Tag Archives: illayaraja

Remembering Malaysia Vasudevan

This fifteenth of June,we will be celebrating the 71st birthday of the late Malaysia Vasudevan. I had always wanted to do a post on him. I was just waiting for the right excuse. No better than his birthday. You can read all about him in this wikipedia entry but I am not hear to talk about his life. I am here to talk about his music. The special voice that formed the backbone of many a Tamil hit.

Remembering Malaysia Vasudevan

Malaysia Vasudevan started his career as a stage singer at the age of eight in Malaysia. Soon, he found himself in Chennai as an actor in a tamil play. Soon he joined the Pavalar Brothers troupe, run by Ilaiyaraaja and Gangai Amaran. Vasudevan’s first big movie appearance came in the debut film of his close friend, Ilaiyaraja’s “Annai Kili” but his first big hit came soon after when he sang the song “Aattu Kutti Muttai Ittu” for Kamal Hassan under the music direction of Ilaiyaraaja for “Padhinaru Vayadhinile” Over the next 34 years, until his untimely death, Malaysia Vasudevan sang over 8000 songs, many for Ilaiyaraaja and quite a few for other music directors.

malaysia
Image courtesy: www.arrahman.info

In this post, I will highlight some of my personal favorites of Vasudevan. As always, this list is incredibly subjective. Feel free to leave comments with your favorites that didn’t make this list. This list is in no particular order.

1. Pothuvaga en manasu from Murattu Kaalai

Every Malaysia Vasudevan playlist needs to start with this timeless classic from Murattu Kaalai. The first movie to portray the larger-than-life image of Rajinikanth, this song and everything about it is mounted large. The song is as rustic as it gets and much of the credit will go to the Ilaiyaraaja-Malaysia Vasudevan combo that totally rocks  this piece.

2. Poove Ilaya poove from Kozhi Koovudhu

This movie has some excellent music overall. Be it the sensual “Edho Moham” or the zany “Anne Anne”, Ilaiyaraaja has composed some interesting pieces for the movie. To me though, the standout is this Malaysia Vasudevan piece featuring Prabhu and a young Silk Smitha. Great, great song.

3. Aagaya Gangai from Dharmayudham

Another Ilaiyaraaja composition that showcases the best of Vasudevan. The instrumentation at the start of the piece and throughout the song offers the right foil for the singers, Malaysia Vasudevan and S.Janaki to let it go. Watch Vasudevan pick up with “Kadhal Nenjil…”It helps to have Rajini and a young Sridevi on screen too.

4. Mamavukku Kuduma from Punnagai Mannan

If you wanted a feel for the attitude Malaysia Vasudevan could bring to a song, look no further than this piece from “Punnagai Mannan.” Ilaiyaraaja concocts a whimsical composition that befits the Kamalhassan character on screen and Vasudevan completes the picture by delivering the song beautifully.

5. Poongatru Thirumbuma from Mudhal Mariyadhai

Possibly the one really slow song in this list, it had to be featured because of how big it was during its time. A movie that boasted a stellar everything, Ilaiyaraaja, Malaysia Vasudevan and S.Janaki weave magic set to the words of Vairamuthu. Spend some time listening to the words and you can feel the depth and much of the credit goes to the simple tune and the clean delivery of the singers.

The same movie features another classic Malaysia Vasudevan-Janaki piece in “Vetti veru vaasam

6. En Soga Kadhaya Kelu from Thooral Nindru Pochu

Another popular song from the 80s that got a lot of radio time was this gaana-precursor composed by Ilaiyaraaja and sung to perfection by Malaysia Vasudevan. The song starts off completely differently and I have set the link to play from where the “En soga kadhaya” portion starts.

7. Panju mittai from Ettupatti Rasa

A rare non-Raaja song in this list, but nevertheless a nice showcase for Malaysia Vasudevan’s grasp of the medium and how the song played out in the screen. A rustic tune from Deva and featuring a much-in-love Napolean and Khushboo, see how Vasudevan makes you feel what is happening on screen – the playful sensuality and romance.

8. Ramarajan hits

I wanted to bundle two Ramarajan songs in this list. They are not spectacular but still a good couple of songs to demonstrate Malaysia Vasudevan’s range. The first is “Ooru vittu ooru vandhu” from the massive hit “Karakattakaran.” The second song is a much more romantic number from Ramarajan-Revathi starrer, Gramathu Minnal- “Nee pogum padhayil

9. Oru thanga radhathil from Dharmayudham

Another Malaysia piece for Rajini (of which there are very many), this song is an evergreen classic for Malaysia’s rendition and Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumentation.

