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Mani Rathnam - Sounds of success
The man who gave us Roja, Bombay and Dil Se.. also gave us Idaya Kovil, Pagal Nilavu and Mouna Ragam! Surprised? Welcome to the world of India's truly trans-lingual movie maker! Did you know Mani Rathnam actually started his career with a Kannada movie, Pallavi Anu Pallavi (1983)? Its all the more surprising that this movie starred Anil Kapoor and the glam girl of Julie - now veteran of Tamil film industry, Lakshmi!
However let me confine myself to the musical scores of Mani Rathnam movies! I’d rather set aside the first two movies of Mani, the Kannada movie, Pallavi Anu Pallavi and the Malayalam movie, Unaru, due to the fact that they are most often not remembered as Mani’s movies! ‘Experimental’ would be a better word!
Mani Rathnam’s musical influences in his movies may be broadly classified into two phases Ilayaraja and A R Rahman. Lets start with the Ilayaraja phase!
The humble beginning:
Pagal Nilavu (1983) was Mani Rathnam’s first Tamil movie and had a very raw feel to it. Ilayaraja had come up with his usual decent score including the raaga Kalyani based Vaidehi Raman. Fairly more popular were Poomaalaye thoal saera vaa.., sung by Ilayaraja himself and Poovile medai.., with Jayachandran and P Susheela. The Poomaalaye.. number, in particular had the typical Ilayaraja style of interspersing the male and female voices right in the 3rd line of the song. The music was just about adequate in this movie.
Idaya Kovil (1985) had a very musically-exploitable theme of that of a singer who makes it big and loses his lady love to the same city that gave him fame! One still remembers the song penned by Paavalar Varadharajan (Ilayaraja’s brother) tuned very beautifully by Ilayaraja in Vaanuyarntha solayile... The pain of separation was so beautifully expressed by both the brothers taking credit for the words and the tune. Other noteworthy song included, Kootathila koyil pura.., Paattu thalaivan paadinal.. and the woefully slow but very beautiful title song, Idayam oru kovil.. and Naan paadum mouna ragam.., which was incidentally based on raaga Sivaranjini. The situation so goes that the hero, now a very famous singer plus a compulsive drunkard happens to arrive late for a gathering where he was supposed to sing. He comes so late that the entire crowd is actually leaving. Ilayaraja had actually composed Sivaranjini into an immensely slow and melancholic number, that brings the crowd back, as if in a trance. This movie actually flagged off the successful combination between Mani and Ilayaraja.
Mouna Ragam (1986) is still remembered for its music. Ilayaraja came up with a very sensitive score for this sensitive theme of marital discord! Manram vantha thendralukku.. (based very soulfully on raaga Keeravani) is probably the best number in the movie, sung with a lot of feel by S P Balasubramaniam. Interestingly, when the Hindi version was made as Kasak, starring Rishi Kapoor, Neelam and Chunkey Pandey (with Mani Rathnam credited only for the story), Rajesh Roshan came up with the equally beautiful Ek Taj Mahal dil pe.. in the same position. It went unnoticed due to the poor faring of the Hindi version. The cameo of actor Karthik was a memorable one, but he gets killed halfway and appears just for about 30 minutes in the movie. Mani had consciously not given him a song with Revathy, inspite of the fact that his role was extremely lively. The Hindi version did have a number with Chunkey Pandey (playing Karthik’s cameo) and Neelam, but less said about the movie’s fate, the better! However, the more popular tracks from this movie were, Nilave vaa.. (the beautiful solo by SPB), the lively Oho megham vandhadhoa.. and Chinna Chinna vanna kuyil.. (based on the raaga Suddha dhanyasi). The last two, interestingly present the 2 phases of the heroine. While Oho megham vandhadhoa.. number has the heroine as a carefree teenager against marriage, Chinna Chinna vanna kuyil.. presents an altogether changed woman, who has now learnt to appreciate and love her husband. The contrast has been presented by the music very effectively, the pre-marriage song with a strong western influence and the post marriage song with stronger emphasis on folk music. The movie was sober and sensitive with no melodrama and the music more than adequately, complimented it.
