9.21.2008

A Journey with Illayaraja



My journey with Illayaraja has been very uneven unlike that of with A.R.Rahman. I followed Rahman’s music from his very first soundtrack and I have heard and listened to 90% of what Rahman has composed so far, but I am sure that though I have heard 80% of Raaja’s works, I have listened to only 20% of them. No one told me that Rahman’s music is great; I heard it first and I myself found it great. I was always told that Raaja’s music is great, even before I could listen and understand them to form an opinion myself. So, the goodness of Raaja’s music was taken for granted and more attention was paid only to the ear shattering and ground breaking soundtracks that Rahman kept dishing out one after the other. Rahman stormed into my life and I searched for and found all possible ways to get a listen to newly releasing Rahman soundtrack, but this kind of an urge and a mad following wasn’t there in me for Illayaraja’s music.

Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai

I had just given my 10th standard board exams and my parents took me to one of our relatives (quite wealthy) house and the first sound I heard as we entered the house was the ‘Kolusu’ sound in ‘Ennai Thalaatta Varuvaala’ song from ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’ (KM). They had a very high quality sound system and I hadn’t seen or heard music from such high quality audio system till then. The vivid sound and the serene melody completely blew my mind. I found myself transported to a different world (I get goose bumps even know as I think of that moment). That was the day when I became conscious that here is the great Illayaraja’s musical storm hitting me

But soon I had forgotten about the song and much later I again stumbled upon the song, when my uncle rented a VCR player and video cassette of ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’ and played it in our house. I instantly liked all the songs of the movie. I still remember how I kept switching TV channels on every Friday evening to listen to at least one song from ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’. ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’ is the very first Raaja soundtrack, which came out with lot of synth in its orchestration, and the very first one that instantly appealed and attracted a generation that was totally immersed in Rahman.

Till now I have seen ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’ at least 25 times. 5 times for the movie as a whole, 10 times for Illayaraja’s songs and 10 times for Illayaraja’s background score. I remember reading Kumudam Weekly’s review on ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’ and the reviewer had mentioned that Raaja’s background score with three big percussion strokes conveyed the complete shock and surprise of all characters in the climax scene. Those lines of the reviewer introduced me to what it being called ‘Background Score’ in movies. And I wanted to check the movie once again to see what actually those three master percussion strokes of Raaja have done to the visuals. But it wasn’t so easy to catch a movie at our will then, so I had almost forgotten about it.

In Sun TV there was a program called ‘Climax’, in which they show only the climax scene from the movies. In that show, I again saw the climax of ‘Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai’ and that is when all that enlightening about background score happened and I understood how music can elevate the emotional impact of the scene and how big a master our maestro is in this business. And that lead me all the way to become a crazy fan of background scores and also to this.

Kaadhal Kavithai

That was the first phase of my journey with Raaja’s music but then after that I returned to Rahman again. One day I saw a movie’s trailer on TV in which a romantic piano piece was playing in the background as the camera moved along the sparkling lights of oil lamps in a temple. And at the end of the trailer I found that it is the trailer of the yet to be released movie ‘Kaadhal Kavithai’. By that time, I had my own Philips tape recorder and decided to buy the cassette, just to listen to that romantic Piano piece once again. ‘Kaadhal Kavithai’ is the first soundtrack of Illayaraja that I owned and so it is easily the soundtrack of Raaja that I heard the most number of times in my life.

‘Kaadhal Kavithai’ is so close to my heart because it was the first Raaja soundtrack that I had complete access for listening at my will. ‘Kadhal Kavithai’ was truly a mind blowing soundtrack and even now I remember each and every word of the lyrics of all the songs, each and every interlude of the song. ‘Thakthom’ was something I never expected from Raaja, a path breaking sensuous number. ‘Diana Diana’ is a calm soother that gives me Goosebumps even now. Hariharan (a favourite of Raaja in those times) was at his soothing best in the song. But my all time personal favourite from the soundtrack is cute little ‘Alai Meethu’. Exquisite vocal harmonies, string section, the serene melody and innocent voice of Bhavatharini - ‘Alai Meethu’ could well be a separate chapter in the textbook of melody making and orchestration. To sum it up, ‘Kaadhal Kavithai’ is one of those Raaja’s complete soundtracks and a stunning one at that which aggravated my interest and drew me closer to Raaja’s earlier works. (I have been having a great time listening to this soundtrack again repeatedly for past one week as if it has released just now.)

After ‘KK’, again for sometime, I didn’t meet Raaja, by which I don’t mean that we never met; we met but parted after exchanging few formal pleasantries. Most of the movies telecasted on TV then, had Raaja’s music, so we were always in touch, just that I wasn’t as crazy as I was with KM or KK soundtrack. Even if I was, I had no access to all those 70’s and 80’s songs which I fell in love with by repeatedly watching them on TV.

