Retro Ruminations: Sippi Irukuthu from Varumayin Niram Sivappu (1980)

Before Raja, there was MS Viswanathan, whose reign over Tamil cinema music extended over quite a few decades. And then, there was his genius friend, Kannadasan.

MSV’s dynamics with Kannadasan is said to be the stuff of a full-length feature film. They were the thickest of friends, but perhaps, not in the exact sense of the word. In a way, they complemented each other like cheese and pizza. They would laugh. They would joke. They would argue. They would fight. And they would settle scores through music. They would, allegedly, place bets to push each other’s limits.

Given these bits of hearsay, it’s natural to be a little extra-curious about their backstage camaraderie. How would a recording session between MS Viswanathan and Kannadasan pan out? What’s the kind of magic that will unfold, back then, inside the closed confines of MSV’s studio?

K Balachander, through Sippi Irukuthu, takes it upon himself to bring this musical love affair alive on screen, with the help of two of his most adroit actors, Kamal Haasan and Sridevi.

The woman challenges the man to come up with some extempore lyrics for her tunes, which she makes up on the spot.

Coming to think of it, Poonnkuyil Paadinaal from Nammavar, now seems like a tweak on this interesting premise. In both the tracks, you have a couple of people, struggling to shroud their apparent attraction to each other, as they loosen up over an eventful stretch. And in both, they bond over music.

While Mahesh kickstarted Poonnkuyil with the keys, MSV opens Sippu Irukuthu with a fascinating guitar riff that promptly nails the cheeky mood, and the bottled-up love that permeates the air. This particular riff, in fact, stretches throughout the track, with minimal variations, as some kind of a background motif.

Janaki, picking up the rhythm from the strings, ushers in the ‘dare’ with a simple, but beautiful hum.

தந்தன தத்தன தையன தத்தன
தனன தத்தன தான தையன தந்தானா…

SPB, reflecting the character’s initial uncertainty about the whole exercise, responds in a rather pensive tone.

சிப்பி இருக்குது முத்தும் இருக்குது
திறந்து பார்க்க நேரம் இல்லடி ராஜாத்தி!

He spices up his opening line with a preceding “Aahaan” that does wonders in acing the man’s inherent doubts.

Janaki takes it further with a whiff of gratification. The ‘tarana’ comes off as a heady mix of pride and excitement.

லல லலலல லல லலலல லல
லாலல லாலல லலலா லாலாலா..

SPB almost instantly interjects with a killer riposte.

சிந்தை இருக்குது சந்தம் இருக்குது
கவிதை பாட நேரம் இல்லடி ராஜாத்தி!

The way SPB styles that “Rajaathi” is something of a masterclass in ‘method singing’. There are at least three discernible emotions bundled into that signature flourish – a slow burst of confidence, the joy of indulgence, and a veiled tease.

And when he rounds off the stanza, and awaits her acknowledgement with an “எப்பிடி…” the tone is that of a man, who has found his groove, and in a mood to brag.

Janaki counters it with a sarcastic “ம்ம்ம்…” and opts for a cheery whistle, this time. “சந்தங்கள்…” pat comes the answer. And the woman’s “நானா னா” is tastefully dismissed with a “நீயானால்…”

“ரி ச ரி!” Janaki seems to be in her element here. SPB’s “சங்கீதம்” retort, at this point, comes seasoned with a thrilled chuckle.

And when Janaki tapers it off with “ம்ம்ம்ஹம்ம்ஹ்ம்ம்,” the man sneaks in with a super-contented “நானாவேன்!” Its cadence is such that he was waiting to get that line out, at the slightest excuse. And boy, does it work!

சந்தங்கள் நீயானால்
சங்கீதம் நானாவேன்….

The tablas make a delightful appearance for a reprise of the pallavi, while the sitar holds fort in the short interlude.

And as the couple get set for the charanam, the meta-ness of it hits you like a cheery ray of sunshine. Is it Kamal and Sridevi? Is it SPB and Janaki? Or, is it MSV and Kannadasan? This abstract intrigue works hugely in the track’s favour.

As the last note of the sitar softens and gently fades out, Janaki cuts in with a contemplative “நனன நானா…” For the first time in the contest, SPB seems to have been caught on the wrong foot. “Come on, say it once again!” The man’s tone is brimming with focus.

“நனன நானா”

“ம்ம்ம்… சிரிக்கும் சொர்க்கம்…”

“தர நன தரர நானா”

SPB goes “தங்க தட்டு எனக்கு மட்டும்…” and follows it up with a narcissistic “okay?” that hammers in his sense of fulfilment.

“தானே தானே தானா”

“அப்புடியா…” You can sense the lyricist in the man sweating it out. “தேவை பாவை பார்வை…” Wow, now, the lines seem to be going somewhere.

“தத்தன தன்னா…”

“நினைக்க வைத்து….”

“நான னன லலல லாலா…”

“நெஞ்சில் நின்று நெருங்கி வந்து….” Damn, that was sly!

“நநன நநன னா… தன னா… லல லா… தன னா,” Janaki gives it her all, this time, almost losing herself to the tune. And it takes your breath away.

The poet is understandably impressed. “Beautiful,” SPB claims, and gives a moment’s pause, to reflect on its yummy intangibility.

“மயக்கம் தந்தது யார்? தமிழோ… அமுதோ… கவியோ…” The romantic inflection on that trailing “Kaviyo?” gets you in a strange way. You reflexively smile.

Aah, the level of chemistry between Kamal and Sridevi in this particular stretch has to be seen to be believed. While the latter impresses with her smug smiles and natural charm, Kamal hits it out of the park with his inimitable body language that oozes a sense of relish. Just that one shot of him walking up to the tree, leaning back on it, and swaying to the magic of his own lines, as he sits down in glee over a reprise of the ‘pallavi’, just before the sitar takes over for the second interlude, is proof enough.

The final charanam, which begins with Janaki’s “இப்போ பார்க்கலாம்” – the woman’s version of “Koatellaam Azhi Modhalerndhu Aadalaam” – goes through some enticing exchanges, before culminating in SPB’s heart-melting “கொடுத்த சந்தங்களில் என் மனதை நீ அறிய… நான் உரைத்தேன்!” If it was a FB post, he could have as well followed it up with a line that goes “hashtag ProposalGoals”. To be honest, I can’t think of another man, who has opened up his heart, this poetically, ever since.

That’s why he’s Kannadasan, I guess. He and MSV balanced out each other’s quirks so well that together, they kept churning out songs – one after another – that made, and makes, life seem less mundane. This particular frisky battle of wits, with a dash of romance, is a fitting tribute to the world of music they made together.

***


Here’s the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version:

Retro Ruminations: En Vaanile from Johnny (1980)

Did I say 1993 was a watershed moment in Indian cinematic music? Well, not going back on that, any time soon.

