பிராப்தம் – Destiny

Here’s my attempt at translating the powerful song ‘Praaptham’ from Chekka Chivantha Vaanam:

The raindrops wonder unknowingly,
As they gravitate uncontrollably,
‘Which piece of life shall I touch?’
On a seed falls a drop bringing new life,
On a burnt pyre the other ending another life,
Destiny it is, no control as such!

Here, there, everywhere,
The crimson red liquid flows,
This bloody time waits nowhere,
Drowning every path, delivering blows.

The fiery desires forging life on earth,
Reddening the sky and the shattering earth,
Seeping into the waters on earth,
Only to pour red and again kiss the earth.

Here, there, everywhere,
The crimson red liquid leaves nowhere.

Every victorious glow,
Every fatal blow,
Every bloody ending,
It’s destiny singing.

The earth incessantly going around the sun,
Darkening half the day – it’s no fun,
Giving this blessed life of a curse,
Where every joy of a verse,
Is not really an epiphany,
But simply destiny.



The Ilaiyaraaja Top 20 Project

On Nirmal‘s request as a parallel to The ARR Top 20 Project, I set out to make this very nostalgic playlist. Most of these songs are mixed with the inseparable feeling of me fiddling with the music system in the ‘Orange room’ in our old home about 25 years ago, only to leave my father bewildered every evening at the weird things that the music system would do. I can almost feel the breeze from the balcony, as my sister and I would hear these songs, defining what my first memories of film music would be. Rahman was around the corner and Chinna Chinna Aasai would start reverberating in that room soon enough, but Raja had ruled those days with his unique sounds and unbeatable Carnaticness and sheer melody. I enjoy these songs even more today as I listen to the nuances in the music, enjoying each sangati, and the lyrics. As I type each of the song names, I can see in my mind’s eye their names inked by my father in Tamil on those good old TDK D90 cassettes. I only wish these songs are re-mastered in high quality and released again. Here goes the top 20 in no particular order:

1. Sundari Neeyum – Of all his avatars, I probably like the singer Kamal Hassan the best. A wonderful voice suited for Carnatic and the way he emotes brings alive the song in a beautiful way. Kedaram ragam is lovely by itself. Made lovelier by this song.

2. Manram vandha – If one song could define a movie, it is this one that basically encompasses the main emotions of Mouna Raagam. The proximity yet the unbridgeable distance. Water on lotus. SPB’s impeccable rendition.

3. Thenpaandi cheemayile – Another movie-defining song. The rustic rendition by Ilaiyaraja that echoes the plight of the boy Velunayakan, the classic Kamal rendition at different stages though the movie. Powerful emotions. At the end of the day, it is just a small boy’s angst who saw his father murdered in front of his own eyes.

4. Panivizhum malarvanam – Simple melody in Chalanattai. The deep tones of a ‘vivadi’ ragam transform into a romantic melody in the expert hands of Ilaiyaraaja. Inspiration enough for Sanjay Subrahmanyan to weave the landing ‘S S S S S S S S’ of Panivizhum malarvanam into his Chalanattai kalpana swarams.

5. Per vechchaalum – A fun song to hear and hilarious to watch. Dappankuthu beats, Malaysia Vasudevan in full flow.

6. Thoongaadha vizhigal – The flow of Amritavarshini. Yesudas’ deep voice. Brilliant picturisation by Mani Ratnam.

7. Idhu oru ponmaalai – Kedaram again. This song serenely flows in constrast to Sundari Neeyum, which lingers on with its mischief in every line. Beautiful lyrics – Vairamuthu’s first song.

8. Ninnukori varnam – Probably the peppiest song in Mohana ragam ever. Interludes with the quirky sounds only add to the charm.

9. Motta maadi – All songs in this movie are amazing, but this is my most favourite. More childhood memories of growing up with these songs. Mani’s magic comes through as well when we see how these songs are conceived completely interweaved with the movie.

10. Raakkamma – The catchy tune of Raakkamma, the ‘sodukkus’ to keep the beat, ‘jaangu jakku’ – all of these blend to take the song to a pinnacle and that’s when ‘Kunittha puruvam’ happens and takes it to an all-new level. And what a way to capture the first He-She meeting.

11. Nee oru Kadhal sangeetham – Beautiful romantic song. There is a great deal of discussion online about which ragam this is in. I am more in favour of ‘Shuddh Saarang’, as given here. Everything about this song (the voices, interludes, the sound of the instruments) is simple and mellifluous.

12. Poomaalai vaangi vandhaan – Yet another example of the genius of Ilaiyaraaja while dealing with classical ragams. There is an inherent depth in Kaanada ragam, and here Ilaiyaraaja wields it to show the desperation of the main character. Kaanada shines through it all.

13. Kanmani anbodu – An interesting song concept. A beautiful melody. The song starts off with just plain words written in a letter and moves into the wondrous La La Land 😉 towards the end.

14. Mari mari ninne – I am sure this must have gotten a lot of backlash from the purist Carnatic community at that point. This original song by Saint Thyagaraja in ragam Kambhoji has been completely reinvented by Ilaiyaraaja in ragam Saramathi and only goes on to show his prowess in Carnatic music. A majestic song.

15. Maalaiyil yaaro – The beautiful Suddha Dhanyasi ragam flows in this song. Beautiful lyrics and the melodious-yet-strong voice of Swarnalatha adds to the beauty of this song.

16. Yelangaathu veesudhe – One of those songs hearing which you wonder whether it is coming from within or without. Like something that has always been a part of you but you never realised it until you heard it out aloud.