Rhythm Boss

The next big meeting with Raaja happened after I moved to Trichy. It was when I visited the ‘Rhythm Boss’ music shop in Trichy, which was in Chathiram Bus stand then (now it is near Central bus stand). ‘Rhythm Boss’ does music recording service. They had a huge music collection and a very well maintained catalogue, listing all the soundtracks available for recording (I was searching one such shop in Salem but there were none). Immediately, I listed down Raaja’s songs that I badly wanted to own for a very long time, to record them in a T60 cassette. As I was having a cassette player, I always felt very lazy to fast forward the songs, so I decided to record the songs that I would never ever want to fast forward while listening to the cassette.

I still remember the songs I recorded in that cassette (which I have lost a longtime back). ‘Kanmani Anbodu Kaadhalan’, ‘Paadariyaen padippariyaen’, ‘Manathil urudhi vendum (Sindhu Bhairavi)’, ‘Oh Butterfly’, ‘Nalam vaazha ennalum’, ‘Ellorum sollum paattu’, ‘Amma endralaikkatha’, ‘Ithu oru ponmaalai pozhudhu’, ‘Enna Saththam intha neram’ and ‘Yetheytho ennam valarthaen’. Even now when I listen to ‘Paadariyaen’ song, at the end of the song I involuntarily start singing ‘Manathil Uruthi vendum’ as it was the song recorded next to ‘Paadariyaen’ in that cassette. I was listening to the recorded cassette and realised how much I love and always have loved Raaja’s music even without being aware of it. Except for ‘Manathil Uruthi vendum’, I don’t remember when I first heard the other songs and when I started liking them and I cannot pinpoint the moment when exactly those songs became my all time favorites, my choices came from some part of my brain in which these songs have been kept safe for a very long time.

How to Name it

In Jaya TV, there is a program called ‘Kaalai Malar’ telecasted from 7-9 A.M. In the end credits of that show, they always play one instrumental music piece (I guess, still they play it) which I liked so much. Once when I visited ‘Rhythm Boss’ the same track was playing there also. I asked them which movie this music is from. They told that it is from Illayaraja’s non-film album ‘How to Name it’. I can’t really explain in words about how much the ‘How to Name it’ album enhanced my music sensibilities and broadened my music tastes. It made me a sucker for orchestral music and I guess that even reflects in the music in me. It sounded totally new. It gave me an experience that I never had before. I didn’t understand any technicalities of it, didn’t know who is Bach or how great the fusion that Raaja has attempted in the album. To me it was the simple beauty of the melody and the harmony that did something to me which I couldn’t decipher then. I listened, I listened, I listened and I am still listening. It just sounded so magical and transported me to a different world.

Then much later I bought ‘Nothing but Wind’ also and got mesmerized by it. Both these albums opened doors to a whole new musical universe called ‘Western Classical’. With ‘I met Bach in his house’ and ‘I love you Mozart’, I came to know that Mozart and Bach are western classical music composers who lived and composed music centuries ago. (But in Trichy I couldn’t find any western classical recordings. Much later after getting a job and moving to Chennai, the first ever CD I bought is Mozart’s symphony 25, 28, 29 and 35. And my journey with Western classical music started then).

Bharathi

Bharathi is another masterstroke of Raaja that engulfed me and brought me back to Raaja’s music. The ‘Nirpadhuvae’ and ‘Mayil Pola’ songs that were playing repeatedly on all TV channels initially attracted me. Long after movie left the theatres, I went and bought ‘Bharathi’ cassette. It was also the time when I got my own Walkman. (When I was in Trichy, every weekend I use to travel to Salem by Bus and the travel time was so boring. So, I bought a Walkman to listen to music while traveling in the bus). I still remember that one night, in which I listened to ‘Bharathi’ repeatedly for complete 3.5 hours of journey from Salem to Trichy. I loved the simplicity of the melodies in the songs. The divine ‘Ninai Charanadainthen’ and the exhilarating ‘Ethilum Ingu’ – I thought “Ah! Ennama Potirukkanya!” I still wonder why Raaja didn’t get National award for his music in this movie, especially when the movie itself had fetched awards in many other categories.