But, rewind 15 years from then, and you will see that a certain Ilaiyaraja had single-handedly capsized the long prevalent theories on film music with such authority that the discontinuity almost changed the entire dynamics of song composition.

Let me explain.

Prior to Raja, the music director was, in principle, a person who could set some catchy tunes. The industry nor the audience expected the musician to be well versed in orchestration. This meant that the majority of the musical pull resided in the tune, and consequently, the vocalists became the string pullers. The orchestration was seen as an unavoidable ‘support’ to the tune and was hence, mostly woven around it.

Raja changed all that.

Yes, one fine day, this man started treating his songs with the outlook of a western classical symphony – the idea being, while there is a central melody, the ‘song’ is not just the melody. And all of a sudden, there were multiple threads running in parallel with the melody, or at times, overshadowing the melody, in a way that shook the industry; mainly because none of the strains could be dispensed off, without affecting the summative effect.

And before you knew it, the ‘song’ became an ‘integral whole’, instead of two separate things – tune and orchestration – stitched together. The implicit bias towards the tune, based on a random rationale that it was the one that affected the ‘mainstream’ listener and more music in the interlude will distract him, was thrown out of the window, with the kind of scorn it deserved.

And so, with Raja taking over, the signature flourishes started sprouting out over the course of the entire song. more so in the preludes and the interludes, instead of being ‘trapped’ inside the tune. The interludes were no longer just cursory bridges connecting the stanzas. They became incredibly elaborate, at times more astounding than the principal tune. As a logical consequence, quite some magic happened. At times, the man would pull out a rabbit from his hat. At another, when you are expecting a rabbit, a dinosaur will jump out. But, you wouldn’t wince. Because he would go on to sell even that level of audacity, with an air of nonchalance.

En Vaanile from Johnny is one such magical act. The tune, to start with, is an instant winner. To be fair, it could walk around wearing a “Straight Outta Heaven” T-shirt. But, the prelude that leads to the ‘pallavi’ is where Raja comes into play. The slow, hesitant piano chords, which revel in their dissonance, interjecting between Jency’s iconic “No No No No” and “HmmHmmm, Just Listen” are one of the many things that lift the track to those stratospheric heights.

And when the piano subsequently kicks in with the principal melody, it’s like walking through a rainbow (0.18 to 0.36). No wonder, Yuvan got inspired.

The fact that Jency’s vocals pan out as an organic extension of the alluring chords is proof enough of the songstress’ capabilities. She flows with the tune, and the lyrics, in a way that promptly awakens and stirs the slumbering romantic in you.

என் வானிலே ஒரே வெண்ணிலா
காதல் மேகங்கள்…
கவிதை தாரகை… ஊர்வலம்

என் வானிலே ஒரே வெண்ணிலா…

With just nine words to drive the ‘melody’, any other composer might have sought an extra stanza, to make for an ‘anupallavi’. But Raja gearshifts straightaway, and launches the breathtaking first interlude that slingshots the fabric of the song to a whole new romantic orbit. And, the biggest feat is that Raja makes you perceive this ‘breakaway’ arrangement as a natural expansion of the track, without a hint of a jolt.

The transition from Jency’s trail-off with “ஒரே வெண்ணிலா…” to the subtle piano strokes at 1.08, leading on to the reign of the solo violin, is as smooth as silk. There are no jagged ends, none whatsoever. And when the flute makes an appearance, soon after, it’s like a mellow ‘jam session’ between the two for a few seconds. But, it’s only at 1.22 – fourteen seconds into the interlude – that Raja’s wizardry truly comes through. While the solo first violin keeps playing in the foreground till 1.31, the second and the third violins begin to play alternatively in the background from 1.32. This hypnotic structure is repeated once more, and when the backing violins taper off into the mesmerising piano chords at 1.49, it seems like the ultimate gate pass to nirvana.

When Jency returns to tug at your heartstrings, the piano just segues into her honeyed vocals of the charanam, without making a fuss about it. And the bass guitar, just like a skilled editor, exists in the backdrop, as an invisible entity, giving the final output its many hues and edges.

நீரோடை போலவே என் பெண்மை
நீராட வந்ததே என் மென்மை
சிரிக்கும் விழிகளில் ஒரு மயக்கம் பரவுதே
வார்த்தைகள் தேவையா…

Meanwhile, Rajinikanth and Sridevi are battling it out on screen with their subtle gestures and kinesics. And there’s something about the visuals that impart an ethereal quality to the whole stretch. One particular shot, which gazes at the duo – Rajini standing besides the piano as Sridevi seems lost in the keys – from a distance through the suspended bell curtains, nails the cloud of hesitance hanging over them, like no amount of close-ups would. And that insert of the maid, sitting on the stairs, fascinated beyond words at the way things unfold… that’s Mahendran, stamping his mark on the Raja spell.

And, as you get hit by yet another unique love child of the violin and the flute in the name of the second interlude, one thing is clear. Something like this was possible only because of Raja’s belief in his audience. Yes, a section of the listeners could be unsure of the technicalities, but if you know your stuff and crack the recipe to deliver it in style, the subconscious impact is bound to happen. This undaunted faith in the consumers’ innate perceptive abilities is the reason why a beauty like En Vaanile exists.

***


PS: All specified time-frames are in reference to this version of the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version:

Retro Ruminations: Idhu Oru Nila Kaalam from Tik Tik Tik (1981)

Why is Raja, Raja?

Okay, I understand the pointlessness of that categorically clichéd question. But, bear with me a little, will you?

The kind of basic musical training and awakening that Raja went through must have perhaps been the standard one – the type most composers, irrespective of their operative timeframes, go through.

However, few dare to experiment on genres like the way he did, a good many decades back. Case in point, the regality with which he lets two contrasting genres coexist; and more importantly, his adeptness at taking the best of one world and superimposing them on a completely disparate universe, with an absolute air of nonchalance. Well, this is no mean feat, as to unlock such outrageous musical ideas, one has to constantly employ new methods of music-making, use tactics like playing in unfamiliar tunings, make audacious interjections, and write spunky mergers.

When the man did all these at once, and perhaps a little more for the opening track of Tik Tik Tik, this jaw-dropping beauty called Idhu Oru Nila Kaalam happened. The iconic song assumes special significance for the way it almost redefined heroine-introduction songs, back then in the early 80s. The film’s lead, Kamal Haasan, in fact, is nowhere in the picture. But, Raja doesn’t care. He gives the album its best track, and S Janaki one of her career-best performances.

The three female leads – models with an air of swagger – have to be launched into the film’s narrative, and their elaborate lifestyles established. Now, that’s the setting. Any other composer would have gone for a straightforward peppy number with a flash flood of percussions.