17. Endhan nenjil neengadha – Nalinakanti ragam. That suffices.

18. Valaiyosai – Wonderful combination of SPB & Lata Mangeshkar. That Pallavi line beats all tongue twisters. And at what a pace! A whirlwind of a song.

19. Chinnakkannan azhaikkiraan – The legend Balamuralikrishna. Reethigowlai ragam. The joy with which Balamuralikrishna sings is infectious. Though many recent songs in this ragam have appeared in movies, this still remains one of the best.

20. Akashe Jyotsna/Nee paartha paarvaikkoru – Hariharan. Asha Bhonsle. Piano. Magic.

Bonus (Non-film): Pooveru konum – Thiruvasagam – Orchestral music always sounds grand. Here the beauty of Suddha Dhanyasi (in the first half) combines with it to create this masterpiece. Ilaiyaraaja and Bhavatharini have sung this with a lot of bhaavam.

There are many more gems to discover in Raja’s music and hopefully, we will get to hear more from him, but nostalgia of my early childhood shall always be synonymous with his magical music.

antarkatha – inner story through music & art

Charsur recently conducted a 3-day series on the theme ‘antarkatha’, an inner story through music and art. There was a great line-up of artists and, added to it, it was being held at the recently-renovated Rasika Ranjani Sabha, which I was yet to visit. I was pretty curious and attended this event on Days 2 and 3.


The theme of Day 2 was ‘Muddu Krishna’ (or Bala Krishna) performed by Sriram Parasuram (narration and singing), Nisha Rajagopalan and K Gayatri on vocals, Nishanth Chandran on violin, Poongulam Subramaniam on Mridangam, Srikrishna & Ganesh Rao on harmonium and tabla. The artist illustrating the story was Keshav, whose cartoons appear everyday in The Hindu.

The programme started with Sriram Parasuram singing mArgazhi thingaL. Keshav, on his corner of the stage, started sketching something out with pencil. There appeared to be the form of Krishna, a couple of cows and a small girl. Though the concept of the programme was supposed to be bringing out the leelas of little Krishna through music and art, the music part turned out to be mostly like any other concert, with the addition of Sriram saying a few words about each composition. One interesting fact that he pointed out was that many songs, though they start out singing about ‘bAla’ Krishna, spell out the stories from the later parts of his life as well (example: bAlagOpAlA in Bhairavi by Dikshitar). Another new thing I learnt was that the rAgam hindOLam means ‘to swing freely together’ (with Krishna 🙂 ). Sriram said that it is as if the rAgam is made for Krishna and inspired by Krishna. Sriram, Nisha and Gayatri (excellent rendition of Bhairavi alapana and bAlagOpAlA) took turns in singing compositions (full list below) while Keshav’s canvas started to bring out in vivid strokes, Krishna’s graceful form, his beloved cows, a little girl (Radha?), Yashoda and a little Krishna running towards Yashoda. With the pastel shades of black and orange, the brilliant-and-beautiful form of Krishna took a life of its own while we heard songs singing his glory. A very interesting experiment on the whole when the audience got to enjoy not only the sounds and words, but also got a visual experience. We do get to experience the musicians’ creativity in concerts through kalapanaswaras, alapana, etc., but when an artist wields his drawing instruments, we are left to wonder how the final form was conceived in the artist’s mind starting with a completely blank canvas, how his hands execute the ideas from his brain and if and how he reacts to the music and words that were flowing from the other side of the stage. I did not stay till the end of this programme but the concept impressed me enough to come back the next day.


Image courtesy: https://twitter.com/keshav61/status/923744035826630656 (you can find more beautiful sketches of Krishna by Keshav on his Twitter)

1. mArgazhi thingaL – nAttai – ANdAL – Sriram
2. bAla sarasa muraLi – kIravANi – UtthukkAdu venkatasubbaiyar – outline – Nisha
3. srI vENugOpAlA – kurinji – dIkshitar – Gayatri
4. sAmaja vara gamanA – hindOLam (meaning: to swing freely together) – tyAgarAja – AlApana, swarams – Sriram
5. srI rAjagOpAla bAla – sAvEri – dIkshitar – AlApana, neraval – Nisha, Gayatri
6. jamunA kinArE mOrA gAon – misra kalyAN – ? – Sriram
7. bAlagOpAlA – bhairavi – dIkshitar – AlApana, swarams – Gayatri, Nisha
8. kAkkai chiraginilE – brindAvana sArangA – bhArati – outline – Nisha
9. tAyE yasOdA – tOdi – UtthukkAdu venkatasubbaiyar – Sriram

Day 3

Day 3’s programme was called ‘Story in concert’. The description given in the pamphlet that was distributed the previous day did not quite give away what it was about. While introducing the artists, Charubala of Charsur said that it was Jayanthi Kumaresh’s idea to do a ‘story in concert’. From that idea sprang a full 3-day festival, which Charsur chose to call the ‘antarkatha – inner story through music and art’. Jayanthi’s idea was to present a story in a concert through different media – song, percussion, words (story), painting. Jayanthi Kumaresh played the Veena (rather her Veena enacted the part of the Veena 😉 ), Vidhya Anand transported us to Ambi’s world through her story ‘The Mystery of the Missing Veena’, K U Jayachandra Rao played the Mridangam, Pramath Kiran played the tabla and morsing, and Neernalli Ganapathy from Hubli brought to life with his lightning-fast strokes each episode of ‘The Mystery of the Missing Veena’. The programme invoked hearing drama on radio, reading a comic book, listening to a concert, listening to fusion music and simply listening to a grandmother’s tale all rolled into one. Perfectly conceptualised and perfectly executed. Vidhya Anand narrated the story in colloquial Tamil, interspersed with some English, just as we speak, starting with ‘Once upon a time… ‘.

