Friday, July 05, 2013


'Raanjhanaa' is a film directed by Anand Rai, a new film-maker whose first film was 'Tanu weds Manu'. I have not seen his first film and I have not heard its music too. For Raanjhanaa, he roped in A.R.Rahman for music and Irshad Kamil for lyrics. Rahman and Irshad have worked together before in 'Rockstar', where they did a wonderful job. I was curious to see the kind of music that this new director would tap from Rahman. In a way, it lets me gauge the director's taste and sensibilities. Rahman's last Hindi outing was the absolutely disappointing 'Jab Tak Hai Jaan' and his recent albums - 'Kadal' and 'Mariyan' were a bit underwhelming for me (though Kadal was better than Mariyan). So with zero expectations, I listened to the soundtrack of Raanjhanaa.

1. Raanjhanaa (by Jaswinder Singh and Shiraz Uppal): The song carries exuberance in its tune and its pace. Not sure which of the two singers actually sang the song but the singer did a fine job in carrying the exuberant mood of the song. The strings section layer adds some charm to the song throughout, enhancing the sound texture beautifully. The moment 1st interlude starts briskly with strings - something told me that Rahman is on a roll in this album. A premature conclusion no doubt, but it was just a hunch, triggered by the music vibes in this song. While i do like the 2nd interlude on sitar, I must add that I am not much a fan of the sitar-scribbling - the fast playing style that Rahman employs (hangover of Slumdog millionaire). In this song however, given the pace, it manages to impress. 

2. Banarasiya (by Shreya Ghoshal, Anwesha and Meenal Jain): The saarangi strains that open the song made me sit up because Rahman used it after a long time. This semi-classical/folkstyled situational song has some playful vocals by Shreya with wonderful gamakams. Rahman fleetingly enters the zone of songs like "Mehendi hai Rachne waali" (Zubeidaa) and "Damadam mast kalander", but adds enough twists to the melodic lines thus shaking off any influences. Rahman also brilliantly uses a variety of the indian percussions, both North Indian (dholaks, chenda) and South Indian (kanjira and all) and instruments like sitar which sit perfectly well in the composition. My only gripe - Why only 1 charanam? Irshad too, matches Rahman with clever wordplay such as "Banaa rasiyaa".  This song is one of the best compositions in this album and will have shelf life.

3. Piya Milenge (by Sukhwinder Singh and choir): Just when I am all tired of the qawwali style songs in Hindi, Rahman comes up with a song that is not exactly into-the-face or perfect-to-genre and yet retains the essence of it. Rahman's experimentation is at a high in this song and with Sukhwinder Singh on vocals, it gets perfect. This raag-jog styled song has atmospheric arrangements with Piano riffs, strings, keyboards, electronic percussions and dholak. The 1st interlude has the choir moving from one raaga (which one?) to another (Ahir Bhairav) without breaking the mood of the song. This Ahir Bhairav is repeated in 2nd interlude too, with a solo violin added (superb touch by Rahman). The lines "Usiko paana Usiko choona" in the end highlights the key differentiating factor between Rahman and others - clever improvisation. Irshad Kamil's lyrics are good. 

4. Ay Sakhi (by Madhushree, Chinmayi, Vaishali and Aanchal Sethi): Another playful song by female singers and this one goes a little more ahead in the 'situational'/funny territory. Native Indian instruments clearly seem to be Rahman's focus in this album and particularly in percussions. This song too has a variety of them like ghatam, tabla etc. And he keeps changing the rhythms all through the song. The singers have all done a nice job while the only irritating aspect is their vocalization of instruments in interludes. But since it is meant to be a  funny song, we can't hold it against the composer. Rahman could get folk-ish flavour very well in this song, much like the he could do it in albums like Lagaan, Swades etc. 

5. Nazar Laye (by Rashid Ali and Neeti Mohan): Compared to other songs, this song seems to be a bit in template-mode, working within the confines of guitar songs by new bands. It is like taking a step back, in the overall listening experience. Yet, what works for me in this song is the portion by Neeti Mohan. A small twist here and there and the colour of the tune changes, impressively. I am not a fan of Rashid Ali's vocals and Neeti Mohan too is just ok. It is the way the tune flows that keeps interest levels a bit up. Again, no major interludes in this song and has only 1 stanza. This song ranks in the bottom.