But Raja, being Raja, makes it a steamy potpourri of sorts – something so mindbendingly multilayered that it’s almost impossible to make sense of all the stacked-up elements, even on repeated hearings.

Sample the track’s opening for instance, which is mixed western choir, done with a stirring twist. The three-part choral harmony – complete with the piano, strings, and the percussions – goes on a rampage, even as the slow saxophone-teases join in at 0.07, to shoot up your anticipation. Together, they instantly slingshot you into a planet of their own – one where the sensual charms reign supreme – and before you know it, the whole thing unfurls before you like a magical carpet. And when the doped electric guitar invites you aboard with the “Pabababa ba pabababa ba” at 0.22, you have no option than to get on the tapestry, and take the bloody ride.

And what an acoustic odyssey it turns out to be!

Janaki picks up from where Raja left, her voice dripping of sultriness. It’s a tricky tightrope walk between sensual grace and voluptuous titillation, and boy, does she ace it in style!

இது ஒரு நிலாக்காலம்
இரவுகள் கனா காணும்

Listen closely, and you will see that Janaki’s rendering of “Idhu oru nila kaalam” – and every subsequent line thereafter – is immediately followed by some diminished chords, which are not very common, except in the jazz genre. The brilliance here is that they are dissonant chords, which demand a kind of imminent resolution. Raja deftly plays with them, and inserts them at each of Janaki’s high points, which effectively furthers the simmering tension.

ஆடை கூட பாரமாகும்
பாரிஜாதம் ஈரமாகும்…

Something about the way Janaki voices out that “Aeh Paarijaadham” promptly flares up those pleasure centres in your brain.

இளமையே வசந்த வானம்
பறவையே வருகவே…

About a minute into the song, the flutes and the violins are making out like crazy (1.07 to 1.27) in the first interlude, and you are trying to wrap your head around all the piled-up layers in the orchestration.

And just when you think you have made some sense of the happenings, Raja comes in, and coolly throws you off with some staggering male jathis (1.28 to 2.00), performed with loads of swank, by the iconic TV Gopalakrishnan. Believe me, this stretch of Western-Carnatic fusion is not from this mundane reality. The “nadhir dhinnas” and its breathtaking variations take you with them to mysterious corners of your sensory perception, you never knew existed.

When Janaki resumes, after this avalanche of daredevilry, you feel like you have just chugged a shot of absinthe.

பாவைக் கண்டாலே நிலவு நெளியாதோ
அழகைப் பார்த்தாலே அருவி நிமிராதோ

Even as Janaki slips and slides her voice between the notes, spare a moment to focus on the fantastic female choir that backs the singer. Besides, a killer bassline is simultaneously playing in the backdrop. It’s all so damn intriguing that it’s okay to be frozen in a stupefied gape.

வண்டு வந்து உடைக்காத பூவும் நீயே
யாரும் வந்து நடக்காத சாலை நீயே
உள்ளங்கையில் சொர்க்கம் வந்து உறங்க கண்டாளே!

The second interlude then barges in, boasting of some funky beats, a slew of suggestive humming bits, and some cool ‘scat singing’ (2.46 to 3.10).

Janaki, meanwhile, keeps pushing the envelope.

தங்க தேகங்கள் துள்ளி ஆடாதோ
ராஜ மேகங்கள் பூவைத் தூவாதோ…

Many a time, instead of hitting the note directly, she approaches it from above or below its true pitch, and dang, the technique works like a charm.

கண்ணாடி உனைக் கண்டு கண்கள் கூசும்
ஓ வானவில்லும் நகச்சாயம் வந்து பூசும்
பருவப் பூக்கள் புருவம் அசைத்தால் பூமி சுற்றாது!

And so, yeah, this piece of dazzling orchestration, as a single exhibit, could win the case for Raja’s ‘magician’ positioning; not because of his obvious mastery of any particular genre, but for being the first-ever who could blend many into one delectable composition, without the slightest hint of pretentiousness.

***


PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this version of the track:




Here’s a remastered HD audio version:

Retro Ruminations: The Punnagai Mannan Theme from Punnagai Mannan (1986)

Sethu, the lone survivor of a dreadful suicide attempt, almost dies a second time, when he is absolved of all his murder charges, and denied a death sentence.

Wait… What?

This piece of information, as a string of words, might do no justice to the gravity of the situation we are talking about; but try putting yourselves in the shoes of the man, whose world had collapsed in a freaking moment like a deck of cards, and slowly, the barbaric play of fate dawns upon you.

A couple of weeks back, the man was found, battered, and almost-dead, unwillingly hanging on to his unlikely saviour – a destined branch. Now, his entire life hung in the air.

Why should death evade you, when it embraces the one you thought you couldn’t live without?

The more you think of it, the more it makes life seem unapologetically sadistic?

Time answers? That really must be some darned crap, an unrealistic optimist probably made up out of thin air. Doubt it? Ask Sethu.

A year in prison doesn’t change much. The nightmares continue, even after the release.

Most of his days stretch out, struggling to cope with the unforgiving truth that the person who meant the world to him was no more, and on top of it, with the indelible social stigma of abetting an insanely imprudent decision.

To waddle through life, grieving a dear one, is agonising enough. But, waking up every morning alone in bed, only to be reminded that a moment of reckless impulse had made all the difference, is like opening the laceration, and prodding it with a dagger. The latter first maddens you, then slowly numbs you, and finally, ends up killing you, in bite-sized excruciating reckonings. And before you know, you are a zombie, who knows no pain. Even without cocaine.

Fortunately for Sethu, after a period of a near-aimless actuality, he stumbles upon a new lease of life in art.

How? It’s tough to explain.

Maybe, as you start gaining years and perspective, you tend to come to terms with this. This design of eventuality. What lasts, lasts; and what doesn’t, doesn’t. Time solves a few things, but when it doesn’t, you have to work with it.

And that, Sethu does, probably, the only way he knows.

He finds purpose again in his long-lost passion – teaching dance. The beard remains as a stark reminder of destiny’s bloodthirsty game, but slowly, everything starts to feel a tad less suffocating for the man. Is this what you call ‘healing’?

Or, is it just the mind, in an attempt at protecting its sanity, covering the raw bruises with stripes of scar tissue, making them temporarily insensate?

Whatever it is… into this apparently single-minded existence of his, enters a woman.

The name is Malini. Bold. Beautiful. And quite an irresistible personality.

Why? Sethu couldn’t fathom.

For he wasn’t done fighting his inner demons yet. The tormenting memory-forays to the past had doused a bit, but they hadn’t completely stopped either.

But the woman had come in, and was persevering to stay put.

Sethu seems to turn a blind eye to the brimming attention, but is the callousness just an excuse to hush his screaming alter-ego?

