Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Some myths about Raja

He is the god of music

He is very human in what he does. He has his laundry list of screw ups and he has messed up with the leading lights of the movie business. If everything went right and he was truly God, he would not have the cyclical ups and downs in his career. He also will not encourage a whole bunch of ‘less talented’ singers for some of his otherwise good compositions.

Every Raja composition is a masterpiece

The word masterpiece is there for a reason – just because a piece comes from a master it does not become a masterpiece. Raja has several masterpieces, but not all his compositions qualify.

Raja is folk composer fit for B-grade movies

Very few Raja tunes are purely folk. He uses a lot of folk techniques, but he rarely renders them in their original format. Exceptions such as Vettalai Vettalai in Rosapoo Ravikkaikari do exist. For the most part, most of Raja’s folk tunes are Westernized (more on this later). In fact, some of Raja’s hidden gems are from B-grade movies that none of us watch, but Raja overrules everyone and comes out with winners. (Example Ennai Thodarnthathu from Mamiyar Veedu, or Vaana Mazhai from Idhu Namma Bhoomi – how many of us have heard about these movies?)

Raja’s music is dated and is unable to compete in today’s rhythm based music business.

It will be more apt to say that he is perhaps tired. Coupled with bad PR and his philosophical ranting, he does not win any more new friends. He has tried every form of music from Jazz, pop, acoustic guitar-propelled Western folk, rock and roll, psychedelia, funk, doo-wop, march, bossa nova, pathos, Tamil folk/traditional, Afro-tribal, Indian and Western classical. He has experimented quite a bit within the constraints of film music and film background score (I will cover this in detail) more than any Indian musician. The rhythm driven compositions and remixes of today (2008) do not have ability to sustain the test of time and it is good policy to stay away from it. Besides, he has very little to prove himself, unless a challenge is posed at him such as animation movies, period films, documentaries (yes, you read it right), or independent albums. If you pay close attention to Hey Ram (2000) and Cheeni Kum (2007), Ajantha (2007) and finally The Music Messiah (2007), he is miles ahead and modern than most of his competitors.

Raja is a good Carnatic classical composer from a film music perspective.

Raja is first a Western Classical Music (WCM) artiste – everything is after that. As someone who was familiar with only folk music till 25, it is still difficult to explain, how he became a WCM expert in such a short period of time (8 years). While he has also learned Carnatic Classical Music (CCM) after that and acquired as much if not greater expertise, he still approaches CCM from a WCM perspective. I will detail this later as most of the CCM criticism of his work is from purists who do not understand his approach. He is the one of the few (definitely the best) artists who can harmonize CCM using WCM rules.


Vijay Venkatraman Janarthanan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vijay Venkatraman Janarthanan said...

Dear Ravi,

Interesting review! Just wanted to add: "Paadi Azhaithen from Rasigan Oru Rasigai" - This was not composed by Raaja! This movie's music was done by Raveendran.

With thanks & regards,

ravinat said...

Thanks Vijay. I stand corrected.


Ravi R said...

" As someone who was familiar with only folk music till 25, it is still difficult to explain, how he became a WCM expert in such a short period of time (8 years)."

I was watching the Malayalam Program "Hrudayangalude Raja" and i saw Malayalam music director 'Johnson', mention the same. FY reference,

Unknown said...

There is a remix of Raja's 'Aye Zindagi Gale lage le' from movie Sadma(which in turn is his song from thambikku endha ooru) in Youtube. This is with modern guitar and vocals, but they retained the tune.
Just listen to that you will see how his song from 80's is so modern.

ravinat said...


The song from Thambikku Endha Ooru came after Sadma and is a redo of the Sadma song.

This is one of Raja's top compositions int he 80s. It has every orchestration element you can think of - sweeping violins, beautiful flutes, amazing bass and lead guitar lines, violin staccatos - the list is endless. However, the highlight of this song is the second interlude - instead of using brush strokes on a drum as most composers have done for years to symbolize an approaching train, Raja uses violins to deliver the same effect - that's genius!