Mozart Meets India (again)

Tamil Maiyam who produced ‘Thiruvasakam by Illayaraja’ has come up with yet another album of East meets west genre titled ‘Mozart meets India’. I had no expectations on this album but the concept of placing the ragas as it is with a symphony backing just made me curious to buy it. Illayaraja has done a lot like this before. Who can forget his ‘How to Name It’ and ‘Nothing but Wind’? The songs orchestrated by Jesurajan sound almost similar to that of IR’s style, format and structure of orchestration in HTNI and NBW. But I have got no complaints; Jesurajan has done a commendable job in fusing the two forms of music with both of the form following its own grammar.

The harmony in the songs is so beautiful, pleasant and relaxing to a large extent. May be the chosen ragas itself has got these qualities in it but the orchestral music running behind is written in a subtle and a modest way that it doesn’t distract the flow and the melody of the carnatic ragas played in the fore, which I feel is a no easy task to achieve. Predominantly the string section of the orchestra is used giving a breezy feel to all the songs and occasionally other instruments like oboe, French horn, clarinet, celesta peeps in. This is also where the problem arises as they sound like being added on compulsion as to show that a whole symphony orchestra is there playing in the background along with the strings. But the choirs are added perfectly in blend with the rest of ensemble.

Tracks like “Mystic Meanderings” and “Yathum Oorae” goes a little modern with the use of e-beats, acoustic drums and Piano, involving less of the orchestra. “Yathum Oorae” with Kadri Gopalnath on Sax sounds like how a fusion of Kenny G’s Sax and Yanni’s keys would sound if they play carnatic music. The tracks with vocals like Bombay Jayshree and O.S. Arun sounds really interesting as if the singers by mistake have entered a symphonic concert hall instead of a Carnatic katcheri Sabha. There is an emotional depth in the performance of both Bombay Jayshree and O.S. Arun which adds to the divinity and beauty of the tracks involving their vocals. It would really be great watching our classical singers sitting in the middle of a symphony orchestra performing those complex ragas in synch with the orchestral music.

Usually in Carnatic concerts, singers just have to concentrate on their own sruthi, rhythm and improvisations but not (to a large extent) on how well their rendition goes in synch with the Gatam, mirudangam or Violin that is playing along, but here the synergy and harmony with the orchestra is equally important. If at all they perform these pieces alive, (which didn’t happen as they announced earlier) it would really be interesting to watch. The tracks each with Violin, Veena and Sitar as the lead playing some beautiful ragas are also equally good. The one with Sitar named ‘Hymn to Silence’ has a serious Naushad sound to it may be because of the Hindustani connection.

On the whole, it definitely is a very good album to listen but I won’t agree if either Tamil Maiyam or anyone involved in the project claim this work to be the first of its kind in India. Mozart meets India (again). I heard that the intention of the album is to present Indian classical music in a globally understandable form. Who cares whether it reaches global audience or not? I feel so satisfied and relaxed when I listen to this album and that matters more than anything else. I listen to the album at least once in a day for the kind of calmness and peace it injects in my soul.

For a far more in-depth technical review on the album, I recommend this article.


Veyil Music - Cool

Factors like Shankar production and music being composed by A.R.Rahman’s nephew G.V. Prakash Kumar are enough to create expectations on the soundtrack of ‘Veyyil’. More than meeting our expectations, I think album meets the needs of the movie well as a soundtrack. It has got a mix of good melodies and earthy folk numbers that should work well with the film than being a hit material. Though there are no ground breaking numbers which it not required for a movie of this kind, they are good and from the quality of the songs I feel G.V. Prakash is here to stay. It is good that the music doesn’t sound like a newcomers work, there is finesse in the orchestration and arrangements and ofcoure Rahman’s influence is there but not to a large unbearable extent. Na.Muthukumar’s lyrics give life to the music.

“Veyilodu Velaiayadu” has got some earthy and catchy beats and some unusual singers like Frankom, Jessie gift and Tipu for a folk song. The good thing is that there are not too many layers in the background; just the vocals and percussion carry the song all through. The song sets the right mood for the rest to follow. “Uruguthey” is one of the most simple and beautiful romantic melodies in the recent past. With just Dholaks and a bass guitar in the background, the song rides primarily on the soulful tune and expressive singing by Shankar Mahadevan and Shreya Ghosal. Interludes are beautifully arranged with beautiful Guitar, flute, Sarangi and sitar pieces.