6. Tu Man Shudi (by Rabbi and Rahman): This song is the attitude-show-off song. While it is not as anthemic as the song in Yuva, Rahman does a good job in constructing hook-lines that work big time. While Tu Man Shudi line is hummable, Rahman debunks it by adding a far more hummable line "Humse wafaayein lenaa". And the way it keeps recurring in this song - it adds to the effect. The arrangements border on hip-hop and but lounge and yet don't completely play there. This song might not be a favourite of mine, but rahman's improvisation in the tune is commendable, particularly from the lines "woh dil se...", where we do not know how and where he is taking the tune to. And he ends it perfectly well in that hypnotic hook-line. 

7. Aise na Dekho (by Rahman): Rahman off-late seems to be favouring accordian a lot, for many of his recent albums had this instrument. This song is fashioned along the lines of Rahman's own "Jaane Tu ya Jaane Na". Can't call it jazz per se, but a diluted jazz-ballad perhaps. The song has simple but nice tune. The arrangements are bit underwhelming though, with only that whistle adding a lot of appeal and instruments being so subdued. I loved the more stronger jazz quotient in instruments in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na song than this one. Rahman's choice to keep this song for himself to sing, is apt i feel, given the raw-ness (conversational tone) in the tune.

8. The Land of Shiva: This is a pointless instrumental piece, with percussions. I don't know why Rahman at times relies on percussionists to build these short rhythm pieces that do not tell anything specific, musically. Instead a good melodic instrumental piece would be much better, laying out the theme and mood of the film. Rockstar was the last album in which he composed two beautiful instrumentals. This film, being set in Benaras, had ample scope for a theme - be it location specific or story-specific.

9. Tum Tak (by Jaaved Ali, Kirti Sagathia and Pooja): If we ignore the spray of word "tum tak" on us, this song is actually a well constructed composition. The tune flows so naturally from one line to another, without letting in any kind of monotony. Indian rhythms and shehnai take us into non-urban North India and the tune meanders by adding melody line after line. The portions of female singer which start with the lines "Ik Tak Ik Tak" are beautifully composed, especially when the song takes a bit of Rajasthani colour in the lines "Maaro Nainaa tum". Again, getting the song's ebb and flow perfectly right without predictability is Rahman's genius here. The lines "Nainon ki naiyyaa" with those rhythms and sitar and the subsequent lines make this song distinctly delectable melody with Indian soul - something long pending from rahman. Again, true to the strengths of Rahman, this song too is free-flowing in structure and yet, is not way-ward but perfectly complete.

Rahman has this strange habit of throwing in a beautiful album after a series of not-so-impressive ones. Rahman's genius in this album lies constructing tunes that go perfectly hand-in-hand with the Indian sounds in the arrangements. He seems to have experimented very well with Indian percussions and with riffs of instruments like sitar, flute, shehnai - which together formed a distinct sound canvas that was missing in many of his recent albums. I find it curious & interesting that Rahman, by adding a layer of strings in many songs (raanjhaanaa, Banarasiya, Piya Milenge, Ay Sakhi), elevated the overall sound-scape in the songs. And no, Rahman is not just 'sound' in this album, as his critics say, but here, he is more on melody and improvisation. Banarasiya, Ay Sakhi, Piya Milenge and Tum Tak have some really melodious phrases and I have not seen Rahman giving so many "improvised-on-melody" songs in a single album. Not many after Lagaan/Swades at least. That Rahman gets the North-Indian film music ethos very well is a known fact and this album is another step in that direction because of the way he used those folk-based Banarasiya/Ay Sakhi/Piya Milenge/Tum Tak or the Punjabi-hip-hop flavoured 'Tu Mun Shudi'.

Bottomline: Raanjhanaa is certainly a brilliant album in his repertoire, matching the eclectic bouquets such as Meenaxi or Delhi-6. The album is musically far more richer than many of his recent albums and I like it because Rahman, for a change, discards his "global appeal" approach (with which I don't have an issue, but just that I don't want it in every album) and instead keeps it more earthy and rooted with more of Indian flavour. 

