Raaja Hindustani I

The movie "Raja Hindustani" was screened at the Archana theater in Coimbatore during my sophomore years.. 99% of the crowd watching that movie didn't understand one word of Hindi and yet the movie was running to packed houses. As far the College students who made the majority of those crowds were concerned, the Hindi handicap was momentarily forgotten in the charisma of Karishma! While this post is thankfully not about the on screen antics of Aamir khan on a rainy evening in that movie, it certainly drives home the point that - it takes something extra ordinary for the penetration of any North Indian art into the Tamil hinterland :-P ; It also offers a glaring contrast that often it needn't be as notorious as this case, For - the real 'Raaja Hindustani' of TN is the one with a double 'a' who has presented North Indian classical music as Trojans that conquered us.

This is a 3 part series in which I plan to (re)visit the application of Hindustani musical techniques, instruments and arrangements by Isaignani Ilaiyaraaja. Part 1 of this series will exclusively focus on pure creations of Raaja in this genre while in Part 2 I plan to take up Realizations of Hindustani genre based raagas and arrangements by Raaja. The last part of the series would focus on how he understood the original traditional concept and adopted it into a version of his own - be it in the deviation from tradition in the usage of exotic Hindustani classical Instruments or some radical experiments that no one else dared before.

In the context of South Indian film music, application of Hindustani style has not been unique to Raaja; Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao's delivery of the Raag 'Dharbari' (or Dharbari kaanada) in "Shiva Shankari" is probably still the benchmark of Hindustani singing that any South Indian singer might want to reach some day. And Composer Pendyala Nageswara Rao would be certainly proud of Ravindran Master for taking off from where he left and constructing a beautiful Sindhubhairavi in the Malayalam Sangeetham. The song 'Hari murali ravam' was not only a composer's delight, it also tested the boundaries of mighty KJ, who in the end of course proved why he is infallible. Speaking of testing the singer's ability, Hamsalekha came close to pinning down the South Indian Baadsha SPB in his "Umandu Gumandu". Winning the national award for that song was an achievement second only to SPB's own personal triumph that he actually accomplished the song as a proof to claim that he is the most versatile playback singer of our generation. (However I am not sure if its an original composition by Hamsalekha or simple reproduction of an established Hindustani number just like How ARR merely 'used' the track 'Bhor Bhaye' in Delhi 6); There have been traditional Qawwalis as well where our composers have shone bright with stars such as ARR ("Haji Ali", "Kwaja meri Kwaja", "Moula Moula - Delhi 6)" etc and Ravindran Master again (with "Tu Badi Maasha Allah") etc.,

Raaja's application of Hindustani music has not been as rigorously classical. But in terms of demonstration of the subject, individuality of the technique and the frequency with which his Wizardry was shown, he probably is second to none from the above list of composers. Raaja is more like the Neil Bhor who famously answered how a Barometer can be used in umpteen ways still relevant to Physics to measure the height of a building other than the one based on pressure which is the 'expected' answer.

In terms of usage of Tabla, Tabla tarang, Dholak and Pakhawaj though, He was certainly in the league of his own as you will see from the clips that follow. As yearly as 1978, he dared to experiment on a full blown scale in the song:
Manjolai Kilidhaano

India 24 Hours was a landmark album from Raaja in terms of showcasing his hindustani capabilities.
- First some experiment with
Tabla Tarang

- As far interweaving Tabla Bols so casually, I wonder if Raaja has any peer in south;
Tabla Bols
This track is a true case of tradition with ingenuity; In the second half of the track, the "Ae.. Aele lo" part is so unexpected and exhilarating.

- Now for some brief Khayal (in Bihag?) with some aid from Pakhwaj
Mini Khayal

- For some astute use of Pakhawaj together with Tabla, you can listen to this clip:

Back to film music and Singer Mano had this unexpected surprise in his noteworthy career - A Tarana in Raag Bihag set to Deep Chandi from the film:
Vanna Vanna Pokkaal

And bench mark composition of Raaja's Hindustani came through Pandit Ajoy Chakraborthy's Isaiyil Thodungudhamma; The song is set in a scale unique to Raaja whereby he uses Ga varja version of Kalyani;
Isayil Thodangudhamma
The intricate vocal work on this song is actually a norm in the Hindustani classical. So one can easily appreciate the richness and superior standards of this genre.

There are also few Jugal Bandhis hidden in Raaja songs; This one being my favorite
Sadha Sadha

I don't know whats it with Mano and Hindustani Singing; Obviously Mano was Raaja's favorite at some point as evident from some hard core Hindustani stuff showered on him. The premise of this song based on Raadha - Krishna type of setting must have spurred up Raaja that he came up with such an out and out wonder; I am tempted to tag this in the Raag Dharbari as well but for some "pure" Kanada prayogams; So probably its a mix of both.
Chithra doing a wonderful job initially (especially the oscillation of Melsthaai Ga - to Madhyasthaai Ri - and back to Melsthaai Ga during the pallavi ending is too good).
Gokulame Needhira
(if you listen carefully you can see how Raaja has instructed the singers to pronounce the swaras in the Hindustani way. For instance, Rishabam is pronounced in the Hindustani way; i.e., not like "Ri" with a "ee" sound but more like a "Ray" with an "ay" sound at the finish.)

and Mano left doing the catch up act here.
Gokulame Coda
Usage of Pakhwaj is noteworthy in this song as well.

The song "Ulagil Mudhal Isai Thamizh isaiye" by the master MSV is one of its kind for weaving parts of Carnatic and Hindustani in the same song and producing a genuine fusion. Raaja, being an open admirer of MSV thought himself not to be left behind and produced this wonder
Raagam Azhaithu Vandha
The uncanny knack of choosing both the scales that are Hindustani style based loose Raagas which are also equally popular in the Carnatic domain speaks for Raaja's astute taste. This way the separate portions look alluring whichever way you look at it (Desh for the carnatic part and Kaanada for the Hindustani part)

And in terms of providing light but authentic North Indian numbers, Raaja has proven himself time and again; The latest one being this gem of a song from Naan Kadavul:
Maa Ganga

The range of clips hosted in this post vary from 1978 to 2009; Think about it.. For a period of over 30 years he has fed us with such tasty dishes that we know doesn't belong here; And yet because of the way he "localized" them, we have taken it for granted as if these are wonders that are homegrown down south. Just like the ubiquitously available Tandoori Butter Naan or the Chole-Batura or the Paani Poori in every famous small town restaurants of TN.

With Love

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