There lived a little boy called Ambi with his parents, periamma and periappa. He was fond of his Lalitha periamma, who pampered him and was more of his friend except for that magical time after lighting the lamp in the evening, when she took out her Veena for her daily sadhaka, which left Ambi in so much awe and wonder that he would only peep from behind a door or a window to see his periamma practising with that aura. We could imagine Jayanthi Kumaresh transforming into Lalitha and her Veena played the Sankarabharanam varnam, while we saw within the span of that five minutes the back view of little Ambi standing hesitantly in a room, looking out from the window at the form of his periamma playing the lilting swarams of Sankarabharanam on her Veena. Neernalli Ganapathy was a magician. With a thread(?) and some paint, he could create a marvel in a span of minutes, bringing to life the little details of our little Ambi’s world, perfectly in sync with the duration of the song.

As Ambi grew more and more in love with the music and the Veena, he boldly asked his periamma one day to teach him the Veena. His periamma agreed to teach on two conditions: 1. he would practise for two hours every morning before school and 2. practise for two hours every evening after coming back from school. Ambi, after much thought, agreed to it, pushing away thoughts of his play time that he would have to give up in order to do this. And so began Ambi’s journey with the Veena. A song in Malahari was one of his first lessons. Jayanthi’s Veena now transformed to Ambi’s Veena playing the song and we saw the next canvas creating the scene of Ambi and Lalitha seated with their respective veenas, playing Malahari. Yet again, the painting was complete just as the last strains of Malahari flowed from the Veena.

Lalitha’s Veena was not just any other Veena. It was a 150-year-old Veena handed down over generations and Lalitha took great care of it. When she became very old, she gave it to Ambi so that he could continue playing on that. Ambi, by now, had become a true vidwan. He would not perform in public, but whenever he played the Veena, one sensed the magic of the world that he was creating through his Veena. He had learnt to play rare ragams like kAntAmaNi – a melakartha ragam that sounded like a beautiful amalgamation of kalyANi and sucharitrA. Jayanti outdid herself playing this beautiful ragam. Neernalli Ganapathy painted a picture that invoked nature, sculpture and art through Ambi’s Veena.

In the meantime, Lalitha had passed away. Ambi was working as a Data scientist and got an opportunity to move to Mumbai from his beloved Madras. He couldn’t stand parting from his Veena and decided to take it with him. He arranged for a separate cargo to take it to his new Mumbai house. And so Ambi began his new life in Mumbai waiting eagerly for his Veena at 3106, 10th Main, Shanti Vihar. The rest of his luggage arrived within a couple of days but his Veena seemed to be missing without a trace. The courier company had no answer and could only keep assuring him that they were ‘trying to locate it’. Ambi was anxious, and dreaded what would have happened to his precious Veena. His heart was playing its agitated tani avartanam – Jayachandra Rao and Pramath played a very different kind of tani avartanam that would have fitted perfectly as a background music to any movie scene showing the emotions of an Ambi-like character. Meanwhile, the artist was drawing what looked like a modern guy with torn jeans, t-shirt, earrings on one ear, playing the Veena in an awkward position sitting cross-legged in an angle with a thought-bubble that showed a guitar inside it. The audience was left wondering who this person was. There seemed to have been a bit of a confusion since Neernalli Ganapathy did not know Tamil, so he wasn’t sure of the exact scene being narrated, but this also added an element of mystery to the audience.

We would discover who that young man was after that sprightly tani avartanam. John, residing at 3106, 10th Main, Shanti Vilas, received a big box one day. He was a confused electric guitarist playing in a jazz band and simply assumed that someone had sent that box as a gift. On opening the same, he found this ‘strange’ instrument, the name of which he had no clue. After googling about Indian instruments, he found out that it was the Saraswati Veena. Something drew him to the instrument, so he started trying to play it. Not in the Carnatic style, but in his chaste electric guitar style. And, once again, Jayanti’s Veena acquired its new character of an electric guitarist’s Veena. Jayanti played some completely non-Carnatic jazzy music which sounded absolutely delightful, while Neernalli Ganapathy recreated the torn-jeans-earring-adorned John once again playing the Veena, while Ambi was terribly worried about his Veena, since it was over a month since he moved to Mumbai.

Finally, Ambi received a call from the courier company informing him that the Veena had been delivered to 3106, 10th Main, Shanti Vilas instead of Shanti Vihar and they could return it to him in a couple of days. Ambi couldn’t wait that long. He immediately noted the address and drove down to the current residence of his cherished 150-year old Veena. And there he was greeted by John and his amazing music studio. He was glad that his Veena had somehow found its way to a musician’s house. John was way too curious and had gotten very attached to the Veena with his recent experiments that he wouldn’t let Ambi simply pick up the Veena and leave. He asked Ambi to tell him more about this instrument. Jayanti (as Ambi) spoke eloquently about the history of the Veena – an ancient instrument with an important place in Indian culture with all gods and goddesses playing this instrument, its form as a reincarnation of the human body itself, the positive vibrations that are generated (destroying any negative vibrations that may be present) when one plays the Veena and the peace that it brings to the listeners, the incredible amount of multitasking that a person playing the Veena has to do in terms of keeping the beat with one hand, remembering the notes and playing them with the other hand and keeping the spine straight – a great exercise for children that could help them improve their learning capabilities and concentration. The Veena has not changed form for a long time now. If one has a Veena at home, it does bring positive vibrations, but it should be regularly played and one should never keep a broken Veena at home.