Not to miss: Banarasiya, Piya Milenge, Ay Sakhi, Tum Tak, Raanjhanaa (in that order)

PS: Contrary to public perception about Rahman's albums, this album did not take time to grow on me. One listening and I was at it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Naadi Thudikuthadi

Naadi Thudikuthadi is another obscure film from Ilaiyaraaja. I do not have any details about the film, so let me cut away straight to my thoughts on the album. This one again seems to be a low-key film with no big stars or production houses. The sound canvas, as expected, is more on synth rather than acoustic instruments.

1. You & I Young Forever: The male singer who starts the song sounded very much like Ramana Gogula, a music director and singer from Telugu Film Industry, who assaulted us in few films. Though it is not him here, the overall feeling is not that better. The song is built on Caribbean rhythms largely with heavy bass and drums and synth trumpets. The tune is just about hummable with more emphasis on some  percussions loops and some strong bass guitar work. The chorus work is extremely disappointing and it sounds almost like the stuff done for ad jingles. This is one of the rare instances where Ilaiyaraaja fails to internalize a genre, like how he usually does with his signature style, and ends up giving a typical Latino-Caribbean flavoured song where melody lacks meat and the flavour is more by percussions, the usage of which is pretty straight and  un-raaja-ish. This song is sung by 5 singers. 

2. En Poo Nenjai: The synth violin chords (and waw guitar sounds on keyboard) which open the song disappoint me big time because this is the sound I usually hear in tv-serials or low-budget devotional albums by some struggling singers. My expectations were lifted by the rhythm and the melody which actually sound much better. The best component of this song is the melody. The rhythm, though unique, has some tin sound in it which makes the song a bit mechanical. The interludes on the other hand flow flawlessly in Raaja's style that he typically reserves for some Malayalam films. Some flute, some piano and some chorus. The charanams are also constructed beautifully. If there is anything wrong in this otherwise good song, it is the sound of the percussions which are throbbing out of the song than needed for this kind of soft melody. It is not about the volume levels or mixing issues but more about the sound of the percussions used, which seem to be a bit harsh on this gentle melody. Rita, the singer, rendered it well. 

3. Kaadhale Illadha: Here comes the most cringe worthy song of the album (i use cringe-worthy here because of that atrocious opening of the song). I read a Ilaiyaraaja fan's tweet that this song has the faux-rock style and I agree with that. Right from the word go, the song sounds odd in every bit and the various elements in the song do not appear to be cohesively sticking together - like how they usually do in Raaja's music. Raaja's vocals do not appear to suit the tune. The chorus is absolutely cheap. The tune does not strike well. In constrast, the 1st interlude is good and the charanams seem like the left-over pieces of "Thaavi Thaavi" song from Dhoni. The shift from Charanam to Pallavi is too abrupt and it feels like a decent tune in charanam is bludgeoned to death with that pallavi and that chorus. 

4. En Devadai: Ilaiyaraaja flips our listening experience completely with this mind boggling composition, sung by Karthik and Anitha. Beautiful guitar strumming and a synth guitar prelude making way for an awesome tune embellished with some groovy keyboard chords. It is amazing that Raaja's style of chord progression continues to give goose bumps. The 1st interlude is a western classical piece that builds on a motif and completes a crescendo after which Raaja continues to shower his magic in the charanam. The way raaja used cello and strings in charanam - you can probably create one more composition out of those pieces alone. And yet, it all fits well and holds it all together brilliantly. The 2nd interlude however, is surprising because it relies only on scale changes. Yet, the song makes for a fantastic listening experience. Overall, this song is the pick of the album. I am afraid this song might end up as the underrated gem, if the film flops and this song doesn't grab as many ears. 

5. Velinaatu graama: The song has nice tune in pallavi although I feel there is nothing much "village-y" in the song that seems to be singing about/in a village (graama). This is surprising given that it is Ilaiyaraaja there holding the baton. What I find completely dissonant in this song is the heavy western classical based interludes, particularly the trumpets, that sound very much out of sync with the melody in the song. This could be a situational song, going by the dark theme reflected in the interludes. The charanams flow well with a melody consistent with the pallavi and they are backed by beautiful arrangements with strings and Piano. The rendition by Haricharan and Swetha is adequate. While this song is not bad as such, i doubt if this will really have as much shelf life as En Devadai. 