And suddenly, one day, in a gooseflesh moment of heightened emotions, it all bursts, one by one.

First, the ruthlessly sculpted mask of indifference – something the man had so broodingly garbed over months – to conceal his layers of vulnerability.

Next, his super-ego, exploding into some kind of a beast of an art-form!

It’s weird, you know!

Day after day, for months, you hang on to life; avoiding connections in any form… and nothing seems to change. And then, in a second, everything’s different.

He shoves her into a seat. “Clap”, he howls.

Raja starts working his magic.

The cymbals start setting up the tempo, and bam… the electronic beats synchronise with the claps. In a mesmerising snap. And, the atmosphere subtly turns psychedelic.

And here, Kamal, giving absolutely no hint whatsoever at the brilliance to unspool, starts off with his near-hypnotic ‘dance’ trip.

The actor immediately recedes to the background. All you can see is a bottled-up man, exploding his senses off.

The percussions go on a merciless rampage, with the background beats almost mimicking the man’s pounding palpitations.

The gyrations seem to be emanating from somewhere deep within him, assembled from bits and pieces of his hollering anguish, that continue to be reframed, redefined, and repurposed with every step. Words belie the sudden paroxysm.

Thinking about it, perhaps, it was about time that this happened.

His soul, maybe, always knew the way to heal itself. Was the challenge about silencing the gnawing doubts then?

But how did she manage to do it?

Was his ‘bubble’ made too heavy so that it couldn’t stand even the slightest of jabs? Or was it, in a way, made flimsier by the day?

The man, in a graceful coup of sorts, displaces all his pent-up trauma in a purgatory energy-outburst that flows like fluid through the room. It’s truly a sight to behold.

And when you are least expecting it, he picks her up in a breathtaking curvet around her seat and freezes midway in the closed-position dance stance. And for a moment – probably, the first time in the last one minute – their eyes meet.

And Raja promptly pauses the booming percussions, and effects one of the most stirring flute pieces in the history of our cinemas (at 0.34).

Well, the way Malini looks at him… it speaks a million words. She is shocked beyond emotions. She is scared. She is dumbfounded. But then, there is something else that reigns supreme, superseding the mixed barrage. She senses something that she had never before encountered in his eyes.

Is it a glint of love? Or the likes of that? Maybe, it’s just a shimmer of hope. You can’t tell.

Raja’s orchestration is astounding at this juncture.

Sethu gasps for breath from the sudden bout of frenzy. But Malini knows she had seen a thing, beneath all the feigned stoicism. The tension is palpable.

As he walks deeper into this graceful thandav – staging a swift escape from his own ambivalence – he seems truly liberated, one moment. But, the very next moment, he looks possessed.

What is he possessed with? A form of sinful attraction? Undeserving warmth? Plaguing guilt?

Or is it the detonation of a fatal blend of self-reproach, fear, hesitation, and exhilaration – taking the form of his favourite art form?

Is there a self-flagellating perspective at play?

After another minute of operating at the thresholds of emotional-flipping, Raja reaches a spectacular flute-crescendo with Sethu finally pausing for breath, his hands around Malini.

And now, the violins make a fervent debut, to define the ensuing moments of strained, puffed-out intimacy.

What is the man feeling?

Is it some form of exasperation? Or better still, unadorned anger? The type that stems from the inability of his heart to listen to his qualms?

He takes her into his arms soon after, a strange swelter radiating between them. They flow in sync, the sweat gliding down their skin, each move leaving them a little more breathless.

And Raja, in this last 60 seconds of the crowning duet, embarks on a musical penance of sorts, where the sensuality meter rises by the second.

If you had even been drunk purely on the dance form, you would know!

It’s almost like they are searching for answers in each other, and at times, even the questions that beget them.

Sethu seems to be blooming from the wound; he once almost-fatally bled from. Malini seems to be watering the scars.

He appears to be erupting like a long-dormant volcano, releasing himself from the clutches of self-restraint. She appears to be lost in the spark of the moment.

Together, as they sway to the magic, they can’t tell if it’s killing them a little more, or making them stronger.

But one thing is for sure. Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to; they heal the way they need to. This healing-moment that stretches between what you once were, and what you are now becoming, is where the dance of life actually takes place.

And understandingly so; as this iconic theme, made timeless by Kamal, Revathi, Raja, and KB, fittingly demonstrates.

***


Here’s the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version:

Retro Ruminations: Raja Rajathi Rajan Indha Raja from Agni Natchathiram (1988)

Very few musicians in the world go on to become genres, all by themselves. By that I mean, they merely don’t influence a specific area of art; their names aren’t just synonymous with a specific style; their identities, by themselves, become genres of their own. And over time, they tend to develop an extremely unique technique that effortlessly stands the test of time.

The realisation that Raja is a genre happens over varying periods in a person’s life, which in turn depends on several factors like the age cohort to which they belong, and their degrees of exposure. But then, notwithstanding the time-frame of this epiphany, the feeling gets reiterated, over and again, at the most unexpected of instances.

Yes, it happens when you accidentally hear a line of an old Bollywood song, while changing channels on the FM, and then, go on to rack your brains on where you’ve heard the tune before, only to find out that the man had used it in one of his earliest interludes. It comes through that moment when you stumble upon this almost invisible Raja song that exactly reflects your fucked-up, spiralling emotions, and suddenly, you feel like you could cry on its shoulders. It dawns on you when your North Indian colleague plays you a Hindi version of Thumbi Vaa and calls it “out of the world.” And, it hits you like a bolt of lightning during a random hearing of Raja Rajathi Rajan Indha Raja, when you get that the entire song has just one note – one freakin’ musical note that’s repeated in different hues, at varying intervals of time, to create a jazzed-up atmosphere of style and passion.

Who would have imagined an entire track based only on percussions, without the slightest hint of the usual instruments that impart the much-needed tone-colours to the composition!?

The way the man opens this piece has to be heard to be believed. Even at the outset, Raja imbues his double-hued beats with a very-American electro sting, reminiscent of the many international bands that were storming the musical scene in the mid-80s. Dwell a little more on it, and you will see that the whole rhythm-pattern mimics the pulsing beats of a human heart. It’s damn addictive, on so many levels.

And when Raja’s delightfully-contrasting earthy vocals come into play, it adds an unconventional twist to the whole pattern.

ராஜா ராஜாதி ராஜன் இந்த ராஜா
கூஜா தூக்காதே வேறு எங்கும் கூஜா

A generation, in fact, woke up to the fact that electro-music could be aced with a throaty and folk-ish accent. This mishmash is one of the many things that makes the haunting track what it is.

நேற்று இல்லே நாளை இல்லே
எப்பவும் நான் ராஜா
கோட்டையில்லே கொடியுமில்லே
அப்பவும் நான் ராஜா!

