zapped to see myself land in a song that anyone would hardly expect - Kaattodu Kuzhalin, a wonderful tamil composition by Ilaiyaraaja. Once in that song, I immediately concluded that this Baaje song must be in simhendramadhyamam. I asked my wife, who too was listening to it. She, with more knowledge about Hindustani raagas than Carnatic raagas, did not know the name of the raaga but felt it was familiar. The only song she knew in this raaga is the staggeringly phenomenal composition of Ilaiyaraaja again - Saara Yeh Aalam (This song has been discussed earlier here). She confirmed that it looked like the same raaga. 

An hour after that, restlessly I was still humming Baaje Karuno Surey and i found it extremely intriguing that a carnatic raaga has travelled all the way to Bengal into Rabindra Sangeet and ended up in one of Tagore's creations. I remember reading a post by a good friend of mine, Suresh, where he discussed a song by Tagore that was inspired by a Muthuswami Diskshitar krithi. But I forgot the raaga employed in it and I frantically searched for that post again, to check if there was any Simhendramadhyamam there. There was none. So this must be another example that points at Carnatic music in Rabindra Sangeet. I wanted to explore further and googled a lot. 

The song "Baaje Karuno Surey" was indeed (and intentionally) set in Simhendramadhyamam. This post confirms that Tagore actually picked up some of the carnatic music from one of his disciples at Shanti niketan (whoa! what it must be, for a learned man like him, to express interest in something his disciple is singing and even learn it, if we can assume so). The song is inspired by Thyagaraja krithi "Needu Charanamuley" (My friend Suresh clarified that this is not by Thyagaraja; but Karnatik.com credits Thyagaraja. any idea who is the composer, if it was not by him?). Very interesting! And I found many versions of this compositions by various bengali singers on youtube, once you search for "Baje Koruno sure". There is one by Kavita Krishnamurthy as well (is the violin by L.Subramaniam? Very beautiful). In fact, Satyajit Ray has used a very toned-down-in-complexity version of this song in one of his films. 

I am unable to could find the version of Ustad Rashid Khan and Nachiketa Chakroborthy from this album "Yatra" on youtube.

The mp3s of this album are plenty on the internet. As i rejoice at this interesting discovery (and trivia) about yet another Tagore-Carnatic connection, I would recommend the hindustani music buffs and rabindra sangeet fans to grab this album. Rabindra sangeet fans might however have some reservations because of some creative liberties taken ; purists might not like this. Nevertheless, the album does capture a good juxtaposition of hindustani raagas and some songs of Tagore, using using the two delectable voices.

PS: Initially, I did not find this track on youtube. I later found it and edited my post accordingly.