The Mangalyaan Playlist: Songs that inspire and motivate

On the 24th of September 2014, India succesfully launched its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), Mangalyaan into Mars orbit. This is a huge step for India in terms of demonstrating its engineering chops on a shoe string budget. As an Indian, it makes me proud and more so as an engineer. This is a testament to sheer hard work and innovation. To that effect, I want to present a short playlist that I am calling the Mangalyaan Playlist. These are a handful of songs that have and continue to inspire and motivate me when I need it the most. This is by no means a comprehensive collection. I look forward to hearing songs that I missed from readers and fans of such music.

Tagore

1. Ekla Chalo Re written by Rabindranath Tagore. Performed by various.

Over the past few weeks, I have been listening (all over again) to a bunch of versions of the classic “Ekla Chalo” by Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore, the doyen of Bengali writing and one of the key freedom fighters with the pen, wrote this song in 1905. It was originally meant to be a patriotic song but the lyrics and timeless and universal. Sample this:

If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.

There have been many versions of the song over the years. The one I like the most is the one by popular Rabindra Sangeet singer, Suchitra Mitra. This unique Youtube video captures her singing three versions of the song over a few decades.  An equally remarkable rendition by Kishore Kumar can be heard here. Amitabh Bachchan sang a version for a recent movie, Kahaani where his voice does its magic. Shreya Ghoshal has a nice version here.

2. Jaage hain der tak by Gulzar. Composed by A.R.Rahman and sung by A.R.Rahman and Chitra

Here is a song from the movie “Guru” based on the life of Indian business tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani. Manirathnam and A.R.Rahman weave magic with some outstanding words by Gulzar. The soaring orchestral arrangement for the song is only matched by the soothing voice of Chitra and the raw emotion of A.R.Rahman’s own.

Here is a all of the translated lyrics. The simplicity of the lyrics belies the power it wields over the listener.

Long awake.. let me sleep for some more time
There’s still some night left.. let the morning come
Half and incomplete dreams.. that could never come true
Let me, in my sleep.. weave those dreams again

3. Hum Honge Kamyaab written by Girija Kumar Mathur. Composed by Vanraj Bhatia and sung by various. Original- “We shall overcome” by Pete Seeger.

This song has its origin in the West with the iconic civil rights protest song by Pete Seeger, “We shall overcome.” The original English version has great lyrics and the shorter Hindi version captures the gist of it. The most popular rendition of the Hindi version comes from the movie “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro” with music by Vanraj Bhatia.

We’re on to victory, We’re on to victory,
We’re on to victory someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We’re on to victory someday.

4. Unnal Mudiyum Thambi written by Pulamaipithan.

Composed by Ilayaraja and sung by S.P.Balasubramaniam.
Over the years, whenever I have needed a song to motivate and drive me to work harder than ever before, I have looked to this song from the movie, “Unnal Mudiyum Thambi.” The reasons are two fold. The lyrics by Pulamaipithan in my native language, Tamizh are simple and to the point. The song was composed by Maestro Illayaraja and set to tune in one of my favorite Carnatic Ragas, Hindolam. Hindolam turns out to be an excellent choice for the song’s strong message.

Here is a sampling of the lyrics roughly translated into English:

You can do it lad,
If you believe in the you inside you.
Lift your shoulder,
And lift the country falling asleep

5. Vellipanimalayin Medhulavuvom written by Mahakavi Bharathiyaar. Composed by G.Ramanathan and sung by Tiruchi Loganathan and Seerkazhi Govindarajan

kappalottiya thamizhanKappalottiya Tamizhan

I grew up reading the works of freedom fighter and poet extraordinaire Mahakavi Bharathiyaar. I wrote about his remarkable work here.  No amount of accolades are sufficient to cover the body of work Bharathiyaar produced. I could list a whole lot of songs he composed that inspire and motivate me to this day. But if I were to pick one that stands out in the light of Mangalyaan’s success, it is this. A piece composed by the brilliant G.Ramanathan for the patriotic movie, Kappalottiya Tamizhan featuring actor par extraordinaire Sivaji Ganesan as V.O.Chidambaram Pillai.

6. Ini Acham Acham Illai from Indira. Written by Vairamuthu. Composed by A.R.Rahman. Sung by Anuradha Sriram and group

Indira was the first movie directed by Suhasini Manirathnam, actor and wife of prominent director Manirathnam. It was an interesting movie possibly ahead of its time. But it featured some very good music by A.R.Rahman. One song that stands out for me is “Ini Acham Acham Illai“. It is a complex composition that has a great chorus backing Anuradha Sriram and a few other kids singing a positive piece about having no fear- echoing Bharathiyaar’s original Achamillai achamillai.

And topical enough for today, a child in the song goes,

“That moon, that moon, run and bring it over here,

The butterfly flies, is man any less capable, if we fly higher someday we will touch the skies”

7. Title song from umpteen Rajinikanth movies. Composed by Ilayaraaja, Deva and A.R.Rahman and written by Vairamuthu, Vali and more. Sung often by S.P.B and occasionally others.

