Friday, January 2, 2009

Moods of Raja

In the introductory part of this blog, I touched upon the moods that Raja has tried to create with his music. Time to get into the detail to see the difference the genius of Raja brings to this important facet of film music. Unlike classical music, which focuses on technical perfection, film music in general focuses on expression. Expressions vary according to the situations in a film script/story. Without exception, all film music composers have to deal with different expressions. If so, what makes Raja different from the rest of the composers?

As I mentioned before, Raja broke a number of long held conventions in the use of musical instruments for both songs and background music. I will focus more on the use of musical instruments in film songs – especially interludes, which has been the focus of this blog.

At a high level, Raja changed the playing field by using instruments that were counter to the norm in film music. Raja has given everybody the boldness to use any instrument for whatever the composer wants to create a ‘feel’ for. Time for some examples:
  • Shehnai is no more for just pathos - Raja has used it for every form of expression opposite of the norm – celebration, joy, anger.
  • Veena is no more for just an auspicious situation – Raja has used it for devotion, pensiveness, melancholy.
  • Flute does not always signify a village – nobody can rival Raja’s use of flute for romance, joy, competitiveness, pathos, devotion
  • Sax is no more for youth – Raja has used it as an instrument for romance, mischief, anger, despair.
  • Guitar is no more for just romance – Raja being a guitarist by training has used it for the entire spectrum of expressions from anger, sorrow, joy, melancholy, celebration to romance
  • Violin is no more for just melancholy – Even Raja detractors agree that nobody has used violin so well in a thousand situations that it is hard to list. Raja has used just the solo violin for bringing out the entire band of human moods.
  • Synthesizer is no more a filler for anything the composer cannot figure – Raja’s use of synthesizer is truly amazing. I find that some of his work in Malayalam/Tamil film music with synth is mind blowing. He is so gifted that he is able to bring expressions such as devotion and melancholy easily with the synth.
The bullet points above illustrate how the mind of the genius works. Given any instrument, he is able to create any mood that is required for the situation. The key difference of the Raja experience is this – he decides the moods and the musical instruments and writes notes that are able to deliver the output. Musical instruments do not limit or influence his decision. Or is he so clever that we are unable to surface the limitations that he has with some musical instruments? That’s a question only Raja can answer.

To the best of my knowledge, the association of colors to musical moods is an area of research and there is no agreement among researchers on which color represents which mood. This is due to a large number of musical systems and practices in world music. Let’s not step into this controversial area, and make our own claim. However, in order to make it interesting, I am suggesting a few colors for the next few sections on Raja’s moods that will serve one objective – how he covers the entire spectrum (expressed best by way of colors) with each instrument in his interludes in primarily Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu film music. Some of the readers may not agree with some of my classifications. However, as long as you see the spectrum of moods that are being conveyed by Raja with each lead instrument, my objective is achieved. Please try not to associate the film situation when you hear these interludes – most visualizations of Raja’s music are at best childish in South Indian movies.

Towards this objective, let’s choose some colors for our discussion.
1) Red signifies Anger (aggressiveness)
2) Yellow signifies Happiness (joy)
3) Violet signifies sadness – melancholy
4) Green signifies pleasant recollections
5) Blue signifies romance
6) Orange signifies relaxed party mood (celebration) and
7) Pink signifies devotion

This will be a seven part series exploring the rainbow of colors and the entire spectrum of moods they represent.

Raja’s spectrum of moods with Synthesizer

Raja has been one of the earliest to embrace synthesizers into his compositions. While the synth has almost become the mainstream of today’s film music, he is peerless when it comes to creating different moods with this great electronic musical instrument.

Let’s start with the happiness mood theme. Radha AzhaikiraaL from Therkathi KaLLan (1988) is an excellent use of the synth in this mood. The title track in Punngai Mannan (1986) is another good example. Innum Ennai Enna Seiyya Pogirai from Singaravelan (1991) is also a case in point. Maharajanodu from Sathi Leelavathi (1995) is another recent example from Tamil. My top pick for this section would be Innum Ennai Enna Seiyya Pogirai...

