Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Carnatic Music and South Indian Cinema

I am a music buff. Most of my friends know this, but I am always humming or whistling something. So much that I sometimes lose my own sleep at night because I am humming to myself. "Mental that one", as Ron Weasley would say! But I really am a music buff. But my knowledge of music is limited to movie soundtracks. Before one of you assaults me for carping about my knowledge of film music, I want to add that I usually do not know the lyrics for most of the songs I sing or hum. And also that I don't really sing for anyone else except me. Not that people are exactly behind me to sing for them. Actually it is quite the opposite. My music and whistling actually put people off. I know a bit (okay, a teeny weenie bit) of Carnatic music too, gleaned from the experience gained by playing the violin for a couple of years. Actually this "couple of years" is spread over almost half of my life so far, but that?s another story. However, I think I can still carry a tune. And I especially love those movie soundtracks that incorporate classical Carnatic music.

Music in south Indian cinema has evolved quite a bit from the days of MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and Papanasam Sivan. But the popularity of such songs (or should I say novelty) like 'Manmadha Leelaiyai vendrar undo ("Is there someone who has conquered Love", which I think is a passable translation) has not waned. Songs like these have I think been kept alive mostly by the college going crowd (Ok, I am one too). Then came the time of MSV and Co. If classical music was the backbone of the early Tamil hits, the likes of KVM and MSV certainly brought the nuances of popular western music of the time to Tamil cinema and what resulted were hits like "Vishwanathan Velai vendum" from "Kadhalikka Neram illai". But in the present times, I think Vidyasagar and to a certain extent ARR, have managed to get some of the old charm back. I know I am committing sacrilege by leaving out IR here, but I have not heard any serious classical raga based song from IR in the last couple of years. Would be grateful if someone tells me otherwise!

But, coming back to Vidyasagar, most of you would not have listened to Vidyasagar's brand of music, certainly not past the Tamil songs of his. But he has kind of brought about the fusion of Carnatic and the modern film music genres quite successfully. Panikaatre from Run (rather sadly, only parts of this song appear as background in the movie) notwithstanding, he has seemed to reserve his best for Malayalam.

Listen to this....Entharu Mahanu - Symphony. This is a "symphony" from Devadhoodhan, a Malayalam movie. Notice the way, he has blended the nuances of the Thyagaraja Keerthanai to the western classical symphony style!

Another of Vidyasagar's compositions is Raravenu ! Yes, the same old "Rara venu" varanam (raga Bilahari) that every kid (even the not so young) learns in the early phases of the learning curve (am trying to sound academic here.. lol) in Carnatic Music. IR has earlier converted this piece into a "pakka dappankuthu" piece "Maman veedu machi veedu" in Alaigal Oyivadhillai (??). The song, quality wise, does not compare to the standard of Devadhoodhan, but this is a completely different kind of piece, a funny dream sequence, so I think he did just fine.... I saw this sequence in a Surya TV program and it was hilarious. Funny video, funky interludes. Imagine a couple of matronly women (all of them akin to Bindu Ghosh) dressed up as Gopikas fighting over Dileep as Lord Krishna! For a long time, I did not know the name of the movie (Mr.Butler) nor the music director. And I am still trying to get the song in Mp3 format. Leave a message if you know where to find a mp3 version of this song.

But the piece that got me telling you all this is this - Enna Thavam Seidhanai from one of his latest movies - Parthiban Kanavu. Beautifully sung by Harini, this time he's fused the old Papanasam Sivan composition with nice interludes. Check out how she ends the song! Awesome....By the way, Kana Kanden adi from the same movie is another hummable number.

By the way, all the links are external, so open them in another window, as the "target="_blank" tag does not seem to work with Blogger. And before I go, the QOTD today, is to just dispell all doubts about its origins. It was originally made by Rene Descartes and not Badri as many people seem to think. But credit should go to him for popularizing C.E.S everywhere with the signature on his email. I wonder whether he noticed that C.E.S also stands for Chennai Environmental Services (yup, the CES Onyx), the company incharge of emptying the street dustbins in Chennai. Someone tell him!

QOTD: "Cogito ergo sum." - Rene Descartes

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