10. Kadhal Vandhiruchu from Kalyana Raman

Ilaiyaraja had immense faith in Malaysia Vasudevan to deliver complex songs with character. Look no further than this song for “Kalyana Raman” where simpleton Kamal Hassan is wooing Sridevi. In less than 5 minutes, Vasudevan and Ilaiyaraaja weave a complex tapestry that conveys a lot.

11. Mappilaikku Maaman manasu from NetriKann

A fantastic movie set in Coimbatore and shot on location, 100 feet from where I used to live, this song is really a solid P.Susheela song but the reason to include it here is to showcase Malaysia Vasudevan’s classical leanings. Look for him to chime in past the mid point of this song. If you have not yet seen this movie, check it out. Rajinikanth kills it.

12. Madana mohana roopa sundari from Indru Poi Naalai Vaa

Another fantastic comedy that features an utterly brilliant Bhagyaraj, this song demonstrates Malaysia Vasudevan’s comic timing when it came to song delivery. Another song that deserves to be seen and heard. And yes, see this movie if you have not. As the teacher says, “Ek gaon mein ek kisan raghuthatha”

13. Nila Kayudhu from Sagalakalavallavan

Malaysia Vasudevan had three key genres where he excelled- rustic, playful and sensual. This song showcases the sensual side of the singer. Composed by Ilaiyaraaja for the evergreen romantic in Kamalhassan, Malaysia Vasudevan and Janaki are key cogs in the wheel to make sure the experience is complete.

14. Ennama Kannu from Mr.Bharath

What a wonderful song that showcases the playful banter not just between the stars on screen, Rajini and Sathyaraj but also the singers behind the screen, SPB and Malaysia Vasudevan. In an interesting play, Ilaiyaraaja entrusts the job of doing vocals for Rajini to SPB instead of Malaysia Vasudevan and Sathyaraj gets to counter punch with the vocals of Malaysia Vasudevan. I could write a lot about how awesome this song is,. Instead, just check it out. One of those songs that feels complete with the visuals.


15. Aasai Nooru Vagai from Adutha Vaarisu

It can be argued that Malaysia Vasudevan was a bigger voice for Rajinikanth in his early years than SPB. One got to associate Rajini’s on screen songs with Vasudevan’s voice. And this Ilaiyaraaja composition is probably the best example.

I chose to end my list with this song because it represents exactly how I remember Malaysia Vasudevan. The tease, the flourish and the playful delivery- very much like Superstar made him a musical superstar. One whose songs, we continue to listen and cherish to this date.

Full Youtube playlist for the post can be found here or you can watch it below.

Andha Naal Gnyabagam – Music in my college days (Part 4)

With less than 24  hours to go for the largest alumni gathering of PSG Tech outside India, we are down to the final post in this series- the songs that made an impact during my final year in college. The PSG Tech alumni event, M4M is fully sold out and features the singing talents from over the years at Tech.  Without further ado, here are the songs that made it big in the 1999-2000 time frame.

 1999

After a Spring loaded with big hits, we entered our final year of college, hopeful of a job, an admit to a good university abroad and a ton of fun with friends- one last time.  A job was the first thing in mind from the first day of college. Campus interviews kicked in instantly and the focus was all on that. But there was always time for music – be it while celebrating someone getting a job or waiting hopefully for the interview call after the written test or getting over that day’s dejection and preparing for the next day’s written test in the morning.

June did not have very many releases – Vijay had a movie with Isha Koppikar called Nenjinile. While the movie went nowhere, there was one standout song that was very hummable – Manase Manase. The big release for July was ARR’s compositions for Kadhir’s Kadhalar Dhinam. The movie was pretty bad by any standard but a couple of songs stuck around in the cassette recorders in the hostel for a while. Oh Maria was a internet generation piece (pretty amusing to look back at it now). Enna Vilai Azhage was the best piece of the lot.

In what now seems like a very rare occurrence, ARR had two releases in the same month- Kadhalar Dhinam and Sangamam. The latter was a Suresh Krishna dance musical that ended up failing at the box office. ARR had some good classical and folk compositions that were quite popular- it wasn’t the college type songs but there were so many ARR fans then that it did not matter. Mazhai Thuli,  and Varaha Nadhi karai oram were two good songs from Sangamam.

August 15th brought Bharadwaj’s music for Saran’s Amarkalam. Two SPB songs made it very big – Megangal and Satham illadha. The gaanaish Mahaganapathi piece featuring dance master Lawrence was quite popular too. With final year love stories abound, Amarkalam songs were huge.