Let’s move to the pleasant recollection mood. Minmini Paarvaigal from Julie Ganapathy (2003) is ably supported with the synthesizer though the lead melody is in guitar. Poovile Medai Naan Podava from Pagal Nilavu (1986) works the magic along with guitar. The prelude of Appadi Paakaruthinna from Ivann (2002) creates a similar mood along with violins. My top pick for this section would be Minmini Paarvaigal...

Let’s look at the romantic mood. It’s impossible to list all, but let me attempt a few. Poongatrile Kaalai Pozhuthu from Paatu Paadava (1995) is a good example. Oru NaaL Oru Kanavu from Kannukkul Nilavu (2000) is another track in this mood. Jaane Do Na from Cheeni Kum (2007) another track in a Jazz version, ably supported by violins. Thoongatha Vizhigal Rendu from Agni Natchathiram (1989) is a great example of usage of synthesizer to create this mood in an otherwise Carnatic tune. Mandarapoo Mooli from Oru Vinodha Yatra (Malayalam - 2006) is a great example of this mood. Oru NaaL Oru Kanavu would be my top pick...

The party mood is the one that you hear mostly from other composers as most of today’s film tracks are mindless dancing. Raja has done several peppy ones with the synthesizer ably supported by flutes and violins. Here are some examples from Raja’s recent work in Malayalam with synth that bring out this mood well. Two examples here. 1) Oru Chiri Kandaal from Ponmudipuzhayorathu (Malayalam - 2005) 2) Ishtakarrikku from Sooryan (Malayalam - 2007). There are hundreds that can easily fit this category. My top pick for this section would be Ishtakarrikku...

Let’s turn to pathos mood and see how Raja brings out this with synthesizer. Maalai En Vethanai from Sethu (2000) brings out this emotion aptly with the synth. Other examples include Diana Diana supported by the sax from Kadhal Kavidhai (1999) and the top example of this category is Manjolum Raathri from Oru Yaatra Mozhi (Malayalam - 1997) – the interludes transport you to another world...

You can easily make this the special Raja category – devotion mood. Some of the interludes may not be truly devotional in the film situation – however, when you separate and hear them, it is easy to see the Raja magic as he is deeply religious with everything that he does. Examples include Arumbum Thalire from Chandralekha (2000) or Enthan Nenjil from Kalaignan (1993) or Meetatha Oru Veenai from Poonthotam (1998). It must be mentioned that Raja creates this mood with the combination of synth with veena or violins. My top pick would be Arumbum Thalire...

Raja's spectrum of moods with Guitar

Raja has a special place for guitar in his compositions. In my view, he has covered the entire spectrum of emotions with guitar more than any other Indian composer. This does not come as a surprise as he is a guitarist by training.

Let’s look at his compositions that evoke happiness. Neethaane Enthan Pon Vasantham and Pani Vizhum Malarvanam from Ninaivellam Nitya (1982) reflect this mood. Oh Maane Maane from VeLLai Roja (1983) falls into this category. The vibrant guitar play of Pattu Poove from Chembaruthi (1992) is a top contender for this category. Other contenders, Aathinkarai Orathu from Rasathanthiram (Malayalam – 2006) and Chella Kaate from Kochu Kochu Santhoshangal (Malayalam – 2001) are great examples. My top pick would be Patttu Poove.

Let’s move to the pleasant recollection mood. There are way too many examples and I will keep this one short. ABC Nee Vaasi from Oru Kaidhiyin Diary (1984) creates this mood with violin and chorus. Ellorukkum Nalla Kaalam from Marupadiyum (1993) is another contender. Minmini Paarvaigal from Julie Ganapathy (2004) creates this mood with synth, flutes. Raja Raja Chozhan Naan from Rettai Vaal Kuruvi (1987) is another great piece of guitar work in this mood. My top pick would be Raja Raja Chozhan ...

