Karthik Raja

Karthik Raja has always been one of my favorite composers no matter how many bad albums he gave in the past. He has the potential to give great music and I still have strong belief that he would make it to the top one day in Tamil film music like his brother. Unfortunately in film music, the fate and success of a composer is based on the mass appeal and the commercial success of the music no matter how bad the quality of music may be. As you can see here, I was really worried that a composer who gave soundtracks like “Ullasam”, “Album”, “Dum Dum Dum”, “Kudaikkul Mazhai”, “Naam Iruvar Namakku Iruvar” didn’t have a single release in 2005.

But I am happy that few albums got released this year. “Solla Varthaigal Illai” from Mercury Pookal is one of the best melodies of the year. When I listen to this song, "Yaaro Nenjukkul Vandhu Oru Laksham Violingalai mella mella ragathodu isaipadhu pol irukkiradhae". And now in two consecutive releases “Naalai” and “Manadhodu Mazhaikaalam” he has given a kind of music that I have been carving for a long time to hear from him. I like all the songs in both the albums. Both are completely satisfying soundtracks. Sometimes when you are so much in love with the composer, even his bad songs may sound good, better songs may sound great. I was asking myself whether me liking the songs of “Naalai” and “Manadhodu Mazhaikaalam(MM)” is also like that. But after more listening, I am convinced that it is actually good, infact too good. To music lovers, whose verdict on the song is based on the main tune of the song, the songs of Karthik Raja may not appeal much but for if you listen deep into orchestrations, rhythm patterns and lot of small experimentations in the songs, Karthik Raja’s composition will just blow you away.

Here are some reasons why I like Karthik Raja’s music

Karthik Raja – Man of Rhythms

Obviously, rhythm patterns that he uses for his melodies or for any kind of songs are truly innovative. He sure knows when to use rhythms that go in synch with the melody, that is, which just echoes the rhythm that is within the melody. More than that, the use of rhythms that is not in synch with the rhythm of the melody makes most of his songs much more interesting. He not just employs the percussions for rhythm; infact a melody played by some other melody-playing instrument can be used as a rhythm for the main melody of the song as you can listen in the few seconds after the second interlude in the song “Pudhidai” from MM. But you just can’t leave without mentioning his brilliant percussion usage, as in songs like “Desingu Raja”, “Oru Kottaikul”, “Meyyanatha”, “Thathi Aduthey” and almost all the songs in “Naalai”. Another high light is no song of his will have same rhythm pattern till the end, the number of variations are many and all will be well glued to the main melody. Especially the way he cuts one of two beats in between or at the end from familiar rhythms makes some of his rhythm patterns familiar and yet unique. He does the mix of e-beats with real percussions really well.

Piano usage along with the melody

Take any best melody of Karthik Raja you can listen a piano playing the same notes as that of the main melody in the background. I don’t know why, but I like this combination very much. When the melody is so good, a piano following it enhances the overall feel of song especially when it is a romantic one. In some songs, he has used instruments like sitar, acoustic guitar for this kind of effect.


Orchestration is another department where Karthik Raja scores. Like his father, he is heavily influenced by Western Classical Music, but unlike his father he doesn’t employ too much of strings in his songs. He uses it at right places in right songs. His is simple and elegant orchestration. Listen to the background score of “Kudaikkul Mazhai”, sheer genius. The “dance with Saree” theme in “Kudaikkul Mazhai” is one of my all time favorite movie themes. Also I liked “Dum Dum Dum” background score. The main love theme of the movie that comes almost at the interval block when Madhavan and Jyothika are split by their parents is a beautiful melody and most of the sequences in second half has different orchestral versions of this theme. I should say all of them are great. Coming to the songs, my favorite orchestrations are in “Veesum Kaatrukku”, “Desingu Raja”, “Intha Siripinai parthaen” and “Kavidhaigal Sollava” song.

Voice Doubling Effect

This is one of the unique techniques that Karthik follows in at least one song in every other soundtrack. Sometimes it turns very annoying when the same voice is heard in two extreme pitches simultaneously. But in most cases, it adds a pleasant feel to the melody. It is something like an inner soul singing along. I think this effect works better in romantic melodies than fast numbers.