ARR reused some of his music from hindi for a tamil movie, Jodi and while the songs were not upto ARR’s high standards of the day, they were still pretty popular. Of note were Kai Thatti thatti and Velli Malare.  And then there was a lull of good music for a couple of months.

November again brought two ARR releases. Both of them were huge musically. The first was Shankar’s megahit Mudhalvan. This was a typical Shankar movie with a strong message packaged in an audience friendly masala manner and the songs were huge – be it the Sushmitha Sen dance piece Shakalaka Baby, or the romantic number Azhagana Rakshasiye, or the lavishly mounted title song.

The second November ARR release was the debut of Bharathiraaja’s son Manoj in Tajmahal. A horrific movie by every possible standard, it featured some hummable village tunes with a modern twist by ARR. Three songs stood out and made it big at Tech – Kulirudhu, Sotta Sotta and the addictive Thirupachi.


December brought with it a landmark Tamil movie from a debutant director and the relaunch of a big star, Vikram. Bala’s Sethu arrived in December and completely took over. Everyone was talking about the movie and its music by the Maestro. Illayaraja gave a huge soundtrack with songs that suited the overall feel of the movie. Some of the notable songs were Maalai Yen,   Sikkadha Sittondru and the hugely popular Kaana Karunguyile.


2000

Ilayaraaja continued his hit streak after Sethu with two musical hits in January 2000. The first was a movie called Kadhal Rojave. The movie was forgettable but for two hummable and popular tunes- Izhavenil Idhu and Ninaitha Varam Kettu.  Fazil tried to repeat his Kadhalukku Mariyadhai success story with Vijay and Shalini in Kannukul Nilavu. The movie didn’t live up to its expectations but had some relatively popular songs- Roja Poondhottam and Oru naal oru kanavu.

February saw Raaja’s big season continue with his brilliant score for Kamal Hassan’s magnum opus, Hey Ram. The movie bombed but the songs were just fantastic. The romantic piece Nee Partha Paarvaikku was awesome as was the period piece, Isayil Thodangudhamma and the controversial title piece. To me though, the one song that captured the entire gamut of musical composition and being the right fit for the scene is Vaishnava Janato. I wrote an entire post about this song and I cant recommend it enough.

February saw a big hit for Deva in the form of Mugavari. Some of the songs were lifted from other sources but the songs were very successful  and college audience friendly nevertheless.  Of note were Hey Keechu Kiliye, A Nilave, and Oh Nenje Nenje.

All of this was soon going to be engulfed in the monster hit that was to be Alaipayuthey. Manirathnam’s ode to love and the ups and downs of marriage was a huge success with the younger crowd. It was a rage in college and ARR’s music topped the charts in a big way. Every single song was a mega hit and it is almost impossible to pick one over the other. From the title piece Endrendrum Punnagai to Swarnalatha’s soulful rendition in Evano Oruvan to  the colorful Pachai Nirame and the utterly gorgeous Snehidane, everything was just fantastic. To me though, two songs standout even amidst these awesome pieces – the small but utterly divine Mangalyam Thanthunanena and the playfully sexy Kadhal Sadugudu.

Nothing that year was going to stand up to Alaipayuthey. That much was certain. In the waning days of my undergrad life and in the company of my future wife, this was all that I could have asked for. The only thing that came close before I left college was another ARR soundtrack- one that was steeped in melody and simplicity, Kandukondain Kandukondain. Rajeev Menon’s gorgeous take on Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was given the best support by ARR’s music. Be it the Shankar Mahadevan sung Enna Seyya Pogirai or the peppy Konjum Mainakkale or the retrospective Enge Yenadhu or the Hariharan title track Kandukondain Kandukondain, the songs were simple yet spectacular. My personal favorite was and continues to be the Chitra piece, Kannamoochi Yenada.  The Yesudas-Chitra duet version of the same song sounds even better.

With Alaipayuthey and Kandukondain, I left college. Four years of friendship and memories. Never before and never again would life be the same. I will sign off here. In less than 10 hours, the stage for the evening alumni event will start getting set. I will get to meet friends, old and new and hopefully relive some of these wonderful memories of my college life through the music.

Hope all of you enjoyed this walk down memory lane as much as I did, putting it together for you (and me). I thoroughly loved this project- so many memories came flooding back. The feeling was just awesome.

As always, the public Youtube playlist with all the songs featured in this series of posts can be found here. Enjoy.