Nayagan (1987) was a trend setter of sorts in the Tamil film industry. Mani had roped in the versatile Kamal Hassan to don the title role. The name Nayagan even today, invariably evokes memories of Kamal Hassan’s voice singing Then paandi cheemayile... So, crucial and effective was the theme composition. The song, Naan sirithal deepavali.. was another trend setter with Ilayaraja resorting to a 40s Tamil film music kind of tune to this number shot aesthetically, in a brothel! The protagonist meets the heroine there and finds her too young and inappropriate for that place and apparently falls in love with her. The background music with soft guitars and flute-toned keyboards were very evocative to the feeling of love at first sight. But, the most beautiful number was Nee oru kaadhal sangeetham... Shot very aesthetically, with what is now known as the ‘Mani Rathnam touch’, the song had very well written lyrics combined with a lovely dosage of raaga Desh and sung very effectively by Mano and Chitra. And of course, the raunchy, Nila adhu.. number. Extremely catchy, this number was an instant success. Nayagan had a musical score that blends so well with the movie. It proved that Mani Rathnam and Ilayaraja make a formidable combination.
The trend setter sets the trend!
Agni Nakshatiram (1988) was the MTVisation of Indian film music long before MTV made its inroads into this country! The song sequences are still regarded one of the best in Indian cinema. It was all the way a cult movie. Agni Nakshatiram was a very suave potboiler, without the melodramatic trappings. A tale of a man and his two wives, and their respective sons, and of course how they cope up with each other. Though the story was no great shakes, it’s the screenplay and the narration which got Mani all the attention. Raja Rajathi rajan indha.. is a tapori number with stylish picturisation and sleek camera lightings by p C Sreeram. The more melodious Thoongadha vizhigal rendu.. and Vaa vaa anbae anbae.. borrowed very beautifully from Carnatic raagas, Amirthavarshini and Sivaranjini respectively. Again, the Hindi version (Vansh) in which Mani Rathnam merely shared the credit for the story, had a lovely number in Aa ke teri baahon mein.. by Anand Milind who apparently, used the same Thoongadha vizhigal rendu.., but with greater customization to the Hindi audiences. As in Kasak, it did not reach the people, thanks to the movie’s commercial failure. The raaga Mohanam-based song Ninnukori varnam.. and Roja poo naadi vandhadhu.. numbers had Ilayaraja in great form with his orchestration. The other number, Oru poongavanam.. was a rather slow number, but very apt for the sensuous mood of the song.
Mani Rathnam next shifted to Telugu with his trial blazer Geetanjali (1988). I would rate this as the best out of this combo more so because, a love story evokes the best music in any music director. Ilayaraja, being a genius, exploited this opportunity to the core and came up with a brilliant score, which is well remembered in both Telugu and Tamil - Idhayathai Thirudathey (1989). The film opens with Jagada jagada.. and Jallantha.. for the introduction of the hero and the heroine respectively. Jagada jagada.. is a fast paced, dancy number with a Latin undercurrent. In contrast, Jallantha.. is a lively and rhythmic number apt for the heroine’s character. Looks like, Mani has briefed Ilayaraja very well about his lead characters! The two slow melodies, Aamani padave.. and Oh pappa laali.. were soulful, to say the least. Aamani padave.. had some thought provoking lyrics expressing the anguish in hero’s mind. Rightly so, because the Hero’s days are numbered, thanks to a deadly disease! Oh pappa laali.. on the other hand is a song about separation where the hero expresses his pain of separation to the heroine’s kid sister, who’s missing her too! It was a beautiful situation and the song expresses the mood very appropriately. The most popular number in the movie Oh Priya Priya.. (with a heavy Sivaranjini base) was all the more in news, thanks to Anand Milind who used it in their Dil! Nandi Konda.. is a spoof on a spooky number and the last number Om namaha.. is a very differently tuned sensuous number. The tune based on one of the not-so-used raaga Hamsanandham lifts this song entirely, with minimal orchestrations. Geetanjali had a score that was sweet and very listenable. The music of this movie was the 3rd protagonist.
Anjali (1990) was Mani’s next movie, now in Tamil. The story was a trend setter again, about a mentally retarded child and how the world moves around her. The film was aimed as a fun movie, targeted both at kids and adults. The music by Ilayaraja was, similarly, universal. The title song - Anjali Anjali.. epitomized the mood of the movie. The Motta maadi.. number had some great orchestrations and had the right amount of kiddish curiosity about a couple in love, meeting alone in the terrace of their apartment! Raathiri nerathu.. is a number sung amazingly by SPB in a altogether different voice to suit the Star Wars like picturisation. Usha Uthup pitched in for Vegam Vegam.. after a long sabbatical from Tamil. Altogether, Anjali was more situational and best enjoyed with the movie.
Mani Rathnam’s last movie with Ilayaraja was Dhalapathi (1991). With Rajinikanth in the helm of affairs, a lot of people wondered what Mani has come up with! But, Mani carefully stayed away from formulas and ended up giving a modern day Mahabharata in Dhalapathi. Ilayaraja tried going national with his music, roping the Hindi singer Mithali to do the Yamunai aatrile.. number. This eloquently tuned number was appropriately based on the raaga Yamunakalyani. The main background music with the sounds of a cooing of an engine, was also added in the Chinna thai aval.. song. This is one of most well-remembered theme pieces of Ilayaraja. The song however was a remarkable adaptation of raaga Charukesi.
