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: 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:

Retro Ruminations: Vegam Vegam Pogum Pogum from Anjali (1990)

The endless stretch of a lazy summer afternoon. Riding your bicycle through the neighbourhood at dusk. Hopscotch, with stolen chalk, and the sun insanely beating down. Playing cricket with your friends in one of the 23 pitches that crowds the local municipality ground. The blasting happiness of your favourite class-gang visiting you on a random Sunday. The countless variations of hide-and-seek that lend a hue of colours to weekday evenings. The anticipation of the yearly visit to a grandparent’s house in your hometown that pulls you through the dread of the annual exams. The attempts at climbing trees, and building mud dams in woodland streams, resulting in plumping purple blisters…

Well, it’s not without reason they say childhood is the best phase of life – so simple, yet absolutely beautiful. As a kid, the smallest of things gave you immense pleasures. And got you flying high in pure exhilaration. Now that ‘adulting’ had bulldozed into that kind of carefree joys, the only way left to experience it again, I suppose, is to reach out to that sprightly kid inside you, and relive some of the priceless memories, whatever left thereof.

And what better way than put on your headsets and go on one hell of a ‘floating’ trip with Raja and Usha Uthup, through Vegam Vegam Pogum Pogum?

When Mani Ratnam brought alive the ‘apartment culture’ – and the resultant tectonic change in social dynamics – in the early 90s, many were still trying to wrap their head around that kind of a lifestyle. The concept of the ‘neighbourhood’ got redefined overnight. And, in this almost-alien atmosphere pulsating with a heart of its own, the filmmaker stages this riotous song, where a bunch of kids shed their schoolday prejudice and societal inhibitions, to welcome a toddler with special abilities, into their gang.

As the clouds simultaneously open up, the children clad in translucent raincoats, push the grinning toddler – seated in a wheelbarrow – around in circles, squealing, and literally, running amok. It’s a sight that evokes instant glee.

Raja, on his part, engineers a delectable blend of the strings and the keys that play on the remnants of your adolescent brain, in mysterious ways.

An enchanting chorus begins. And, almost as if hit by the spell, the kids in their bicycles, rise up to the skies, pulling your current headspace, all along. Well, if you are a persistent cynic, wait till you see the toddler’s giggle as she looks down from her gliding wheelbarrow.

And, Usha Uthup, promptly, starts weaving her magic, flinging her powerful baritone like a freakin’ boomerang into the skies.

வேகம் வேகம் போகும் போகும்… மேஜிக் ஜர்னி
போவோம் போவோம் தூரம் தூரம்… மேஜிக் ஜர்னி!

The infectious energy with which she highlights the word ‘journey’ catches on you like a resilient virus of joy. You simply can’t ignore the resounding enthusiasm, which seems to birth from the ‘overwhelmed kid’ inside her.

And the peppy refrain of the acoustic guitar brilliantly rounds off that cosy feeling of ‘childlike awe’.

காலம் இல்லையே… நேரம் இல்லையே
காண காண இன்பம் இன்பம்…
தேட தேட பொங்கும் பொங்கும்
மேஜிக் ஜர்னி!

Meanwhile, the wondrous look in the faces of the kids tell an array of cheery stories. It’s a damn-good metaphor – the suggestion that letting go of the tons of emotional baggage, which have been stacked up over the overarching premise of adulthood, can actually give you ‘wings’.

As Raja nails the pervasive mood of unadulterated awe with a mix of the humming chorus (1.38 to 2.03), funky percussions, and an amazing dance of the violins (2.04 to 2.14), the children glide over the Taj Mahal and the Gateway of India, their mouths stuck in a perpetual gape. Damn, all the free-spiritedness feels weirdly analeptic, in these times.

And Usha returns for the charanam, with double the amount of raging vivacity. As any singer – operating at that level of tenor – would tell you, the key in acing the mood is to make everything look utterly effortless… even while touching the highest octave. And boy, does Usha nail it!

நாமும் சிறகை… நினைத்தால் பெறலாம்
வானம் முழுதும்… வளமாய் வரலாம்!

The charanam with those cutesy words, could have transfigured into some sort of melodic undersong, when performed by a lesser vocalist. But, Usha treats it like the auditory equivalent of the kids’ exploding imagination, and sets it unconditionally free, using her impeccable breath-control as a technique to communicate the astonishment and impart texture. And as a result, Vaali’s lines escape their literary confines, and soar high, in keeping with the track’s theme.

The female chorus, which follows, adds up organically to the track’s vibes of an incredibly-wild trip.

பால் பொங்கும் வெண்ணிலா…
பந்தை போல் ஆடலாம்!
கால் கொண்ட மீன்களை…
கை கொண்டே தீண்டலாம்

As Usha resumes, her voice cuts through each one of those superbly-conceived visual fantasies, and stands out consistently with its unbridled power and precision.