Overall, Naadi Thudikuthadi is a very average fare from Ilaiyaraaja although En Devadai's brilliance and the melodic quotient in En Poo Nenjai and velinaatu can tilt that. But the listening experience is mixed, empirically speaking. Ilaiyaraaja delivers the goods amazingly well only in En Devadai - the most brilliant one in the album. The other good songs have some misgivings and then, there are songs where Ilaiyaraaja disappoints big time. 

Bottomline: Ilaiyaraaja's mixed bag ranges from awesomeness to pointlessness. 
Not to miss: En Devadai

Note: My opinion is strictly based on how I enjoyed the album now and how I might enjoy it in the long run. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chithirayil Nila Choru

Chithirayil Nila Choru is a low-budget tamil film directed by a film-maker named R.Sundararajan, who collaborated with Ilaiyaraaja in the 80s. Now, they united again after a long gap. Like in most low-budget films scored by Ilaiyaraaja recently, the songs in this film too are largely on synth soundscape and less orchestral. I have come to believe off-late that budget largely dictates the instrumentation and sound canvas employed by Ilaiyaraaja. My take on the songs from this album:

1. Kallale Senju vacha: This song has two versions, one by Haricharan and one by Priyadarshini. This song begins on synth chord progressions which give away the Sindhu Bhairavi raagam. The synth percussions used are in poly-rhythms. The song has some of the usual Sindhu Bhairavi phrases, particularly in the charanams. While it is surprising that Raaja does not avoid the typical phrases, the melody quotient is strong enough in the song, particularly in the charanams. I felt Haricharan's rendition is a notch better than Priyadarshini's. 

2. Kaalyile Maalai vandhadhu: This composition is sung by a bengali singer named Saptaparna Chatterjee. The song begins with Veena playing the pallavi (again giving away the raaga - Abheri in this song) and the singer repeating it. The synth percussions (electronic drum kit) very closely resemble thavil while electronic drones sounds make the composition quite groovy on sound. The 1st interlude is quite a bit of fusion with Veena and electro-funk. Ilaiyaraaja's arrangements in this song are brilliant with Ghatam-like percussive elements setting the tone for charanam. After the 1st line of charanam, Raaja releases a riff of synth-chorus and guitars - which I felt was a brilliant idea. Its amazing to see Raaja adorn so much of contemporary-ness in this song. The 2nd interlude which starts with Nagaswaram moves to a superb guitar phrase that reflects the western sensibilities of Raaja. I felt the singer's rendition is good enough and this song is one of the best Abheris composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

3. Unga Appan peyar: Ilaiyaraaja himself croons this composition which sounds a bit anthemic and a bit folk. The opening of the song reminded me of the anthemic "Manidha Manidha" song by Raaja of 80s. The characteristic of this song is the peculiar rhythm employed. The percussions are almost like tapping a bench. And the way Raaja fits the melody of this song into this unusual rhythm is absolutely interesting. It is difficult to categorize the sound scape of this song under acoustic or synth because both exist hand in glove. The interludes are signature 80s Raaja while the charanams have slight change in percussions. The violins (synth or real) add the Raaja's touch to a great precision, particularly the 2nd charanam. Raaja's rendition is not without flaws, since the strain in his voice is discernible. Yet, he carries some lines pretty well. I felt this song is a long distant cousin of ilaiyaraaja's own blues flavoured "Vaangu Panathukkum" (Dhoni) - the similarity being not in tune or instrumentation but in the idea and execution.

