Father To Son

In a recent speech, Karthik Raaja remarked that he once composed a tune that expressed a Mother - Son relationship in the script. Raaja saw the movie and told Karthik that, "Your tune is very good. But it is more suitable for lovers rather than the parental love". When Karthik asked "How can you differentiate tunes based on relationships?" Raaja simply replied: "You will learn by experience". Karthik went on to conclude that, his father is the only composer capable of expressing abstract concepts like distinguishing various emotional relationships through music.

In a bid to understand this phenomenon and attain nirvana, I went looking for Raaja's BGMs that expressed human relationships. I choose a few of my personal favorites which are well narrated by the eminent directors of the industry and well executed by best in class actors.. Top of the bill is the Father - Son chemistry between Sivaji and Kamal in Thevar Magan. From a background score point of view, Raaja doesn't enter this scene until half of the conversation. With just the noise of ambient rain filling the background, He leaves the scene untouched so that the viewers can take in the powerful performances of two all time great actors of Indian Cinema. When Kamal repeatedly says I am leaving and walks away, the BGM enters the arena with some tensely packed tremolos that quickly transcends to the emotional "Potri Paadadi" theme. With both the Gandharams lending the shades of Kaapi, this tune truly melts the listener's heart and brings out the culture, heritage, the father-son relationship and a few droplets negotiating the corner of your eye.

To understand the greatness of all technicians involved in this scene, you only need to compare it with the dubbed version of Virasat, where a dual between Sitar and string ensemble is needlessly played in the background for pretty much the whole duration of the scene. While the Sitar sounds seriously devotional and evokes no sign of sentiment, the combined sounds of these tracks and the unnecessary thundering sound effects of rain unfortunately diminishes the performance of a great actor like Amrish Puri. It is a lesson that educates how important the timing of back ground score is in a scene.

To understand Karthik Raaja's revelation a bit more, I went back to another classic from Thalapathi. This scene can be treated as an imaginary sequence in Mahabharatham should Kunthi ever met Karnan accidentally and felt the undercurrents of their connection. Once again Raaja's respect for silence and the extra ordinary intelligence of fusing his musical idea with the natural ambiance of the scene is displayed here. (See my earlier post: Art of Composing) When the train passes by and culminates in the Chinna thayaval song, Once again its the support from two Gandharams and the shades of Kaapi that mellows you out. Several other unique combinations such as scene's backdrop (A Temple with its natural sights and sounds), the juxtaposition of protagonists from Jai shankar's point of view and biggest striking aspect of it all, a silent sequence with no dialogues whatsoever - leaves indelible prints of Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Rajini-SriVidhya and Maestro Ilaiyaraaja in the viewer's heart. Cinema is nothing but a team work.

Having looked at some parental love, I wanted to venture into the domain of hero-heroine love :-) Almost 99% of movies made so far in India bank upon this subject. Still finding the best of all was not difficult for me. Rajini is no doubt a super star known for his star value and unique style which tends towards antics for many. But what is not widely known and appreciated is how good an actor he is. Especially in the hands of best directors, he is really a diamond. A scene which I have always remembered completely in my mind even though I saw it only once originally, is one such scene.

Directed by Mahindran, arguably the best director in Tamil film industry who inspired a generation of story tellers, the movie Johnny is rather unorthodox for its times. I consider the Raaja - Mahindran combination as the most aesthetic/ technical and commercial success stories of Tamil cinema. The respect that Mahindran has for Raaja is enormous as acknowledged by none other than himself. The back ground theme of Johnny is still regarded as a milestone in the film music for taking the art of story telling through music to a new level. A Conman, a soft spoken female singer who shies away from public life, a women who is always greedy for something better even if its husband and an eccentric, parsimonious barber is not an usual combination of characters you will see in movies. Possibly inspired by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo's Fantasia para un gentilhombre Raaja shines in this theme with his own novel arrangement. With no shades of imitation, he arranges one set where the melody is just initiated and backed up with Pizzicato, another set where it explodes with some brilliant String Ensemble, a third set with a Melancholic arrangement and the best of all a Counterpoint arrangement which also happens to be my favorite.
While the basic theme looks like this:

You can see that the Pizzicato arrangement, full of crotchets is more of lending a rhythmic support to the main melody.
The highlight as I mentioned is the counterpoint arrangement between Flute and Guitar which truly establishes the originality of Ilaiyaraaja.

It shows either you can get a random idea and deliberately improvise/ develop that in different forms. This is not composing. Given the right tools and time any motivated musician can take a shot at this method and a lucky few get successful.
Or you can conceive a melody/ many counter melodies that co-exists together right from their genesis. It is composed that way and it stays like that for ever, with no further improvisations. And this is where Ilaiyaraaja's genius is unparalleled. In the above score, You can see that the two tracks are congenital twins and yet from a melodic point of view they stand on their own when played alone. Such music cannot be cooked. It has to happen !

Going back to expressing relationships, you can see how this theme is traditionally western classical while the tonality of the two parental love themes discussed earlier took support from a dual gandharam based Indian influence. I can easily point out completely contradicting cases where Raaja has used Kaapi themes for Love situations and western classical themes for parental love. So what did Raaja mean to Karthik? I think, no one is qualified to make that derivation but himself. So I decided not to waste my time and do the next best thing.. Which is to initiate the next generation to some good music.

With Love