வண்ணம் எழும் மின்னும்
அந்த வானம் போடும் வில்லும்
நானும் நீயும் செல்ல…
ஒரு பாலம் போல் ஆகும்

Usha’s ability to switch from her softly vocalised mid-range (when starting with “வண்ணம் எழும்”) to her characteristic high-voltage belt in “பாலம் போல் ஆகும்” – a mix of chest and head voice – does wonders to the final effect, leaving you in a fit of nostalgic frenzy.

And somewhere towards the end, when Usha, at her ‘bassiest’ best, goes… “ஏட்டில் உள்ள சொர்கம் நம் பக்கம் வந்து நிற்கும்,” you instinctively smile, nodding in agreement. Well, given the involvement of Raja and Usha Uthup, Vaali must have guessed the inevitable. How, then, could he summarise the song-experience in one line with such accurate detail?!

***


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

Here’s a remastered audio version:

Retro Ruminations: Chinna Thayaval from Thalapathi (1991)

For the fourteen-year-old unmarried Kalyani, the festival of Bhogi assumes a brutal literal meaning after she delivers a baby boy in the wilderness, amidst the cheerful celebrations in the town.

All the brazen public-shunning, and the agony of unassisted labour leaves the exhausted teenager completely disillusioned. As she lies all alone in the fading light, her maternal inadequacies painfully dawn upon her.

Endless questions with no logical answers plague her mind, making her doubt the very essence of her motherhood.

சின்னத் தாயவள் தந்த ராசாவே
முள்ளில் தோன்றிய சின்ன ரோசாவே…

Nowhere to go, she puts the baby on a cargo train in the hope that someone would find the newborn, and take him under their wings.

But destiny doesn’t seem to be in a mood to relent, as the door of the compartment nestling the baby loosens, and opens out.

Shell-shocked by this sudden turn of events, she runs behind the whooshing train for a while. At one point, she gives up and slumps on the track, wailing in agony.

The young girl, who had never seen the world outside her home, is left to deal with a barrage of alien and razor-sharp motherly instincts.

சொல்லவா ஆராரோ
நம் சொந்தங்கள் யாராரோ…
உந்தன் கண்ணில் ஏன் தான் நீரோ!

As she looks towards the horizon, devastated, and helpless, what is that which is mercilessly consuming her? Guilt? Anger? Gloom? Doubt? Regret? You would know if you are Kalyani.

உன்னை நான் தான் நெஞ்சில் வாங்கிட
மெத்தை போலுன்னை மெல்லத் தாங்கிட
விழி மூடாதோ!

Fast forward thirty years, the abandoned baby boy has grown up to be Surya – the much-feared ‘Thalapathi’ and the trusted friend of the local slum lord, Deva – ruling the city and meting out justice as he deems fit.

Surya had, over time, warmed up to wear a mask of indifference, but deep within, the pain is seething. Losing your parent is one thing. The grief can leave you shattered. But, to realize that you were an undesired entity, only to be discarded by the genesis of your own blood… that’s quite a dreadful thought to live with. The more you think of it, the more it is likely to shake you to your soul’s core, leaving you numb and full of existential uncertainties.

But, the man had learnt to live with them. All the emotional trauma had made him short-tempered, but what it had not done is crush his spirit. With Deva by his side, he is determined to give back something to the community, which had nursed him to adulthood.

And in the process, he gets to lock horns with the newly appointed district collector, Arjun, who, incidentally, happens to be his antithesis, with a diametrically-opposite sense of justice.

Over the battle of conflicting sensibilities, Surya, one day, barges into the collector’s residence, and threatens Arjun’s mother, who’s none other than Kalyani.

Years after her tryst with destiny, Kalyani had married an understanding man, who, knowing about her first baby, had helped her wade through the relentless guilt.

Kalyani on her part, had learnt to live with the self-blame, but not a single day passes without thoughts of her dear son – the one she had halfheartedly run away from.

பால் மணம் வீசும் பூமுகம்
பார்க்கையில் பொங்கும் தாய் மனம்!

When Kalyani’s husband gets to know that Surya is the ill-fated child, who had grown up to be an apparent convict, he approaches Surya with a request to move away from Deva, and renounce his violent ways.

Surya reflexively refuses, citing Deva as his dear friend and the only person in the whole world who would care for him.

Kalyani’s husband however disagrees, telling him the truth about his wife. Surya is instantly lost for emotions. “How did she get the heart to throw me away? Why did she? What made her think that I would survive this desertion?” Incessant doubts regarding his mother’s apparent callousness are all he could convey, right up front.

However, when the old man attempts to explain the circumstances that forced her to take the fateful decision, it slowly starts to make sense for Surya. Unable to choose between his best friend and his newfound mother, he begs his step-dad not to reveal the truth about him to Kalyani.

Ah, how must it feel to have lost sleep over a close-someone’s insensitive decision over years, and wake up one fine day to realize the justifications behind it? Surya is not able to digest the sweeping implications for quite some time.

After days of contemplation, he follows Kalyani to a temple, gathering his emotions with considerable effort.

It’s amazing how a life-changing piece of information can change the way you perceive people.The same person he had shouted to, a week back, seems completely different now.

Hidden from Kalyani’s view, Surya stares at the lady – who had brought him into the world, and who is now ceaselessly repenting for the same – with stoic shock.