A huge part of the fun in consuming Vaali’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics comes from the poet’s not-so-subtle celebration of the musician, as you go on a spree of spot-the-references, along with the track. And believe me, if you are an ardent fan of Raja, this could be a very gratifying exercise.

The percussions, which had taken a slight backseat for Raja to throw out his voice, return with a unique kind of swagger for the first interlude, which unfolds as a no-holds-barred celebration of the 80’s electro-funk (1.07 to 1.30). The booming electronic beats, with some brilliant assistance from the electric bass, go on a frenzied dance of their own, even as the rhythm simultaneously spaces out into an intoxicating spiral.

And Raja, yet again, juts into the syncopated beats with a tone that reeks of heady nonchalance.

வரவும் செலவும் இரண்டும் இன்றி
வரவும் செலவும் உண்டு…
உறவும் பகையும் உலகில் இன்றி
உறவும் பகையும் உண்டு…

Meanwhile, PC Sreeram is having a party of his own, with some scintillating demonstration of light-play. The desolate Egmore railway station transforms into a groovy dance floor of sorts, with burnt-out shadows skilfully interlaced with the minimalistic choreography. Frame after frame, PC experiments with his techniques of back-lighting, angles, and shot composition, and in the process, gives the track its iconic trippy vibes.

நெஞ்சம் விளையாடுது நித்தம் இசைபாடுது
எங்கும் சுகமானது எங்கள் வசமானது
விழியில் தெரியும் அழகு எதுவும் இனிமேல் நமது
விடியும் வரையில் கொண்டாட்டம் தான்

And the man on the frame, Karthik, glowing with a boyish charm, makes the breakdance seem like a cakewalk. Well, the spotting of a thin, clean-shaven, almost-unrecognisable Prabhu Deva, as one of the back dancers, could be the icing on the cake.

நிலவும் மலரும் செடியும் கொடியும்
கடலும் நதியும் கவிதை சொல்லும்…

The second interlude is something else. It boasts of a sudden deluge of the scat singing technique – a component of classic jazz, where the chorus goes crazy with random wordless vocables and syllables, in a fluctuating melody (2.46 to 3.03). If you thought ARR’s Thee Thee is delectable fusion, this seamless transition from shades of electro-funk to peppy jazz is its undisputed ‘baap’.

இடையும் உடையும் இரண்டும் இன்றி
இடையும் உடையும் உண்டு
மானும் மீனும் இரண்டும் இன்றி
மானும் மீனும் உண்டு…

Raja comes in, again, to toy with your senses with his vocal antithesis of the arrangements.

உள்ளம் அலைபாயுது எண்ணம் அசைபோடுது
கண்கள் வலைவீசுது காதல் விலை பேசுது
விழியில் பொங்கும் அருவி மழலை கொஞ்சும் குருவி
தெருவில் சென்றால் தேரோட்டம் தான்!

And by the time you get around to the closing segment, you figure out why Raja’s music, in addition to being a genre, is an experience of its own – an experience that gives life its multitudinous shades – the absence of which is a painful thing, even to imagine.

***


PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this remastered audio version:

Here’s the video track:

Retro Ruminations: Kaadhalin Deepam Ondru from Thambikku Entha Ooru (1984)

If you do a google search for ‘falling in love’, the first result returned is, “What are the symptoms of falling in love?” Symptoms. Yes, as in a pathological condition. Because, what is ‘falling in love’ if not your brain and body riddled with unusual and uncontrollable cognitions?

Will this state of heightened sensorium be readily evident, then? Yes, pretty much, according to Freud.

Can this paradoxical plight be brought alive, and frozen into a timeless piece of art, to be celebrated by generations to come, by the magic that is music?

“Well, the pleasure is mine,” says Raja and comes up with Kaadhalin Deepam Ondru, a one-of-a-kind ode to the twistedly-blissful feeling of the free-fall into the abyss of romance.

And mind you, ‘falling in love’ and ‘being in love’ are two different things. It’s falling in love that truly screws you up. It is falling in love that makes you walk on desolate meadows, whistling a tune of intoxicated cheer. And SPB, deftly takes in all those heady vibes, to kickstart the melody with a humming bit that drips of tipsy endearment.

And Raja sneaks in some elysian violin notes (0.14 to 0.19), before SPB starts melting in the world’s most natural high, almost like a candle, dripping off wax.

காதலின் தீபம் ஒன்று
ஏற்றினாலே என் நெஞ்சில்….

And, the man totally kills it. Giving this thing – something that is basically awful and yet also the best thing that can be experienced – a voice, and making it flow like a silvery stream, is no mean feat, and SPB goes about it, almost like a love-drunk youth unbridling his heart.

ஊடலில் வந்த சொந்தம்
கூடலில் கண்ட இன்பம்
மயக்கம் என்ன…
காதல் வாழ்க!

And, Raja gives a whole new colour to this impulsive bounce between euphoria, energy hikes, racing pulses, insomnia, loss of appetite, tremors, and splashes of laid-back beatitude, with the first interlude, which has the flutes and the violins going on a fascinating duet (0.58 to 1.32).

When you are plummeting down the love wormhole, and can’t get that person out of your mind, a ray of optimism constantly clouds your being. Every new day brings with it a deluge of newfound joys. Your thoughts suddenly seem to be on trampoline mode over that person.

நேற்று போல் இன்று இல்லை
இன்று போல் நாளை இல்லை….

While SPB nails this virtual ‘flight-mode’ with his vocal histrionics, the man on screen, Rajinikanth, is at his charming best. There’s something about the actor and the way he imbibes that buzzed-up feel of impassioned love – to let out a super-adorable version of himself – that instantly ignites your hearts.

அன்பிலே வாழும் நெஞ்சில்
ஆயிரம் பாடலே…
ஒன்றுதான் எண்ணம் என்றால்
உறவுதான் காதலே
எண்ணம் யாவும்…. சொல்ல வா!

The butterflies in your stomach, indeed, feels like the ravishing guitar riff that Raja uses to open the second charanam (2.29 to 2.45). And when the track’s signature violin-flute combo joins in, soon after, it feels like being lost in paradise.

And suddenly, you have a different version of you – the part which is constantly being defined and sculpted by your beloved.

என்னை நான் தேடித் தேடி
உன்னிடம் கண்டு கொண்டேன்…

SPB, meanwhile, keeps digging into this dopped perception of the world with his cute little inflections. And in the resulting realm, everything seems so incredibly beautiful. Everything is art.

பொன்னிலே பூவை அள்ளும்
புன்னகை மின்னுதே…
கண்ணிலே காந்தம் வைத்த
கவிதையைப் பாடுதே
அன்பே இன்பம்… சொல்ல வா!

