Posts Tagged ‘Ilaiyaraja’

Taare Ginn and all that jazz

July 16, 2020

Song:  Taare Ginn

Music:  A R Rahman

Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya

Film:   Dil Bechara

I thought of making another list of jazz based film music songs and including Taare Ginn in the list.  Because the idea of composing an entire write up for a song felt rather indulgent to me.  But then, I said to myself, that wouldn’t be true to the spark that prompted me to write this, which was listening to Taare Ginn in the first place.

So, as a compromise between honesty and guilt, I am going to write more than a few lafzon about Taare Ginn and then also supplement it with a list of other wonderful jazz based phillum songs that you may enjoy.

Back to Taare Ginn.

The general thinking about Rahman songs is they grow on you as opposed to grabbing you immediately.  But that’s not been my experience for whatever reason with exceptions like Udhaya Udhaya (and there were ‘mitigating factors’ there; I ended up loving the song when I heard Satyaprakash and Alka Ajith’s marvellous rendition of the song on Super Singer but still don’t dig the original vocal much).  For me, if a Rahman song doesn’t grab me, it means I will like it up to a point in the sort of ‘intellectual’ way that I learnt to appreciate a lot of classical music without falling head over heels for it. BUT, if I like it right away on the first few lines, it’s a keeper.

And when I heard the first time Shreya Ghoshal sings the Taare Ginn line in the song, I knew I loved this.  If the song had totally crashed down a cliff from that point, I would have still loved it for that one and a half minute of bliss.  Of course, nothing like that happens in the expert hands of Rahman, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Shreya and, yes, Mohit Chauhan.

Let’s finish the part about Shreya’s singing first as she has no lead vocals after the interlude.  She uses a breathy voice for the fast and bouncy verse to convey the excitement of love.  But the tone is far more wistful with a tinge of pain when she moves into Taare Ginn.  This is also not intended to be a loud song, so she drops the larynx a little on the word “Yeh” in “Maza Hi Ya Saza Hai Yeh”.  What do I mean by dropping the larynx? The best way I can explain is on the word Yeh, she sounds more elderly or authoritative.  By dropping the larynx, she reduces the possibly shrill effect of a high note on that word.

Now Shreya is a virtuoso singer who adapts to the needs of the song and focuses much more on phrasing and expression and subtle adjustments like above because she is not just a technician but a gifted aesthete.  Mohit isn’t quite all that.  But either by compulsion or choice, he usually practices restraint in his vocal delivery, which is perfect for this song.

And why do I say that?  Because the song is so delicately put together.  So delicate that when it plays, I fear, irrationally, that something may happen to upset the precarious balance and destroy the song!  It’s unlike any Rahman song I have heard in a long time.  Barring mild synth in the ‘antara’, the arrangement is very ‘acoustic’, comprising of beautiful piano, violins, woodwind and very soft drums.  This is the work of a mature composer who has put together music out of his sheer love of it, not because it has passed the focus-group test.  Every melodic line, every chord selection is just right.

At the same time, it’s not beautiful in a predictable way like a nice Carpenters easy-listening song.  During the antara, Shreya doesn’t disappear but offers beautiful vocal counterpoint to Mohit.  Note that instead of vocal counterpoint, there is a mild piano counterpoint in the first line of the antara.  Yes, this is actually the most Ilayaraja-esque song Rahman has ever done, without really sounding like him.  It’s Raja like in the fine sensibilities, the I-care-a-damn stand against the trendy brigade and the acute attention to nuance and of developing an arc that builds up to something intense while remaining very melodic.

So, from a quiet start, the vocal counterpoint helps build up the momentum in the antara.  You know it’s coming when Mohit starts sing Yeh Vaada Hai.

And then, Rahman reminds you why he is Rahman and not Ilayaraja with a key change as Mohit goes into Ya Irada Hai.  Whether or not for puritanical reasons, Ilayaraja always avoided the money note which Rahman has used before as well.  But this time, the change is, again, delicate and beautiful.  It’s not the obvious, big money note of say Can You Feel The Love Tonight.  Instead, it takes you by surprise and is super-exhilarating for that reason.  If you’re an old school music lover with a liking for jazz, you will gasp as that moment hits you. It’s so satisfying when a composer takes a risk and resolves the risk in a satisfying, nay, masterful way.