After hearing this, John really wanted to hear Ambi play the Veena the way it is supposed to be played. And Ambi launched into a Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Kharaharapriya that totally blew John away. It was as if Saraswati herself was playing the instrument. By the time the Tanam was done, Neernalli Ganapathy had already created a masterpiece of Saraswati standing in a graceful reclining pose, playing the Veena. John and the audience were really left with no words.


Thus, Ambi was reunited with his missing Veena. In a few days, his doorbell rang and he was pleasantly surprised to see John with a new Veena in his hand. John wanted to learn the Veena from Ambi. And so continues the story of music – passing from one generation to another, taking in its stride countless musicians, artists, storytellers, and the millions of hearts of enamoured and overwhelmed and blessed rasikas. As Madhyamavati poured out from the Veena before the curtains would close, I felt the bliss of having experienced a unique programme by outstanding artists (kudos also to Vidhya Anand for a truly engaging storytelling with ‘natural’ dialogues and expressions), that gratified all the senses, and I revelled in the magic of art.


On Life

On Motivation
Doing a PhD, as many people have experienced and recorded, requires a lot of self-motivation which may seem elusive very often. Throughout the course of this period, I have been trying various tips and tricks, like the Tomato Timer, 30-day challenges, watching TED videos, and reading various stuff on the internet. The thing is you don’t know what will help at which point and you can’t but help become a little philosophical and a little distressed when things don’t go your way. The latest quote which I found very practically useful is the following: ‘The secret of work: Let the end and means be joined into one.’ That’s yet another representation of the golden mantra of ‘Living in the moment’ or ‘Carpe Diem’! The search to find motivation everyday shall continue. Thankfully, when the deadlines appear closer, finding the motivation also seems a little easier. The hardest challenge sometimes is to relish and do efficiently the apparently mundane things, but if one doesn’t have the determination to do that, it’s very hard to become a good researcher.

On ‘Transport’ of things
How much time do we spend in transporting things? Most of the mundane activities in everyday life involve transport. Moving things from the supermarket to home. Moving things from outside to within the body. Moving things from home to work. From work to home. From here to there all the time. Apart from basic necessity, we do this transport to maintain a sense of order as well. Does so much movement outside restore some order to the rush that’s happening within us as well? Shouldn’t we act in the same spirit when we move these objects in the external world as we would do when we want to move those parts within us and rewire those neurons as well?

On Music
Moving those parts within brings us to music. That inexplicable thing that effortlessly helps move those parts within. No matter what emotion the mind creates, it is also capable of creating the perfect piece of music that reflects that emotion. Is music something beyond exciting the intellect and moving the heart? It certainly gives more than it takes. It is not a mere permutation of the basic notes. Between those notes, there is so much to discover. Music feels divine.

On God
What is divinity? Godliness? Another secret of work is to feel like it is a form of worship. In religious rituals, whenever we offer something to God, it is supposed to be made with the best of ingredients, intentions, and purity. In that way, if every apparently mundane thing and every important thing is done with the feeling that we are doing it in order to worship God, it can give a little more meaning to life. As humans, if we can think of God as another being, then somehow we feel this emotional connect, but otherwise, in verifiable terms in the present, what is the notion of God that we have? When I try to do something, the purpose of doing that I think is God. For instance, with washing clothes, cleanliness is I guess Godliness. In this context, Dharma also appears. Dharma also seems like another notion of God.

On Dharma
What is Dharma? The question that Mahabharat tries to answer through various incidents. It seems to depend on so many things like place, time, the person concerned and the person in relation to whom it concerns. Invariably, with Dharma comes Dharmasankat where there appear to be multiple Dharmic ways ahead. Let us assume we sort out this problem and find out what the Dharmic way is. With that ends all confusion and there is no more the question of one’s desire. Coming back to how to find the Dharmic way, it seems like one should define one’s own Dharma and stay true to it. In other words, stay true to your own conscience. According to Sri Sarada Devi, ‘The mind is everything. It is in the mind alone that one feels pure and impure. A man, first of all, makes his own mind guilty and then alone he sees another man’s guilt.’ In other words, only when you impose your Dharma on someone else do you find that person to be guilty. Also, if, as individuals, we are clear on what our Dharma is, then no external thing can ever touch us.

On Desire
Desire is the ultimate killer. The cause for disappointments, sadness, and all such emotions when it is not fulfilled and temporary thrills and joys when it is fulfilled. Again, it is the mind that creates those desires and it is not impossible to rewire those neurons and remove those unwanted desires. Despite life denying us time and time again so many things that we desire, the desire itself continues to flourish. Some desires do seem desirable, in the sense that without a basic desire to live and accomplish things, life can seem meaningless. Is real freedom then removing these desires that dissipate our emotional energy and only allowing our mindspace for the Dharmic desires? In other words, can we let our ego die every moment and give life to the things that truly matter?

On Beauty
Beauty is like a breath of fresh air whenever we encounter it, leaving us wonderstruck, emptying our minds of all other emotions and making us sit up and notice and focus on only that. What is beauty really? Beauty to me seems to be Focus. Why do certain scenes look so beautiful? Why do certain actions look beautiful, like Federer hitting that perfect forehand? When all matter is the same set of fundamental particles rearranged in myriad ways, why do only certain things appear beautiful? At the same time, why do photographs of even mundane things that choose to use the focus in a different way look so beautiful? The key seems to be focus. Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. Is it then maybe possible to focus deeply or widely enough on every single thing and feel its beauty? Furthermore, can we look beyond everything and focus on the One?