Posts in this Series:

Andha Naal Gnyabagam-Music in my college days (Part 1)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 2)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 3)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam-Music in my college days (Part 2)

A couple of days ago, I kicked off a 4-part series on music from my college years. The posts are timed to coincide with an upcoming mega alumni event in the Bay Area featuring some of the very best alumni PSG Tech TekMusic artists. As part of this series, today’s post features some of the most popular songs from my second year in college, 1997-98.

We got back to campus by late summer and the songs of V.I.P were doing the rounds. It was not a massive hit but something for the summer. Mayilu Mayilu was the standout piece from an interesting album by Ranjit Barot. For the Raaja aficionados there was not much to cheer with ARR ruling the roost. Raman Abdullah by erstwhile star director Balu Mahendra offered some good Raaja melodies. The popular piece here was En Veetu Jannal. Then came Nerukku Ner.

Nerukku Ner had a lot of things going for it – young and upcoming stars, a respected director in Vasanth and a big producer in the form of Manirathnam. The songs were very popular with Deva delivering some of his best tunes, none more so than Manam Virumbudhe.

Music has this interesting quality that often times, the simplest tunes work better than most. Porkalam, the Cheran movie with music by Deva stormed our campus with its simple tunes, two of which were very popular- Cingucha and Thanjavur mannu. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ARR’s next album, much touted and publicized by K.T.Kunjumon for its music and star pairing of Nagarjuna and Sushmita Sen was a damp squib. Songs like Soniya Soniya had a brief run but didnt make a big mark.

And then came Kadhalukku Mariyadhai. This December release featuring Vijay and Shalini was a massive hit both as a movie and as a music album. Ilayaraja made his way back to popular consciousness in a big way. This was one album that was heard in every floor of every building in the hostel. The romantic theme of the movie coupled with some melodious pieces made a huge impact. Ennai Thalatta varuvaalo was the pick of the lot. O baby  sent a swath of boys and girls to Landmark scouting for the elusive “Love and love only” book.

The latter half of my sophomore year at college didnt produce the wonders that the first half did. The first song that comes to my mind from this period is Ilasa Ilasa, an average number from a forgettable movie, Naam Iruvar Namakku Iruvar. The only reason I remember it is that my classmates danced for it on stage.

Kadhal Mannan made some minor waves because of Ajith and SPB’s hit song, Unnai Partha Pinbu. Kamal’s first release of 1997 Kadhala Kadhala featured some peppy music by Karthik Raja which garnered some play time in college. Of special note was the big hit piece Kasumela Kasuvandhu.

The second year thankfully did not end with a whimper but a bang with ARR’s hit music for Shankar’s magnum opus, Jeans. The movie did average business but the songs were popular all over. Classical singer Nithyashree hit all the right notes for the visual extravaganza Kannodu Kanbadhellam and with it the academic year came to an end.

In the next post, I will try to capture what was in and what rocked the corridors in my third year. Until then, enjoy the trip down memory lane. The Youtube playlist with all the songs from the first and second posts in this series is here.

Posts in this Series:

Andha Naal Gnyabagam-Music in my college days (Part 1)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 3)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 4)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 1)

The North American chapter of my undergraduate alma mater, PSG Tech, is organizing a grand music show with singers from our college music club, TekMusic on the 8th of February. As the date approaches, I am looking forward to meeting friends, old and new. What I am also excited for is an evening of wonderful music. The anticipation got me reminiscing about those wonderful college years and the music that served as its backbone.

Back in the day, TekMusic was the team to beat in all inter-collegiate music events across the state of Tamil Nadu. This legacy of excellence by TekMusic has stretched across decades now. As I talk to fellow alumni from years past and present, I hear of how much TekMusic was a part of their college memories. I am no different. TekMusic captured the zeitgeist of what was popular then in tamil cinema but also songs that were timeless to the college going crowds.

Music by its very nature assumes a special spot in one’s college life. The gentle shift from a life devoid of responsibilities to one with a job or admission to a higher education is made all the more richer by the music of the times. As we make our way through the four or five years, mere adolescents, we build relationships that last a lifetime. Music is the one constant that captures that era in full glory. Some of the songs of the day may seem trivial or childish to the rest of the world. But for the group of friends who sat around a 8×10 hostel room talking through the night, it meant so much more. And then there are those songs that echoed through the hostel corridors for their anointed few weeks of popularity until they got replaced by the next big thing.  This 4 post series attempts to capture but a few of those songs, big and small, classic and trivial of those four years I spent in college. As a lead up to the event, I hope to take the reader on a journey down their own college days and the songs that blared from the old radios in the hostel.