Rahman doesn’t try to resolve this moment back to square one and instead leaves the phrase hanging at Kabhi Yeh Aadha Hai.  And so, when you return to Taare Ginn, you don’t notice that the key has changed!  But go back and listen to the first Taare Ginn and you will see Rahman moved the cheese when you weren’t noticing!  Never before have I been offered so many surprises in a nice way in a conventional-sounding song of Rahman.

And that is where he has fooled some critics with the conventional appearance of the song with one noted critic comparing it to Disney musicals.  But this delicate poise is what a Disney musical ballad does not have.  That doesn’t make them bad; I am just saying Taare Ginn is a totally different trip.

And the way in which it is, is beautifully encapsulated by Amitabh Bhattacharya in a single lyric line:  “Ek Haseen Maza Hain, Maza Hi Ya Saza Hain Yeh”.  There was a similar sentiment expressed in Mazhaivarum Arugiri: “Kadhala Sadhala”.  But that song itself, the music, didn’t rise up to that sentiment.  This one accesses that elusive space where within the rumaniyat (romance) there is a dard (pain/sadness).  The beauty of this composition is in how it maintains the dard as an undertone that’s there but you can’t put a finger on it.  If you don’t pay attention, you will indeed miss it and take it to be a comfort-song, as some reviews seem to have.  Again, there’s nothing wrong if you think it’s just that; but my purpose here is to encourage anybody who’s reading this to just try digging deeper with this song for it may enrich your experience and increase the pleasure you obtain out of it.

Jazz is often thought as either dance-swing music (Ram Pam Pam/Kaisi Paheli Zindagi) or cool or sappy lounge music (Poo Poothathu/Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) in the mainstream.  But it can be so much more.  Jazzheads know that jazz can be anything you want it to be.  And it’s so gratifying when Rahman himself introduces mainstream listeners to this magnificent side of jazz.

Here are some of the other jazz-based songs you may enjoy:

  1. Soja Soja Raat Ho Gayi (99 songs)
  2. Kalvane Kalvane (Megha)
  3. Dhinnakudha (Pizza)
  4. Dhadhaam Dhadhaam (Bombay Velvet)
  5. Kurangu Kaiyil Maalai (Mumbai Xpress)

There are others, too.  I mentioned a few of them in the rare Raja songs list.

But none of them, none ever, has scaled the heights of Taare Ginn, in my opinion.  Some were let down by lyrics, some by vocals (Day by Day), some by production (Niram Pirithu Parthen).  This is one song where it all comes together in a sumptuous feast for the ears.  I hope you have/will enjoy this song as much as I have.

Naan Ketkadha Padalgal – 10 overlooked/obscure Ilaiyaraja gems

July 1, 2020

For the longest time, I got introduced to new Ilaiyaraja songs (new as in not heard by me before) through one of three sources – mixtapes compiled by my mother or relatives in Chennai, TV jukebox programs (we had no Tamil radio living in Mumbai) and, later, mp3 collections.  From around 2001 to 2005, mp3 expanded my awareness of Ilaiyaraja’s work like anything (a few I also found on raga.com and the now defunct tamilsongs.net).  After that, the mp3s I found mostly had the same songs and as I got interested in rock and other Western music, I barely added new Raja discoveries other than albums that were being released in this period (2007 onward).

And then, years later, I stumbled upon Ilaiyaraja forums and also met fellow fans on Baradwaj Rangan’s blog.  I also discovered new songs just by way of YouTube suggesting them (thanks YouTube!) to me.  Below is a list of ten such songs that most if not all Raja fans will enjoy and about which many may not be aware of for reason only that he composes humongous amounts of music and some gems unfortunately slip through the cracks and disappear.  Luckily, internet never forgets and that is a good thing in this case!

1. Nalla Neram Neram – Antha Oru Nimidam:  At the Ilaiyaraja masterclass hosted last year by director R Balki at the Goa IFFI, a fan asked about the Kannada version of the song and Raja quickly explained the concept of polymeters in lay terms.  For that reason and multiple time signature changes in just the prelude alone, this one is an absolute goldie and a must listen. Vocals by S Janaki

2. Uruginen – Anne Anne: This one I discovered at mayyam.com which you cannot access now from India at least because DoT has blocked it (don’t ask why!).  A stylish romantic duet that morphs into dance-disco by the end. The evergreen, ever reliable pair of SPB and S Janaki delivering as always on vocals.