They say there’s a Raja song for every mood and moment. This one is for the times when you decide to give your heart away, which amounts to one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences, known to man. And naturally, Kaadhalin Deepam feels like drifting through thin air. But, at times, it can also feel like sky-diving from the Burj Khalifa; that is, if you are in the groove.

***

PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this version of the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version:

Retro Ruminations: Poove Sempoove from Solla Thudikuthu Manasu (1988)

We’ve all been there.

No one escapes that fateful night.

A non-existent alarm seemed to have gone off, and your eyes shoot open. You stare ahead momentarily, taking heavy breaths. All you can sense is an ominous aura. You instinctively shift sides.

Frankly, it seems like you have gone through a lifetime of dreams, but the fluorescent timer on the table says that it had been less than an hour since you came to bed.

You are almost shivering now. An awkward taste lingers on your tongue.

Your chest doesn’t just feel right. Like someone had placed a massive rock on it. You feel ‘smothered’.

But most of it instantly makes sense. Every little detail about the setting and its characteristic descent is way too familiar to elicit any kind of perplexity.

But just one question…

Why now?

Why this sudden urge to go fiddling inside that memory-wreck, palpating all those serrated edges, still reeking of blood, in obsessive ways?

You roll over in bed and try to brush it off.

Maybe, a gruelling step back and attempt some emergency damage-control; as is the first primal response with such surgical strikes.

But, you know it won’t go off, that easily. Experience had taught you this bare minimum.

You toss and turn for a few moments; writhing in pain.

But again… why? Why now, after all this time?

Why’s this happening after all those efforts at ignoring the agony? After all the unspeakable struggles at healing.

“What is the thing with this darned subconscious of mine? Why is it still baying for blood? Why can’t it just leave me alone?” The silent howl echoes through the room’s eerie calmth.

Not even an interim ceasefire with a portion of your inner demons seems to be working.

Every shot at denial promptly metamorphoses into frustration. You continue to fake control over the things your brain consumes and processes; only to realize that you are not actually being given a choice here.

You are being forced into this again. By another ‘you’.

“Now, go on a spree of self-flagellation, riding on those jagged blades of shattered memories… visit those dark corners of scruple, or else…”

Good luck with figuring out that “or else”.

Yes, the pangs get increasingly afflicting. But you are helpless here.

You get up, stroll down the hallway, and get yourself some water from the fridge.

“Breathe… breathe… Let go. It’s the past. It must stay there. Why keep answering its vicious calls?”

But, this freakin’ thing sure knows a thing or two about crashing in, all guns blazing, when you are off your rational guard.

How easy would it be if you could let it go to voice-mail! Why let it eat you, all over afresh, when the bite marks are still healing?

If only an escape from the whirlwind of love-remnants, bitterness, and regrets was that easy!

A part of you is almost screaming for mercy now.

Why can’t you just shut it out? Really? You think your reflective brain can be baited into a cage?

When have you ever succeeded in closing your heart to the things you don’t want to feel? Haven’t you simply learnt to live with them?

The pain is now unimaginably crippling.

“Did I not give it my heart, soul, and sinew? And whatever that was left of me?”

But then, what about this gnawing blur between ‘giving up’ and ‘letting go’?

“Where did I go wrong? Or was it never about me?”

Ruthless inquisitions ram in, effecting a flight of erratic thoughts, which randomly burst into sinister emptiness – much like snowballs rolling down a grassy hill.

“Could I have done something to freeze the crumble? Was there a reset button, that I failed to notice… Or was it conveniently ignored? But again, how could I have possibly known?”

With no convincing answers at sight, you stagger back to your room. So, what kind of fucked-up message is the universe trying to send you, over and again?

“This excruciating chaos inside my head… could I silence it if I strive a little harder? Stop. Now. Just for one last time, can I wipe the slate clean?”

Imagine this moment – the one that you are frantically trying to make peace with – turning into an unforgiving time-loop, with an accruing vengeance.

You keep coming back to where you started. “Let go. No. Let go. No…”

Damn.

You start feeling like a bubble caught in the loop. Outside, it’s a void of memories, almost a cacophonous lot. Inside, it’s a morbid kind of emptiness. You are lost somewhere in between.

You throw yourself back on the bed. As you stare blankly at something on the ceiling, eyes nearly moist, it all makes sense in one eventful stroke.

If you are going through hell, why not make the trip at least worth the hassle?

You put on your earphones. Close your eyes.

And turn over to Raja’s Poove Sempoove to set right some of the goddamned mess.

The lines, “நான் செய்த பாவம் என்னோடு போகும்… நீ வாழ்ந்து நான்தான் பார்த்தாலே போதும்!” – in KJ Yesudas’ emollient voice – play out for the sixteenth repeat, before the earbuds slowly slip out from your ear, onto the pillow.

By now, you are fast asleep; a faint, gratifying smile spread over your lips.

***


Here’s the track:



Retro Ruminations: Valaiyosai Gala Galavana from Sathya (1988)

How do you un-melodize a romantic melody, and make it sound like a cross between a classic rock ballad and a cheery, desi-style love track? How do you blend the ‘blast’ of the raging hormones and the laid-back ‘bliss’ of romance into one single entity that stands as a timeless testament of celluloid intimacy?

Trust in Raja and Kamal Haasan to come up with something like Valaiyosai Gala Galavana, which gathers the best of both the worlds, and serves the ravishing brew on a silver platter.

But, before getting down to business, Raja briefly teases your senses with a hint of silvery strings and the shimmering flute, which becomes the backdrop of that iconic veiled-kiss between Kamal and Amala. The woman, who was sporting a charming smile all along, retreats in shock, and runs back to a tree-shade, even as the musician superimposes a layer of chiming keys on the arrangement. A gutsy whoosh of moist wind seems to whistle a fortuitous tune of sudden sensual tension and mock-annoyance.

And following a strategic micro-moment of anticipatory anxiety – coinciding exactly with Amala barging into the frame by clinging on to one of those aerial roots – SPB, out of nowhere, begins with a breathtaking flourish. There’s something about the tune, the explosive lyrics, and his no-holds-barred treatment of the whole exercise that sets the song galaxies apart from the rest of its ilk.

வளையோசை கல கல கலவென
கவிதைகள் படிக்குது… குளு குளு
தென்றல் காற்றும் வீசுது

Kamal rushes in, amidst the buzzing breeze, to make some timely amends. His loosened-up tie and Amala’s saree go on a quaint dance of their own in the howling wind.

And Lata Mangeshkar, speaking for Amala, comes up with a peach of a riposte to nail the hormonal pangs of young love.

