Kodai Kaala Kaatre: A Burst of Blissful Nostalgia!

Celebrating the song that a generation, warming up to sophomore first-love, went crazy about…

-Mani Prabhu 

The piece works best when it’s read with the track playing in the background.

You remember that third-semester college trip to Kodaikanal, when you were clinging on to last row of the bus with your horde, immersed in the glorious boys’ ruckus, and she, for no particular reason, turned back, giving that piercing stare and you almost froze in the middle of that “ohhhhhhhh” that was dedicated to someone you can’t finitely recall…

Did she know then that you liked her? Was it some sort of an affectionate nudge, so that she could get the point across and also maintain a ‘decorum’ before her friends?

Thinking of it, did she mean anything at all? To you? To your teenage sentiments?

The tea-shop incident on the thirteenth hairpin-bend didn’t help, right? To make things clearer.

When you were passing the hot glasses one by one, getting each one from the sweater and monkey-cap clad master at the counter, and she standing next to you, holding every cup just for a little more, letting your fingers graze over hers for an extra split-second, all the while, holding onto a mockingly reactionless face…

What kind of “tease” was that?

That inebriated look that wouldn’t descend from your face, as you tried sipping your tea, walking up to that lonely boulder – a good two hundred hundred meters from where your bus was parked! “Dude, you got stoned?”  That confused guy’s doubt still rings in your ears, doesn’t it?

While you were staring at the mountains that seemed less mysterious compared to her that day, did she steal a moment’s gaze from the other side of the road?

How simple would it have been if it had ended there! For you. And for the world around.

But did it? Why should the rotis be over, all of a sudden, before you could finish your crazy photo-shoots and come take your plateful, on the lunch-spread in the lawns, the second day? Why should she notice that, in the hustle of all that compelling girly chit-chat… walk all the way from her gang, and offer you a couple? Why should you, despite having your favourite chicken curry already on the plate, deny at first, then take them and scurry back to your pack as fast as your legs could carry!

Were you indeed, somewhat special to her, in that bunch? Was something truly bursting out? As if, from a cocoon?

You could have known better, if only had she chosen to talk, instead of merely lifting her hands clearly in your direction, as if coaxing you to pull her on to the Dolphin’s nose, when there were at least twenty other boys around, only happy to help. But did she?

All these could have just been a loner’s romantic reverie if only… Yes, if only had she not stared into your eyes that way, straight through the flicker of the bonfire on the gardens of the youth hostel, on the third and final night of that fateful trip.

But alas!

Life had to get back to normal. Destiny had to give that sarcastic sigh.

Lectures, purely work related lab meets, gleeful hi-fis in elaborate birthday bashes, benign beach photographs with loads of feigned comfort, ridiculous doubts about the bare basics to just-pass the painful internals, all these and more.. but, if only had she told what was running in her mind, before you came to know, on a random sixth semester evening that she was going steady with the lead-singer of your college band.

Reality had to give that confusing slap. That was the “design”.

Irrespective of the kind of practical ‘so-so’ that transpires in this story from then on-wards… when after a couple of decades, you drive up Kodai in your car with this song playing in the stereo, you will look back fondly at all these images playing out in retro wave freeze-frames, and realize in a moment of gooseflesh-worthy nostalgia, why all these had to happen.

Till then, hang on. Life is good with Raja around.

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Poonnkuyil Paadinaal: Celebrating the Music called ‘Life’

A heartfelt tribute to the insanely talented, late Mr. Mahesh Mahadevan…

I would urge you to watch the song first if you are totally unfamiliar with it. The write-up works best when it’s read with the song playing in the background. But do remember to revisit the song again, after you are done with this.

-Mani Prabhu

What happens when a couple of brilliant actors battle it out with their respective, legendary vocalists over an absolute peach of a lyrical sequence?

Poonnkuyil Paadinaal kind of magic unfolds.

Two very different persons, struggling to shroud their apparent attraction to each other, loosen up over an eventful night, moving from moments of awkward closeness to those of delightful intimacy.

The beauty of it all? They bond over music.

He invites her over for a stint at the key-board. The lady starts off with a simple jingle. He takes it further with a smug improvisation. A palpable gawkiness hangs in the air.

She proceeds for a charm of a tune. He sneaks in with a couple of complementary keys. They are almost rubbing shoulders now. She responds with a brilliant refrain. He bends over to nurture the spell.

You get the drift. It’s almost like a twin ballad, her chords beautifully segueing into his, setting up the stage for something magical. It rounds off into a bewitching melody. They can’t stop smiling. Neither can you.

You have to hand it over to Mahesh Mahadevan here.  What an unprecedented grip over the fabric of the synergy! Very rarely does a prelude to a song turn out so endearingly spontaneous that it pulls the actors into the moment and lets them steer the happenings by simply being themselves on-screen.

And Haasan and Gautami effortlessly make the most of the setting. It’s one thing to share a great relationship with a co-star. But bringing alive the tricky warmth of an evolving attraction, complete to the minutest detail, is beyond histrionics.

Believe me… it entails much more than mere competency of the craft. Combined with the music, the hint at the chemistry bomb that is about to explode has to be seen to be believed! The timer has been set with aplomb.

With one hell of an intrigue that Vairamuthu pitches in style. What makes music ‘music’ and not just a jumble of sounds or noises? The duo eases into a lovely jam over the apparently intangible conflict.

And Chitra and SPB smoothly take over the reins here.

From the organised rhythm of a birdsong to an infant’s cry, the extempore musings are plain irresistible. Why does this formless ‘thing’ — at its core, a mere figment of the senses — hold such unthinkable intrinsic value in controlling the human mind?