3. Kangalukkul Unnai Ezhuthu – Thanthu Vitten Ennai: This one is from the last film of legendary director C V Sridhar (and also happens to be the first starring Vikram, a long, long time before his superstar days).  The song itself, sung by S Janaki, is picturised on Rohini and features a beautiful grahabedam overlaid on a rock-like beat.  The tension built up in the pallavi and released during the raga switch in the charanam has to be seen, or rather heard, to be believed. This and the next one I discovered on Ilayarajaforums.net

4. Adhikalai Neram Kanavil – Naan Sonnathey Sattam: This one is interesting.  Another grahabedam beauty and brought to my attention by Ilayarajaforums.net.  But I HAD heard it before on a compilation…and ignored it. It is easy to, just off the somewhat generic/standard shehnai intro.  The intro gives no indication of the magic that lies ahead.  Hence…never judge a book by its cover or a Raja song by its intro. 😀 One of the few songs where Asha Bhonsle has sung for Raja (along side SPB here) and imo her best one for Raja.

5. Niram Pirithu Parthen – Time: I had heard good things about Time album from Raja fans for a long time and not quite bought into it.  I am still not super-duper fond of Naan Thanga Roja, Thavikkiren or Kadhal Needhana.  It’s better than Kannukkul Nilavu, that I give.  BUT Niram Pirithu Parthen, this one is a gem of the sparsely populated Raja-jazz genre. The melody is beautiful, beautiful, rendered well by Sujatha and the orchestration is out of the world, Raja doing chamber-jazz.  Wish the production was better but if wishes were horses…

6. Day by Day – Honest Raj: Ravi Natarajan, who hosts the rajagenius blogspot, recommended this song during a discussion on Raja-jazz.  Certainly one of his most authentic stabs at jazz.  What is very interesting is how he reconciles the looseness of jazz (captured in the dreamy and contemplative guitar intro) with his trademark staccato approach.  That way, it isn’t really jazz at all but what else should we call it?

7. Illuthu Pothina – Honest Raj: So, the other day, while playing Day by Day, YouTube aiyya suggested this song to me.  I didn’t even realise there is this song as well on Honest Raj. Like the song coming up next in the list, it expertly blends a rural sounding melody with extremely Westernised orchestration.  I want to emphasise here…when I say orchestrate, I only mean something synonymous to arranging.  Not necessary that he is using a big orchestra with strings and woodwinds everywhere.  He’s not on this song.  In fact, the more stripped down arrangement makes the juxtaposition even more interesting.  Sung, however, in a pure Tamil mould by Mano and Janaki.

8. Kaatuley Kamba Kaatuley – Rajakumaran: Brilliant, brilliant duet with similar rustic-Western juxtaposition.  Wasted sadly in a mega flop Prabhu film. SPB rocking it along side long time collaborator Janaki. The keyboard tones make me suspect the looming presence of Karthik Raja in this recording and I miss Viji Manuel’s vintage Fender Rhodes tones but the flute work is very interesting (as on Illuthu Pothina too).

9. Poongatrile – Paatu Paadavaa: Another interesting one. I remember Paatu Paadavaa from school days. My Tamil speaking classmates in suburban Mumbai (and I am talking like 50km from Marine Drive!) knew Iniya Gaanam and Nil Nil Nil.  If you are little younger millennial than me or you were busy with the vagaries of life during the film’s release, you wouldn’t believe it but Nil Nil Nil was a hit and came on TV regularly.  And when Uma Ramanan appeared on Saptaswarangal (remember that one??), she sang this song too to lots of cheering and clapping.  I had also heard Vazhi Vidu and Chinna Kanmanikulle.  BUT, because Poongatrile played during the title credits, it hardly got played at all on TV on disappeared.  Pity because it’s one of his most interesting stabs at an almost pure synth set up and at a sound described, accurately or not, as new age.

10. Kanavil Mithakkum – Eeravizhi Kaviyangal: If you were thinking I was lucky/stud enough to have discovered Eeravizhi Kaviyangal without external assistance, nope, I just reserved the best for last. I could do a whole write up about this utter gem of an album.  And this one, rendered by Yesudas, is one of the most soulful, haunting songs of Raja’s entire, supercalafragi-prolific career.

P.S:  Where I found the song in question uploaded standalone on Ilaiyaraja’s official handle (as opposed to a jukebox of the entire album), I have used it.  For others, in view of the recent situation (needs no explanation if you have been following…), I have only used okie-dokie versions as I would not like the remaining high quality sources to get deleted because I brought them wily-nily to the attention of whoever is managing this on behalf of Ilaiyaraja.  One thing I can say…no matter how much the actions of his handlers may infuriate me or others, we will never, ever fall out with his music.  🙂 A thing of beauty is forever.


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