“Ooranthotathilae” is another earthy folk number. The tune is catchy and the lyrics are funny but the rhythm reminds of lot of other songs. Rahman’s touch is more in this song in terms of arrangement especially the Guitar usage. Yet I don’t think no body had used Harmonica in the way it has been used in this type of song so far. And Sriram’s voice adds to the sounds-like factor of the song. Contrary to “Uruguthey”, “Kadhal Neruppin” is full of synth stuff with interesting sound loops and layers in the background. It is another good melody with Rahman kind of foot tapping western bits sandwiched between melodious parts. Karthik and Chinmayi have done a fine job in the song.

“Iraivanai” is a short and sweet situational melody sung beautifully by Prashanthi (I think she is daughter of Malayasia Vasudevan). “Sethvadam” is another short sober song sung by Manicka Vinayagam. And next is an authentic street folk number similar to the one we heard in Virumandi but this is not composed by GVP. A very interesting number with lot of twists and turns in rhythm and mood. It is good that directors choose to have such songs on their soundtrack without which we don’t often get a chance to listen to such songs often.


Sillunu Oru Kadhal

Year 2006 seem to be the year of disappointments, especially the movies that comes with so much hype and hoopla failed to impress all kind of target audience. “Pudupettai” had a classic first half, but self indulgence of Selvaraghavan spoiled the second half and it neither was called a crap or a classic which Selvaraghavan aimed and expected the movie to be? Then came much expected “Imsai Arasan 23m Pulikesi”. which in spite of being made as socio-historic-satirical comedy in a different way, couldn’t impress all kind of audience. Gautam Menon’s ‘Vettaiyadu Vilayadu’ was a disappointment considering that it was expected to be a (so called) masterpiece by KK fans and as a quite different movie from KK by Kamal fans as we have Kamal Haasan as hero but it is more of a Gautam movie that Kamal’s and it failed to satisfy either. Though it worked partly up until the first half, second half went haywire. These aren’t as bad as a movie which we are going to talk about now, it is just that they didn’t meet our expectations.

Here comes ‘Sillunu Oru Kadhal’ which is the biggest disappointments of this year. At least the other three movies were genuine attempts in which makers have tried hard to do something different in Tamil cinema but this one though it tries to be poetic and romantic all through it turns out to be none of what it expected to be. Instead it turns out to be a fashion show of Surya, Jyothika and Bhoomika with various colorful costumes and hair styles. Krishna has got an interesting plot but his execution and screenplay which is made to fit in all commercial ingredients spoiled the novelty in the theme. The movie is all about a wife who comes to know about her husband’s past love from his personal diary. The only wish of her husband is to live with his ex-ladylove at least for one day in his life. And what will happen when a wife decides to make such a wish of her husband’s to come true?

Nothing much really happens in the first half, it is filled with unnecessary comedy scenes of Vadivelu which evokes yawn than laughter. Though it starts quite interestingly with Surya and Jyothika getting married without any interest, it soon shifts to their life after 6 years in Mumbai. It would have been better it Krishna had few interesting scenes to show how their relationship got better and how they started loving each other so much. The story doesn’t really take off in the first half, and for good or bad Jyothika finds Surya’s personal diary too late in the movie. Second half is even worse (except for Santhanam’s usual witty one-liners) with the Surya and Bhoomika love portrayed in an even more unconvincing way. The basic flaw in the movie is that though it deals with two deep love of Surya at two different times, both are shown in a shallow and unconvincing way and as the screenplay is pivoted around these two love stories, it fails miserably.

R.D.Rajasekhar and Antony does their usual job well and it helps the movie look technically sound and savvy. A.R.Rahman’s background score is as bad as the movie. Though the songs are good, it is simply wasted. In spite of a bad screenplay, Surya gives a neat performance. See for a mix of shock, surprise, fear, embarrassment all at once in his face when he sees Bhoomika in his house after six years. Jyothika is OK. Bhoomika is weakest character in the movie and so is her performance.

The couple who looks like made-for-each-other in their real life marriage photos lacks chemistry on screen in this movie and that is the (lack of) power of the screenplay of Krishna. Sillunu Oru Kadhal – NIL.


Don Soundtrack

When Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (SEL), Javed Akthar and Farhan Akthar join hands for a score, the output has always been something new and interesting. The expectations are higher than normal now as their latest venture is a remake of a yesteryear Amitabh classic ‘Don’. The composers has to walk on a tight rope as their compositions should satisfy the modern and sophisticated look of the movie and in turn the music listeners of now and yet retain the nostalgic sound of 70’s to please the oldies. SEL have successfully managed to do that. The sophistication is there just in the orchestration and arrangements but the tune of all the songs has got the same old sound. Even the most techno sounding title track is done like this.