On Oneness
There is verifiable oneness in matter, as we see that all forms of matter are made of the same set of fundamental particles – already discovered or still in contention. There is oneness in the emotions that we go through as humans too. It is possible to connect with another person’s emotions expressed as words or music or when interacting with that person in other ways. When we connect with any form of Oneness, when we connect the parts and that becomes more than its sum, that leaves us with an extreme satisfaction – almost a desireless state. Is that then the goal of life? To connect those dots every moment? To find the motivation to work, irrespective of its nature, through divine music, or conforming to Dharma, or fighting one’s dissipating desires, and find the beauty that connects everything that is conceivable and is experienced by the mind? Is it only an intellectual exercise or something more that gives peace?

On Karuna
Are you searching for a reason to be kind? asks Rahman. Putting it a little differently, how do we so easily find a reason to be unkind? With the feeling of Oneness comes the feeling of kindness (apparently what makes us human) too. Dharma, which can become an intellectual exercise if we only analyse situations ‘rationally’, gains meaning only if it is guided by Karuna. And always thinking of others. Again, being aware of that Oneness every moment, can we discover more kindness in ourselves, Dharma that is guided by Karuna, and our capability to love infinitely?

P.S. What a combination of reading Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore, listening to Swami Chinmayananda, watching Mahabharat, watching tennis, listening endlessly to A R Rahman and Sanjay, and doing a PhD can do is this.

The ARR Top 20 Project

As soon as I saw this new topic in the ARR fan club about making your list of Top 20 ARR songs, I was curious to try it out and find out which songs would end up in my list. I did it a bit differently. Firstly, I decided not to listen to ANY music while making the list to ensure I was unbiased. I tried to think of the first thing that came to my mind for each song. I thought of the ‘impact’ it has on me – every time I listen to it. I thought of whether the song has the same impact on me now as it did a few years ago – the ‘timeless’ factor. This was quite hard to judge for the recent songs, especially those from Rockstar. In that case, I tried to see what the song meant to me beyond the musical notes, the lyrics, the voice – if there was something that I connected with at a deeper level. This last fact is true for all the songs that finally made it to my top 20. These are the songs whose ‘souls’ I have been able to connect to, every time I listen to them. I did not think of any technical aspects while making this list. These are songs I have played on loop endlessly, songs which I waited to hear during the cassette days or impatiently rewound innumerable times to loop them and songs which leave me with an awe every time.

As a first step, I wrote down my favourite songs from each album. I also included the non-film albums. There were 166 songs. Then I decided to cross out the songs which I felt were not right there at the top. After a lot of attempts at weighing the relative merits of the songs, I came up with a list which had 84 songs! Then, I decided to do a selection instead of elimination – that is, I chose all the songs that I wanted in the top 20. I came up with 40 for the top 20 spots 🙂 Then came the toughest part of the whole exercise. To make it easier, I decided not to include the non-film songs. After eliminating a few more, there were still 29. I had almost given up at this point. After a lot of heartbreaks, this is what I came up with (listed in no particular order):

(I am listening to each song as I am writing about it now. It is proving to be extremely difficult to switch to the next song)

1. Chinna Chinna Aasai – Roja

The first Rahman song I listened to. Happy, light-hearted, carefree. Beautiful lyrics. Minmini’s voice. ‘Elelo’ in Rahman’s voice. Beautiful visuals. The variation in the beats. The freshness.

2. Pudhu Vellai Mazhai – Roja

The first thing you notice about this song is the unique ‘snowfall’ beat. The theatrical effect that Rahman brings sounds grand, even today. I knew which song to play during my first experience of snowfall about two years back 🙂 The pause before every time ‘Pudhu Vellai Mazhai’ starts after the charanam allows for a moment of solitude, which only adds to the romance beautifully brought out in this song.

3. Thee Thee – Thiruda Thiruda

I listened to this much later than the time of the movie’s release. Veerapandi Kottaiyile was the more popular song at that time. This is a ‘love at first hearing’ song. This is one of Rahman’s most energetic songs. Both interludes are par excellence – the first one mainly with konnakkol and Rahman’s swarams and the second one with Naveen’s flute. I still struggle to understand the lyrics completely, thanks to Carolene’s singing, but I am not complaining. On the whole, this is how fusion with Carnatic base should sound like!

4. Narumugaiye – Iruvar

The salangai chimes moving from one speaker to the other. Poetic Tamil lyrics, which I don’t entirely understand. A Nattai-based song (Never knew Nattai could sound romantic!). Unnikrishnan’s and Bombay Jayashri’s voice. The blend of Ghatam (by Vikku Vinayakram) and salangai. The second interlude on the Sarangi(?). The variation in beats for almost every line (The variation for the first line in the charanam can easily be missed. I discovered it only recently.).

5. Mangta Hai Kya – Rangeela

Rahman sounds funky! I don’t know if he has sounded this way in any other song. The closest is probably Humma Humma. The beats that run throughout this song are like heartbeats, giving life to every moment. The second interlude on the piano is simply magical. Rahman springs a pleasant surprise at the end with the short alaap and swarams. He really is a master in introducing elements of Indian classical music in ANY kind of song. A charming mood-lifter, this song is.

6. Sandosha Kanneere – Uyire (Dil Se Re – Dil Se)

I happened to listen to the Tamil version of this song first and that has stuck with me. There is a slight variation in the tune in the first line of the charanam, which I like better in the Tamil version. Lyrics are good in Tamil too and not a mere translation of the Hindi lyrics. My favourites: ‘kallonRu thadai seidha pOdhum, pullonRu pudhu vErgaL pOdum, nam kAdhal adhu pOla mIrum kannE’, ‘unnOdu nAn kaNda bandham, maNNOdu mazhai konda sondham, kAindhAlum adi Iram enjum kaNNE’. The chorus plays an important role in this song. The jathis/swarams in the interludes and the lag with which they sing (almost whisper) towards the end bring in a mystic sense, as if it is the air that is whispering these lines/carrying voices from far away. I can almost feel the fog in the atmosphere through the muffled beats. A beautifully picturised song too.

