Thursday, August 7, 2014

Will there ever be another Ilayaraja? Part 3

#3. Commitment of promoters of a music composer

Though, he struggled prior to 1976, Raja had great luck with the unwavering commitment of his promoter, Panju Arunachalam. Panju, did not just introduce him and move on. He continued to produce movies and ensured that Raja took care of the musical needs of his projects. As a story writer, he had many opportunities to work with other directors, and perhaps suggested Raja’s name, wherever possible. Beyond the first 50 movies (perhaps achieved by 1979), Raja did not really need Panju. However, their relationship of mutual admiration and benefit continues to date.

The only parallel to this I have seen is the case of AR Rahman (AR) and Manirathnam (MR). In the early years, MR was patronizing AR. After 2000, it has been the other way around. MR’s repeated failures does not come in the way of AR doing music for him. With that exception, I do not see any longer, great relationships between the producer/director and the composer. Many directors, simply call the shots and forget the boost they got from the composer. Gautam Menon was promising when he introduced and used Harris Jayaraj (HJ) repeatedly. However, he broke away from HJ and went to other MDs. It is a rat race now, where one uses the other as long as there is mutual benefit and ruthlessly show them the door, when their commercial purpose is not served. 

The new composers have an uphill task – Venkat Prabhu uses his cousin YSR, and there are a few others who seem to be have some lasting relationships. A talented composer like Sharath is tossed, even though his 180 was a good musical. At least Sharath can go to Kerala and try his luck with his old contacts. The MDs who focus only on languages such as Tamil or Telugu are toast. It is important for a MD to grow, to have, a confident sponsor, to experiment and flourish. Such an environment simply does not exist today.

A director will call the shots in a movie, no questions about that. However, without lasting relationships with directors/producers, a composer cannot shine. Picture someone like Raja, who will work with anyone who can convince him to do music for his/her movie, regardless of their past success, stature etc. He treats all of them equally. He does not care when a director deserts him. There is always someone else who want him to do music. Such a luxury is impossible for all new composers, no matter how talented they are.

That’s one of the reasons for about 30 new composers who show up in the TF business alone every year, and at best, one among the 30 gets a chance to do another film the next year. When the media writes about any new composer, they use the simple yardstick of "> movie/year” – boy, that’s achievement!

Unfortunately, most young composers get squeezed on budgets as well. They have to operate on rented studios and with the shoe string budget, you can only get SS finalists to sing with a synthpad and a keyboard. Kutthu songs come easy with these two instruments. Whether you like it or not, that is the true state of what the new MDs have to deal with. They do not have the luxury of Raja or Vidyasagar (who have multi language clientele). They operate in an environment where their potential is not realized nor are their fears alleviated.

#4 Ability to experiment and take risks

 Most of today’s young composers talk about genres and very rarely about any experiment. Even Raja has never spoken about his ‘experiments’. I do not think even Raja approaches music as a way to ‘experiment’ his ideas. He merely reacts to a film situation and finds a solution that best meets the need of the scene and the story. It is listeners like us, who call these things as ‘experiments’. To him, it is a non-standard application of his toolset. In my view, his tool bag is so deep, that the situations have not fully exhausted his options. For the most part, the job gets done with the tools in his top two or three draws.

A CCM enthusiast may speak at length about the choice of Raja’s notes in a ragam; a WCM enthusiast may look at his choice of modulation within scales, or his counter points and so on. What we consider as non-standard application of his toolset may very well be standard application for him. At the end of the day, ‘experiments’ such as what we talk about requires a very deep tool bag that is accumulated with years of hard work and intuition.

The young composers who work on movies today, do not have that depth, hard work or innovative ability. ‘Genres’ is just exposure to other musical types. Doing a composition of music in another genre is just the tip of the iceberg. Raja has always maintained that he wants to add his contribution to any area of music he touches. ‘Contribution’ is something big. Put simply, what the young composers are doing are like talking a course in physics in a university. You will be taught magnetism, optics, motion, electricity and topics such as these.  Now, if your favorite topic in physics is ‘optics’ (a.k.a. genre in music) – it is no big deal. What Raja does, is akin to not only doing a PhD in optics, but going on writing his own original and individual research publication.

I do not consider his work on disco music in the 80s as a risk as this was the music of those times. However, he had the right tools to do that 'experiment' as he always had an additional Indian musical touch to whatever he did. His experiment with voices in Geetha (Kelade Nimageega) went unnoticed and the common listener took the 'Jyotheyale' song more seriously.

The kid composers have only the ability to brag about their ‘optics’ lessons. It does not sound like good optics to seasoned music listeners, unfortunately. As they are not fully prepared, they can only do as much.

I also talk about ‘risks’ along with experimentation. Music making has little risks, according to Raja. It is the directors, producers, who run the risk of losing money and not him. Having said that,  Raja is always looking for the odd opportunity to use something from draw 5 and use it, as it may rust when not used. Let’s think of a song such as ‘Eriyile Elantha Maram’ from 'Karaiyellam Shenbagapoo' in 1981. The setting that is given to him is a rural setting with kids dancing around someone who shows up from a city, with a guitar. The requirement was just a folk tune. Raja throws his deep WCM, choir, CCM, folk tools from draw 5 with a nice sugar coated melody to deliver what the director wants. All the director heard was the initial pallavi’s tune. This song was hardly appreciated for its genius for decades after it was created. Raja does not care.  What we say as risk, translates to use of his tools from the bottom draws of his tool bag.  The tune will carry it through – the rest is ornamentation that Raja wants to use his deep knowledge. Similarly, ‘Manjal Veyyil’ from Nandu would have got the approval from the director based on the tune – the ornamentation goes back to Bach, which few people notice. Those are risks that Raja boldly takes, though it has the least impact on the general listener.

