Ilayaraja turns 70 today. It’s been almost 35 years since he cut his teeth into composing and the love affair seems to endure.
On this day, it would be fitting to recall some of his best compositions that keep ringing in the minds as we navigate through the traffic or perform our daily chores. But how do you choose between an apple and an orange? Pick one in the spur of the moment like we are going to do now? Even that becomes a scary operation if we think about the songs that we are forced to leave out. Nevertheless, let us indulge in one.
If asked to choose from a pool of raagas, Kedharam wouldn’t be the first choice for most of the composers. To pull off a song that captures the elated evening mood so beautifully the way Pon Malai Pozhudhu does is something that makes Raja special. This was lyricist Vairamuthu’s first song and this is one of those Raja songs where lyrics match up to the composition. Sound of chirping birds scattered across the song and S.P. Balasubrahmanyam’s (SPB) enthusiasm enhances the beauty of the composition. The best part of the song is the sad solo violin that culminates the second interlude.
The song is based on Kalyani, Kosalam and kindles a romance regardless of who listens to it. Raja’s Midas touch comes into play as he deftly captures the emotions of lorn lovers, where the hero lives his life in the battle field and the heroine hails from a conventional background. SPB, in one of the live concerts, recalled that the RD Burman troop that recorded this song, as they finished playing the first interlude, stood-up and started clapping. Well, shouldn’t they have waited until the second?
What a semi-classical master-piece! Raja is probably one of the very few music directors to have tried Hamsanadham in movie songs. Even as the lyrics is ordinary, the rendering of KJ Yesudas and S Janaki, the first interlude and a monotonous table beat which glides along transcends the experience to a whole new level.
If there is a song with every aspect of it – orchestration, singing and lyrics - being perfect, this should be it. The song set to Hindolam starts with a scintillating prelude with stunning violin bits. SPB’s mischievous interruptions in the Janaki portions have further enhanced the rustic effect. Tongue-in-cheek sadness with which the nadaswaram culminates the first interlude is another mind-bender.
The song has a tinge of ‘casualness’ about it and SPB has nailed it with characteristic nonchalance especially in the way he renders “hey hey inivarum munivarum” in pallavi and “eriyum vilakku sirithu kangal moodum” in charanam. Unique facet of the song will be the violin portions which captures the casualness in the pallavi. The manner in which the violin strings merge with electric guitar makes the song one amazing package.
Genius is often beyond comprehension. This song shows why for unlike the other famous songs of his, Kanne Kalai Manne, which carries shades of Kaapi, will be remembered for its simplicity. For some reason Raja has allowed KJ Yesudas take over the whole song and has let his orchestration stay in the background. The song will also be remembered as legendary lyricist Kannadhasan’s last song and for Kamal Haasan’s impeccable expressions on screen.
Will there be any other song that will ever be played in loop on a New Year eve as much as Ilaimai idho? The hero, Kamal Haasan, is bragging about his multi-faceted personality and having teenage girls swoon over him. SPB’s mind-blowing rendition is accompanied by an extra-ordinary bass pattern. Violin interlude in the first interlude catches the eye while the other two interludes allow the picturisation to take over.
The song introduces the heroine Amala and how? Ninnukori varnam, the first two words of the song, is one of basic varnams in Carnatic classical music based on Mohanam. Raja’s creativity should be lauded for he has given a disco feel to one of the most traditional raagas by doing total justice to it. The drumbeat and the innocence in Chitra’s voice have made the song further delectable.
Raja, well past his prime, was still delivering magical songs in Kamal Haasan movies. Nee Paartha Paarvai is arguably the best western classical song he has composed. The song begins with an incredible piano-work and with Rani Mukherjee orating a Bengali poem. Flute, female humming and Hariharan’s mellifluous voice have further enhanced the beauty of the song. The singing part begins a tad late but who complains?
Raja’s mastery of Kalyani shines through yet again. After Vellai Pura Ondru, Janani Janani and Amma Endrazhaikadha, this is yet another massive Kalyani. This is arguably one of his best songs in the last decade. Lyricist Vaali has done a fine job comparing a happy family with attributes of music. Singers Bhavatharini, Sadhana Sargam, Shreya Ghoshal, Hariharan and Ilayaraja have all combined to produce a magic-effect where voice, lyrics and interludes fall in perfect synch.