Let’s look at the romantic mood. It’s impossible to list all, but let me attempt a few. Engengo Sellum from Pattakathi Bhairavan (1979) is a top contender. Ilaiya Nila from Payanangal Mudhivathillai (1982) is another great example. En Iniya Pon Nilaave from Moodupani (1980) is another example. Ennulle Enulle from VaLLI (1993) is a great romantic tune with guitar, and violins. Pani Vizhum Iravu from Mouna Ragam (1986) is an example of a relaxed guitar usage in a romantic situation. Poonthalir Aada from Paneer PushpangaL (1981) is a celebration of guitar work. Then Poove Poove Vaa from AnbuLLa Rajinikant (1984) weaves the magic with flutes and violins and synth. ThuLLI Ezhunthathu from Geethanjali (1985) does it solo by guitar. Nilave Nee Varavendum from En Aruge Nee Irundhal (1991) also creates the mood with guitar, violins and flute. The top pick for this section is a tie between ThuLLi Ezhunthathu and Nilave Nee Varavendum. Let me pick Nilave Nee Varavendum...

Party mood obviously requires the pace to be fast. The first song that comes to mind is Eh Aatha from Payanangal Mudivathillai (1982). However, there are several others. Megam Kotattum from Enakkul Oruvan (1984) is another example. Sinoreeta from Johny (1979) is another great guitar play that evokes this mood. Thamaraikodi from Aananda Kummi (1982) is a great guitar play with sax and violins that creates this mood. Ilamai Itho Itho from Sakala Kala Vallavan (1982) is a great party tune driven by guitar. Vaan Engum Thanga from Moondram Pirai (1982) is another song that produces this mood along with sax, synth and trumpets. Vanitha Mani from Vikram is another contender in this category ably supported by sax and violins. The top pick would be a tough choice between Sinoreeta and Vaan Engum Thanga. Let me pick Vaan Engum Thanga...

Let’s see how Raja handles pathos with guitar – very unusual mood by Indian film music standards. Nallathor Veenai Seithu, Ellorum Sollum Paatu and Nalam Vaazha from Marupadiyum (1993) is Raja’s answer to the same emotions that Jagjit Singh tried to create with ghazal based tunes in the Hindi original Arth. In my view Raja succeeded beyond what Jagjit could even imagine with guitar, flute and violins. Piraiyae Piraiyae from Pithamagan (2004) uses guitar as much as flute to bring out the pathos of the situation. Malaiyoram Veeesum Kaatru from Paatu Paadava (1995) uses guitar strains to convey pathos extremely well and would be my top pick...

Devotion with guitar – that sounds very unusual. Not in Raja’s hands. Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu from Villu Paatu Karan (1992) creates this mood along with flutes, violins, cellos and synthesizers. Arumbum Thalire from Chandralekha (2000) does this magic with synth and guitar. Kodai Kaala Kaatre from Paneer Pushpangal (1981) in my view evokes this mood though the situation in this movie is romantic.My top pick would be Arumbum Thalire..

Anger or aggressiveness is usually expressed in Indian movies with loud trumpets, saxophones, wailing violins etc. Raja has successfully recast this by using guitar in several situations. Ennadi Meenachi from Ilamai Oonjalaadukirathu (1978) is an example of anger being expressed with electric guitar.

Raja's spectrum of moods with Flute

Raja’s use of flutes in his compositions has delivered all kinds of moods. Let’s look at his compositions that evoke happiness. Kuzhaloothum Kannanukku from Mella Thiranthathu Kadhavu (1986) uses flute along with violins to create this mood. Mayil Aadum Thoppil from Chinna Pasanga Naanga (1992) uses flute with violins to create the same mood. Nee Oru Kadhal Sangeetham from Nayakan (1987) is another classical example – this uses veena and violins.Oru Thanga Rathathil from Dharma Yudham creates this mood along with the violins and bass guitar. Oru Kili Uruguthu from Anandha Kummi (1982) is another example. Some examples from Raja’s Malayalam work: Paadu Saki from Chaitram (1988) and Ponnavani from Rasathanthiram (2006). My top pick would be Kuzhaloothum Kannanukku