7. Jiya Jale – Dil Se

The Malayalam lyrics and the beats add a festive spirit to this song. What an eclectic combination of flute, percussion and santoor in that first interlude! Sindhubhairavi never sounded so buoyant!

8. Theendai – En Swaasa Kaatre

A classical beauty. I think the entire song is based on Shri Ragam. The entire beauty of this ragam is brought out in this passionate song! The beauty of every line lingers on, thanks to the extra karvais or prolonged notes at the end of every single line in the song. This song is worth watching too, just for the beautiful landscapes of Hampi and that pond with amazingly-stacked steps.

9. Pachchai Nirame – Alaipayuthey (Saathiya – Saathiya)

This is my most special song. Perfect in every way. And it manages to manifest itself equally beautifully in every language too! I love this song equally in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. I was a bit apprehensive before listening to this in Hindi with Sonu Nigam’s voice, but he does complete justice to the song. The lyrics – the beautiful concept of describing the different shades of love. Hariharan sings this extremely gracefully, as if whispering into the ears of his girl. This, in my opinion, is THE best picturised song of ARR. Madhavan and Shalini only add to the beauty of the already breathtaking locations. This song has got to be experienced – no more words to describe it.

10. Do Kadam – Sonu Nigam  Meenaxi

A very contemplative, soulful, mysterious song. The song of hope – to find a better place (heaven?), which we are just two steps short of. This song reminds me of the time I used to listen to this sometimes (the rare times when I was not listening to Aayitha Ezhuthu) while solving Physics problems while preparing for JEE (maybe it gave me the hope that I would be able to handle Physics, which I found to be the toughest of the three subjects). A simply structured song, but conveys much more.

11. Hey Goodbye Nanba (Short Version) – Aayitha Ezhuthu (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0s7aERlI1s)

This is the piece that appears when Siddharth and Trisha do never-ending round trips on the bus on their last evening together before her wedding. It is just one-and-a-half minutes long and the melody is the same as that of the full version of the song, but the lyrics are different and very apt for the situation. I like this even better than the full song – the opening notes on the piano and the guitar are magical.

12. Yakkai Thiri (Fanaa) – Aayitha Ezhuthu

I have already written about this here. To add to that, this song is mostly based on Suddha Dhanyasi.  The series of metaphors in the lyrics and the concept of One love has more meaning than it first appears. This song, if I remember right, was composed for the lyrics which Vairamuthu had written earlier. A slightly modified version was used for the final version of the song. Rahman carries the entire song, with his voice too.

(It was extremely difficult to leave out the other songs from Aayitha Ezhuthu. They were all there in the 40 I wanted in the top 20. It was especially difficult to give up Nenjam Ellam and Sanda Kozhi, but at some point, the songs from other movies took over)

13. Spiderman – New

A unique song for the mood it creates. The repeated melody (on the guitar?) creates the mood of the song from the beginning. Kunal Ganjawala’s (he even manages to pronounce the ‘zha’ properly) and Sadhana Sargam’s voices fit in perfectly for this passionate, intimate, mystic song.

14. Porkalam – Thenali

The best part of this song – 1:51 to 2:09, which also appears during the second interlude. This is a slow, beautifully flowing song – almost like a conversation between the two. Gopika Poornima’s voice sounds very good. This is one song just for listening – not at all to watch. A soothing melody.

15. Mausam & Escape – Slumdog Millionaire

One of the best instrumental pieces of Rahman. The sitar-guitar combination is deadly. Grand, epic sound. Full of energy.

16. Sahara – Sivaji

This is the most underrated song in this album. Its more popular version ‘Sahana’ sung by Udit and Chinmayee doesn’t quite create an impact for me. Vijay Yesudas sings and hums very soulfully (I am glad we got to hear him again (in a Rahman song) in ‘I’ve Been Waiting’). The Thiruppavai lines ‘Maale Manivanna..’ are set in a moving Suddha Dhanyasi accompanied by the rhythms of the guitar. That is the highlight of this song. This could also be thought of as a melancholic interpretation and an instrumental/humming version of ‘Sahana’.

17. Aaromale – Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya

That’s the song that has always been on my playlist ever since the music of Vinnnaithaandi Varuvaaya released. Infact, I fell in love with this song from the first time I heard it. It’s magical to say the least and it’s one of those rare songs which I can listen to any time in any mood. Infact, it creates my mood everytime – of joy, of awe, of magic. Just like the first time. There’s something about the song which is indescribably blissful. Be it the opening guitar, the voice of Alphons Joseph, the beats, the ‘Swasti Swasti Sumuhurtham..’ chorus or Ganesh Rajagopalan’s violin. There’s something unique in how it all comes together and makes the song what it is. The song is based on the ragam Bhageshri, one of my most favourites. I don’t know why but everytime I walk along St. Pieter’s Church (the structure looks beautiful from every angle) in the centre of Leuven, I feel like listening to this song. I don’t know if it is because they show a church in the movie too. When every face of the church appears before me as I walk around it, the sound of the opening strings of guitar play in my mind. Epic song.