PSG Tech hostel

1996-97

I joined PSG Tech as a fresh faced kid in the summer of 1996. The Maestro Illayaraja was starting to be eclipsed by the new Isaipuyal (musical storm) A.R.Rahman. Other music directors like Sirpi, S.A.Rajkumar, Deva, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Karthik Raja were jostling for a third spot in the popularity charts. There were one hit wonder pieces as there were huge hits that lasted a life time.

As I entered college, Kadhal Kottai was all the rage. The songs were everywhere. The soft at heart were into Kalamellam Kadhal Vazhga and Nalam Nalam Ariya. For me there was Vellarikka. For those who were trying to get through the first of many failed crushes, there was Deva belting Kavalaipadadhe. As the year progressed, Vidyasagar struck gold with Priyam and the one song, Dilruba was all the rage in college for all the right and wrong reasons.

The very first movie I saw with friends from college was Kadhal Desam. A comically bad movie, it featured chart busting tunes by ARR. One of the songs, Mustafa Mustafa went on to become the most popular song in my 4 years in college and also the song that every academic year ended with.  It would not be a stretch to call it the college anthem of my day.


The rest of 1996 had some hits from Mr.Romeo of which Thanneerai Kadhalikkum and Mellisaye had some legs. A surprise hit came in the form of Un Uthattoram from Panchalankurichi.

The dawn of 1997 brought with it a lot of good music. Iruvar kicked off the year with ARR showing some unique touches. For the college folks, this didn’t make a big impact because it just didn’t feel youthful enough. The first big college hit for the year was “Minsara Kanavu”. Vennilave was the anthem for a few months and the other songs got a lot of play time everywhere in the hostel.

Like with every Rajini movie, his 1997 biggie Arunachalam got a lot of play time. The movie didnt do as well as anticipated but for the Rajini starved masses, it was something to watch and listen to. Deva had some popular tunes like Athanda Idhanda and Singam Ondru.

Exam time was kicking in as was the time to say goodbye to the final year students. Mustafa made the rounds a lot but the new songs also got some playtime. Of note were the ones from Love Today, a college going crowd favorite and Ullasam with a young Ajith and some rocking tunes by Karthik Raja. Love Today boasted an awkward but popular Enna Azhagu while Ullasam had the Kamal sung Muthe Muthamma.

In the next post, I will spent time reminiscing on songs that made it big in my second year of college, 1997-98.

I am adding all the songs featured in these 4 posts and some more in a public Youtube playlist. You can find it here.

Posts in this series:

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 2)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 3)

Andha Naal Gnyabagam- Music in my college days (Part 4)

Ilayaraja concert in Bay Area- A review

I wrote a 7 page (yep, no less and definitely longer than what got published here) review of the concert with the sequential listing of all 37 pieces featured. And then, as I was getting out of the place, I lost my notebook somewhere. The concert is still alive in my head. So at 1 in the night, I am typing away everything I remember. I am trying to crowdsource whatever song I dont remember to get a more complete listing for the reader. If you know of a song I missed in this review, please feel free to add it in the comments section. So onto the review.

My wonderfully understanding wife agreed to my D-day wish of going to the Raaja concert. I had decided not to go but I saw Facebook status updates of everyone who was going and was green with envy…So 6 hours before the show, I rushed to the box office to pick up tickets. I had heard stories of a really late start in Toronto and NJ and was expecting the worst. Thankfully, we got a 7:30 start as advertised. Due to my missing notes, the review is not going to be in order. Rather, it is my thoughts from hearing the various pieces in the show.

Raaja started the event with his wonderful hymn like song from “Thai Mookambikai”- the evergreen Janani Janani. I was surprised that the Maestro was able to hit all the right notes with the song without any pisiral. Commendable indeed. 

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Hariharan

Hariharan was very present during the first half of the show but pretty much completely out of the second half. Of the songs he sang, the Kadhalukku Mariyadhai piece, “Ennai thalatta varuvaalo” was a standout. The song has special significance to me as I had just met my now wife in college. So I was thrilled to hear it on stage by Hariharan. It was preceded by the Bavatharini version of the song -“Idhu Sangeetha thirunalo” which was OK. Bava does not have a strong voice to deliver on stage. Her voice with the right embellishments is OK for background vocals for specific actresses but on stage sounded weak. Hariharan also sang the Raaja composed Jayachandran sung classic “Maanjolai Kilidhano”. For such a complex piece, Hari did pretty decently. 

