Music in Manirathnam movies (Part 1 – The Raaja years)- A journey from Pallavi Anupallavi to Thalapathi

On February 1st, Mani rathnam’s latest movie “Kadal” will release all over the world. It features music by A.R.Rahman that has already topped the charts and captured the imagination of millions across the world. But all this is nothing new for Mani, arguably one of the best directors to emerge from Tamil Nadu ever.  Mani has a great ear for music as evidenced by the fact that two icons of tamil film music Ilayaraja and A.R.Rahman have produced some of their best work for his movies. In the first of two posts on the music in Manirathnam movies, I focus on his collaboration with Maestro Illayaraaja. The next post will feature his contemporary hits with A.R.Rahman.

The Beginning

It all started with Pallavi Anupallavi, a Kannada movie. Mani’s first movie features some remarkable talent- Balu Mahendra behind the lens, Anil Kapoor in front of and Ilayaraja delivering the music. To me, the standout piece in this movie is this piece of instrumental music with Raaja’s humming. Addictive does not even begin to cut it. The Maestro’s magic over the hum is all here. 

His next outing was the Malayalam trade union movie, “Unaru”. Featuring the veritable who’s who in Malayalam cinema then, it again featured music and some excellent BGM from Ilayaraja. The song I remember most is “Theeram Thedi” which went on to become “Roja Ondru” in Komberi Mookan (thanks MadAboutMoviez for the reference help)

His first tamil movie was “Pagal Nilavu” with Sathyaraj, Murali and Revathi. The movie is best remembered for Sathyaraj’s performance and Raaja’s music. The standout piece was “Poo Malaye” which features a great intro violin piece. Notice Raaja Sir delivering a completely contrasting voice to S.Janaki. Great song. If you are into Raaja’s BGM, here is a sampling from Pagal Nilavu. Violins again. 

 Later that year, Manirathnam delivered Idhaya Kovil with “Mike” Mohan, Radha and Ambika. Raaja delivered a huge hit as did Mani. Mike Mohan got SPB to make his vocals sound magical. “Idhayam Oru Kovil” got a big chunk of radio time for a long long time. “Naan padum mouna ragam” was the melancholic piece that made it big and my personal favorite in the Raaja having fun genre is “Oor Oramaa”. The “jum jumka jum” humming in “Oor Oramaa” is something alright. 

Mouna Ragam

Emboldened by the success of Idhaya Kovil, Mani and Raaja delivered what is considered by many as one of the best tamil movies of the era with “Mouna Ragam”. A well acted and brilliantly written movie featuring outstanding performances by Revathi, Mohan and Karthik, it was also a highmark for Raaja’s music. Every song is fantastic. The standout is the absolutely soulful “Mandram Vandha” by SPB.

From “Nilave Vaa” to “Oho Megam” each song was just fantastic. Even today the album is fondly remembered. While you are it, give the title BGM a hear. At once it is chirpy and introspective. Anyone who has seen the movie can immediately visualize Karthik and Mohan with Revathi caught in the middle. 

Of Kids and Gangsters

One could argue that after delivering Mouna Ragam, both Raaja and Mani were due for a clunker. Instead they gave the world, Nayagan. Arguably India’s best gangster movie, it was punctuated by an epic performance from Kamalhassan. Based loosely on the real life gangster Varadaraaja Mudaliar and inspired by Coppola’s Godfather, Nayagan was a tour de force. And then there was the music. Every inch of the movie’s bgm was painfully crafted by the Maestro and every song conveyed the depth of the moment. Be it the lonely warrior song, “Thenpaandi seemayile” sung soulfully by Kamal himself, or the gangster smuggling run piece “Nila Adhu” with Raaja’s rustic vocals, or the brothel piece “Naan sirithal” or the festival piece “Andhi Mazhai”, every song was incredibly in sync with the mood of the movie. To me though, the piece de resistance of the movie’s soundtrack was the Mano – Chitra duet, “Nee oru Kadhal Sangeetham”. I remember Mano in an interview complaining about how many people thought the song was sung by SPB and not him. And for a sampling of the lyrics, “Isai mazhai engum pozhigiradhu. Engalin jeevan nanaigiradhu”. Pure gold. 

So how do you top Nayagan. You dont. But you do delivered an action packed family saga that is hugely entertaining and riveting with “Agni Nakshatram”. Mani plots then superstars Karthik against Prabhu and asks Raaja to do the rest. Raaja obliges with a brilliant soundtrack. Every song again is a high point for tamil film music and is a complete bag of everything from trippy disco music to songs drenched in carnatic classical music. 