It’s tough to comprehend the sort of emotions he is going through. Thirty years of yearning for some form of affection and identity, and now, within the blink of an eyelid, the sight of the embodiment of love in his mother’s eyes. What does it mean to him? How would she feel if she knows of his brutal ways?

A hardened criminal in the eyes of the law, how would he come off in his mother’s eyes? Would this newfound identity alter his way of looking at life? What about his promise to Deva?

The apathy on Surya’s face slowly gives way to a deadly combination of joy, agony and confusion, as questions keep getting stacked on one another.

Kalyani, meanwhile, walks around the temple with a sombre look that seems to beg for some kind of redemption. Probably, she’s praying for the son, whom she never got to say goodbye to. She’s visibly hurting, but, have her inner demons grown stronger over the years?

Believe me, when you are a grieving parent, no amount of rational self-persuasion can silence the howling voice of guilt within. It’s potentially crippling, and it hits you at the most unexpected moments. But then, it’s also exasperating, as it’s intermittently replaced by a voice of hope, without any warning.

ஆயிரம் காலம் ஊர்வலம்
வேண்டிட வந்த பூச்சரம்
வெய்யில் வீதியில் வாடக் கூடுமோ
தெய்வக் கோயிலை சென்று சேருமோ
எந்தன் தேனாறே…

On one such moment of unrelenting torment, Kalyani instinctively senses someone watching her from behind, and turns back.

Surya, who has been following her, retreats just in time to escape from her sight, As she proceeds to close her eyes and pray, he is fighting a battle of epic proportions within. Caught in a whirlwind of elation and indecision, he sincerely wants to undo a lot of his past, but, can’t seem to get a hold on the infinite repercussions.

One glimpse at his mother’s lamenting eyes and all words cease to exist for Surya. A part of him wants to put all the emotional baggage behind, hug his mother tightly, and tell her that none of this was her fault… that he wants to be nothing else other than her loving son. Only that the other part – the one which is more in touch with the reality – takes over soon. And makes sure he stands grounded, staring at the woman’s departing silhouette.

சின்னத் தாயவள் தந்த ராசாவே
முள்ளில் தோன்றிய சின்ன ரோசாவே…

But then, he has seen his mother; which has now given him a freaking purpose to exist. Nothing else mattered.

***


Here’s the track:

Here’s the remastered audio version:

Retro Ruminations: Thee Thee from Thiruda Thiruda (1993)

Have you ever experienced something so bloody overwhelming that “damn!” was the only word you could muster up, soon afterwards? Did you then try to describe that ‘lit’ feel to someone, only to realise that nothing in that vocabulary you carry around in your skull, came around to help? Has your cerebral exposure, that way, refused to be caged within the barbed wires of a particular word-form or a tangible syntax, however hard you try?

If the answer is a resounding yes, you will probably agree with me when I say Thee Thee Thithikkum Thee from Thiruda Thiruda is the reason why the word ‘ineffable’ exists in the dictionary.

Well, how else to describe the feelings you get, when the lilting eight-second bit of the opening flute – which comes off like a plop of dripping honeydew – all of a sudden, explodes into this unimaginable beast at the 9th second, where the detonating percussions and Keith Peter’s hard-strung bass guitar bring alive a world of unrelenting savagery?

Even if you manage to get a hold of that kind of sorcery, what to make of that simultaneous torpedo-blast of jathis on your unsuspecting ears, which bludgeon your senses into some form of trance-like submission?

And Mani Ratnam, in liaison with PC Sreeram and Sundaram Master, further edges up the auditory hypnosis with an amalgamation of decadent light-play, intoxicating angles, groovy half-steps that tremble in sensual unrest, and super-snappy cuts that play on the hallucinatory mood in increasingly carnal ways.

After forty seconds of blowing your brains out with the other-worldly prelude, ARR smugly pulls the carpet from under your feet in a moment of absolute gooseflesh, by unleashing the track’s slingshot-conceit, Caroline.

And the vocalist, without much ado, starts teasing you into the corporeal mazes of your subconscious, with her dulcet voice. And now, again, the song gets a fresh perspective, as she bundles up all that spattering passion and sky-rocketing erotic tension, and sprawls it out with a deceptive air of inexplicable tranquillity.

தீ தீ தித்த்திக்கும் தீ
தீண்ட தீண்ட சிவக்கும்
தேன் தேன் கொதிக்கும் தேன்
தேகம் எங்கும் மினுக்கும்

ஜோதியில் சேரவா…
இன்னும் என்ன தயக்கம்?

Meanwhile, PC is almost effecting an alchemical coup of sorts, relentlessly playing around with the leads’ body dispositions, colours, aquatic reflections, shadows, and a mysterious, instantly-arousing translucence.

Noel James joins Caroline now, and with the duo breaking into a fervent chant, you are at once catapulted into a feverish groove.

ஒரு விரல் தொட்டு வைத்ததே
உயிர் வரை சுட்டு வைத்ததே!