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Yuvan and Karthik

There were three Kamal Hassan pieces sung by Kamal in the movie but voiced by Yuvan Shankar Raja in the concert. Color me very disappointed. Yuvan as a music director has done some good work. I have all respect for him. But as a singer, he is suited for very niche songs and Kamal’s songs are not the right ones for him. In the great “Sigappu Rojakkal” song “Ninaivo oru paravai”, much of the words were not heard. Yuvan’s voice was definitely not doing the trick for me. He also sang “Raaja kaiya vecha” from “Apoorva Sagotharargal” that lacked the punch. Thankfully for the third Kamal piece, “Pottu vaitha kadhal thittam” from “Singaravelan”, he was awesomely supported by Karthik and some great accompanying percussion. It ended up being very popular with the audience. 

Speaking of Karthik, I have heard very little of his songs since I have tuned out tamil film music for the most part of the last decade. He sang about 4 songs today- the first was from Naan Kadavul, the “Om Shivoham” piece. The backing vocals and orchestra did a great job with this song. Karthik also did a wonderful job on the “Pottu Vaitha Kadhal thittam” piece. He also sang a more recent song with Bavadharini from Azhagi- “Oliyile Therivadhu”. They did a good job on that one.

Mano

I was expecting more pieces from Mano, specifically the brilliant “Nee oru kadhal sangeetham” from Nayakan. Instead we got a melange of songs- many of them telugu. The one standout tamil piece from Mano was the mega hit “Shenbagame” from Enga Ooru Pattukaran. 

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The Maestro’s voice

Raaja himself delivered a few pieces and I was extremely thrilled to see that the rawness of his voice had not lost its sheen. Age does things to great voices. Not this one. His much expected, “Sorgame Endralum” sung alongside the awesome Chitra was great. The two improvised on the lyrics to play to the audience but the gist of the song was all there. Probably the most popular tamil song amongst NRI audiences, it connected instantly. He also delivered in spades with “Naan thedum sevvanthi poo” from “Dharma Pathini”. Just two days ago, I had speculated and wished that this song would be featured and I was thrilled to say the least. 

The brilliant Chitra

I am officially out of praise words for the sheer joy and awesomeness that is Isaikuyil Chitra. The lady is sheer talent and a joy to watch performing her art to utter perfection. I had raved about her from her concert late last year with SPB and this time again, she was outstanding. Be it Ninnukori Varanam which I dedicated a post to sometime ago or “Thamthana thamthana” or working with Raaja on the perennial favorite “Sorgame Endralum” or subbing for S.Janaki in “Sundari Kannal” and the spectacular “Oh Priya Priya” with SPB, she was brilliant. 

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SPB, the genius

What can I say about SPB that hasn’t already been said. I was thrilled to meet him last fall during his concert with Chitra. He had enthralled the audience that evening.  The man can sing anything and everything and to perfection. In an era when singers are so restricted in terms of what they can do and how long they survive in the industry, SPB is a testament to longevity and sheer talent. He easily delivered the most songs of the evening and transported the audience to a different era. Be it the thrilling “Thakita Thathimi” or the gorgeous rendition of “Oh Priya Priya” he was just brilliant. 

SPB also made up much of the casual and the interesting banters of the evening with Ilayaraja. The two had nuggets of nostalgia to offer to the audience that was priceless. Their collaboration and working styles were very much to the fore and it was a joy to watch. Towards the end of the concert, the two worked on a couple of pieces from Nayakan that was just a sheer bliss to watch. SPB sang quite a few pieces like “Idhazhil Kadhai”, “Keeravani”, “Ilamayennum Poongatru” , “Maasi Masam”, “Naanaga naal illai”, “Mounamana neram” and of course, “Sundari Kannal”. More on the last one later. 

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The Orchestra and Backing vocals

For the first time in my life, I had the experience of seeing and hearing to such a large orchestra as the one that came for this concert. Ilayaraja is renowned for using large orchestras for his melodies and he brought a big one to this concert and what an effect they had. They were the life thread for the concert supporting the vocals extremely well and standing out when needed. The flute by renowned Raaja mainstay Arunmizhi was outstanding and the violin crew was spectacular.

The backing and occasionally supporting vocal team was also very good. Their attempt at doing an entire song- vocals and instrumental all with their voice was very nice. A great support team that went well above their roles and delivered a great performance. 

A responsive audience

Sometime during the concert, the audience started asking for their choice songs. This didnt go down very well with Ilayaraja who delivered a 5 minute long sermon on Indian culture and values and how that doesnt include shouting and whistling and the works. Here is my take on the whole deal. Some musicians dont take well to audience distractions but in the same token appreciate the audience lustily cheering their best pieces. You cant have it both ways. A good audience can and will get boisterous. I thought the audience was extremely polite, decent and engaged. So Ilayaraja definitely over reacted. In the same token, it takes a certain ego to power a genius. And the offset of such an ego is these sermons. I’d not make a big deal of it one way or the other.