A few months ago in this blog, I had written an entire post about this movie’s soundtrack and specifically the outstanding “Ninnukori”. There was the signature megahit of the day, “Raaja Raajathi” featuring a nondescript Prabhu Deva. Mani introduced the sultry Nirosha in this movie and Raaja supported this debut with two sensual numbers in “Vaa Vaa anbe anbe” and “Oru poongavanam”. Those were some scorchers in those days, believe me. But to me, the best song in the movie is the gorgeous duet “Thoongatha Vizhigal” set to Ragam Amrithavarshini and sung by K.J.Yesudas and S.Janaki. Pure bliss. 

After a solid streak of tamil movies, Mani and Raaja shifted their eyes to Telugu cinema and made “Geethanjali” featuring a young Nagarjuna. The movie was dubbed and released in tamil as “Idhayathai Thirudathey”. The songs were blockbusters. Ranging from teenybopper hits like “Vidiya Vidiya” to the moody “Paapa Laali” to the girl power piece, “Athadi Ammadi” and the very popular Mano-Chitra piece “Oh Priya“(watch the pace pick up on this song), all the songs were pretty popular. The standout hit of this movie was the romantic and sensual “Om Namaha” which featured a then notorious smooch. 

In a completely 180 degree turn from all the gangster sagas and romantic dramas he had been delivering till date, Mani made “Anjali”- a kids movie with a lot of heart. The signature theme piece, “Anjali Anjali” achieved iconic status very soon. In Mani’s own style, the movie was a social commentary delivered with humor and heaps of love and emotion. “Motta madi motta madi” was a great love in the shadows piece while “Magic journey” was Mani’s ode to Star Wars. The real music piece worth mentioning in this movie is the stellar BGM that permeates the entire duration ranging from sheer joy to shock to absolute despair. Raaja’s wizardry at its best.

Superstars and the Mahabharata

As if they had one last movie to show the magic of their combination, Mani and Raaja delivered the Mahabharata inspired epic, “Thalapathi” with Rajini and Mamooty. A star studded mega movie that shattered box office records and delivered a musical bonanza for fans, every song of Thalapathi deserves special praise. 

So where do we start?. Do we start with the haunting “Chinna thayaval” or the mellifluous “Yamunai Aatrile”. Maybe the foot tapping and beautifully picturized “Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu” with all those synchronized violins or the SPB-Yesudas crowd-pleaser “Kattukuyile Manasukkule”. And there is the criminally underrated “Putham Pudhu” . To me, the standout piece in this musical epic is a personal favorite, “Sundari Kannal”. I had written an entire piece on this since it truly warrants it. A movie within a movie, hauntingly composed by the Maestro and beautifully sung by SPB and S.Janaki. 

Maestro to Prodigy

And all this was only one half of Mani’s output. In the next post, we will look at Mani’s prolific collaboration with A.R.Rahman. The public playlist for all the songs featured in this post and more Raaja- Mani masterpieces is here. For now, I will go back to listening to “Sundari Kannal”. 

A journey on Doordarshan from “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” to “Jana Gana Mana”

India celebrates its Republic Day on the 26th of January. This is not to be confused with its Independence Day (Aug 15th) which commemorates its independence from British rule. The Republic Day commemorates the framing of the Indian Constitution. This year assumes special significance in the aftermath of the horrific rape of a woman in Delhi a couple of months ago. At times like this, it is important for us to look at what the nation should mean to us, the people and also to those who govern the nation. In this post, I look back at some wonderfully patriotic and beautiful “national unity” pieces from the 80’s and 90’s that filled the only channel available to us then, India’s state owned Doordarshan

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The first video I wanted to talk about is an untitled piece featuring all of India’s then major sportsmen and women. I love this because it evokes a fantastic sense of patriotism. Sports is one of those things that triggers everyone’s patriotic bone especially during international events and tournaments. This one showcases some of the very best Indian sportsmen and women of the era and any era for that matter. The sight of late Pataudi and Milkha Singh and Sunny and of course a sprinting Krish Srikanth is one of sheer joy. 

The second one is one that is totally devoid of stars but strong in its messaging quotient.  I remember this charming animated piece “Ek Chidiya…Anek Chidiyan” which stresses on the power of team work and unity. At a time when the country is so splintered, a simple video like this conveys the message of unity better than many others. 

The next piece is probably the most popular one in this list. It created waves when it launched and most folks from that era will remember. “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” was a gem of a piece that boasted not just great visuals and wonderful performances but a strong unity amidst diversity theme. A country with thousands of languages and dialects and unique musical heritages deserved something that celebrated it. This nailed it. Bhimsen Joshi gets to play the anchor for this epic set to Raga Sindu Bhairavi. Even today, I get goosebumps seeing the assemblage of sheer talent in this video.