Right here, just when you are revelling in the sultriness of the booming chorus, the first interlude kicks in, like a seed that grows to form infinite roots and branches, only to bloom into something beautifully esoteric.

The top-notch slap bass by Keith (during the ma-pa-ni-sa..ri-sa) seems to birth from an intangible musical horizon, and when interlarded with the ‘dynamite’ jathis and strumming beats, they make for a world of their own – one that promises a sort of twisted deliverance, in exchange for a few shivers down your spine.

As the leads flow to the whims and fancies of the fervid beats, the visuals, simultaneously, go on a dance of their own. The camera, in fact, zooms in and out of the minimalistic, hotheaded ballet like a lustful brute, impulsively lingering for an extra moment to stare at the girl’s slithering fingers over the male torso, and then springs back with a staggering mix of elegance and libido to capture the hormonal frenzy from a birds-eye view. Your senses feel fusilladed.

And, as the last note of the bass guitar (from the first interlude) sustains, softens and gently fades out (1.43 to 1.48), the track nonchalantly gear-shifts again, and turns into the soothing melody it once was, featuring minimal instrumentation and a subtle electronic synth.

Caroline resumes, taking the aura of intimacy a few notches higher, with the first charanam.

கண்ணுக்குள் தீ இருந்தும்
உன்னை எரித்து கொண்டுறக்கம் என்ன!
கற்பூர தேகம் தான்
காதல் வெப்பம் பட்டு கறைவ தென்ன!

Heera is at her sensuous best here. She nails the track’s motif of ‘forbidden bliss’ with just her moaning eyes, and a splash of her signature allure.

பின்னோக்கி உன் கால்கள் நடப்பதென்ன
பிரியத்தை மறைப்ப தென்ன
என்னாகும் ஏதாகும் என்று அஞ்ச
இதயத்தை துவைப்ப தென்ன!

And with that, the song swaps back to its vibrant chorus again, this time, however, with some added perspective.

ஒரு விரல் தொட்டு வைத்ததே
உயிர் வரை சுட்டு வைத்ததே!

What follows is a bewitching display of syncopation at its best, where Caroline goes back to tugging at your heartstrings with “தீ தித்த்திக்கும் தீ… தீண்ட தீண்ட சிவக்கும்…”

The second musical interlude now storms in, blending genres, and rising the tempo to mind-bending levels. And, just when you lose yourself to the escalating madness, and start headbanging to glory, the flute makes a delightful appearance anew (at 3.15). The way, this spellbinding fusion (between the flute leading the way and the bass guitar in the background) complements the incredibly-fluid visuals with an almost-doped charm, has to be seen to be believed.

And PC propels this whole thing into something of a stratosphere with his little touches. The camera, gazing at a supine Heera from an aerial perspective, goes on a clock-wise whirring spree, along with the tantalising flute, and as the flute comes to a haunting halt, the frame freezes, soaks in the gimmick for a while, and as the vestiges of the flute resound in the air, turns back to ace the moment with an intoxicated half-a-spin, anticlockwise. You are left love-dazed.

Caroline is back to weaving her magic in the second charanam.

அழகே அழகே
நித்தியத்தில் இன்று கலந்து போவோம்
நீ யார் நான் யார்
இனம் மொழி இடம் மறந்து போவோம்

Her voice, so to speak, rolls over the pond – the bottled-up sexuality sending the still water into never-ending ripples.

புவி ஈர்ப்பு மையத்தை கடந்து போவோம்
புது லோகம் பறந்து போவோம்
முத்தத்தின் சத்தத்தில் உடைந்து போவோம்
முக்தி நிலை அடைந்து போவோம்!

The spirited chorus, yet again, mercilessly bulldozes on the dizzying calm, paving way for Caroline to close in style, leaving you drenched in hedonistic bliss.

What if the overarching themes of fire and water blend? What if the ‘feel’ of a carnal hurricane is superimposed on a soothing lullaby?

Rahman answers, with this acoustic dance of fury – a soul-stirring fusion of the Ananda and Rudra facets; a burst of raw musical psychedelia that’s sure to get your blood gushing and your brain tripping.

***


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

Here’s the video track:

Retro Ruminations: Thamizha Thamizha from Roja (1992)

It’s all deceptively restrained to start with.

But yet, unbelievably beautiful.

It’s tough not to lose yourself in the tranquillity of the stringing.

For now, you could call it ‘bliss’.

And when the flute adds layers to the lulling mood set up by the guitar, it slowly, but steadily, teases you into the comfort couches of your temporal consciousness.

Little do you realise now that you are being tactfully set up for a royal ruse!

As you slowly give in to the resounding calmth, Hariharan starts working his magic.

தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே!

The poised allure of the voice is instantly infectious.

It may have reflected a hint of hope. But for now, it’s disguised as dope.

You close your eyes in solace.

என் வீடு தாய் தமிழ் நாடு என்றே சொல்லடா…
என் நாமம் இந்தியன் என்றே என்றும் நில்லடா!

The atmosphere is still very much serene, but the intent in Hariharan’s rendition opens up a new facet to all the seeming quietude.