Then, of course, were the chart-busters Rakkamma kaiya thattu.. (The last song recorded by Ilayaraja for Mani Rathnam, which went on to join the BBC poll Top 10 after 12 yrs in 2003.) and Kattu kuyilu... The most beautiful song in the movie was Sundari kannal oru.. - a duet with SPB and S Janaki based on the ever popular raaga Kalyani... It was sheer brilliance. But there was another song, which was released in the soundtrack but was never added to the movie! That song, Putham pudhu poo.. was a marvelous concoction of raaga Hamsanandi and was supposedly yanked off because it had Rajinikanth's love interest (Shobana) with Aravind Swamy, his brother. Did Mani fear a backlash from the fanatical fans of the superstar? One never knows!
Dhalapathi saw Mani and Ilayaraja parting ways forever! The most common reason in circulation was that Ilayaraja was too hot headed for Mani and took his own time against Mani’s wishes by prioritizing other movies over Dhalapathi. It was generally rumored to be a severe clash of egos.
The advent of A R Rahman
Every crunch situation brings with it, a solution. And the solution came in the form of an ad jingle composer Dilip Kumar aka A R Rahman. Roja (1992) heralded this new musical whiz into the film industry. The music of Roja was a trial blazer of sorts. It was one of the few movie soundtracks that had a pan-Indian and cross-lingual appeal. In a country, where there are more languages than the number of states, this was nothing short of an achievement. In a sense, Roja saw Mani turning modern. Modern in terms of his movie’s appeal, in terms of his content and presentation.
Roja had 5 songs, each of which have carved a special niche in the hearts of Indian audiences (Roja, was dubbed in Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam and also Marathi). The opening song Chinna chinna aasai.. (Dil hai chota sa..) is a classic combination of raagas Harikaambodhi and Shankarabaranam. With its reggaeish rhythms and a new sound of fusion, it was an instant success. The vangelis inspired Pudhu vellai mazhai.. (Yeh haseen vaadiyan..) had the striking base of raaga Kaanada and was a haunting duet which started the trend of a sophisticated erotica on screen, sans crudity. And of course the most popular Kaadhal Rojavae.. (Roja jaaneman..). Sung by the inimitable SPB, this was a song that expressed the pain of separation so well. It was, by the way, based on the raaga Kapi. Rukkumani rukkumani.. was a new-age first night song and Rahman had craftily used Shewtha Shetty and Baba Sehgal to sell the song better in Hindi. The Hariharan number Tamizha Tamizha.. (Bharat humko..) showcased Rahman’s creativity in full form. The tune reaches a chorus after the initial peaceful composition and then goes on to a crescendo with the same chorus. It was an amazingly composed track which won praise on all quarters. The background music of Roja was another landmark. Though Rahman had himself used most of the backgrounds in his later movies (ala Shankar-Jaikishan?), the background track of Roja played an integral part in setting the mood of the movie.
Rahman has said in one of his interviews that he was told by Mani, when they met first, that he was to start composing for a movie by name, Thiruda Thiruda. It was by chance that Mani started Roja first, instead. However, Thiruda Thiruda (1993) was to be their 2nd movie together!
I’d personally rate Thiruda Thiruda as the best, these two have produced together, just above Dil Se.. and Iruvar. Thiruda Thiruda opens with the Sivaranjini based composition Kannum kannum... Since, the movie was a fast-paced fun thriller, Rahman had produced a very ‘hep’ sound, never heard in the Indian movies before. Kannum kannum.. had heavy guitars interspersed very well with the vocals. Even its interludes are well remembered today. The Michael Jackson styled Konjam nilavu.. had some great vocals by newcomer, Anupama and some excellent picturisation by ace lens man PC Sreeram. Veera paandi kottayilae.. was a number so impressive, that Shankar (of Gentleman and Jeans fame) wanted this number when he heard it at Rahman’s studio! But it was destined for Mani’s adventure saga! Again, some brilliant cinematography and a great use of orchestration. Putham puthu bhoomi.. was the lyricist Vairamuthu’s song all the way. Imaginative sentences added to the slow and rhythmic tune made this a very pleasant number. The slow capella (Is there any other capella in Indian films?) Rasathee.. (omitted in Hindi) was probably the best use of harmonious chorus in Indian movies. Shorn of every instrument, this song shot to fame more so because of the late Shahul Hameed, who sang the number with amazing dexterity. The last number, Thee thee.. is what I consider, the best by Rahman, to date. The use of dance jadhis and a (supposedly) Chinese singer Carolene made this song an experience! A memorable one, at that. Thiruda Thiruda had a soundtrack that literally stood on its own, even without the movie, partly because a movie of the Indiana Jones genre doesn’t actually need a soundtrack!