 It took him years to find a place for an acapella in Indian film music. He used his connection with Panchu to push such an idea (consider it as risky in the Indian context) with his Maya Bazaar song.

Most of his ragam based songs are ones that he runs by several directors (example, Raathiriyil Poothirukkum) and manages to find a taker at last. I am not sure, how many such great rejected tunes, he has created. As he says, he has no problem giving as he has an infinite supply of tunes. Imagine a young composer today pushing a raga based composition to a director where he has dancers and main characters jerking around. That’s not going to cut it. Even if they have the ability to mix things that they know very well, say, a jazz and a R&B mix, it is a hard sell. These young composers will be relegated to ‘kuthu’ songs only, as a result.

A case in point is the dance video industry of Mumbai (also called Bollywood). Even though it has few very talented artists such as Shankar Mahadevan or Shantanu Moitra ,most are relegated to dance video music. There is simply no scope for innovation in music in Bollywood. Unfortunately, the casualty in all this development of digital music is Indian and Western classical music. Bollywood is just a precursor to the state of South Indian Film music in the years to come...


Muthuram Srinivasan said...

Very good effort Bro!!! Keep going. I am a regular visitor of your blog but never had had a thought of commenting. Since I could able to imagine the depth of your knowledge on Music I know that I have nothing to comment on your monumental work...Reading your blog is my learning process

Anonymous said...

Very glad that I visited your blog. Thanks a lot for all the articles!

I am a Kannadiga. For your info, the song, "Kelade Nimageega" is immensely popular in Kannada. Just wanted to say that this song was not sidelined.

- Shankar

ravinat said...


Thanks for your comment. I am glad to hear that 'Kelade Nimageega' is popular with Kannada audience. Raja did the song as well as Jyotheyale in Tamil in two of his films in the 80s. It is 'Jyotheyale' that went to Hindi and not 'Kelade Nimageega'. Partially, it may be due to 'Vizhiyile' being popular in Tamil as well. With the exception of a few, most listeners stick to their language when they hear a composer!

Unknown said...

Simple question why is ilayaraja unable to compose a song like "Ladio"?

ravinat said...


This is not a 'capability' question.

You need to weigh a composer based on their wholesome approach, knowledge, body of work and creativity. In fact, it is beyond creativity, when it comes to Raja - creativity is about progressive embellishment. Raja has a mind that blends a hundred things from Carnatic to WCM to folk to even electronic music without the listener being able to figure out any of the inputs in his output.

That is the powerful mind that qualifies him to be called a musical genius.

Let's not reduce this to a bun fight on some named compositions of others.

One would not state that Wagner never wrote a composition such as Symphony No. 40.

Muthuram Srinivasan said...

Well said!!!

Unknown said...

i agree with you ....but i don't know why he could not compose like he did in 80's.....why he could not adapt to latest technologies of today....m.keeravaani is the guy who is composing music from THE period of raja till now successfully and adapted to latest techs!!!!!!!!!!!!!i don't blame him....i am his biggest fan.....but i want him to compose like modern MD'S of today....prove himself..!!!!!!!!!!!!If its possible that 15 years old boy can learn latest music and compose modern pieces of music why cannot the GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!he must have to adapt himself like poet vali did....he had written the songs for MGR koduthathellam koduthar , a meaningful song.....and today for agith in mangatha "machi open the bottle" song....THATS IT!!!!!!!!!!iam just an ordinary viewer....not proffesional if i have written something worst please forgive me.....good review ...i also agree with you that he is the genius ......but i want him to prove him once again even after the 1000 films.....thats what we all need

ravinat said...


Your comments have a lot of contradictory information. Firstly, you appear to emotionally connect with Raja and still think that his 80s work is the best. In other words, you have really not read through this blog in full. One of the intentions of my writings here is to change the perception that Raja has deteriorated past the 1980s – nothing can be farther from the truth. I strongly recommend that you read the posts from the beginning and let me know, if you still feel the way you have commented.

Your comment is that Raja is not modern - really? Please define modernity to me. In your view, he is a genius but cannot handle any technology – please go through several posts I wrote on how Raja adopted with the changing times and has used EMT in several of his compositions, past 1990s.

Next, you mention Vaali as an example of someone who adopts. I would state that Vaali was Mr. Compromise. Despite all his great poetic abilities, he compromised throughout his career as his focus was money and not leaving any indelible mark in literature. After a few decades he will be forgotten. He is typical of film folks.

Raja is Mr. Uncompromising. I am surprised how he is still doing music in films. There is absolutely no need for him to survive the way Vaali did. Raja’s post 2000 work will be remembered for decades after his time – I have little doubt about it. Vaali compromise grammar for survival. Raja will never compromise musical grammar for survival.

Lastly, please do not place arguments and try to state that you are an ‘ordinary viewer’. If you are, you will not read a musical blog. By the way, you do not have to agree with me that Raja is a genius. I am fine with it. Also, you seem to be focused on only Raja’s Tamil songs. Please expand your listening to other languages such as Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada. You can use this blog to kick start you on that.

Anonymous said...

My gratitude overflows for Ilayaraja has become an instrument in the hands of divine.

Will there be an Ilayaraja ever?
For will see in this life itself musicians that will produce music that touches very core of your heart and you would say "A Raja is born again, a complete Raja in all aspects if something is missing in Raja".I thank the existence for all this rythm ever ending ...