Saturday, 26 November 2016

ILaiyaraaja - The Enterprising Musician

He sees the peacocks dance. He thinks of her.

He sees the deer. He thinks of her eyes.

He sees and smells the Mullai flowers. He thinks of her forehead.

He sees the rain clouds. He decides to beat them.

He rushes faster than the rain clouds-to see her!

This beautiful description is from a poem which is part of AinkuRunooRu, which in turn is part of the 2,500 year old Sangam poetry.

நின்னே போலும் மஞ்ஞை ஆல நின்
நன்னுதல் நாறும் முல்லை மலர
நின்னே போல மா மருண்டு நோக்க
நின்னே உள்ளி வந்தனென்
நன்னுதல் அரிவை காரினும் விரைந்தே.

Written by a poet called Peyanaar, this poem-like many other Tamizh Sangam poems- is special in many ways, but what I love the most is the last line where the Hero describes her forehead as ‘most beautiful’(note that he says this   for the second time) and the way he says that he came rushing faster than the rain clouds.

Is it humanly possible to race with the clouds? Though we know it is not, we can’t stop appreciating the poetic imagination. Yes, fantasising is interesting and poetic too.

The second line is interesting as well. It can be interpreted as ‘the mullai flowers blossomed because of the beauty of her forehead’ or ‘the forehead became more beautiful expecting her beloved’ or ‘the forehead shined with beauty after seeing him’.

Comparisons with peacocks and deer may not be new in literature but the way this poem is conceived speaks volumes of the aesthetic imagination of the poet. People familiar with Tamizh language will enjoy reading this poem aloud (provided of course that their diction is good).

Being imaginative and inventive are the virtues of artistes and poets but these have to be aesthetic and beautiful. Otherwise, it loses its charm and the value too.
This applies to music as well. I have seen and heard some musicians indulge in something novel and ‘unique’ but not many have succeeded in giving that aesthetic feeling. This is because the entire exercise is done more to showcase their intellectual prowess. By saying this, I am not denying the existence of some genuine musicians whose novel ideas have sounded aesthetic and beautiful. In any case, my intention here is not to denigrate the works of the geniuses but only to share my thoughts on some ‘intellectual exercises’ without life.

In film music, no other music composer has experimented with music with great success than ILaiyaraaja. I have quoted many examples in this Group and especially in this thread to prove this fact. Treading new and uncharted paths, he has shown us some beautiful trees, flowers and fruits. What is most amazing is that he has done this in mainstream cinema and I am sure none of the film crew involved in making the film(s) is aware of the experimentation.

Vaathiyaar Veettu PiLLai’ was a film released in the year 1989 and I am not getting into the main theme of the publicity materials and advertisements as it is beyond the scope of this discussion. But I must surely talk about the most important aspect of the movie and the reason for its being special. As many of you must have guessed it, I am talking about music. But why do I call it special (his music is special in almost all the movies, anyway)?

It is because for the first time, a raga-which was hitherto not used in films- was used in a song. Coming to think of it, there is nothing unusual about this because he is known for using rare ragas. Yet, I feel using a raga like this in films-especially sentimentally masala movies- requires audacity, gumption, the courage of conviction and a firm grip on classical music. But most importantly, it needs a lot of imagination and inventiveness.

Gamanashrama is the 53rd meLa raga in Carnatic Music and though at least two very popular ragas-Hamsanandi and Poorvi KalyaNi- are derived from this meLa, it is not a very popular raga in the carnatic concert circuit with just about 2 or 3 compositions. Not only did ILaiyaraaja use it(for the first time in the history of film music) but also made it sound beautiful.
Hey Oru Poonjolai’ is a composition par excellence and the rhythmic patterns and the way the percussion is used, play no smaller role in this.

The flute and the strings play counter melody in the beginning weaving a graceful succulent web. This continues for 2 taaLa cycles without percussion. The chorus starts the akaaram and as if waiting for this opportunity, the percussion sounds with resonance. There are at least two sets of percussion instruments here, with one set sounding with a unique sharpness. The 3-beat tisram is broken into 6 maatras as ta ka dhi mi ta ka with the sharp percussion sounding ta – dhi mi and the other one sounding ta -.

The stage is set for a raga-taaLa bhaava with the shehnai accompanying the chorus and giving the raga imagery with the flute simpering first and finally swirling to guide us to the Pallavi.

Starting with the taara(upper) shadja(Sa), the first line goes descending (in the avarohana pattern). What is to be noted here is the absence of the panchamam(pa) giving the Hamsanandi shade. The panchamam makes its appearance in the subsequent lines to prove that it is after all the mother raga and that the daughter was shown just to play around!

The ‘now and then’ appearance of the flute, the backing of the keys and the rhythm guitar to the vocals(SPB and Chitra) show the combination of tenderness and melody while the sound of Jaalra in the second beat of every alternate tisram shows the inventive Laya Raaja.

With great solicitude, the strings move sans the percussion, in the beginning of the first interlude. The chorus repeats the melody in akaaram with the percussion backing it. The twin-flute follow, playing a rich and smooth melody with the strings repeating that melody.. An invigorating blend of delicacy and dexterity! The twin-flute continue the melody with crispness. The strings peep in at the end and the guitar smiles at them imparting a lyrical mode of expression.

The lines in the CharaNams are chisel- phrased giving the resplendent shades of the raga. The first two phrases of the first two lines have the higher octave notes while the following two phrases have the mid octave notes. The third line has the higher octave notes predominantly, while the fourth line goes descending. The last line moves with a combination of 3 swaras(higher octave) initially and finally with 2 swara-combination. If all these show the Raaga Raaja in full flow, the change in percussion pattern(note that the sharp percussion is totally absent in the charaNams), show the versatility of Laya Raaja.

 The pleasant intrusion of the flute in between the lines adds to the momentum and melody.

The second interlude has his stylised punches with a touch of flamboyance. The ‘claps’ in tisram alternate between the bass guitar and this changes the complexion of the composition to a certain extent. The mesmeric flute enters even as the chorus sings a kind of lullaby. The surprise element is the bass guitar that follows-playing like a lead guitar- and the flute which responds to it. The ending of the second interlude has a touch of poignancy as well. So is the postlude which has the chorus and the flute.

Fantasy at its best.. the peacocks, the deer and the racing of the rain clouds!

Check this out on Chirbit