I am not going to compare the soundtrack with the original which I feel is a waste of time and unnecessary. So my opinion is purely based on how well these songs would gel as a soundtrack with the movie. From the look and feel of the movie (in trailers) the songs would surely be an apt score for the movie. It seems Farhan has asked SEL not to use any live instruments. All the songs have heavy thumping beats and lot of techno sounds added to it. But these layering of sounds are done with such finesse that they don’t sound noisy and make us feel irritated. SEL has added notes to even these synth sounds thereby changing the sound of just a sound into sound of music.

“Kaike Paan Banaraswala” shines mainly because of Udit’s brilliant singing in a local dialect with lot of expressions. SEL manages to strike a balance between old and new sound by shifting between the Dholak’s and e-beats for the rhythm. Especially the dholak’s played when Udit sings ‘Kaike’ cannot be replaced by any modern beat with the same effect. “Yeh Mera Dil” is a sample of how remixes should be done by just replacing the instruments in the original with appropriate modern synth sounds and e-beats. Good thing about the song is that they have retained the strings that run in the background of the song which is the soul for such songs made in those times. Sunidhi has done a good job but I would still prefer Ashaji. She still has got that pep in her voice.

“Maurya Re” takes time to grow. The loud percussions and chorus brings alive the aura of Ganesh pooja. Shankar Mahadevan does a neat job in singing this number. I liked the usage of Mandolin and the tune played with it in this song which adds a fresh sound to the song. “Aaj Ki Raat” is an interesting song in the album in a way that it is not a remix of some old song but yet it sounds like an old song. The tune, rhythm and the way chorus sings ‘Aaj Ki Raat’ are all typical 70’s stuff. Even though the sounds and layers are modern they are arranged in such a way that it has this RDB sound.

The title track ‘Main Hoon Don’ has this strong Matrix and James Bond sound in it perfectly underscoring the visual inspirations of the movie. A very enjoyable track with all right elements put in for a hero introduction song. The remix version of the song adds more pep and zing to the already rocking song. “Don Theme” is another energetic track with same tune and feel as the title track in different form interwoven with some popular dialogues uttered by Don.

This is not a soundtrack for those who like SEL for their compositions like ‘Kitni Baatein’ or ‘Kaisi Ha yeh’ but for those who like their peppy dance numbers like ‘Koi Kahe’ and ‘It’s the time to disco’. It is more of an album for your feet than to your heart and an album that provides the apt and necessary sound for the movie as a soundtrack.


Vettaiyaadu Vilayaadu

I am not a big fan of ‘Kaaka Kaaka’, it is good accepted, but I feel that it is one of the most overrated movies. I don’t think it would have been a big hit, if Surya wasn’t there. Surya was so refreshing to watch in a police character. But I didn’t have much expectation on ‘Vettiayadu Vilayadu’. But the presence of Kamal Haasan and interesting premise of tracing out a killer based on incidents happened in Keeranur and New York made me curious. So, I went to the movie on the second day itself and while watching the movie, the interview of Gautam (One of the most straight from the heart and honest ever from a movie director) to Hindu magazine and his words about the movie started running in my mind.

Plot in Gautam’s words

The cop-versus-killer cat-and-mouse game, leads to the same problem as in 'Kaakha Kaakha,' when the cop's personal life gets involved and affected in the course of the investigation. The classic serial killer mystery in the mould of 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Seven' soon gives away to a full-fledged commercial action film as the cop and the mystery killer go tit-for-tat, says Gautham.

The main problems of the movie are those bold words in the previous paragraph. One of the major problems of KK is its weak villain and so is of VV. I felt the characterization of the villain was a major drawback of Kaaka Kaaka. A hero’s character becomes strong only when the villain’s is stronger. The intentions of the psycho killers in this movie are kiddish. Just because of villain saying like, “killing was like Smoking for me, I was trying hard to stop it” doesn’t make his actions convincing. And what make it even more boring are their predictable tricks to escape from the police. As the character is weak, no matter how hard Balaji tries to perform well, his character loses the appeal.