The actors, and the singers, are literally competing with each other now. Is music in the notes, or the lingering silence in between? If ‘sound’ is required for music to exist, what form did it take in Beethoven’s mind? The vibes are alarmingly infectious.

பூங்குயில் பாடினால் நல்ல சங்கீதம்
குழந்தையின் அழுகையும் நல்ல சங்கீதம்

ஓசை எல்லாம் தீர்ந்து போனால் ஏது சங்கீதம்?
சத்தங்கள் இல்லாத மௌனங்கள் சங்கீதம்!

Especially, when Gauthami times the pepper-spray retrieval from her pouch with “சண்டையும் சங்கீதம்!”, sporting a superbly feigned nonchalance, you can’t help but grin.

But, if you think you are sold, remember that the show has just started.

Mahesh stages a strategic power shut-down to unleash one of the most fascinating musical interludes in the history of Tamil cinema.

Kamal’s ripostes continue to draw out the character from his somber mask every passing second. There is a deceptive rustle, followed by a stretch of dramatic silence. Haasan now strolls into the frame holding a lighted candle and a guitar. The picture instantly imbues the moment with an abstract sort of charm. Dramatic shoe-stomps resonate with anticipatory excitement. As he walks towards the lady’s silhouette, the lingering darkness dissolves into a muted glimmer on Gauthami’s face. She breaks into a radiant beam.

A breath-taking pause. And the heavenly guitar makes a sensational debut. Haasan’s stringing beautifully segues into SPB’s mesmerizing whistle, as the couple walk to the lawns. Everything about the setting is so freaking trippy that you could be excused for letting the high in Gauthami’s eyes slide.

The ‘stoned’ feel is understandably too much to handle. But Mahesh is in no mood for mercy. Once in the backyard, Chitra breaks into this ravishing hum, which along with the wizardry of the lead-guitar, is your straight-ticket to nadaville. Dare you resist the offer?

And before you could make complete sense of the ongoing narcosis, Vairamuthu takes over. The lyrical jugalpandi starts writing itself by the second charanam.

If relating to sounds is music, isn’t the whole idea a subjective pleasure?  If music is about structured repetition of sounds, isn’t it all encompassing -always present with us – as life goes on in the background? Is ‘intention’ a criterion for distinguishing music from noise? But again, isn’t it all about perspective?

The singers are almost on autopilot now. Everything flows.

ஸ்ருதியில் சேரும் ராகம் என்றும் கற்கண்டு…

பூவில் பாடும் வண்டு என்ன ஸ்ருதி கொண்டு!

Between accepted forms of organised intonations and free-spirited interpretations like that pollination and rains, the poetic swing ride is a delight to the senses.

With the singers settling into a cosy groove, and the misty moonlit-night nailing the mood, it’s a field day for Kamal and Gautami at work. Watch the way the man, close on the heels of Gautami, acknowledges her with a wry salute when she goes “நாங்கள் போடும் சந்தம் இன்பம் ஆனந்தம்” and then counters her with “மழையின் சந்தம் ஒன்றே என்றும் சுய சந்தம்”, springing a modest hand-fold.

But the best is yet to come. When he follows it up with an emphatic crossing of the arms, the self-assured aura it evokes easily escapes the confines of our limited language-comprehension skills. The moment is aced, Haasan style.

நேசமாக நீங்கள் கேட்பதென்ன பாட்டு?
மூங்கில் மீது காற்று மோதிய பழ பாட்டு.

The electricity is back. They amble inside. The lady’s curiosity about this man is at its peak. And so is the brilliance of the bass guitar in the background. A bookshelf that spills over into the bed and the carpet. Randomly scattered underwear on the couch. What an compelling personality this guy is turning out to be!

Vairamuthu takes it upon himself to elevate the sequence to the next level here. As Gauthami instinctively touches Haasan’s feet for her footwear accidentally brushing on him, she has absolutely no clue what she has gotten herself into. The man chides back casually.

The interplay of ideologies quickly escalates to clash on the ‘divine’. The lady revels at the way a certain kind of ethereal music establishes the omnipresence of the Almighty. Gauthami is in her element here. The pride and assertion of a strong theist shimmers in her eyes.

எங்கும் கடவுள் தேடும் தேவ சங்கீதம்…

SPB, on his part, edges up the drama with a retort that if music could be seen as spiritual nirvana, why can’t it be a quest for the elusive humanity? If music is a science, why shouldn’t it have been a time-worn expression of rationalism?

One look at Haasan holding a book on Periyar in one hand, while he goes “எதிலும் மனிதன் தேடும் எங்கள் சங்கீதம்!” and you could instantly feel the shiver. The goosebumps are for real.

Doesn’t the music of all life flow from the earth to the heavens and back? She knows she can speak her mind. The intimacy – the growing conviction that you would be understood no matter what – shows. He retaliates pronto by calling music as the art-form of the ‘equals’, and not only the select privileged.

தேவலொகம் கேட்கும் ஜீவ சங்கீதம்…

ஏழை குடிசை கேட்கும் எங்கள் சங்கீதம்!

The lady is not going down without a resilient brush. Picking up from where she left, she perseveres. At the end of the day, aren’t rewards the purpose of all art?

With a vehement nod, Haasan strikes back, almost nailing the true labour of love in a single line. The reflexive spurt of moisture in the beholder’s eyes! That’s the thing. It doesn’t come that easy. It needs to be earned. Every single speckle of it. And when it is, nothing in the world would come close to what the artist feels, that priceless moment. After all, it’s not without reason, this piece exists.

காசு மாலை தானே கலையின் சன்மானம்…

கண்ணின் துளிகள் தானே கலைகளின் வெகுமானம்!

FootnoteThe lyricist for this piece is Vairamuthu and not Pulamaipithan as mentioned earlier. The appropriate corrections have been made, and any inconveniences caused, regretted.