4. Nandri Solla Venum: Ilaiyaraaja has composed many a hamsadhwanis and if I remember it right, not even one is a sub-par composition. This song, the best in this album, is perhaps one of the finest compositions by Ilaiyaraaja in his career. From dense layers of violins (both synth and acoustic), guitar, flute setting the stage for the celebration of this beautiful raaga to the unusual tala pattern on mridangam - the sound scape in this song is a perfect example of how Ilaiyaraaja can create effective arrangements from the confluence of acoustic and synth sounds. The melody is a time-less one. The 1st interlude, replete with violins, is a wonderful throwback at the era when music was all about melody. There is something eloquently beautiful in the way Raaja constructs the charanams. The opening lines of charanam are short but punctuated by flute flying out and then the next line by the singer is unexpectedly lengthy, traversing the whole of hamsadhwani scale, taking along with it the violins which gather up in the high note and flow separately again. beauty. Every line in the charanam seems to be carefully carved. The 2nd interlude has violins repeating a motif much like some interludes in few of Raaja's 80s songs and a cello emerging out into a new tune. This was the classic Raaja that we all enjoyed back in 80s and it is amazing to see the same school of thought, being used with synth and acoustic violins combination (i think). This is what I mean when I say that the DNA of Raaja's music has not changed and that's exactly why I continue to enjoy his music. Karthik and Priyadarshini have put up their sincere renditions in this gem of a composition. 

I rate Chithirayil Nila Choru among one of (Ilaiyaraaja's and even in general) best albums in recent times. All the songs are melodious, with gorgeous arrangements. Ilaiyaraaja touches that wonderful sweet spot between acoustic and synth arrangements in a way that not every Ilaiyaraaja album manages to. The songs have some modern arrangements, classy tunes and elaborate musical pieces - all of which reiterating that there is still so much of beautiful music that Ilaiyaraaja's ocean of talent is capable of. 

Bottomline: Ilaiyaraaja uses classical raagas to deliver strong melodies that are among his finest in long time. 

Not to miss: Nandri solla and Kaalayile Maalai 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


In 1997, ad films director Bharat Bala and composer A.R.Rahman collaborated on an album that was quite different, considering the times that they were. Vandemataram proved to be a success, musically, because Rahman's new idioms were still sinking. The album also pushed the envelope, significantly, in terms of recording quality. Almost 16 years later, Bharat Bala and A.R.Rahman team up for the film Mariyan. The story seems to be quite different from the usual films we get to see these days. It is based on a guy who goes to Africa as an oil worker and gets kidnapped there by the militants and how he escapes from there. The film's premise provides ample scope for the music to be different from the usual crop.

The album has 7 tracks.

1. Nenje Ezhu: A.R.Rahman croons this track which sounds very anthemic in feel, something like "Aazaadi" from 'Bose', though this one does not feature any choral work. The pallavi of the song has a well-rounded structure with the way it goes "Nenje ezhu" at the right time. Yet, this song has a lot of deja vu feel, more because we have heard Rahman croon these kind of songs, mostly patriotic ones, in many films. Also, the song does not have any interludes. It has only 1 charanam, very brief that is, and it relies heavily on the pallavi portions, repeated over and over - which makes the song monotonous. 

2. Innum Konjam: In my opinion, this is the best composition in this album. Rahman, for once, avoids the attempts to give the song a 'global appeal' and gets the song stick to more rooted flavours, as evidenced by the way the singers (Vijay Prakash and Shweta) render the song or the minimal orchestration. The way the song begins, reminded me of "Ay Hairath-e-aashiqui" (blame it on accordian and that taala). The tune is very melodious, more like a romantic village ballad, which is exactly what Rahman needs to do more to let his work reach a better balance. Though this song has interludes, it is surprising to note the interludes are extremely short.

3. Naetru Aval: Sung by Vijay Prakash and Chinmayi, this soft/slow song almost reminded me of Moongil Thottam from Kadal, in terms of feel and the ambience built in it. The way the strings soar briefly at times in this song, makes me wonder why Rahman is shying away from improvising those pieces more into more rich ones. The strings have a beautiful sound and feel here... almost like a wave. Again, this song too has only 1 charanam and a lengthy pallavi portion repeated a lot. While I understand and appreciate that Rahman has carefully demolished the structure of an Indian song by choosing his own formats, I feel that repeating this template in more songs in each and every album is eroding the novelty of it. Ultimately as a listener, I want to listen to some songs which have elaborate interludes and well structured charanams - that reveal the composers' school of thought. While I do like this song, I tend to skip it after the pallavi portions play again. 