You are rapidly dragged into in an conflicted zone, where you start questioning the relevance of your own emotions.

Didn’t it all start as a lullaby – something that was meant to make you feel all warm and fuzzy?

What now? Why this gnawing feel in the chest? What to make of the this tightening knot, when the tune is so bloody euphonic?

And before you know it, you start getting an aura. A peculiar one, at that.

And you get a vague sense of an imminent epiphany, and a potential adrenaline burst.

But, nothing happens. At least, for now.

Hariharan just returns to his mesmerising routine, again, giving no clue whatsoever of the blow-up that is about to ensue.

தமிழா தமிழா நாளை நம் நாளே
தமிழா தமிழா நாடும் நம் நாடே!

And just as the man completes the verse, the composition explodes, like a seemingly-dormant volcano that had been silently gurgling on the inside. And the next moment, it blasts off to a flat-out different orbit – something contradistinct to what you have been led to believe.

The tempo rises as though there’s no tomorrow. The electronic synth and the flaring trumpets work in unison to build up the fury.

And now, you start feeling the blood in your arteries. You don’t have a choice. You have been missile-launched into this vortex of unbridled fervency, which slowly starts consuming you.

It’s all about raw emotions now.

As if this isn’t enough to ignite your nerves, a rousing chorus joins in, further edging up the goose-flesh.

இனம் மாறலாம் குணம் ஒன்று தான்
இடம் மாறலாம் நிலம் ஒன்று தான்
மொழி மாறலாம் பொருள் ஒன்று தான்
கலி மாறலாம் கொடி ஒன்று தான்

And it continues to get relentlessly insane.

திசை மாறலாம் நிலம் ஒன்று தான்
இசை மாறலாம் மொழி ஒன்று தான்
நம் இந்தியா அதும் ஒன்று தானே வா!

As all the pent up aggression peaks into an almost-surreal crescendo, you could feel something shooting up your senses.

It’s tough to transcribe that kind of a high. You feels ‘violated’, at some level.

And then, there is a four-second pause.

Probably, to ease off all the blazing adrenaline? Seriously? 4 seconds?

And understandably, before you could even recover, Hariharan resumes again, taking you on another ride of seeming repose.

தமிழா தமிழா கண்கள் கலங்காதே
விடியும் விடியும் உள்ளம் மயங்காதே!
தமிழா தமிழா கண்கள் கலங்காதே
விடியும் விடியும் உள்ளம் மயங்காதே!

It’s like the calm after the storm. Just that, this time, the ‘calm’ assumes a totally-different perspective.

You start looking at all the mollifying stillness in a different light. Like how your outlook of life could change after a compelling trance.

But, is it possible for the little-understood human mind to switch cognition between such radically-different musical planes, in such a short time-frame?

Barely giving you time to indulge in any kind of scientific reasoning, Hariharan continues…

உனக்குள்ளே இந்திய ரத்தம் உண்டா இல்லையா?
ஒன்றான பாரதம் உன்னை காக்கும் இல்லையா?

And by now, you have submitted yourself to the inundation – musical and otherwise.

To start with, you feel like giving ARR a tight, warm hug.

Then, you feel proud. You feel hopeful. You feel compassionate. You feel a lot other things.

Inside, it’s like a ticking minefield of emotions.

But, all you get on the outside is a hint of ocular moisture. And some questions to ponder on.

That’s art, in all its starkness, I guess. Honest. Unrelenting. And freaking brilliant.

***


Here’s the track:


Retro Ruminations: Veerapandi Kotayyile from Thiruda Thiruda (1993)

The dictionary defines the term ‘watershed moment’ as a turning point – the exact moment that alters the direction of a status quo – from which things will never be the same. The moment when the catalyst appears, and is activated. The moment when the universe pieces everything together, and an irrefutable jolt happens. For Indian cinema music, the moment, arguably, happened when a certain Dilip Kumar aka A R Rahman sat down in his studio for recording Veerapandi Kotayyile from Thiruda Thiruda.

Well, there’s so much going on in the mind-boggling composition that it’s perfectly normal to get lost in the boatload of rip-roaring madness. But, to be fair to ARR, the man, opening the track with Chitra’s now-legendary humming, does hint at the slow-brewing insanity in store, by adding staggering layers to his 30-second prelude. He lets the vocals lead the way for the first 8 seconds, and then superimposes an instantly-addictive, ingenious rhythm pattern on it for the next 7 seconds (till 0.15), and makes sure that you are sufficiently piqued. He then adds a third layer of thumping timpani drums to this deadly mix, to effect a combined 15-second bit of pure auditory intrigue (0.15 to 0.30), leaving you floating through the auditory realms of the empyrean, before unleashing a fiery Mano, throwing out his voice like a frisbee, with “Veerapandi Koattayile!”

And the string section of the orchestra – the violins, violas, cellos, and the double basses – follows it up with an ecstatic paroxysm that goes like “zzzaaan zzzaan zzzannn zzzzan zzzzan..” It’s spellbinding, to say the least.

