When the first promos were out, most of us, including yours truly, felt elated. Not just the music but the movie which is being speculated to be loosely inspired by Ramayan coming from the Madras Talkies backyard, with Manirathnam at the helm, had everything to look forward to. Since Roja, Manirathnam, quite unintentionally, but deservedly has had to carry the burden of India’s most Intelligent filmmaker. I am not calling him India’s best filmmaker but most intelligent, because his movies can be dissected and analyzed at many levels & for many different qualities, which can’t be said of some of India’s more prominent and better craftsmen, like Adoor or Ray or Benegal or..They cater to a niche audience and they are truly the masters of their craft. But their movies can be analyzed at only one or two levels and for a fewer categories.
For this movie, Rahman and Mani worked together for the 9th time – but in terms of their movie count, this trilingual is the 10th & 11th respectively (Tamil & Telugu versions are counted as 1 as they are normally dubbed)..
Because Raavan (Hindi) was released first, I listened to the Hindi album first and most of the songs were being played in my car, home theater, iTunes, iPhone and all possible audio outlets for over 2-3 dozen times before I could get to listen to the Tamil version online. But still, I have tried not to compare them and listened to them sort of in isolation. Yet, my knowledge of what I know of how the movie was made and my confident guesses on how Mani would have gone about the film, made me conclude that the most practical thing for Rahman to do would have been to compose these songs with the hindi audience in mind first. Once Mani okayed the hindi versions, he could then adapt the same to Tami/Telugu. Of course, there was no scientific method to my conclusion – it was based on the common knowledge that an average Tamil/Telugu music listener is a little more adventurous when it comes to experimentation as opposed to an average Hindi music listener. This is not to say, an experimentation won’t work or hasn’t worked in Hindi but the probability is more in Tamil/Telugu. And also, Rahman’s great understanding of the nuances of Hindustani classical and Carnatic classical makes him instinctively create tunes based on ragas that are sort of common in both cultures. The beauty of Indian classical music is that even a same raga gets interpreted very differently between Hindustani and Carnatic music – The way it gets rendered right from ‘brihas’ to ‘ghamakas’ to ‘aalaps’, how the voice gets thrown up & down and how it gets modulated, etc. Unless someone has a clear & firm grasp of these subtleties and also not feel puritanical about the usage of these ragas, they will never be able to create a tune or a melody that is instantly appealing to both cultures.
Take for example ‘Kata Kata’: After listening to this multiple times (before Raavanan’s release), I was getting more and more curious about how this would sound in Tamil. I even was selfishly hoping that there would be an entirely different song for the same situation. When I listened to ‘Keda Kari’, I should say, my apprehensive curiosity was shattered to pieces for a good reason. Whether the way Vairamuthu played around with a sort of rustic Tamil that in most of our minds exists only in his poems, yet find it all the more authentic & attuning or the way a simple Shehnai has been replaced with a Nadaswaram like sounding instrument all while maintaining the same playfulness that Gulzar penned down for the hindi version. It is amazing how Ila Arun’s part where she goes ‘O Ra..’, which has the UP belt folksy flavor is not missed at all in the Tamil version, where the choice of singers (AR Raihana and Tanvi Shah) pretty much take care of bringing the much needed rustic playfulness. I also loved the creative usage of ‘Yeh Mappila’ for the chorus ending to replace Gulzar’s playful ‘Ek aur gaya’.. Of course, it goes without saying that we can surely expect Manirathnam to pull something off visually magical and show the marriage ceremonies and rituals for these 2 cultures differently for the different versions. Can’t wait to watch this song on the screens..
If ‘Kata Kata’ was the riskiest song in my mind to have treaded dangerously close to being sounding alien to the south – then ‘Killi Re’ was going to be the least of my worries. AR Rahman has done this many times. Melody – soothing – absolutely serene..Probably he can do songs of this nature in his sleep. Simple brilliance all over..and based on the fusion raga chosen, I expected this song to sound good in Tamil. Shreya has taken the song to another level, while Reena did a great song in Hindi. Amazing singing!
‘Kaattu Sirukki’ – The Kuchi Kuchi Rakamma of 2010. Instead of Hariharan and Swarnalatha, it is Shankar M and Anuradha Sriram this time. I should say the latter pair had a more difficult and may be more authentic rustic lyrics to deal with. Both of them pull this off with aplomb. Talking about the Hindi equivalent ‘Ranjha Ranjha’, this may be another song that Rekha Bhardwaj was delighted she got to sing. Man! What a fortunate singer she is to get to showcase her singing through Rahman’s songs in 2 big movies and that too, through two of the more popular numbers, in spite of her husband being a reputable & an original music director of his own repute.
Beera/Veera – This probably is the song that is going to be played in the charts for the longest time. Absolutely racy and the African chant brings the jungle factor out of the protagonist very well. Can you tell me if there is any other musician who can bring this fusion out so well? Even some of my most respected world musicians such as DF and DCD, who survive on making music out of great research on ethnic sounds around the world, may find it challenging to do something like this where they have to mix African jungle sounds with Indian folk. Not much to write about as far as lyrics go in both the versions, but the song is already my son’s favorite.
Sukhwinder Singh brings out an anthem like feeling to ‘Thok De Killi’ and it is another great song for the lyricists to paint Beera/Veera’s character on a larger canvas in the context of the battle he is waging. Benny Dayal may not have brought the same anthem like feel to ‘Kodu Potta’. What Benny Dayal has done works fabulously well and what I am beginning to get more and impressed with him is the fact that he is able to get his mind around the words & accent of the language he is singing in a methodical way. It is hard to imagine that he is the same singer who sang “Maduraikku Pogathadi” from ATM, the same one who sang “O mana pennae” from VTV…the same guy who sang ‘Adiyae’ from VA..and the same one who sang ‘Kaise Mujhe’ from Ghajini.
Finally the song that I hope fetches some awards for Karthik. Karthik sang both ‘Behne De’ and ‘Usirae Pogudhey’. This is a classic Rahman song bringing out the pain of a lover in an unassuming way. The choice of sounds including an eerie Xylaphone prelude and a great string section orchestral interlude make this song absolutely heart wrenching. Gulzar starts off the song using water as his backdrop while Vairamuthu uses fire. But as the song progresses, Gulzar decides to stick with similar metaphors and poetry while Vairamuthu decides to indulge in more trite romance. I am sure both had reasons to do what they did as they are equally capable of doing the exact opposite if the need be.
Overall, an album that needs time to understand (in my case about 2 dozen times and not 20 ears)..I am sure my understanding at this point is only 30%. Hopefully as I watch Mani’s and Santhosh Sivan’s visuals, it will go up to at least 60%. As an avid movie & music buff, there is no better combination that I am curious about than the combination of Manirathnam, ARR and Gulzar/Vairamuthu – Curious about their motivation, reasoning and the whole process of making music.