4. Yenga Ponna Raasa: This is probably Rahman's ode to Simon & Garfunkel. The song relies only on Shaktisree's vocals and guitar. This song too, has only 1 interlude (if we can call it so), which is a guitar version of the vocals sung by her. The song moves almost like a short poem and I really cannot assess it, for i still cannot place it as a song.

5. Kadal Raasa: Rahman ropes in Yuvan Shankar Raaja (after scrapping his version) for this song. Yuvan certainly sounds different from how he sounded in Ilaiyaraaja's "Neethane EnPonvasantham". The song has a lengthy pallavi portions laid out on heavy percussive elements and nagaswaram riffs (repeated throughout). Yuvan does bring in some energy for sure, but I felt that the percussions pop out a bit more into-the-face than the vocals and the momentum of the song. There is no actual interlude of the song again, with just guitar strumming bridging to charanam. The charanam's tune, somehow felt out of place for me. It starts on a totally different scale and mood also. The song too has only 1 charanam, which seems to be ending abruptly. 

6. I Love Africa: Rahman has this rap singer called Blaaze who sang this song. The song is typical rap running amock with all the African rhythms. Not my cup of tea.

7. Sonapareeya: Rahman, at times, has this weird tendency to come up with some out-of-sync songs that leaves the listener baffling if it is by rahman and more importantly puzzled about how it does fit into the overall schema of the album (and film). I remember Guru had a song called 'Baazi Lagaa', which left me totally puzzled. this Sonapareeya is another such song. utlimately it is just another fast paced number sung by Jaaved Ali and others. I found it quite pointless, musically. 

Overall, I feel it is an underwhelming album compared to Kadal. I liked Kadal, despite its simplistic melodies, while here, i see more of a Kadal hangover in slow-songs and in fast-paced ones, there are not many takeaways for me. 

Some thoughts about Rahman's recent output: I do not understand this experimentation where each and every song has just 1 interlude (or no interludes) and 1 charanam (that too a short one) but with somewhat lengthy pallavis. Having 1 or 2 songs in an album, in this format is good but working out every song within this kind of template is reducing the musicality of the album. I used to love the Rahman songs where I waited for those goose-bumpy interludes and varying embellishments in each charanam. Here, everything seems to be sacrificed. It can work (brilliantly) with certain songs like "Phir se Udd chala" (Rockstar) with the lyrics too setting the mood or in cases like Hawa Hawa (Rockstar again) where there are meaty instrumental portions that deliver the 'Aaha' moments, despite having 1 charanam only. In Kadal as well as in Mariyan, Rahman seems to have reduced the interlude portions and charanam portions drastically and relied more on overall genre to maintain the mood (soft songs = guitar strumming, with accordian; fast songs - rhythms). I'd prefer his scores to have elaborate pieces of both, interludes and charanams which lets the listeners soak in the completeness instead of having songs where listeners go through the ebb of the song when it ends suddenly. of course, not every one might feel the same, but I like to have more elements, more musical explorations, more improvisations, more stuff basically, in a song. At times, being too simple gets boring.

Summary: Mariyan, as per the film's story, has (i assume) lot of scope to deliver a very unusual score, free from the typical cliches. It is probably a film that needed a pathbreaking score - as pathbreaking as some of Rahman's earlier works such as Dil Se, Alai Payuthe etc. In Mariyan however, the only song that really made me sit up was "Innum Konjam" (which is different because it is different from what Rahman has been doing off-late), while the rest somehow play up to Rahman's current-day conventions. In that perspective, it certainly falls short, even compared to Kadal. A raw barometer for me is the no. of times I play/skip songs while listening to an album. In Kadal, Magudi was the only lemon for me. In Mariyan, Innum Kojam and Naetru aval seem to be the only ones that I am playing more no. of times. 2 songs out of 7, means a disappointing fare, for me.  

Bottomline: Not bad. But then, with Rahman there, 'not bad' means not good enough. 

Not to Miss: Innum Konjam and Naetru Aval (added later, because despite some misgivings that i have, the song still is a nice experience overall).

Looking forward to Rahman's next album Raanjhana though.