Thursday, August 7, 2014

Will there ever be another Ilayaraja? Part 4

#5 playing by the rules that suit one's best musical beliefs

While most of the leading composers who have been successful for a long time abide by some rules they set for themselves, the most intriguing rules are the ones that Raja sets for himself. Most of his rules are from the old school that none of the new composers can ever relate to. Some of his rules are so noble, it is unfortunate that none of the new composers seem to follow any of these.

 He does a number of movies where he does not get paid. He does several top class albums for Ramanashramam for nothing. As a commercial film composer, it is hard for someone to figure out the drivers behind such projects. He has worked on several projects (Nasser did mention this in the Dhoni launch) where the payment terms were not decided. He bails out several friends (Kamal in Hey Ram) by not charging for his work.
Regardless of his market position, he keeps helping new directors make their debut lending his name; I wish other composers follow this lead. Most of the new directors have deserted him and he has never lamented about it.

He refuses to be drawn into copying other composers work; nor does he care when others like Anand Milind blatantly use his work without permission. Very little has been written about his professionalism (though most values are from the old school). He will not snatch work from other composers. When he was on the top of his game for the first 17 years of his film career, he never once suppressed anyone’s growth. Many composers went down fighting his talent, not influence.

While 99% of the composers work with directors in constantly improvising what they create, he refuses to change his work, once the director has accepted his work. Having said that, he does give the director enough flexibility during the story and song discussions. This practice reflects more on the finicky nature of the director than Raja.

He is more adventurous than what most people would admit. He has done music for animation films, which calls for a very deep understanding of this new medium. For an aging composer, this is remarkable – even JW did that only late in his career recently (Adventures of Tin Tin).

Regardless of the money that is on the table, you cannot get Raja to dilute his standard. There are stages in his career, in my view, where his boredom has surfaced in his work. However, he has never compromised on his stamp in his work. With the exception of a few WCM classics, which he has imitated/got inspired, he has stayed clean in this matter. Even RD had several detractors crying foul on few of his copycat work.

I am sure, like many gifted artists he is not very good at fiscal management, nor does he care. There is also a negative side to some of his practices, which the new composers have been careful not to imitate. His work is not organized properly. He does not even have a good web presence. 

Most of his work methods are still effective as they have merits in them (with the exception of music organization) and also due to his stature of a musical genius.

Think of such beliefs with new composers – it simply does not fly.  Firstly, they are focused on making money. There is no question of doing stuff for free.  Helping out new directors – there is no chance, as the new composers need someone’s help in the first place to shine – no question of lending their name. Some of them cry foul play when their work is imitated.

They quietly copy others as well as directly lift samples.

All of Raja’s musical beliefs have been with him even before he started his film career. Even if someone gets lucky with a string of hits, there is no way any new composer can match most of Raja’s musical beliefs and practices.

#6. Ability to span multiple languages

Even in the 70s, when he had everything going, Raja kept his language options open. The GKV connection enabled him to speak Kannada very well and he already did a few Malayalam films such as Aalolam. While I am not sure, which was his first Telugu film, his connection with Vamsi started in the early 80s, who was fascinated by his speed and genius. By the early 80s, he had all the four languages in his radar and he continues to work on these four since then. Though he was predominantly a Tamil composer till the early 80s, throughout the 80s, he did a lot of work in Telugu and became a force to reckon with.

No other composer since, has had such a sphere of influence in all the four South Indian languages. He was and continues to be the best pan South Indian composer. Over time, he has been able to decently converse in all the four languages. In the 90s, and the 21st century, he has done a lot of work in Malayalam, more than before. The only other Tamil composer who came after him, who has had some presence outside Tamil has been Vidyasagar, who does a lot of Malayalam films (I have not seen Vidyasagar conversing in Malayalam – he understands the language, and responds in English). Raja’s ability to provide melodies differently for all these four languages is unmatched even today.

There is a theory about Raja’s Kannada films that is not my own, but have come to see merit in it. In the 80s, Raja tried most of his orchestral techniques that were risky, first in Kannada before porting it to Tamil and Telugu. Few of his best melodies in the 80s also started in Kannada (Bhanu Bhoomiya became Etho Ninaivugal, Nanna Jeeva Nenu became Devan thantha Veenai, Jyotheyale became Vizhiyile, Naguva Nayana became Paniyil Nanaiyum).

Somehow, few of his Malayalam tunes made it to other languages. There are some outstanding 90s and 200s melodies that Raja left them intact in Malayalam. I think there are several ones that are very portable to other languages including Hindi: a) Poo Kunkumapoo b) Pon Veyilile c) Mandarapoo Mooli d) Varna Vrindhavanam e) Virahamaay Vibhalamaay, f) Shivamalli Poove, are some examples.

New composers continue to struggle with one language as they did not have the GKV type of connection that Raja had. Also, Raja got to the pan South Indian appeal very early on in life. By the time, he hit his first 100 movies (which was under 4 years), he had done work in all the four languages. This was one of his very smart strategies in the early days. He could try a musical idea in one language and if it succeeds, adapt it in another. His ‘Sangathil Paadatha Kavithai’ hence has 6 incarnations in all languages except Kannada. Even his son, YSR, who finished 100 films recently has limited presence outside Tamil.

In the 90s, when most of his big Tamil directors deserted him, he focused more on Malayalam for more than 15 years, before he bounced back. There is always somebody within the 4 languages who wants to use his talent.

With digital music revolution underway, new composers have a disadvantage. Earlier, all the four language music production took place in Madras. Not anymore. The small studios with the right electronic equipment are now present in Hyderabad, Bangalore as well as Cochin. The composers will have to be in these cities competing with the local boys to win projects. Only when these language production requires a big composer like Raja, they will come down to Chennai. But for few exceptions, all new music talent get relegated to become local talent, as a result.


Muthuram Srinivasan said...

Is there a Tamil version of your posts anywhere?

ravinat said...

Hi Muthuram,

There is a link to my Tamil ebook on the site. While that is not a translation of this blog, it has some overlapping content. It references this blog in several places.

I wrote this book as my first attempt as several readers have asked me for a Tamil version of the blog. I still have not come to terms with a number of WCM terms in Tamil. Hopefully, some time in the future this happens.

Muthuram Srinivasan said...

Hi Ravi,
Really happy to know about the eBOOK, but there is no link I am seeing here.

Muthuram Srinivasan said...

Ok Got it...Thank you sir


Hi Ravi,

Can I have the eBook link?