Mano hurls his vocals even further with “Minnal Adikkum Velayilae,” and the strings go on a quivering dance again.

Unni Menon, backing up as the track’s second male vocal, intercepts with “Oorum Aarum Thoongum Pothu,” and passes the baton back to the booming strings.

When the singer is back with “Poovum Nilavum Saayum Pothu,” you are still soaking in the resounding thunder. “zzzaaan zzzaan zzzannn…”

And when Mano rounds off the opening stanza with “Kolusu Satham Manasai Thirudiyathae,” you are stumped; and left to the mercy of the ongoing acoustic narcosis.

The violas, cellos, and the clarinet explode into something of a mini-orgasm now. At once majestic and intoxicating, the brilliant stringing brings alive the hustle and bustle of the village fair in your ears. The bouncy and breathtaking arrangement – along with the three leads, the pulsating beats, and the flowing dancers – shimmers through the night festivities like nothing you have seen or heard before.

வீரபாண்டி கோட்டையிலே
மை இருட்டு வேளையிலே
கொலுசு சத்தம் மனசை திருடியதே!

And Chitra smoothly takes over for a defining stretch, which, kind of, shrouds the pallavi with oodles of mystery, and gets it to a royal conclusion.

வீரபாண்டி கோட்டையிலே
வெள்ளி முளைக்கும் வேளையிலே
பருவப்பொண்ண திருடி தழுவ
திட்டமிட்ட கள்வர்களே
மிஞ்சி கொலுசு நெஞ்சை

The way she peppers the “திருடியதோ!” has to be heard to be believed. The “தோ” echoes through unexpected hoops, and in conjunction with the terrific string backing, becomes an experience of its own.

By the time the pallavi is complete, you are almost one-and-a-half minutes into the song, but the stirring surprises are in no mood to abate. The song’s spirit truly comes alive in the first charanam, when the two suitors vie for the damsel’s attention, with all their heart and soul. And both the male singers start channelising their inner romantics to give their tones a tantalising air for the romantic propositions, as opposed to the throaty and punctuated style they had perfected for the pallavi. And the eccentric beats of the opening prelude return, to effectively complement the punchy strings in the background.

வைரங்கள் தாரேன்
வளமான தோளுக்கு…
தங்க செருப்ப தாரேன்
கனி வாழை காலுக்கு…

The duality of the aural exercise is made more flavourful by the subtle contrast in Mano’s and Unni’s style – in delivering their lines, and in highlighting the actors’ contrasting personalities.

பவளங்கள் தாரேன்
பால் போன்ற பல்லுக்கு…
முத்து சரங்கள் தாரேன்
முன் கோவச்சொல்லுக்கு…

Chitra, speaking for the girl caught in between her two beaus, gets the lyrical tease just right, as she goes…

உன் ஆசை எல்லாம்
வெறும் கானல் நீரு…
நீ ஏழம் போட வேறாளப்பாரு!

The beat, and in turn, the whole composition, takes a delightful twist with the ensuing “Nee Sollum Sollukulla,” when both the male vocalists reach out to the ‘beseeching’ spectrum – with just the right whisk of passion and aggression – to nail the fervent mood.

நீ சொல்லும் சொல்லுக்குள்ள
என் பொழப்பு வாழும் புள்ள
நீ போட்ட வெத்தலைக்கு
என் நாக்கு ஊரும் புள்ள!

All of which leads you to the eclectic first interlude. The leading strings, in unison with the track’s signature quirky beats, impart a strange sort of edginess to the warm up (2.19 to 2.33). The tempo, soon afterward, takes a soul-swelling twist with ARR consummating this goosebumps stretch with a bewitching blend of the solo-violin and the flute (2.34 to 2.49). And together, they promptly evoke the picture of “an intense woman caught in a savage jungle fraught with thrills and mystique.” The thrumming strings make a grand return (at 2.50) to lift the orchestration to an other-worldly domain, and when the trumpets join in (at 2.55) for a mini-psychedelic bit, you know that there’s only one way this stretch could end. In an oxymoronic state of frenzied nirvana. And that, it does, in the most arcane of ways.

And damn, Anu Aggarwal! She owns this section with a self-assured ethereal presence that keeps blurring the thin line between sensual grace and voluptuous titillation, with every passing frame. There’s a surreal, halogen-like aureole about her, which she relentlessly taps into, to embrace the outrageousness of ARR’s scorching symphony. At some point, you even wonder if stardust has been sprinkled in her footwear. And Sundaram Master’s choreography in the backdrop of the dilapidated fort, that doesn’t flinch an inch at going the distance, helps. A lot.

Mani Ratnam lets you hold on to this rollercoaster high for a couple of moments of ‘dhik-dhik’ quietude. And, following the strategically-placed, athirst pause, ARR turns the tables on the song’s rhythm with Chitra’s mellow rendition of “Rettai Sooriyan Varuguthamma!” The whole thing now becomes a dainty, western-classical melody, with the enchanting trio of the flute, violin, and the strings, holding sway.

