Posts Tagged ‘Shamitabh’

Shamitabh: End of an era and a new beginning?

January 18, 2015

Ilayaraja has managed to stun one and all – fans and detractors alike – with the music of his latest, R Balki’s Shamitabh.  It’s all the more surprising given that it’s for a Hindi film and one directed by Balki, for whom Ilayaraja had thus far reworked 80s classics.  Clearly not the context in which a surprise package was expected but there it is.  

He has gone all out contemporary, unabashedly embracing the brave new computer world of music.  It’s not that he has never attempted contemporary (apart from setting contemporary trends for nearly two decades in Tamil music).  But there was, if I may, a half assed flavour to earlier attempts, as if his heart wasn’t quite in it.  Say the dance track Rukku Rukku from the film Friends (which starred Vijay, Surya and Devayani).  It may have had a peppy beat but somehow didn’t feel well put together and didn’t really flow as a composition.  

In comparison, Sha Sha Mi Mi is pop perfection.  Lyrics haven’t been this hip in a Raja soundtrack for a long time, Swanand Kirkire as well as Kausar Munir having a blast with very funny and smart Hinglish.  Vocals haven’t been this strong in a Raja soundtrack for a long time either.  Tellingly, Suraj Jagan is the only other singer to have previously sung for Ilayaraja and he is by no means a staple in the Raja camp either. Caralisa Monteiro excels in Sha Sha Mi Mi while Shruti Haasan caps Sannatta a stunning Kraftwerk-like reworking of tribal dance track Aasayai Kathula.

As mentioned already, this has shocked detractors who opined that he was on autopilot and only capable of pleasing blinded fanatics of his music. This has also caused some churn for the longtime fans themselves. The ones who kept the faith even as commercial returns of his soundtracks dwindled. Because Shamitabh represents a new chapter in Ilayaraja’s career and possibly also the end of an era.

Since the mid 90s or so, Ilayaraja, the composer who once set trends for Tamil film music, whose work R D Burman had praised of being ahead of his time, seemed to have boxed himself into a Last of the Mohicans corner. This chapter probably began with Guru, a 1997 Malayalam film, and gained strength through Hey Ram and Mumbai Express, culminating in Neethane En Ponvasantham and Megha. Ilayaraja insisted that music of quality ought to have live instruments and ranted on the drawbacks of computerised synthesizer music. He even lamented that computer technology had made it too easy to compose. Whether such criticism was legitimate and fair is another story. But, to cut a long story short, as the rest of the film music world got more and more computerised, Ilayaraja only seemed to get even more steadfast in his almost ideological commitment to orchestral music. Only budget constraints could get him to ditch the orchestra and his reluctant acceptance of such ground realities could be seen in the noticeably less lustrous arrangements in such soundtracks.

In this majestic isolation, only loyal fans, for the most part, were his allies. And not without reason. There isn’t anybody else anymore in film music who can come up with orchestral arrangements to approach, let alone match, Ilayaraja. The Hindi golden oldies were by now long gone and even those 90s composers who attempted mediocre imitations of the then standard Hindi film music template were out of assignments. Thus, Ilayaraja’s isolation actually acquired brand value in a way. For those who still wanted to listen to live instruments in music, there was no better place to be than an Ilayaraja soundtrack. The perseverance of these fans was rewarded with the rich, lush recordings of the Neethane En Ponvasantham and Megha soundtracks. Complete with the majestic Budapest Symphony Orchestra, these soundtracks reached, in places, heights hitherto not scaled even by Ilayaraja himself as the fantastic classical musicians added nuance and a fine sense of dynamics to brilliant arrangements.

Unfortunately, neither film met with success in the Box Office. NEPV in particular was a rather costly failure, given that it was directed by the extremely successful Gautham Menon. Megha too sank without a trace. The writing was on the wall but it probably took Shamitabh for the fans to take note. Any hopes of more such expensive experiments would have to be shelved.

Having courted musos for a long time, Ilayaraja finally seems to have decided to appeal to the public at large. And as a one time box office king, he doesn’t seem to have found that very hard. A musician of his immense skill and know how would not find it impossibly difficult to adapt to the computer age. But in doing so, he is probably going to bring down curtains on an era. The era of gracefully orchestrated film songs. The Last of the Mohicans has finally moved on, at least so it seems.

He has signed off with a little something for the long time fans. Piddly, the Amitabh Bachchan sung track, has superb arrangements as always, with the second interlude in particular boasting the kind of twists Raja is known to conjure up. Long live the king!


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