The music of ‘Bharathi’ got me into Bharathiyar’s poems. Bought a pocket book of Bharathiyar Poems and first thing I did was reading ‘Nirpathuvae’ song. I read the poem and I was bewildered and stunned by the way Raaja had composed a beautiful melody for a poem, which on paper looks to be not having a pinch of musicality in it. And Bharathiyaar’s poems and Raaja’s music made me a composer, not that I sat before a keyboard writing notes under each word of the poem, but at least I could fit each song into a rhythm and I could think of a melody for the words – it was more like a ‘Vaipattu’ which people instantly sing in villages. Sang them and recorded in a cassette (god knows where that cassette is now), but those melodies are still fresh in my mind which I guess may never see the sound of the day. Following that the soundtracks of Raaja that I heard most are ‘July Ganapathy’, ‘Vishwa Thulasi’ and ‘Virumaandi’.

After buying a Philips 5-in-1 player, I burnt an mp3 CD in ‘Rhythm Boss’ with 20 complete soundtracks of Raaja. And finally Raaja stayed with me and he was always there, ready for me to meet whenever I wanted to. That CD with 20 Raaja soundtracks is one of most played and most wanted in my room. As my classmates gather in my hostel room to prepare for the cycle tests or semester exams, Raaja served a pleasant background score throughout the night from that CD. One of the main things that my college friends still recollect when I meet them now is listening to Raaja’s songs all the night in my room.

Thiruvasakam in Symphony

And ‘Thiruvasakam in Symphony’ and the final crescendo in ‘Polla Vinayaen’ hard nailed one of the most important truths in my mind and the truth is that ‘Raaja’s music takes its listeners very close to Divinity’. I still remember the kind of an electric shock or something that started passing through all my nerves in the body for a split second, and the tears that welled out of my eyes as ‘Hail Hail’ choir slips into ‘Namachivaaya Vazhgha’ in that final crescendo. No more words on ‘Thiruvasakam’, because after listening to it, I sincerely thought and still think ‘I am just Man, Imperfect lowly, How can I write on, something holy’ and that too as holy as this one.

Then there was a phase in which I expected only great music from Illayaraja. Anything less than great was considered as bad by me and so outright rejected and as a result ended up missing many good songs and soundtracks of Raaja that came after that. My thoughts on ‘Maayakannadi’ and ‘Athu Oru Kanaa Kaalam’ soundtrack would explain about my expectations better. Though both of them definitely had lot of goods in its music, just because it didn’t match up to the greats of Raaja’s music, I got disappointed. Now this year after ‘Kangalum Kavipaduthey’, ‘Uliyin Oosai’ and ‘Dhanam’, my passion for Raaja’s music has resurrected again and I have begun to realize all that I have missed by expecting sky high from each and every soundtrack of Raaja. Now I am starting again, starting with the soundtracks of Raaja from 2001 to 2008 and I have covered only 10% of them. God knows whether I will be able to listen to the complete works of Raaja in this lifetime.

And there are many other incidents like this and small episodes in my journey with Raaja which I have missed here due to my laziness.

Like every other Raaja fan, even I have something to say about what Raaja should do from now on

1. He should work more on non-film instrumental albums and less on movies. If at all he works on movies, he should make sure that the movie’s script and the director is worthy of his music.
2. It is high time he starts working on a compilation of his background scores.
3. Should hire a better sound engineer to mix his songs. It is surprising to see such an inconsistent sound quality in Raaja’s soundtracks. (Listen a song from Dhanam and from Cheeni Kum or Mumbai Express one after the other)
4. Should release his first symphony that he recorded with London Royal Philharmonic orchestra and compose and release more such works.
5. I want to see Raaja recording a symphony in Chennai with Rahman’s yet to be started K.M Symphony orchestra and if possible wish to see a live performance of the same too.

17 comments:

Sandeep said...

Great write up Sureshji!!!.... The first time i took IR s music seriously was when i listened to Punnagai Mannan album (befor that i liked some of his songs without even knowin it was composed by him eg Heyram , Kanukul nilavutec) when i was doing my 10th std .... I accidentally stumbled upon the cassete frm my moms collection....I was totally engrossed into his music and from then there was no lookin back ... His music has become almost like my shadow !!! Long live IR and his music

Emjay said...

Woww... That's a good post. I can completely understand your viewpoint. Some of your experiences were quite similar to me, though in different times.

My 2 cents - Most of your opinion were based on Kadhalukku Mariyathai and albums after that. My opinion is what Raaja accomplished, achieved and experimented before Kadhalukku Mariyathai is zillion times more than what came after. I am serious. Every note every nuances he took care in 1980s are lessons of lifetime for a music student.

I wish you get to see his 100% work without any interruptions ;)

Muthuvel said...

Great write-up!

Guess i commented this on ur write up on Rahman itself..., somehow I was lucky to discover Raaja before coming to know anybody else (with Anjali... such mad playing of it every evening i returned from school, i was in 2 or 3 grade then).

Am still discovering him, and it may not be possible to end it in any recent future for the huge body of unparalleled work he has done.