ரெட்டை சூரியன் வருகுதம்மா
ஒற்றை தாமரை கருகுதம்மா…

Chitra, on her part, breathes life into the girl’s dilemma, in having to choose between two of her most-doting wooers.

வாள்முனையில் ஒரு சுயவரமா
மங்கைக்குள் ஒரு பயம் வருமா!

Again, there’s something about the phonaesthetics with which Chitra delivers that “Oru Bayam Varumaa,” that you can actually see right through Heera’s head. You instinctively get her fix.

ஒரு தமயந்தி நானம்மா
என் நல ராஜன் யாரம்மா!

Mano and Unni’s “Manavaalan Inge Naanamma” and “Magarajan Inge Naanamma” provide for a spirited twist to the otherwise ‘soft’ charanam. And before you know it, Chitra is back, hypnotising you with…

இது மாலை மயக்கம்
என் மனதில் நடுக்கம்
நெஞ்சில் வார்த்தை துடிக்கும்!

Oh boy! Heera is absolutely fantastic in this segment. Submitting herself to the layers of luminol-blue lighting, she aces the love-torn feel with an effortless charm.

நீ ரெண்டில் ஒன்னு சொல்ல சொன்னா
ஊமைகிளி என்ன சொல்லும்!

And suddenly, from nowhere, the song catapults back to the scintillating “Nee Sollum Sollukulla” refrain, leading on to another frenetic rendering of the pallavi.

Typically, this would mean that the end of the song is near. But ARR, being the 90s ARR, has other ideas. Flaming torches enter the scene – both visually and aurally – for the second interlude, which, in essence, is a madcap ‘ruthratandav’ of the string section that hijacks your senses in all its ‘bass’ glory.

And towards the end, the hysteria of the instrumental blast-off and PC Sreeram’s spiked visuals are so overwhelming that you start feeling the pull of the ruthless strings between your fingers, its curves tracing a fiery arc under your palm. You know, very few things in the world can possibly compare to this kind of an audiovisual empowerment, something that ARR and co. achieve with the most marvelling mix of orgastic notes and fascinating imagery.

+++


PS: All specified time frames are in reference to this official lyrical video:

Here’s the video version:

Sundari Kannaal from Thalapathi: The seething agony of lost love

You know that feeling when you are walking down the road and all of a sudden, you stumble upon that one soul, whom you wished you would never see again?

That person whom you once thought you would be sharing your joys, fears and secrets., forever. It’s tough to describe, right?

At first, it’s like a sharp stab to the gut, which slowly goes boring up your chest. You had gone over this potential situation a thousand times in your head, but still, the momentary shock is seething.

You almost forget to breathe.

The immediate neighbourhood evaporates into thin air, and you stand there frozen, trying to make sense of all the madcap cardiac mayhem.

You badly want to stop staring ahead, lest you come across as a lovelorn zombie, but you can’t help it.

For a moment, you feel nothing. It’s a blank limbo.

And when you recover, after what seems like a life-time, you are free-falling down this vortex of memories – sweet, painful, awkward, frustrating, in every possible permutation – wafting around you like finite objects that could be touched and felt.

You think you can leave them alone, but that’s just your brain playing futile games with your heart. You are only offered an illusion of choice.

You need to embrace them all – even the barbed painful bits– before you could even contemplate a diplomatic resolution.  And all of these, in a matter of seconds.

It’s brutal, to the point of being unimaginable. But that’s how it is.

Subhalakshmi would know.

Perhaps… not the burning intensity that youthful love imparts to the whole picture, but nevertheless, she had loved from the bottom of her heart.

It had broken her once, and despite the rehabilitation she had been through since then, the scars were still too young to be ignored.

She had not expected to bump into Surya at her doorstep that evening.

Given a choice, she might have preferred not to, but there is no way you could see through her subconscious.

The moment she sees him approaching the staircase, her face goes blank.

No expressions, whatsoever. Is she hurting? Is she happy? Is she cursing her destiny? Is she completely over him? Is she resentful? Is she guilty? Whatever that she is feeling doesn’t translate to her countenance for a while.

She just gazes ahead at the person who is standing frozen within a ten-foot distance, someone she thought she knew but, in reality, didn’t.

Seconds drag on.

And slowly, the emotional avalanche starts showing in her eyes, as Surya takes slow steps forward.

Just like it did, when she first felt his presence in a temple, in a time-frame that spuriously felt like the recent past.

She had caught him glancing at her for a split-second.

It had indeed intimidated her to start with, but something about that glance had also felt magical and warm, at no point associated with lechery.

She had seen him again a few days later, but this time, the man had forcibly acquired her gold bangle to pay for the treatment of a nine-year-old’s ailing mother.

Subhu had cursed him on the outside, but he had already incited something beautiful inside her.

She couldn’t make much sense of it, but it was there in a corner, waiting to be released – yearning to be acknowledged.

Eventually, it had happened soon enough, with the man coming to her dance class to return the bangle, and in the process confirming her apprehensions.

What was she thinking? How could this happen?

Initially, she couldn’t face her own questions. But the more she got to interact with Surya, the more he seemed darn irresistible.