A couple of years ago, there was an attempt to recreate the “Mile Sur Mera Tumhara” magic. This time they crammed it with western music and a ton of stars and very few real musicians. The result is something that is a decent yet short of stellar outing. The original shines when compared to this effort.

Which brings us to my favorite in this compilation. Each of these pieces are great in their own aspect, especially the original “Mile Sur”. But if there is one that holds its own and is brilliantly conceived, it is “Desh Raag”. I lean towards this over “Mile Sur” purely because of my classical music background. The way the concept of a Raga is woven with its namesake identity of a nation is brilliant. And the artists are breathtaking. Just watch it.

The last featured piece of this post is the most recent too. A.R.Rahman, the genius of Indian music has carved a niche for himself in remaking patriotic pieces to suit current tastes. It started with his immensely popular “Vande Mataram” which deserves a post of its own. But to me, it was capped by this fantastic piece conceived with the brilliant Bharat Bala to celebrate India’s National Anthem. The piece titled, “Jan Gan Man” featured an album of vocal and instrumental pieces of the anthem. Experience this piece here.

I cant wrap this post up before I give a shot out to Doordarshan for believing in and funding such ventures. Beyond the nostalgia factor, they not only showcase some of India’s greatest and best but deliver the key point home- one of unity in diversity.

I created a public Youtube playlist of all these songs. There are additional patriotic pieces in that compilation that fall outside the scope of this post but still worth a listen.

As a final note, enjoy this really old and low-quality video of the iconic DD theme music. The video quality may be poor, but was this magical or what.

Happy Republic Day folks.

A Pongal Playlist

Technically this post is a day late. By India standards, much of Pongal (Sankranti) is over by now. But there is no harm in wanting to stay in the mood of Pongal- a festival of good food, friends met and movies watched. 

Pongal is probably as big if not a bigger festival in the state of Tamil Nadu than Deepavali.  It offers people a chance to cast away the old and expect the new. It is the most important time of the year for the farmers who will start their harvest officially with the passing of the month of Margazhi and welcome the month of Thai. More on the festival and the significance of Pongal here.  

Given the significance of Pongal, it has prominently been featured in songs in Tamil cinema over the years. Some of them have withstood the test of time and here is a small compilation of some such. This is by no means comprehensive nor in any specific order.

1. Thai Pongalum Pongudhu – Mahanadhi

A festive start to what is an otherwise stark movie. Chitra belts this evergreen Pongal song. The lyrics are great and convey the spirit of the harvest season. 

2. Podhuvaga En Manasu – Murattu Kalai

This song is what started it all for Superstar Rajinikanth. The song happens soon after a Jallikattu, the traditional bull taming event that happens during Mattu Pongal. The song captures the mood on Mattu Pongal and the mood in the village.

3. Margazhi thaan odi pochu – Dalapathy

Pongal plays a critical element in the Manirathnam classic, Dalapathy. The festival plays backdrop to a major event in the movie and Raaja drives the event home with a small but memorable piece. 

4. Kattukuyile Manasukulle – Dalapathy

To go with 3, here is another song from the same Dalapathy. Brilliantly shot by Santosh Sivan and masterfully weaved by Manirathnam. Isaignani Ilayaraja creates a fabulous piece with two doyens SPB and Jesudas doing the honors. 

6. Vandhenda Paalkaran – Annamalai

Continuing with the Rajini line, here is another massive hit that celebrates Mattu Pongal. It is also the introduction song for the Superstar in the movie and if you are a fan, you know all about it. The Rajini introduction song is by far the most important piece in the movie and will be greeted by the fans in a way unlike any other. Music director Deva does the honors with the tune here but the piece is all Rajini and SPB.

5. Poo Pookum Maasam – Varusham 16

I remember this song vividly as I had a major crush on Kushboo who debuted in this film by Fazil. The Kushboo here is almost not recognizable but she made a splash alright. The movie was a big hit and this song was pretty big too. 

6. Enga Ooru Pongalukku – Chinna Thayi

A less heralded song in this list was nevertheless part of a a big musical hit of Isaignani Ilayaraja, Chinna Thayi. Footage includes actual Pongal celebrations from villages. 

7. Aadungada enna suthi – Pokkiri

And then there is this. A Vijay statement song that is all about him. Less said the better. The song did go on to become popular in a soundtrack that has much better songs IMHO.

All these songs are available as part of a public Youtube playlist I created for the purpose. 

Of interest is the fact that Isaignani Ilayaraaja dominates this list. There is one Deva piece and one Mani Sharma piece. I was unable to find an A.R.Rahman Pongal piece. Anyone knows of one?

To everyone reading this just before, during or right after Pongal, இனிய பொங்கல் நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்.