Bombay (1995) was supposed to be the 2nd of a trilogy, which started with Roja. Bombay was all the way planned as a multi-lingual and Rahman this time had to come up with a score which appeals to both the north and the south india. When the soundtrack was first released, India Today reviewed it as nothing brilliant, but gave all its marks to the theme music! This theme music, based on raaga Desh, was also adapted later by Rahman himself for a full song Naalai ulagam.. in the movie Love Birds, apart from Malarodu malar.. in Bombay itself!. This theme piece was so popular, that the celebrated French techno composer Jean Michael Jarre played it as a part of his Millennium concert amidst the pyramids in Egypt on the night of 31st December, 1999!
Bombay was a typical Rahman soundtrack, that did not have the instantly appealing quality. It needed time to grow on you. Humma humma.. (sung by Rahman himself in Tamil and by Remo Fernandes in Hindi) had a middle eastern influence and splendid rhythms. Kannalane.. (Kehna hai kya..) had a Sufi flavour and was perfect for the Muslim background of the heroine. Uyirae.. (Tu hi re..) and Kuchi kuchi.. saw Hariharan come to the forefront. While the former was a painfully slow love ditty sung remarkably, the latter was a fun song with very sweet chorus by a group of kids! The much less publicized Halla gulla.. was a brilliant number used in more than one place in the movie. This was a very unique number with innovative use of silence and a lot of good chorus. Bombay’s music was absolutely integral to its narration, in the mainstream format of movie making. Apart from heart felt backgrounds (on the lines of Queen’s everlasting ‘we will we will rock you!), you also had the Idhu annai bhoomi.. chorus number that signified the tragedy and terror that was unleashed after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Bombay’s soundtrack transcended across boundaries and soon television channels were beaming Kuchi kuchi rakkamma.. in 3 languages, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu!
The bond thickens
Iruvar (1997) was the next from the Rahman-Mani duo. Iruvar was a very bold and experimental attempt in Indian cinema primarily because it tried to portray the lives of 2 of the most popular figures in Tamil Nadu politics - the late MG Ramachandran (MGR) and the current Chief Minister Mr. Karunanidhi. The clash of ideologies between these two close friends formed the crux of the movie. This theme demanded a very innovative musical score that, at one point sounds like the 60s Tamil music and at the same time appeal to modern day audiences. The classical Narumugayae.. had classical singers Unni Krishnan and Bombay Jayashree singing it. It had a 40s Tamil film feel to it, shot in black and white and a very chaste Tamil lyrics, penned by Rahman’s favourite, Vairamuthu. Kannai katti.. (with some splendid usage of guitars) and Aayirathil naan oruvan.. were a tribute to the kind of music glorified by MGR - a style where he communicates his ideologies and his populist policies! Both were composed very well by Rahman, who retained a modern feel to them to enable them to reach present day audiences. Hello Mr. Ethirkatchi.. (a number which borrows heavily from the Dave Grusin composed Memphis Stomp, from the soundtrack of 1993 Tom Cruise starrer, ‘The Firm’) and Vennila vennila.. were jazzy numbers that reminded the audiences of the bygone period of the 60s in Indian cinema when jazzy numbers were popular. But Rahman cleverly, stayed away from the filmi jazz that ruled the roost and instead resorted more true blue, world jazz for his compositions, for a touch of novelty! Pookodiyin punnagai.. was a typical soft 60s Tamil number, with no attempt to change its style. Iruvar was an experiment, very successful, restrained only by the commercial failure of the movie. The soundtrack was etched in the screenplay and the songs actually pushed the story ahead!