Volume Issues

One gripe of mine which was very evident towards the early part of the concert but died down later was the relative volume between vocals and instruments. The first few songs were drowned by the orchestra volume. “Ninnukori” was a case to point. Thankfully the problem seemed to get resolved towards the latter part of the show. 

Bilingual audience was well addressed

So a lot was made of how the organizers and the artists would handle the demands of a bilingual audience. I thought they did a fantastic balancing act. Would I have preferred a 100% tamil concert- heck yeah. But so would a telugu listener have preferred a telugu concert. Given the sheer scale of the event, a bilingual audience was critical for its success. That meant a fine balancing act which was executed well. 

I would have liked to hear my personal favorites like “Ninnukori Varanam” and “Maasi Masam” in tamil instead of telugu. But that was a good thing since I was comfortable with everything about those pieces but for the actual lyrics. Not a bad situation at all. Better than a song I had never heard in my life. Given the above two songs and the songs from Botany class– Shiva/Udhayam, Mounamana Neram, Thakita Thathimi -Sagara Sangamam/Salangai Oli, Idhazhil Kadhai – Rudraveena/Unnal Mudiyum Thambi and Oh Priya Priya -Geethanjali/Idhayathai Thirudadhe I was pretty much listening to very familiar songs in Telugu. All in all, a very fairly balanced affair.

The best song of the show

Undoubtedly, the best song of the show was the epic “Sundari Kannal” by SPB and Chitra. The song, one of my favorites of all time was rendered to perfection. The multitude of violins, the flute and the other orchestra pieces set the stage for the grand song. And SPB and Chitra delivered by spades. Chitra filled the S.Janaki void more than admirably in this song but it was SPB who hit this one out of the part. I am still reveling in the joy that was this song. What a composition. What a performance. 

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An epic conclusion

The final piece of the concert was by the Maestro and SPB- Raaja first started off with the Nayakan classic, “Nila Adhu” but soon, SPB convinced him to render the same song as a lullaby. The casual improvisation and banter between the two masters was fantastic to watch. Soon they segued to an equally awesome piece from the same movie, “Thenpaandi seemayile” with SPB singing the song in parallel in Telugu. It was just sheer bliss- at 12 pm in the night. What a finish to a very good show. 

Final Word

For all the hype and mass booking rush the concert generated, it was well worth the price. Could it have been better- sure. Could it have had more hits we are so fond of – definitely. But given the framework and the composition of the audience, it was money very well spent. For someone who grew up listening to the wonderful compositions of Ilayaraja, this was a fantastic trip down memory lane. One that I would gladly take again, and again.

P.S: As always, the full Youtube playlist of all the songs from the concert is here. Enjoy. 

P.P.S: Full list of songs featured (courtesy a friend’s friend)

1) Janani Janani – IR
2) Om Sivoham – Karthik
3) Jagadananda Karaka – SPB (Telugu)

4) Isayil Thodangumamma – Hariharan
5) Idhu Sangeetha Thirunaalo – Bhavatharini
6) Ennai Thaalaatu Varuvaala – Hariharan & Priya Himesh
7) Ninukori Varnam – Chitra 
8 ) Shenbagame Shenbagame – Mano 
9) Mounamelanoyi – SPB & Chitra (Telugu)
10) Idhayam Oru Koil – IR
11) Enno Raatrulostayi – SPB & Priya Himesh (Telugu)
12) Ilamai Ennum Poongaatre – SPB
13) Maanjolai Kilithaano – Hariharan 
14) Nee Thoongum Nerathil – Hariharan 
15) Lalita Priya Kamalam – SPB & Chitra (Telugu)
16) Naan Thedum Sevvanthi Poo – IR & Chitra 
17) Azhagu Malar Aada – Hariharan & Priya Himesh 
18) Naanaga Naan Illai – SPB 
19) Ananda Then Kaatru – Sathyan 
20) Balapam Batti – SPB , Mano & Chitra (Telugu)
21) Raja Kaiya Vacha – Yuvan 
22) Naan Porandhu Vandhu – Priya , Anitha & Chorus 
23) Jagadi Jagadi Ja Botany – SPB , Mano & Geetha (Telugu)
24) Prati Dinam – Karthik (Telugu)
25) Adhe Neevu – SPB (Telugu) 
26) Chukkalu Temanna – Mano (Telugu)
27) Priya Priyathamaaa – Mano (Telugu)
28) Oliyilae therivathu – Karthik & Bhavatharini 
29) Priya Oh Priya – SPB & Chitra 
30) Sorgame Endralum – IR 
31) Ninaivo Oru Paravai – Yuvan & Ramya NSK 
32) Keeravani – SPB 
33) Katril Endhan Geetham – IR 
34) Thamthana Thamthana – Chitra & Anita 
35) Priya Priyathamma – SPB & Priya Himesh (Telugu)
36) Sundari Kannal – SPB & Chitra 
37) Pottu Vaitha Kadhal – Karthik , Yuvan & Sathyan 
38) Thakida Thadimi – SPB (Telugu) 
39) Oram Po – IR 
40) Nila Adhu Vanathu Mele – IR 
41) Thenpandi Seemaiyile – IR & SPB