18. Jaa Re Ud Jaa Re – Raavan

The surprise song in Raavan. I like the version rendered by Rahman during the music launch of ‘Raavan’ the best (it is slightly different from how it appears in the movie). A song which instantly connects with the soul. It sounds like a conversation with oneself – introspective, ruminating over the past and spiritual. Rahman brings out the magic with his voice.

19. Acid Darbari – 127 Hours

How can a piece of music be so touching, so moving and convey a whole spectrum of feelings without uttering a single word? Is this what is Rahman’s touch? I don’t know, but I know for sure that it is something divine. It brings tears to my eyes, yet comforts me. The cry (of Aron?) reveals the pain, but the continuously flowing sounds of the continuum soothe. The romantic Darbari mostly used in film songs puts on a mournful face here. Yet, there is an indescribably beauty in every note. [I wrote this down on the day I first listened to this piece. I feel exactly the same even today.]

20. Jo Bhi Main – Rockstar

I really connected with this song after reading about Jordan’s character as described by Imtiaz Ali – that Jordan can only connect with other people’s music, which cannot lie unlike their words and that he can express himself only through his music. Earlier, it was the sound of the opening guitar, ‘ya ya ya’ and the lyrics, which I appreciated, only superficially. After reading that, I could sense something beneath all this – probably the true emotions that the song tries to convey. When I hear the same ‘ya ya ya’, I can feel that those words are trying to convey something deeper, something which can’t be expressed by any other meaningful words. This has also become my most favourite song in Rockstar. There is much more that I am yet to discover in this song, but I know it is going to be in my playlist forever! My favourite line: ‘jO bhI main kehna chAhoon, barbAd karEn alfAz mErE’. I hope you could hear some of the music behind all these words I have written here, which otherwise probably quite didn’t convey what I wanted to say!

P.S.: After coming up with the list, I made a short analysis and saw that 10 of the 20 are from Mani Ratnam’s movies! Also, 10 of them are from films released in 1992-2000 and10 from 2001-2011. I certainly didn’t expect that!

Raavan – The Music

Raavan is yet another delightful journey into Rahman’s world of music. It has all the ingredients of his music – the vintage stuff, the new sounds, beautiful classical interludes and freshness. Rahman sets himself apart from his last work Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and how!

The opening of the Beera Beera song is probably the best I have heard in recent years. The buildup before ‘Beera’ is sung first time, mainly using different voices (including Rahman’s) and some percussion is something you could have never imagined from what was shown on the trailer earlier. I was, at one point, listening only to the first 30 seconds of this song repeatedly.  The stereophonic effect with Rahman’s voice sounds so good!  From the first Beera, it’s all about Beera. I wonder if the word Beera has been used so many times in so many different ways simply to bring out his ten heads and ten minds and hundred voices. My favourite parts in this song are the energetic beats accompanying Dhama Dham Dham Dham and Rahman’s voice of course. I have been looking forward to hearing this song right from the moment I saw the first trailer of Raavan with those stunning visuals of Abhishek kicking the stone into the river before himself taking a dive. This song is instantly catchy and is sure to be a hit. I only wish it lasted longer than 3:16!

The mystic sounds that Behne De opens with, which also plays in the background of Raavan website, I guess, will serve as the theme of the movie and is likely to be heard a lot in the movie. The song slowly builds up from these sounds to Karthik starting to sing ‘Are Aankh Se…’. Then it flows on to ‘Behne De Mujhe Behne De’ to the final climax of ‘Beh Gaya Beh Gaya’, where Irfan does a very good job (He sang very well at the music launch too) and the whole saga repeats. There are some beautiful interludes building up with the flow and mood of this sombre song.

Thok de Khilli is another song with catchy beats and fast paced which ends on an even faster note. We now have an idea of how this song is picturised from Abhishek’s performance at the music launch – Raavan with his gang bellowing out his ideologies with the support of Hey Hey’s from his gang. The interlude from 1:28 to 1:44 is typical Rahman stuff, which too changes its tone after this point, paving way for Sukhwinder to continue with the earlier tone of the song. The song sounds stylish with its beats and the interlude from 0:08 to 0:12, which is also heard later on. In the first listening, atleast the beats and the chorus parts are instantly likeable if not the whole song itself.

The opening sound of the wind (in a desert?) and Anuradha’s modified voice (sounds exotic) give the Arabic feel, but is not retained once Ranjha Ranjha starts off. I started noticing this song more when there was a variation in the way Rekha sings Ranjha Ranjha from 2:03 to 2:12. I really like the song only after the first charanam starts, with ‘Waqt Katta Bhi Nahin..’ and we also get to hear more of Anuradha. Rekha’s voice suits the song well.

Khili Re was my instant favourite in the first listening. The anklet sounds, the frilly classical interludes, the romantic lyrics, Reena’s voice and Naveen’s flute blend in beautifully in this song. This is the kind of song that Rahman always does full justice to. This reminds me of songs like Saanwariya, In Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein, Yeh Rishta kya and many such beautiful melodies of Rahman. This song too is shorter than I would have wanted it to be.

With bang-on drums, Shehnai interludes, Ila Arun’s voice and cheesy lyrics comes across the folk wedding song Kata Kata. The grand drums remind me of Azeem-Oh-Shaan and from the CD covers, I hope this song will be equally colourful. This song took a few times to get a hang of. It seemed to be so full of beats in the first listening but then, with each listening you discover layers and layers of music packed into this high-energy song. I especially loved the short shehnai interlude from 1:38 which follows into the ‘Ho Raaa..’ and later melts into the background. Another nice interlude is the one from 2:36 to 2:46. This song too closes with high tempo of ‘Ek aur gaya’. I enjoy each and every moment of this song now. This could be a great mood-lifter!