Mani had one more installment left in his trilogy and he did Dil Se.. (1998) as the final. Dil Se.. was planned as a Hindi movie and saw the talented Mani-Rahman duo join hands with the immensely talented Gulzar, for the lyrics! The result was sheer magic. But, the insurgency in the North East, which is supposed to be the crux of the movie did not play a part in the soundtrack. The songs, however good they might be, posed as commercial attractions alone. I personally feel that Mani, being a Masters in Business, could have redone his positioning of Dil Se..! Instead of clubbing it as a part three of his trilogy, if it would have been marketed as an intense love story, which it rightly was, it could have had a better audience! And people really did not want their superstar dying with his woman in the end. Aravind Swamy would have been a better choice, I suppose. But, for the soundtrack, Rahman roped in none other than the legend Lata Mangeshkar for the remarkable fusion number Jiya jale... Combined with some innovative use of Malayalam lyrics (one of the leading ladies was a Malayalee as per her character!). The Chaiyya chaiyya.. number with Bollywood’s energizer bunny Shah Rukh Khan doing his jumping act, was considered a ‘paisa vasool’ song, both for its picturisation and for the catchy tune. Satrangi re.. with Sonu crooning it, was a song heavily influenced by Flamenco and Latin music and some heart stopping urdu-Hindi lyrics. The title number sung by Rahman himself was a high pitched song with incredible singing and orchestration. Rahman’s voice modulation deserves a special mention here. That leaves us with the slow and mellow ae ajnabi sung by Udit Narayan. The song has a lovely sing along feel to it. Also included in the movie is an Assamese version of a small bit of this song, which really sounds exotic!
That brings us to the latest movie with Rahman composing music for Mani Rathnam - Alai Payuthey (2000). The movie was planned as a songless movie but ended up having as many as nine songs. The best of the lot is the Kitaro-ish Pachai Nirame... With some very innovative lyrics based on colours, this song was an absolute stunner. Snegidhanae.. had Sadhana Sargam in amazing form and some very imaginative lyrics by Vairamuthu. The song is an ode to the husband by his wife, who considers him more of a friend. Kaadhal sadugudu.. (brilliant guitar riffs and the coming of age of SPB’s son, Charan), the RD Burman-ish September maadham.., Yaaro yaarodi.. (a kind of psuedo rustic number with an assortment of folk instruments peeping every now and then) and Evano oruvan.. which has a distinct Egyptian base to it were the other numbers. And of course the title number, a classic raaga Kaanada composition by Oothukaadu Venkada Subbaiyyar. One of the reviewers suggested that he’d be turning up in his grave if he listened to this remixed version by Rahman! Well, since its entirely a matter of opinion, I feel Rahman and Mani have effectively removed the oft-used mirudangam background and adopted a very interesting fusion effect by using a more modern rhythm.
And the latest being a master piece by both Mani and Rahman in their own respective work, Kannathil Muthamittal... The opening, Vellai pokkal.., sung by Rahman himself, had a brilliant score and some beautiful singing. The title track in both the male and female versions (sung beautifully by new-comer Chinmayi and legendary Jayachandran had a difficult composition), beautifully picturised by Mani, swept the feet of the audience and also critics commented that Rahman's music has come of age and attained maturity. Then, the Sundari.., with Ravi K Chandran's cranky camera angles, depicting a leading character, Amudha's childish acts. The soul stirring, Vidai Kodu.. sung by the legendary, M S Vishwanathan and Balram. The Sinhalese song penned by B H Abdul Hameed, Senyorae.. was a peppy number by Rafi and Anupama.
Vibrant musical differences
To sum up, the phase with Ilayaraja saw Mani Rathnam blending his scores well into the psyche of the theme. It could be possible because then, Mani’s movies were still very regional, restricted to Tamil and Telugu. But with Roja reaching new heights on the national scene, Mani went national with his other movies too. Post Roja, Mani made a pan-Indian movie with Bombay while Dil Se.. was a predominantly Hindi movie. Thiruda Thiruda and Iruvar were Tamil straights.
But, the undercurrent in all these movies was the fact that, all had universal appeal. The music was expected to cross borders even before the movie was released. And beyond the Vindhyas, it definitely did, though no sign of the movies being released - Chor Chor for instance. Due to this reason, inspite of the extraordinary music churned out by Rahman, the scores, more or less were pieces on their own, with very little significance in the movie, apart from being prominent distractions. Iruvar, is the only exception to both the above mentioned theories!
Mani Rathnam’s view was limited to the southern movie industry before Roja. And its no surprise that the music of those films did not reach the north (with the exception of Oh Priya Priya.., used in Dil and Rakkamma kaiya thattu.. used in Bol Radha Bol..). Even when the movies were remade in Hindi, the entire score was redone by a Hindi composer!
An interesting point here is the dubbed version of Nayagan in Hindi. Inspired by the success of Roja in the north, Nayagan was dubbed in Hindi as Velu Nayagan. While all the other songs were retained with Hindi lyrics, Nee oru kadhal sangeetham was entirely redone by another music director! This proves that the music was composed with the southern audience in mind.
What is Mani Rathnam upto next? Will it feature Rahman again? But with Dil Se.. reaching the UK top 10, both of them have a much tougher job in hand and much more expectations to live upto.
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