Rooted in Classical

The tunes of Karthik Raja have a special flavour in it. It is so melodious and strongly rooted in Indian classical music. When such melodies combine with all above said ingredients, what you get is pleasant, soulful mesmerizing numbers. Not just the main melody, the way the tune progresses and takes surprising twists and turns in the songs is great. Among his semi classical melodies, “Konjum Manjal Pookal” is a masterpiece.

Above all – Originality

Originality is a rare thing to find in the compositions of most of the contemporary composers. He may have got inspired but mostly his songs have trademark Karthik Raja style in it.

This is what little I could get out of Karthik Raja’s music. Please add more if you have found something else. Listen to “Naalai” and “Manadhodu Mazhaikaalam” songs; you can find all the above said elements in all the songs of these two soundtracks.


Dreamchaser said...

Manadhodu Mazhaikaalam trulyrocks, its my fan. now all most all the songs are splendid !

Cipher said...

I like Karthik Raja's songs very much..its sad that he didn't succeed commercially.

Have u listend Grahan (Hindi) ? It had couple of awesome songs.

His gana/kuthu songs were also good - Kaasu mela
(kaadhala Kaadhala)
- Raakkamma rakkamma (Maanickam)

Sushma said...

No offense intended, but I think Illayaraja does some directing on behalf of his son. Ullasam's Veesum Katruku was atleast partially directed by Illayaraja. I know someone who was involved in the recording, hence the knowledge. Well the song itself appeared in Pocahontas before it did in Ullasam. I like his singing though.

Suresh Kumar said...

dreamchaser: ofcourse it is

cipher: yeah, i forgot to mention about Kadhala Kadhala album, a wide variety of songs in a single album. I like the murugan song very much.

Sushma: thats news for me. anyway still i couldn;t believe he took help from his father

Cipher said...

Yes Suresh, I too like that Murugan song...but when i said that "the look" i received from few ppl was disgusting :-(

Mumbai Ramki said...

May be in the initial days -KR is too good to be on his own !
2005 did have one KR Release-Righta Thappa .It had decent songs which fitted for a semi-documentary movie .Atleast yaaridam solvaen song is v good.
The only disadvantage is that he trie soutise the boundaries of film songs .Eg will be Onnu Rendu which is a damn damn different but nobody wld like to listen as it is toooo different from teh regular stuff .

If you heard the BGM for Geethai ( done by KR not YSR) -esp the scene when Vijay enters the villan house to steal is too good..

Anonymous said...

xcuse me!! who is karthik raja?/ neva eva head of him

Karthikeyan Muthurajan said...

Karthik, dont have luck and good directors like his brother. If both works, he may deliver like Ullasam and Dum Dum Dum

Suresh Kumar said...

mumbai_ramki: haven't heard about the soundtrack Righta Thappa. I have heard that BGM, is it the classical violin piece bgm?

Karthik: exactly, that is the major problem of Karthik Raja?

krishnah said...

Splendid write up on karthikraja's musicman. u missed nothing!!! great job!!!!

Aakarsh said...

Not to offend your views,but Karthik Raaja lacks that maturity, which you can find in his father or even A.R.Rahman. There is something missing in his music. U dotn feel the completeness which u generally find in Rahman's score or in Ilaiyaraaja's score. when we listen to their music, we can say that nothing can be improvised further and they embellish the song to the maximum. That is not the case with Karthikraaja.
he did give some very good songs,but the overall maturity seems to be lacking, which is why, i observed,he sometimes give uncollected melodies which dont have that flow.
Example:Desinga Raaja..suddenly he changes the tune/scale in a vey odd way. though many composers do this, for experimentation,a flow is retained to give the thread.Karthikraaja's tracks miss that flow..individual pieces are good but as a collective, a slight dishamony can be observed.

Suresh Kumar said...

you call it disharmony but i call it surprise... i was look for such surprises in songs... karthik raja's songs offers a plenty of it... the suddent twists and turns in scale, mood, rhythm and melody of the Karthik raja's is what that makes his compositions special... also i don't want to compare him with legends like IR and ARR... he has a unique style of music and i like it... but for sure he has the potential to give great songs like IR and ARR