சில நேரம் சிலு சிலு சிலு என
சிறு விரல் பட பட… துடிக்குது
எங்கும் தேகம் கூசுது…

SPB, meanwhile, is at his saucy best when he goes “சின்ன பெண் பெண்ணல்ல வண்ண பூந்தோட்டம்”, to which Lata responds with a full-throated “கொட்டட்டும் மேளம் தான் அன்று காதல் தேரோட்டம்!”

The magic of the aforementioned segment is as much about the flaming on-screen dynamics between Kamal and Amala, as it is about the camaraderie between the two vocalists. It’s tough to bat an eyelid.

The acoustic guitar (1.13 to 1.29) and the string section of the orchestra (1.30 to 1.41) have a field day at the first interlude, the endearing charisma of which is aced with just two visuals – one involving a recalcitrant grasshopper, and another a soothsaying weighing-machine; not to mention the stirring POV shot of the camera tracing Amala’s stroll through the lawns through a modest tree-fork (1.34 to 1.37).

SPB resumes with a swagger that’s very reminiscent of his on-screen actor’s signature ‘playful lure’.

ஒரு காதல் கடிதம் விழி போடும்
உன்னை காணும் சபலம் வர கூடும்!

And Lata is equally expressive in acing the lady’s instinctive reluctance in stoking the already-raging male desire.

நீ பார்க்கும் பார்வைகள் பூவாகும்,
நெஞ்சுக்குள் தைக்கின்ற முள்ளாகும்…

The guy wants some action, and SPB aces that blazing urgency with some terrific improvisations. And Vaali’s tastefully-deceitful poetry helps. A lot.

கண்ணே என் கண் பட்ட காயம்
கை வைக்க தானாக ஆறும்

Latha, on her part, peppers the repartee with a fascinating concoction of coy hesitancy and shrouded enthusiasm, which bursts out at the most unexpected moments – no mean feat, given the two diametrically opposite emotions in play.

முன்னாலும் பின்னாலும் தள்ளாடும்
சென் மேனி என் மேனி…
உன் தோளில் ஆடும் நாள்

And before long, Kamal’s unknotted tie finds its way to Amala’s neck. In the most romantic of ways.

Raja sets the second interlude in the middle of a wading boat with some scintillating humming by Lata for added seasoning.

The concluding charanam, thereafter, happens over an amazingly storyboarded segment, where Raja’s pulsing orchestration manages to stand apart, amidst some adorable visuals, like the one where Kamal misconstrues Amala’s biceps for a vanilla muffin, and the iconic sequence on the footboard of a vintage Pallavan bus that depicts the eternal love story between public transportation and the flirtatious adventures of youthful attraction.

Somewhere in the middle of this nostalgic stretch, when you are busy revelling in the exigent brilliance of it all, Vaali sneaks in a line that goes…

ராகங்கள் தாளங்களோடு
ராஜா… உன் பேர் சொல்லும் பாரு

This wily beauty of a man, I say.

சிந்தாமல் நின்றாடும் செந்தேனே
சங்கீதம் உண்டாகும்
நீ பேசும் பேச்சில் தான்….

A certain Leo Tolstoy once said, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Well, if Raja’s Valaiyosai isn’t proof enough, what is?

***


PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this version of the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version:

Retro Ruminations: Mandram Vandha Thendralukku from Mouna Ragam (1986)

You know that girl who is extremely sensitive and strong-willed, at once? You tend to see her around. Only that at times, you don’t notice, in the crowd.

Divya is one of that breed – a free-spirited girl in her early twenties, unable to share many of the ideals of her conservative parents, but yet, constantly striving to not distance herself from them. In many ways, she is kind of a misfit – her fiercely independent nature not auguring well with the attitude of her immediate family.

You look at her, and the first thing you notice is her exuberant nature. But, is that happy-go-lucky attitude a sort of an ingrained defence mechanism? Is there something brewing underneath the effective camouflage?

Yes, the seething agony of a lost love.

But, notwithstanding these emotional shrapnels of baggage, there is no denying the fact that something is very ‘likeable’ about her.

When Divya learns of her family’s plans for an imminent arranged marriage, she’s naturally aghast.

How would she make her parents, soaked in traditionalism, see that she is not ready for marriage?

How could she tell them that the concept of putting two unknown people under the same roof in the name of wedlock – thereby forcing them into a pseudo-relationship – revolts her?

How could she make them understand that she just cannot afford to get to know a total stranger, after moving in with him?

Well, the lost cause in her rationales, combined with the simmering guilt over her father’s sudden heart attack, makes it almost a Hobson’s choice for Divya.

And thus, the ‘wedding’ is rammed through, with a certain Chandrakumar, much to the girl’s chagrin, since the collective family thinks she’s truly being ‘crazy’ with her excuses.

How absurd is it for two total strangers to share a room one day, following a social ritual! Isn’t emotional compatibility such an expendable thing to be conveniently swept under the carpet?

As the soft-spoken Chandrakumar takes Divya with him to Delhi to his apartment, the latter doesn’t seem to sugar-coat her feelings. She, in fact, wears her aversions and frigid mannerisms, on her sleeve.

மன்றம் வந்த தென்றலுக்கு
மஞ்சம் வர நெஞ்சமில்லையோ
அன்பே.. என் அன்பே…

Chandrakumar, being at the receiving end of her hostile jabs, is obviously shattered, but the kind of personality that he is, you can see that he’s trying his best.

He wants her to feel welcomed, but despite his maturity and composure in dealing with the whole thing, Divya does feel like a fish out of water.

தொட்டவுடன் சுட்டதென்ன
கட்டழகு வட்ட நிலவோ
கண்ணே.. என் கண்ணே…

As a week passes by, Chandrakumar’s dismay is readily palpable, as Divya comes across as this surly school girl trying to be as ‘annoying’ as possible. But quite obviously, as a sign of rejection, her tactics work well, as Kumar is left pondering over his decisions.

தாமரை மேலே நீர்த்துளி போல்
தலைவனும் தலைவியும் வாழ்வதென்ன?
நண்பர்கள் போலே வாழ்வதற்கு
மாலையும் மேளமும் தேவையென்ன?

This is when the couple, quite conspicuously in discordance, arrive home one evening, to find a bunch of Kumar’s colleagues gathered at their residence, for a surprise ‘wedding’ party.

Both Divya and Chandrakumar are caught off guard, unsure about their responses, as the guests rejoice, and wish them well for their marriage.

The look on Divya’s face says it all. “What the bloody hell am I doing here?”

Without much ado, she almost storms to her room and slumps on the bed, her muddled head buzzing with a mix of torment and doubts.

சொந்தங்களே இல்லாமல்
பந்த பாசம் கொள்ளாமல்
பூவே உன் வாழ்க்கை தான் என்ன?
சொல்…

So, what could she do? Nothing in sight, other than explaining her stance to her parents. If only, that was an option at all!