I am an unabashed Rajinikanth fan for very many reasons. But one of them is the strong and positive message he delivers through his punch lines and songs in his movies. As corny and cliched some of them are, they still strike a chord in you and I am forever thankful for the star and everyone involved in those songs. I will suggest a few of them here as there are way too many to list.

1. Vetri Kodi Kattu from Padayappa

2. Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali from Muthu

3. Singam Ondru from Arunachalam

4. Sakthi Kodu from Baba

5. Vetri Nichayam from Annamalai

As always, a youtube playlist with all these songs and more is available for your viewing and listening pleasure.

Carnatic Music in Malayalam cinema

I grew up in the city of Coimbatore, not too far from the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border.  I had and continue to have a lot of Malayalee and Tamilalee friends. I never quite picked up the language but given the context, could make heads or tails in the conversation.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Malayalam cinema was going through its golden period. Every other movie made its way to the National Awards and Mohanlal, Mamooty and a slew of actors held center stage. While I didnt really watch very many Malayalam movies, one thing that I took to was their soundtrack. It would not be a stretch to say that in the last three decades, there has not been a better showcase of Carnatic music than in Malayalam movies.

How did this happen? One could start with the voices – Yesudas who stormed into the scene around the same time. There were others like Neyyatinkara Vasudevan, Jayachandran and S.Janaki who also made waves. Yesudas subsequently brought in M.G.Sreekumar and Kavikuyil Chitra. Malayalam music directors of the time had a keen ear for Carnatic music- G.DevarajanM. Raveendran, M.G. Radhakrishnan, Johnson, and Illayaraja.  The musical nature of some of the movies at the time – Bharatam, Chitram, His Highness Abdullah, Sargam, Sopanam, Manichitrathazhu, Swathi Thirunal and many more was either the cause or the result of this magic. In this post, I will present a really small set of those spectacular movie soundtracks that continue to hold sway over me.

1. Swathi Thirunal

swathithirunal

This is what I would call a full Carnatic soundtrack. A movie that was critically panned for its theme, it nevertheless featured an all star vocal cast including Neyyattinkara Vasudevan, Chitra, Yesudas, S.P.B, Balamurali Krishna and more. This M.B.Sreenivasan album is one of my all time favorites and it a huge challenge to pick a single favorite. Be it the Charukesi piece by Yesudas, or Kanada by Neyyatinkara or the Vasantha piece by Yesudas and Neyyatinkara or the Misra Pilu piece sung gorgeously by Balamurali or the Dhanasri thillana by M.G.Sreekumar, each one is a gem.  But for the sake of this post, I would like to put forth this short yet impactful Darbari Kanada piece by SPB – Devanuke Pathi.

2. Sargam

sargam

I never got to see this movie but I heard it was good. What I did hear (many times over) was its soundtrack.  Featuring music by Bombay Ravi, this movie was built around music as its central theme and it shows. K.J.Yesudas and Chitra pretty much owned and dominated the album with such pieces like Raaga Sudha rasa (Aandholika), Pravahame.  My personal favorite is the wonderful Kedaragowla piece, Aandholanam.

3. Bharatham

Bharatham

Yet another Raveendran-Mohanlal combo that did wonders. The movie with its dark theme was a popular hit and went on to win National Awards. A movie that showcased the price of fame in Carnatic music and what it does to relationships, it featured some awesome music by Raveendran.  The selection here includes Rama Katha Ganalayam (pivotal moment in the movie driven by KJY’s excellent rendition), the great Shankarabharanam piece, Raghuvamsapathe and the Nattai piece Gopangane. My personal pick here is the Hamsadwani piece by K.J.Y, Sree Vinayakam.

4. Chithram

chitram

This is one movie I did get to see. A serious start segues into a humorous middle only to climax on a not so happy note. All that aside, the movie’s breezy middle portion has some hidden gems. This was a huge hit back then and the Kannur Rajan scored music was a big contributor. Two nice pieces here are the romantic piece that is still rooted in Madhyamavathi, Eeran Megham and the M.G.Sreekumar rendered Dikshithar krithi in Nattai, Swami Nadha. But the standout here is the fantastic rendition of Thyagaraja’s Abheri gem, Nagumo by Neyyattinkara Vasudevan and M.G.Sreekumar.

5.  His Highness Abdullah

hha

One can argue that this maybe the benchmark against which all Carnatic themed Malayalam film music could be measured. And as a movie, it standouts as a remarkable classical music based enterprise from Pranavam Arts. A Raveendran soundtrack rich in classical tones for a movie rooted in the same art form, it was a joy to watch and to listen. With good pieces in the form of Pramadhanam Vendum, and the Kanada piece, Nadharoopini gloriously rendered by M.G.S and much more, there was a lot to enjoy. The standout song though was Deva Sabhathalam featuring Yesudas / M.G.Sreekumar in two versions, Raveendran master and Sharath. Even today, I get goosebumps listening to this piece.

As I made my way through this list, I realized it would not really fit in one post. So I will defer the rest of the selection to a second post for a future date. And no better way to conclude this post than with the final lines from the song, “Anandam Ananthanandham Jagadanandam Sangeetham”

As always, a full Youtube playlist with pretty much all the songs featured in this post are available here. Enjoy.