The chill wind on her face brings her back to the present.

She is still staring at the man, who has started to climb the stairs now.

She seems pretty impervious, but something about his approaching proximity starts getting to her head.  And again, it’s only in her eyes that they reflect.

Look carefully, and you could almost see a glimmer of joy.

But then, you also hear howls of pain. Or is it disappointment? It’s like she isn’t sure of her own emotions.

Just like the day she had confessed her love for Surya on the banks of the temple lake, even after he had refused to change his violent ways.

She knew very well that her conservative brahmanical household could never accommodate someone like him, but her heart always found a way to silence all forms of reasoning.

But not for long… when forced to confront her worst fears – of choosing between her dad and Surya – her heart conceded.

What was it that prevented her from walking out of everything that caged her, hand-in-hand with the man she adored?

Fear? Guilt pangs? Making her paralytic at the very thought of severing all ties with someone she considered her ‘everything’?

Did she wonder whether he loved her as much as she did?

None of that mattered, before the overriding question ‘Would she be able to move on, for the sake of her father?’

Snap. The image of Surya walking up to him now makes her realize the gravity of that question, yet again.

She instinctively takes a step down, and one more, and before she can even realize, she is ambling towards him.

What is she going through? And now, for the first time, we see Surya’s face.

The man seems equally inscrutable, trying to drown a lifetime of memories in the faintest of frowns. On second thoughts, is it even a frown?

And at a point, somewhere in the middle of the stairs, they meet.

Their eyes connect for a split-second. Yet again. No words are spoken. We pray that it stays that way. After all, why speak out when so much is being communicated.

But soon, Surya staggers a bit, lowering his glance to the ground.

The discomfort is palpable.

He doesn’t ask anything about her, to start with. Did he want to, but decided not to? We will never know.

He says he has come to meet the collector. And then, he waits.

Is he expecting something?

Subhu has had enough. “How are you doing” she manages to blurt out.

Surya takes almost half a second to respond, all the while trying his best to be stoic, and when he does, the sincerity in his voice almost shakes us to the core.

He’s aching, and it shows in every inch of his countenance.

Why wouldn’t he?

For him, the agony was, probably, not about losing her. Or, about having to say goodbye.

It was learning to live without her, when he once she was the answer to all his past trauma and insecurities. It was, perhaps, making peace with destiny; and accepting the fact that he had lost his only chance at salvation. By a whisker.

Konjam Nilavu: When PC Sreeram redefined ambient lighting & field illumination forever, in Indian Cinema

It was 1993. Tamil cinema wasn’t yet familiar with the idea of ‘frisking with the lights’.

It hadn’t really visualized a truly explosive introduction for the ‘heroine’ – leave alone, one for a sultry supporting lead.

But then, we are talking Mani Ratnam here.

The situation happened to be one of routine.

A female singer, with a supposed shady side, is going through her concert. The event is happening in some sort of a magnificent fort – a visual that is meant to give our senses the equivalent of a surreal dream.

Imagine you are at the helm of affairs, and your musician unleashes something like “Konjam Nilavu” on you, one fine day, how would you visualize such an out-of-the-world composition?

That makes me curious about Mani’s thought processes when he went to PC Sreeram to detail the requirements for something that could have been easily dismissed as an ‘item number’.

Did he feel insecure about doing justice to such a powerful piece – something that involved extensive use of experimental sounds, including foreign orchestral elements and techno pop for the first time in Indian cinematic setting?

Why did he zero in on the National Art Gallery Museum for the bloody coup? We might never know.

But then it happened.

And PC probably took it upon himself to redefine ambient lighting and field illumination forever.

Conceiving and recording something so ahead of its time is one thing. You could indeed pass off an art gallery as an old fort with a handful of lights. But making it stay with us twenty five years later as one breathtaking sight is proof of PC’s genius.

As the musical frenzy begins, the main entrance gets lighted first. It’s a too-good-to-be-true moment, when the mystical humming smoothly segues into a fascinating wide shot.

It’s orgasmic, to say the least.

The subsequent chambers light up one by one in long shots. It’s a sight to behold.

Yellow. Bluish grey. White. Red… colours go on a rampage as Anu Agarwal at her sensual best, gyrates to an audience that largely found it tough to make sense of the happenings.

It was in that way, a daredevilry of sorts.

A tight-rope walk between sensual grace and voluptuous titillation that was understandably too much to handle for that time-frame.

Battling goosebumps, a generation was forced to hold on to the suspension of disbelief.

Smoke rose. Anu was skimping around in a dangerously short costume. The dancers were pulling off the most erotic of moves. But nothing could bait the gaping viewer from Sreeram’s spectacular frames.

It was nothing short of hypnosis. A revolution, taking root.

Not that the man wasn’t there in the spotlight before. But with “Chandralekha”, PC was probably for the first time, threatening to take the public glare beyond actors and filmmakers to a hitherto invisible artist, who was then seldom spoken about.

It was an assertive demand to be acknowledged. And the world sat up and took notice, after years of technical insensitivity.

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