Story in a song: The epic “Sundari Kannal” from Dalapathi

In my previous post following a fantastic SPB – Chitra concert in the Bay Area, I had mused that Ilayaraja’s brilliant composition for Manirathnam‘s Dalapathi, “Sundari Kannal oru sethi” warrants a post of its own. The time for that post is now. 

The year was 1991. Rajinikanth and Kamalhassan were marquee draws. Karthik, Vijaykanth, Sathyaraj and Prabhu were forever knocking at their doors with little to middling success. Every Pongal and/or Diwali was eagerly awaited for the next clash of Rajini and Kamal. It was with that background that Rajini’s Dalapathi was announced to much fanfare to go head to head with Kamal’s Guna. It was to be hotshot director Manirathnam’s first movie with superstar Rajinikanth and all sorts of fireworks was expected. Added to the excitement was Malayalam superstar Mammooty sharing equal screen space with Rajini. Given the sky high expectations from the movie, the music was expected to be a chartbuster. And did the Maestro deliver or what.

Ilayaraja delivered one of his best soundtracks with Dalapathi. Each song fit the scene perfectly and stood out as a classic on its own. And thats just the songs. The background music stands out as one of the best ever in tamil cinema. Every scene’s bgm had a story to tell. And in what was a unique attempt at that time, Mani, Raja and the crew created a story in a song piece with “Sundari Kannal”. The setting for the song was that the timid heroine had spotted the hero doing unsavory thuggery  in the middle of the road. The hero, defiant of his act is trying to convince her that there is a reason for his actions and that his ways are not for her kind. The soft spoken Shobana, playing the heroine bursts out saying she loves him, inspite of everything she just saw. Cue the setting to something that vaguely resembles feudal Japan.

Tolling bells and a beautiful flute piece sets the stage for a burst of violins as Rajini trots on a horse towards Shobana. A temple wedding follows. Orchestration picks up at this point as we are shown the hero heading out to war. Their longing for each other is juxtaposed with scenes from a bloody combat. The ever brilliant S.P.Balasubramaniam and timeless S.Janaki give life to Vaali’s ode to love and longing.

A student of Tamil literature once told me that the song carries strains of an old tamil poem, the Netunalvatai. A fan of Akira Kurosawa told me that the visuals are Mani’s tribute to one of his personal icon’s greatest movies, Seven Samurai. Whatever inspiration it may be, the song is an epic in itself. From the visual grandeur conceived by Mani, cinematographer Santosh Sivan and art director Thotta Tharani to the operatic orchestration composed by Maestro Ilayaraja to SPB and Janaki rendering Vaali’s poetic words to glorious perfection, everything is just the way it is meant to be. The orchestration warrants special mention as it captures the duality of the piece- one that truly creates the feeling of a war in the listener’s mind while understanding the pain of longing and love. It seems so simple when I write about it but to deliver two completely different emotions in the same song and at the same time requires a complete understanding of the medium and the audience.

Tamil cinema has played host to some great composers from G.Ramanathan to Viswanathan-Ramamurthy to Illayaraja and today’s A.R.Rahman. But songs that are perfect are far and few. It is not because of any one musician or artist involved in the effort. For songs to be perfect, everything has to come together. The setting, the mood, the lyrics, the composition, the singers, the rendition, the actors performing the piece, the cinematography and that special glue that binds them all together. This song has all the ingredients in right proportion with that glue to offer the listener and the viewer a singularly timeless experience. A song that never ages. One that can be heard and seen over and over again. One which offers a new set of nuances with every new hear or view. For everyone who has experienced this piece, you will know exactly what I am talking about. For everyone else, here it is. Perfection.