Let’s move to the pleasant recollection mood. With flutes, these are typically folk melodies and the list is endless. Let me list some of the top of mind flute work of Raja from Tamil and Malayalam. Devan Koil Deepam Onru from Naan Padum Paadal (1984) is a non-folk example. Elangathu Veesuthe from Pithamagan (2004) is based on flute melody that conveys this mood. Koondukulla Yenna Vachu from Chinna Gounder (1991). or Oh Unnale from En arugil nee irundhal (1991) are other examples. Pachamalai Poovu from Kizhaku Vaasal (1990) or Sindhiya Venmani from Poon Thota Kavalkaran (1988) are samples from this long list. Siru Kootile from Paandi Naatu Thangam (1989) or Vana Kuyile from Priyanka (1994) are additional examples. Some more from Malayalam: Poo Kunkumapoo from Rasathanthiram (2006) or Enthu Parainjalum from Achuvinte Amma (2005). My top pick would be Enthu Parainjalum

Let’s look at the romantic mood. Arguably Raja has used flute in romantic circumstances on too many tracks to list. Chinna Chinna from Mouna Ragam (1986) is an example where Raja creates a romantic mood with flute supported by violins and bass guitar. Enulle Etho from Rosapoo Ravikaikari (1979) is another classical example. Kalyana Thenila from Mounam Sammadham (1989), or Mounamana Neram from Salangai Oli (1983) are some awesome examples. Muthu Mani Malai from Chinna Gounder (1991) or Putham Pudhu Kaalai from Alaigal Oiyvathillai (1981) are vintage Raja in this mood. Sempoove from Siraichaalai (1997) or Singara Cheemaiyile from Ninaivu Chinnam (1989) or Thaalatum Poongatru from Gopura Vasalile (1991) or Un Paarvaiyil from Amman Kovil Kizhakkale (1986) are wonderful examples from the wide body of Raja’s work. Kathirum Kothi from Man of the match (1996 Malayalam) creates this mood beautifully. My top pick would be Putham Pudhu Kaalai…

Party mood obviously requires the pace to be fast. However, my view is that Raja uses flutes to modulate the flow of melody in his otherwise fast paced songs. This is one of the reasons for even the fast paced Raja tunes to have a smooth flow and is very soothing to the listener. Examples include: Aasai Adhigam from Marupadiyum (1993) or Aasaiyai Kaatula from Johny (1979). Aracha Sandhanam from Chiina Thambi (1990) or Chinna Rasavey from Walter Vetrivel (1993) are other examples. My top pick would be Aracha Sandhanam

Perhaps no other composer has used flute so well to convey pathos. Let’s look at a few examples. My top pick for this mood category is Naan Padum Mouna Ragam from Idhaya Kovil (1985) – along with the guitar, the flute says it all. Malaiyoram Veesum Kaatru from Paadu Nilave (1987) is another great example.The second interlude of Nilave Mugam Kaatu from Ejamaan (1993) brings out pathos so well with flute. Om Namaha from Idhayathai Thirudhathe (1989) (Geethanjali – Telugu) is another example. Piraiyae Piraiyae from Pithamagan (2004) or Un Kuthamma from Azhagi (2002) brings out pathos very well. My top pick would be Naan Padum Mouna Ragam

Devotion with flute – that must be easy. While Raja has done several tracks that bring out this mood, they bring out a sort of meditation type mood to be more precise. Intha Poovukoru Arasan and Rasati from Poovarasan (1996) create this mood beautifully with violins and synthesizer. As mentioned in the guitar section, Ponnil Vaanam Poothathu from Villu Paatu Karan (1992) creates this mood along with violins, cellos and synthesizers. Pallaviye Charanam and Nee Pournami from Oruvar Vazhum Alayam (1988) are fantastic tracks in this mood. Mouna Ragam and Kamalam Padha Kamalam from Moha MuLL (1995) are outstanding examples. Aaraaro from Anand (1987) does this magic with violins. Kaatril Varum Geethame from Oru Naal Oru Kanavu (2005) is a mesmerizing tune done with flute and synthesizer. Mandhiram Idu from Aavarampoo (1992) is my top pick in Tamil along with great violins in this mood. In Malayalam, the track Poovai Virijnu from Adharvam (1989) brings out this mood extremely well – my top pick.