All went well when nothing gets personal between the hero and villain but everything falls flat in the second half when it goes to a tit-for-tat mode. Kamal realises it too late in the movie when he says, “It is getting personal”, after they kill and hang up one of the associates of Kamal in the Adyar Bridge (again KK hang over). And the worst happens when the villains kidnap Jyothika to take revenge. Also Gautam looses his eye for small details in the second half. Though his intention of pasting the posters of “Hannibal” and “Psycho” movies make some sense considering that the villains are psycho killers, I don’t know when how these guys were so cool and had time to do all these decorations to their room as they were running from one state to another to escape from the police. Instead, it would have been more appropriate if those movie posters were shown shinning in their residence in New York.

It is very clear that Gautam has got confused how to end the movie, he started to make a great psycho thriller cum a cop story but ended up doing a hi-tech Gilli. The words ‘full fledged commercial film’ crossed my mind when the “Neruppae” (well choreographed though) song came at a crucial point disturbing the pace of the movie. Also unnecessarily lot of large than life stunt sequences are there which hampers the quality of the movie further. And Gautam himself accepts all these as he said

From your earlier film, you have to go five notches higher. Especially with Kamal, I would have loved to do something like a Nayagan, which is an all-time favourite film, don't know how "commercial" it was, but it was a complete film. I didn't do that. I didn't have that kind of time. So, I thought let me make commercial film

From the way he has executed the first half of the movie, I strongly believe Gautam sure have potentials to make a great movie one day, but as he said, he may not have got enough time to make VV as one. Unlike the villains, Kamal and Jyothika’s characters are well etched out. I liked the way the story unfolds in a leisurely pace without any logical flaws. Though it seems the clues are so obvious to trace the killers and it happens too fast, the way it has been presented realistically makes it appealing. Gautam always does these romantic parts well. The matured love story of Kamal and Jyothika is so pleasant and refreshing to watch to an extent that we don’t mind the main plot of the movie getting interrupted by their conversation. Unlike KK, the conversations are so natural and realistic in this movie, especially those between Kamal and Jyothika.

There are some cute one-liners here and there and in one of the scenes Gautam mocks himself through Jyothika’s character saying ‘Yenna Maniratnam padathula vara madhiri aaramikkiranga?’ That was exactly what every one of us would have thought after Kamal asks Jyothika “Yaen (Why?)”. Also Gautam brings a connection between KK and VV by making Kamal’s first love story and its ending like how the love story started and ended in KK. There by if he makes a trilogy, sure he can show this episode as a link between the movies. It would have been better, if Gautam had kept the suspense about the killers till the end. The mind and instinct game was more interesting than boring chasing sequences in the second half. When the villains and their intentions are revealed so suddenly, I was shocked and thought how he is going to proceed from here. And yes, that is what exactly Gautam also would have thought while writing the script.

Here is what Gautam said about first half,

It is realistic. First half is very real, bang on... I've not compromised at all. He's not allowed to take a gun. He has to find out what happened from the local cop there. He walks with the other cop and suggests what they could do... So, it's a sort of an unofficial investigation

Technically the movie is superior. Ravi Verman has done a brilliant job in using right tones and different camera angles to capture the various moods of this thriller. The murder and rap scenes are very gory and authentic. I don’t know why people complaint about this. May be it is not suitable for children and women but that is how it has to be shown when you have the villains as psycho killers. Well done. As always Anthony is there to give a stylish look to the film by his flashy editing. I liked the way the visuals are cut to show the flashing past memories in Kamal’s mind while he is traveling to New York. They have used color grading in quite a lot of places to get authentic mood and look and it gels well with the scenes at most of the places. There is a chasing sequence in the second half where Kamal in a jeep chases a villain on a bike, it happens in early morning 4.30. It is clear that the chasing sequence has been shot in day time and the color grading is done to make it look like 4.30 am. But they missed to watch that there would not be so much traffic in the Tidel park road at 4.30 am. Background score is good in parts.

It is a treat to watch Kamal is such a role giving a subtle performance. So is Jyothika. She has improved a lot. Kamilini just looks pretty and has nothing much to do. Prakash Raj has got minimal screen time but made his presence felt. So, finally here is what Gautam says about the movie and I perfectly agree with him.

It is a good film...nothing else. No problem if they call it another 'Kaakha... Kaakha.' That is a good film. It made for good viewing, good value for money. This is definitely that. It's got good songs, it's got Kamal Hassan. I wanted to go one step beyond that... which im not sure


Pithamagan Background Score

Here is a detailed write-up on background score of Pithamagan by Maestro Illayaraja that I wrote for forumhub magazine. The write-up also includes high quality audio samples. It is one of my all time favourite scores.