The surprise package in the form of ‘Jaa Re Ud Jaa Re’ is currently my most favourite in this album. Rahman rendered this so soothingly at the music launch of Raavan. I was definitely disappointed with the absence of any song in Rahman’s voice in the album but this one really made up for it. As all fans are wishing for, I too wish this is officially released. The strong rhythm in this song appealed to me the most the first time. The piano notes are extremely beautiful and also the way Rahman sings it, joined by the other person in the chorus. When he goes ‘Oh Beera..’ (it sounds like that to me), the effect is simply amazing. This too is a short song lasting only around 4 minutes but so very satisfying!

As all Mani Ratnam-ARR combos, this one too is magical and is sure to stay in my playlists forever!

What a day and What a night!

The Day

4.30 AM February 23rd 2009 – The alarm goes off. Waking up with the same excitement as if it was Deepavali, I got ready quickly and switched on Star Movies first, only to find some football movie going on. Soon, I flipped the channels and came to our very own 24*7 news channels and found that only NDTV was covering the Red Carpet live. The excitement started building up. It was a long wait before we actually caught a glimpse of ARR with his wife on the Red Carpet 🙂 The Slumdog team walked in smiling, the whole team including the child stars, who just stole the show away. NDTV gave quite a good coverage of the Red Carpet except the ARR part 🙂 It was a long wait till 6.30, before the show would start on Star Movies. In the meanwhile, the buzzwords Slumdog and ARR were echoing everywhere. At that moment, I don’t know what I was feeling about the prospect of ARR winning. Infact, I wasn’t thinking so much about it as I was about seeing ARR performing at the Oscars. The show started on Star Movies at 6.30 with the Red Carpet! So, again, it was back to flipping channels till 7 AM, when the show finally started! From the time Hugh Jackman started off with his antics, the excitement started growing more and more. Resul Pookutty started off the dream run of the Indians at the Oscars. It was a heart-warming moment seeing him give his acceptance speech. It was 9.15 or so. Without any warning, the nominations for Best Original Score were announced 🙂 My heart was beating so fast and I was just elated hearing that ‘The Oscar goes to.. A R Rahman’ 🙂 It was totally unbelievable. What a speech he gave! Speaking in English, Hindi and Tamizh, he was just amazing. Again, without giving us any time for it to sink in, ARR started performing O.. Saya and Jai Ho. He performed pretty well and I liked the way he and the other singer finished off together in the end. Yes, finally, the Americans were ready to see Indian film music in the same standing as theirs. Again, this time more unbelievable, ARR’s name was announced. ARR had made history! The words he chose to accept his award this time were even more touching. He chose love over hate all through his life and he was there! ARR would always remain such an inspiration – be it through his magical music or just from the kind of human being he is! In just 15 minutes, ARR had created history; something that is going to have an everlasting effect on the fate of Indian music, his career and his fans, of course. ARR always sees the hand of God in all of his creations. This feeling is translated to us too when we hear his music; yes, it’s God’s own. It leaves us with a feeling for which bliss is too small a word! It makes us wonder if it’s some divine music. It makes us lose ourselves. We become one with the music. I feel it’s something like resonance. The frequency of our soul matches that of his music and there’s resonance. We have found our natural frequency. We have found the ultimate state. And we see God.

The Night

Yes, I did see God last night. But this time, in a more gross form. It was Sivaraatri last night and what better way to celebrate it than going around Siva temples all around Chennai.
9 PM, 23rd February, 2009 – I started temple-hopping with my family. It was a non-stop journey. Chandramouleeswarar temple @ R A Puram. Sringeri Saaradambal Temple @ R A Puram. Tiruvottiyur Vadivudaiyamman temple. Komaleeswarar temple @ Pudupet. The Mylapore temples: Vaaleeswarar. Viroopaaksheeswarar. Malleeswarar. Kaaraneeswarar. Teerthapaaleeswarar. Apparswamy temple. Kapaaleeswarar. Velleeswarar. Mahaalingapuram temple. Siva-Vishnu temple @ T Nagar. Kasi Viswanathar temple @ West Mambalam. Sankara Mutt @ West Mambalam. Sringeri Saaradaambal Temple @ West Mambalam. Agasthiyar kovil @ T Nagar. Sringeri Saaradambal Temple @ T Nagar. Marundeeswarar temple @ Tiruvanmiyur. Jalakanteswarar @ IITM. Came back to IIT at 4.30 AM in the morning.

The 24 hrs turned out to be such a wonderful time. Whenever I was at home, it was ARR all around. Every channel wanted to show something or the other. For once, I was not irritated with the way news channels kept harping on the same thing 🙂 Just didn’t want to miss a single thing about ARR that was being said or shown. The Sivaraatri experience was equally enjoyable. Though I started feeling sleepy by around 2 AM itself, it still was worth it. The only two places where we couldn’t see the main God because of unimaginable crowd was Marundeeswarar and Kapaaleeswarar. Other places were pretty peaceful. It was interesting to see how everybody had their own way of spending the night. Temple-hopping was one option, of course. You could see a lot of vans taking around people to various temples. The other option was to spend the night in one temple – either awake chanting slokas or even sleeping in the temple! This last option found so many takers that in many temples, we had to find a path with great difficulty to do a pradakshinam.
The non-stop 24 hours had made me tired I guess. I fell asleep at 4.30 and got up only after 5 hours, with phone calls and alarms failing to wake me up from my slumber. Hence, the punyam I had acquired by staying up for Sivaraatri is lost 😦 Nevertheless, what a day it was! and what a night!