Though am not technically proficient in music I agree with Emjay on Raaja's 80's work... i still feel it is far more nuanced and had an elegance and a distinct Raaja stamp. The 90's saw him tweaking his sense of music and filtering it through a more generic sound. And somehow in contrast to one of your earlier post (ludes)... i feel his recent film works are nowhere near his glorious 70's-80's and the great 90's innings.

//ear shattering and ground breaking..//

BTW.. just curious.. was the above written as a condescendingly sarcastic dig at Rahman :)

Suresh Kumar said...

Sandeep - Thanks.

//His music has become almost like my shadow !!!//

You have put it well. Exactly the same for me too.

Suresh Kumar said...

Emjay - Thanks. But most of opinion on Raaja is not just from albums after 'Kaadhalukku Mariyaathai', though KM drew me closer to Raaja, as you said, it was his earlier works that made me to form my opinion on Raaja....I agre with you completely that his old ones are many times better than recent ones... but the recent ones aren't as bad as everyone thinks.....

Suresh Kumar said...

Muthuvel - Thanks. I am not saying that Raaja's music hasn't changed but it isn't as bad as everyone percieves it to be.. there is still a lots of good in it which we are missing...

And about Rahman, no it wasn't meant to be sarcastic....

Ramki said...

Good write up! Raaja made me visit MSV ,beethoven,mozart,tchovisky,schubert ,jazz and lot more ! In my view thats true sign of a composer.

-Ramki
PS: KR's re-recording in achamundu achamundu
http://www.indiaglitz.com/channels/tamil/gallery/Events/16302.html

Anonymous said...

Dude..Way back in 1989, after he got the award for Rudra Veena (telugu original of Unnal Mudiyum Thambi), Raja wrote to the National Awards committee to not consider him for any awards in the future !! That's why you dont see him having won any after that year...else, there were quite a few years in which he wouldnt have even had any competition!!!

Suresh Kumar said...

Ramki - Thank you and yes as you told he made to listen many other composers....

And thanks for that link.. Great.. KR rocks... I Hope the background score gets released separately

Suresh Kumar said...

Anon - Yes. I too heard of Raaja rejecting National Awards but don't how far true it is...

Vignesh Subramanian said...

Dear Suresh:
Always its very heart warming experience to read/ realize how one perceives Raaja. Its but natural that you associate Raaja through the songs of your time. I guess its the same for every one. Thanks for sharing it as a nice post..
With Love
Vicky

Divya or Sathesh said...

I use Google Reader to read blogs - I dont see the website...I read just the articles from the website. What I mean is I did not see your photo/profile until after I read this blog. Not to sound judgemental, I kind of figured out that in order for you to discover Ilayaraja after your Rehman experiences in your life, you had to be younger (which I confirmed later).

Overall, this is a beautiful narration of the prowess of IR's music and more importantly, how it changed your life. Like your way of writing.

When you have a moment, check out http://www.kuppurao.com and look for posts specific to Ilayaraja.

Again, nice work!!

Suresh Kumar said...

Vignesh - I wanted to to this for a long long time but only recently after listening to Uliyin Oosai, I finally started writing this.... Thank you for reading...

Suresh Kumar said...

Divya or Sateesh - I uploaded my photo only recently. Thanks for reading and I am will check out Kuppurao...

Sri said...

well i have stopped hearing or listening to IR's music after 1994.I think the period from 1978-1982 is the best of IR.I am amazed at his output during that period

Suresh Kumar said...

Sri - Yes. It seems each one has their own favourite Raaja era which is good but I believe one cannot reject everything else just because it doesn't match up to greatest of Raaja.... there is categories like always great, greater, very good, good... the problem with die-hard fans is that anything less than 'Greatest' falls under only one category that is 'Worst'

Saravanan said...

Good to read your Kadhalukku Mariyadhai, How to Name it or Kadhal Kavidhai or Bharathi...

Just try Priya, Johny, Mullum Malarum, Panneer Pushpangal, Sindhu Bhairavi, Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, Kadhal Oviyum, Nayagan and many more.. which were much before the compositions quoted by you...

I too have few movie bgm collections with me.. which i can share with you...

YOu would be amazed...

What Raja scored during Kadhalukku Mariyadhai and post that movie were peanuts when compared to his early compositions..

Only thing is there are a few who recognise them... One such rare species is Kamalhassan...

Intellectuals and masterminds (!!??) like Maniratnam and Bharatiraja have forgotten about Raja... and even the Raja scored his best for Rajkiran and Ramarajan.

When AR became a fashion statement for many... Raja wrote history on his scoring sheets for anyone at any calibre; be it Balumahendra or Fazil or Ramarajan or Rajkiran or Bala or Rajeshwar.

And thats music...