“What’s wrong with the guy?” the one question with no answers relentlessly taunts her.

“Is the groom the real issue? Or, is it your marital blues? Why don’t you attempt to see the logic? The man seems like the ‘sorted’ kind, with loads of empathy. Why don’t you consider the bigger picture? Why are you playing the victim card here?” The pre-marriage altercation with her parents echoes inside her, and spills over the closed room.

Why is her ‘reason’ of not being ready for marriage always dismissed with scorn? Why isn’t there a single soul in this world to acknowledge her side of the whole argument?

And the whole course from “Don’t be foolish!” to “Why are you so selfish?” flashes before her, as she keeps staring ahead.

“Am I afraid of commitment?” Hell, Yes. “I am scared of being emotionally trampled, all over again, when I am already aching?” She almost blurts it aloud, as she feels her eyes getting moist.

“Why the hell didn’t I come out clean with my heartbreak at the time of meeting this man? Why couldn’t I bring myself to tell him clearly that I was not interested in marrying him, instead of branding myself using negative adjectives?”

Unforgiving questions keep chasing her, even as she puts a pillow on her head to silence the noisy banter of the party downstairs.

“Why did I want the rejection to come from the groom? Was it another subconscious attempt at appeasing my parents? But, why did he marry me, even after I told him that I might not fulfil his expectations of a life partner?” Hell, the girl is wallowing in her ambiguities, almost to the extent of suffocation.

மேடையைப் போல வாழ்க்கை அல்ல
நாடகம் ஆனதும் விலகிச் செல்ல…
ஓடையைப் போலே உறவும் அல்ல
பாதைகள் மாறியே பயணம் செல்ல…

Chandrakumar, meanwhile, is caught in a tornado of emotions himself, as he plays the reluctant host to his friends.

“Why’s Divya not ready even to give the relationship the ‘working’ it needs? Why this ruthless deluge of contempt? Why is she not giving me a chance? Why is she not giving herself a chance?” The man is lost in his own inquisitions.

“It must be premarital jitters, right? Or does she hate me to the core, without even getting to know me?” A part of Chandrakumar is in crumbles.

விண்ணோடு தான் உலாவும்
வெள்ளி வண்ண நிலாவும்
என்னோடு நீ வந்தால் என்ன..?
வா…

The brilliance with Raja and SPB capture this anguish, this afflicted awkwardness, this mismatch of frequencies that you would expect when two unknown people with contrasting sensibilities are forced to cohabit, in Mandram Vandha Thendralukku, is proof enough of the magic of music. And the beauty of the cinematic art form, in general.

***


Here’s the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version:



Retro Ruminations: Nila Adhu Vaanathu Mele from Nayakan (1987)

Inexplicable blues.

Does it ever happen to you?

You can’t point a finger at it, but you know it’s eating your head.

You are sinking and you can feel the frantic gasps inside.

You should work, but you can’t. You don’t want to deal with your to-do list, an overflowing inbox, and an incessant stream of texts.

You pause.

You plug in your earphones and effect that shuffle mode in your Raja playlist.

Bam. As if by some sort of fortuitous design, the sweet refrain of the acoustic guitar begins. And you know what? It upstages those hovering clouds of uncertain gloom, almost with a sliver of haughty disdain. The spirited strumming sets up a hypnotic rhythm, which kind of hauls you into its vortex of cheer. Well, losing yourself to the guitar’s groove seems like the only way to go from there.

And instantly, the lively ‘feel’ of the waters come alive. A balmy tangibility lingers in the air. A gentle breeze soothes your throbbing head.

With the heralding of the festive spirit with a warcry-like “Hoiya Hoi” – which’s accompanied by some thumping rock beats – a sudden spunk starts rippling out from your core.

And when Raja sparks off the vocals, his jaunty voice comes off like a true ‘silver bullet’. The man might not have a delectable range, but his raw edginess is sharp as a tack, and it hits the right ‘pleasure’ spots in your auditory cortex.

நிலா அது வானத்து மேலே
பல்லானது ஓடத்து மேலே
வந்தாடுது தேடுது உன்ன ஒய்யா ஓய்
அது என்னா ஓய்?

The man’s witty inflections and improvisations strike a chord, instantaneously. You feel buzzed.

பொழுதானா போதும், துணை ஒன்னு வேணும்
இளங்காள ஆட்டம், விடிஞ்சாதான் போகும்!

But, the track’s show-stealer is the nice, long intoxicating stretch of the saxophone, which arrives at the first interlude, along with some doped-up rock beats (1.18 to 1.55). Raja nimbly blends the two contrasting elements – tweaked versions of the jazz and the rock – and serves it up with a topping of some merry ‘strings’, much like a chef’s special cocktail.

And when he returns for the first charanam with “ஓடுர நரியில ஒரு நரி கிழ நரிதான்,” you just give in to his irreverent charm.

அஜும் அஜும் அஜும்
இங்கு ஆடுற நரியில பல நரி குள்ள நரிதான்
அஜும் அஜும் அஜும்

He gives the folk lines a very earthy quiver, and a unique kind of sauciness, which comes out very effectively in this stretch.

பொண்ணுக்கும் பொண்ணுக்கும் அடிதடிதான்
மண்ணுக்குப் போகிற உலகத்திலே…
பசிக்குது பசிக்குது தினம்தினம்தான்
தின்னா பசியது தீர்ந்திடுதா?
அடி ஆத்தாடி, நான் பாட்டாளி
உன் கூட்டாளி ஹோய்!

If you thought the first interlude was eclectic, wait till you hear the second interlude, which rightly belongs to some other ethereal realm (2.53 to 3.22). The saxophone, here, is on counterpoint with a salubrious guitar riff, and along with the sly superimposition of the pulsing beats, the composition explodes, like nothing you have heard before.

Raja gives his lyrics a brassy, bouncy, and singalong twist in the second charanam.

துடிக்கிற ஆட்டத்த திரையில பார்த்திருக்கேன்
அஜும் அஜும் அஜும்
விசில் அடிக்கிற கூட்டத்தில் தரையில ஆடிருக்கேன்
அஜும் அஜும் அஜும்

The sheer amount of gaiety that’s exploding from his vocals is staggering, to say the least. And when it strikes you that it’s the same voice behind the plaguing bitter-sweetness of Thendral Vandhu, you can’t help, but give it up for the magician in white.

காட்டுல மேட்டுல உழைச்சவன் நான்
ஆடிட பாடிட வேண்டாமா!

When a burst of good music touches your heart, it never leaves, no matter how many years go by. Nila Adhu Vaanathu Mele is one such precious whim that is always there, when you need it, to invigorate your heart.

***


PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this version of the track:

Here’s a remastered HD audio version: