Lights, Camera, Conversation… “On the beaten path”

AR Rahman’s songs for “Highway” aren’t exactly groundbreaking – and no, that’s not an unjustified expectation when it comes to this composer.

After a few listens to AR Rahman’s soundtrack for Highway, I must say I’m not terribly impressed. Let’s begin with Heera, which sounds vaguely like something Rahman used to do long ago – say, Putham pudhu bhoomi vendum, from Thiruda Thiruda. (The rise and fall of the first two lines also brought to mind, the way music often connects disparate dots in the brain, Ilayaraja’s Singaara pennoruthi, from Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam.) The surfeit of ambient strings on the track seems like a distraction, a ploy to keep us from thinking too much about the overfamiliarity of the tune. The song is certainly pleasant to listen to – but then, with this composer, when has listenability ever been a problem? His production levels are so staggering, the sound so pure, the voices so fresh and unusual, the arrangements so crisp and clean (and suffused with that impeccable instinct of his to sneak in a snatch of this instrument or that one when you least expect it, the musical equivalent of pulling a lever and changing a train’s tracks) that even his sub-standard work ends up sounding, well, listenable. But is that all we want from a double-Oscar winner?

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Okay, forget the Oscars. Let’s imagine, for a minute, that the Oscars hadn’t yet happened. We’d still have humongous expectations from Highway. One, Rahman hasn’t been releasing all that much music of late. In 2011, there was just Rockstar. The following year, we got, mainly, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Kadal. Among Rahman’s other offerings that year, the Ekk Deewana Tha album was essentially a rehash of the Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya score, and People Like Us was a Hollywood-movie score that went largely unheard in India. Last year, in the May-June time frame, we got Maryan and Raanjhanaa. Then, for more than six months, nothing – and then… Heera? Perhaps we have to watch the film to really get it. Perhaps it’s the perfect tune for the situation in the story. But as an audio-only experience, it just doesn’t cut it.

For a while, now, I’ve been wondering if this expectation of film songs being a rewarding “audio-only experience” is a just one. It’s how film music has been viewed traditionally, in the sense that the older composers created songs that functioned both within and without the film. When we saw the film, the song made sense with the visuals, but even if we hadn’t seen the film, we’d still be left with a great tune. (And given our track record of song picturisation, nine times out of ten, we’d rather be listening to the song than viewing it.) But now, with filmmakers becoming increasingly adventurous – let me qualify that right away; there have been adventurous filmmakers earlier, but they worked within the “Indian-film format” and dealt with “Indian emotions,” whereas a lot of today’s filmmakers are inspired by Western narrative models – does the soundtrack album continue to bear the responsibility of lulling us to sleep on powerless nights? Or should we begin to look at soundtracks like Highway, with their moody instrumentals like Implosive silence, the way we regard Hollywood soundtracks, not as a collection of “songs” but as a musical translation of the film’s themes? With more and more songs being used in the background, over montages of situations, have songs, of late,become the background score?

I have to admit I’m not ready for that leap yet. Songs set our films apart, and when a song is used well – Raabta in Agent VinodAlvida in D-Day – it really becomes something else. In both these song situations (a shootout, a flashback to a murder), background music would have sufficed, but because these situations are set against sombre songs, the mood changes. Suddenly, it’s no longer just a shootout, just a flashback to a murder. The normal emotions we’d feel during these moments in a movie are transformed and amplified, because we’re not being influenced just by background music (however powerful, however well done) but by background music plus lyrics plus a voice. That’s why I would still like a film music album to focus on songs. I would still like to fall in love with those songs after I listen to them once, maybe twice. (And it’s not like Rahman doesn’t do this. As proof, there’s the breathtaking Nazar laaye from Raanjhanaa.) And I still want songs – like Ambarsariya, from Fukrey (a song I picked because of its Punjabi-ness, a mood that’s found in Highway as well) – that complement the on-screen picturisation while retaining their efficacy on a pair of headphones.

And that hasn’t happened yet with Highway. Not that I would listen to a techno/clubby track like Wanna mash up on a pair of headphones in any case – I’m just too old. But the other songs, too, hint at promises that aren’t kept in the end. Kahaan hoon main begins interestingly, with a whispery voice floating over a piano that seems to have just woken up and is doing a lazy-morning stretch, and the antara-back-to-mukhda bridge is lovely (Aate jaate poochti and Mann bhi mera poochta), but once the metronomic synth-beat sets in, the song settles into the kind of heartbreak-ballad template that served Richard Marx so well in the 1980s. Patakha guddi (which comes in two flavours) is infectious, but carries a Rang de Basanti hangover. (Yes, this is due to the genre of the song, but when a composer works so intermittently, do we want to be reminded of his earlier hits?)

The two tracks I found most interesting – at least on a formal level – are Maahi ve (which layers a singsong schoolchild-like chant with touches of gospel, calypso and a Tangerine Dream-era electro-pop ambiance) and Sooha saaha, which sounds like an update of an SD Burman tune and just about survives being smothered by an excess of Rahman’s signature arrangements. The phrasing at saaha, with the extra syllable in the middle, is the album’s sole bit of magic – just about enough to make us forget the startlingly generic single from Kochadaiiyaan, which we got late last year, and help us tide the months till the release of the soundtrack for Shankar’s Ai. Given the gargantuan expectations around that album, though, I have to wonder if anything Rahman dreams up is going to be enough.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here. Copyright ©2014 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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126 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Conversation… “On the beaten path”

  1. I agree to a large extent with your review. But I am beginning to think that film music is now past the stage where a pathbreaking or even just a fresh soundtrack is expected.

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  2. @Brangan: Shankar’s Ai. Given the gargantuan expectations around that album, though, I have to wonder if anything Rahman dreams up is going to be enough.

    I really dont have any high expectations from Ai soundtrack.Given the nature of the film and Shankar’s past record, it would be anything but pathbreaking. I am sure its going to be as generic you can get.

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  3. I am yet to listen to this one but everyone’s been saying it’s not “upto the mark”

    Also Rockstar, to a big extent, felt unimpressive during the pre-movie-release listens. it was underwhelming(mainly I think because I kept comparing it to Rock On, expecting ARR to operate with some really fresh perspectives on hindi-rock) and if I remember right, except for Phir Se Ud Chala, nothing else quite registered in my mind. But all that changed after watching the movie. I have rarely seen ARR’s scores translate so well on screen and blend so organically, it seemed Imtiaz Ali knew exactly what he wanted. After that Rockstar topped my iTunes most-played and is yet to be beaten :-)

    I am really hoping for a similar magic here so much so that I’m going to defer listening to the tracks and catch it for the first time during the movie!

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  4. Madan: I don’t agree. From the younger lot, for instance, I thought Santhosh Narayanan’s score for “Pizza” and “Soodhu Kavvum” sounded really fresh. I think Ghibran does some really interesting stuff (“Kuru kuru kannaale” is quite a quirky take on the standard love song). And I also think that when it comes to melodic songs, a good melody (think “Moongil thottam”) will *always* sound fresh, even if doesn’t break any new musical ground.

    MANK: Oh, I think Shankar’s soundtracks always have a surprise or two in them. I don’t keep listening to “Oru koodai sunlight”, for instance, but structure-wise it’s a very interesting song.

    backgroundscore: Oh yes, forgot about that. But I must say I’ll be surprised if Vasanthabalan will “push” ARR the way the directors who’ve got the best out of him have.

    oneWithTheH: Yea, “Sadda haq” was electric on screen. But I don’t listen to it off-screen. That’s part of what I was talking about here. As an audio-only experience, these soundtracks aren’t all that rewarding.

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  5. Ohh..Ghibran continues to impress and surprise . “Amma wake me up”(Vathikuchi) is such a madcap take on the Shivaranjini ragam. Last I heard it being used sans the pathos was ARR in “Kannum Kannum”(Thiruda Thiruda). I don’t seem to recollect anything else like this in the last 2 decades.

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  6. I have a couple of issues with Rahman recently, though it could be more me than him

    firstly, I think VTV is his best album, and all albums since have been compared to VTV by me. It’s not fair, but VTV bucked the usual Rahman trend of taking time to sink in, it was an instantly likeable album and the worst thing you could about the worst song on the album (Anbil avan) was that it was too generic. None of the albums since have had the same impact.

    Secondly, i think on his hindi albums he is working with some dull/repetitive lyrics. It has a bearing on how i view the music. I like his tamil albums more because I don’t understand tamil, so i can appreciate the music more, unfortunately i do understand hindi so i start paying more attention to the words. With Raanjhanaa the songs were ruined with old school antra-mukra-antra-mukra lyrics. With Ek Deewana Tha…well I still have no idea what Javed Akhtar was trying to do, but the words just didn’t fit and failed to capture any mood.

    thirdly, when it comes to hindi albums which have a strong punjabi flavour, Rahman struggles. Jab Tak Hain Jaan is a bad album, (and god awful for a Rahman album). He can get away with one or two decent songs, but not an entire album.

    finally, i think Rahman’s experiments aren’t working as well as they used to, take Tum Tak for example, it just feels like he had two songs, both of which he wanted to use, couldn’t so put them together, but the song comes across as disjointed. It sort of happens with Mahi ve, but is slightly more successful because it makes me want to hear more.

    I do think Ai will be a more enjoyable album because when composing for Shekhar, Rahman cuts loose and goes hell for leather, but I don’t think musically it will do anything ground breaking.

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  7. Pataka Guddi – both male and female versions are the only highlights of this album for me. Found it way too meh otherwise. Unlike Ranjhana, in which I loved the whole album.

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  8. Baradwaj Rangan: I am not saying that there is no film music today that has freshness or originality. I quite like some of Amit Trivedi’s work myself. I just doubt that it’s an expectation anymore. I think there is a bigger premium on listenability now. People are too busy to give undivided attention to music so first and foremost it’s got to be good to chill out to and if it has anything original, that’s a bonus. Try listening to NEPV on a car stereo and you will find that the wide dynamic range of the music gets too distracting/requires frequent volume adjustments. That is the kind of thing that would get me personally excited but I can imagine that is a bit of a ‘disqualification’ now because I remember hearing many complaints about the recording quality of that soundtrack.

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  9. ” But is that all we want from a double-Oscar winner?”

    I think it’s high time people in India stopped referencing the oscars in every article about Rahman. By now, many musically inclined fans have come to recognise SM for what it was, a pretty generic, underwhelming soundtrack that wouldn’t cut it in a top 15 ARR albums compilation. So why should the oscars raise our expectations at all?

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  10. @Alpesh
    TUM TAK sounded weird by itself, the drum beats and the rest of the classical influence seeming at odds with one another. But this is going back to BR’s point that this song makes *sense* onscreen. The energetic part is for Dhanush frolicking around with his buddies (Mukhde pe naina ….) and then the classical (Nainon ki dhaat leja..) is for whene he sees Sonam. That music. + visual effect when she walks in while they’re playing Holi… Something else..

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  11. Looks like site metrics are presenting a worrying trend of dwindling visitors – Otherwise there is no justification for this “ARR fans baiting post” from this blog – Probably milliblog Karthik whispered in your ears.. Anyways – nadathunga…

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  12. I completely agree that there’s very little to love about this album. Pathaka Guddi(the male version) was an early favourite but when you listen to the album a second or third time, it just breezes by and doesn’t register in a big way. I was not very happy with Maaahi Ve when I first heard it but as the album came out, it started growing on me. It is the most distinctive song on the album whereas the others have a hangover of Rahman’s old work. :)

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  13. Madan: I think there is a bigger premium on listenability now.

    Probably true. But I don’t think listenability is necessarily sacrificed when you do something original. Regarding NEPV, I wrote about the dynamic range here. For me, the recording wasn’t the problem with that album. It was more the horrendous singing in some songs.

    Arjun: Hence the line “Okay, forget the Oscars…” :-)

    vpjaiganesh: Oh, absolutely! That’s exactly how I decide what I’m going to write about next. I pick an artist with a huge fan base and write a long, involved piece to rankle them. I mean, God forbid these writings were an actual, engaged response to something I watched or read or listened to… :-)

    Hithesh: Yeah, I agree. “Maahi ve” is the song that probably survives maximum listens. The problem with “Sooha saaha” for me is the off-key rendition of Alia Bhatt, especially when compared to the awesome singing of Zeb (though this may fit whatever’s happening on screen)…

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  14. brangan: Yes, it NEED not be sacrificed but it is also a tough balance. It is also a moving target, what is listenable also depends on the audience, their tastes and expectations. Sticking with NEPV, I remember somebody complaining that the chords in Ennodu Vaa Vaa were soprano which was ‘wrong’. I hadn’t even noticed that before he mentioned it because it made sense intuitively to me. I am saying that if there are 10001 rules of what a song should sound like, it can greatly restrict the scope for experimentation. I find a lot of attention these days goes to classifying and categorising music and that can be counterproductive. When ARR was on a tear in the 90s…well, I didn’t question his choices because I was too young to think in those terms but I don’t remember any older generation people examining his choices with a microscope either. What I find is these days people are very specific about what they want to hear. To an extent it is possible music directors are also influenced by that. Not everybody and not to the same extent obviously but it can play a role.

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  15. “Hence the line “Okay, forget the Oscars…” :-)”

    I anticipated that. :) Ok, fair enough. But I still maintain that it is not necessary to mention it at all. Too many tards think the oscar and Vellakaaran recognition is the be-all end all of Indian film music Best not to constantly remind those people and hence make them feel even more smug. :)

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  16. @Brangan:The problem with “Sooha saaha” for me is the off-key rendition of Alia Bhatt, especially when compared to the awesome singing of Zeb (though this may fit whatever’s happening on screen)…

    I think its a little early to comment on music of Highway. According to Imtiaz Ali everything about the film was improvised and hence perhaps the music is very much situational. I agree with you that the music is a major downer and Alia bhatt perhaps has no business singing.May be its one off like Aamir singing aati kya kandala so that it may suit the character more.But i have a feeling that may be everything will come together on screen.

    ” But is that all we want from a double-Oscar winner?”
    “Okay, forget the Oscars…”

    Ha Ha , you have begun to take care of both sides of conversations dont you. Getting extra cautious of not offending anyone.I felt so from those lines, thats why i didnt rake up the oscar winner ARR thing even though my fingers were itching terribly.. :-)

    And thanks for confirming my worst fears regarding your criteria for subject selection regarding your posts. I always suspected that it has always been so. :-)

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  17. Agree with you for the most. With all the Patakha Guddi madness, I found Mahi Ve to be the pick of the album and Zeb fantastic in Sooha Saaha. I’d also whisper into ears that the female version of Patakha Guddi is the better version(!). Nothing to do with singing, just that it comes together in a more wholesome way.

    But then, it is Imtiaz Ali. I’d trust him to work songs into script more than any other composer so I doubt these songs are _supposed_ to work outside of the film. But then, there are bigger problems. Why Alia Bhatt? I haven’t seen her perform and won’t be quick to judge but still she’s a novice and this looks like a major role. If we bet on number of reviews that probably has a line like – “I’d have loved to see Parineeti in this role” – especially with the film releasing soon after HTP, we can get very rich I feel. Ok this is too much talk about a film none of us have watched. So I’ll quit.

    I think Raanjhanaa is the best album in recent times from Rahman. Kadal was fantastic too but it does have a problem or two about some stuff working outside of film (the church choir song for example). But Raanjhanaa? What a fantastic album. It ain’t a Delhi 6 but almost everything absolutely works.

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  18. Madan, dynamic range in a recording is a GOOD thing. You should be able to hear soft and loud sounds in a song. Look up “loudness wars” on Google.

    I didn’t like the “Rang De Basanti” songs until I saw the film, and then the album clicked for me. So I’m perfectly willing to allow for the possibility that the songs for any given album may work in the film, but not as a standalone album. The songs, after all, should serve the film. That we often enjoy film songs outside the context of the films is an incidental pleasure, and perhaps indicative of the remove that most songs have from their films. The songs in films are usually music video breaks, and not particularly integrated.

    I think with ARR we subconsciously compare every album to his best standalone albums, not keeping in mind whether or not the songs work with their films. I might not like the songs for “Highway” on their own, but perhaps they work perfectly for the film. Or maybe they don’t work in that context either. Who knows?

    I was disapppointed in “Rock Star,” except for the non-rock tracks. The “Rock Star” songs sounded rather generic compared to the best Western rock, punk, metal, grunge, etc. IMO the only modern Indian film to get the rock sound right was DevD, with tracks like Nayan Tarse, Duniya, and Emotional Atyachar (rock version). IMO rock music is simply not a part of Indian culture the way it is in the UK or US. There’s a certain urgency and rebellion that is lacking in most Indian attempts at rock.

    Alpesh Patel wrote: “thirdly, when it comes to hindi albums which have a strong punjabi flavour, Rahman struggles. Jab Tak Hain Jaan is a bad album, (and god awful for a Rahman album). He can get away with one or two decent songs, but not an entire album.”

    Also “The Legend of Bhagat Singh.” The titular track of “Rang De Basanti,” however, is one of Rahman’s most rousing songs.

    I thought JTHJ was mediocre because of the Yash Chopra influence. I did like Challa though. Frankly I’m not a huge fan of Chopra’s soundtracks in general, except for a song or two here and there.

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  19. Highway really impressed me very much and now I’m totally addicted to the songs of Highway.. Sooha Saaha that only one song is enough to agree that Rahman gave such an excellent album for his fans..

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  20. Ravi K: I never said dynamic range is a bad thing. I love dynamic range in music. My point is, the kind of range there is on NEPV, esp Sattru Munbu, is not very conducive to listening on a CAR STEREO. Because the really soft portions are almost inaudible unless you crank it up in which case it gets really loud when the music reaches a crescendo. And how listenable music is on say a car stereo or on a mobile phone seems to be the criterion these days. I got a lot of it with NEPV, that the recording only works on CD format on speakers. But that’s fine, isn’t it? Apparently not. I love the NEPV recordings (apart from loving 5 of the 8 tracks) but I am not sure the taste for that kind of music is very much prevalent anymore. People have got used to listening to very compressed recordings. If you are trying to satisfy that requirement, that already restricts the scope of experimentation or innovation.

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  21. Madan: Glad that someone mentioned Sattru Mumnbu from NEP. What a song. The start of the second interlude is divine. This is what is orchestra is all about. Of late I am finding Rahman’s orchestra too predictable to make any lasting impression. Initially it sounds good, but then goes stale like pulichu-pone sappad.

    Does anyone remember the scene in Hey Raam when Kamal takes leave of his family to proceed to Delhi. He touches the feet of his uncle/aunt while they are asleep. The music in that whole sequence was so good.

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  22. Actually I got the scene wrong. The scene I described above was good too, but a better piece was when Vasundra Daas, for the first time comes close to Kamal. This is about 1.20.00 into the movie. There is an amazing piece of flute played there.

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  23. “I’d trust him to work songs into script more than any other composer so I doubt these songs are _supposed_ to work outside of the film. ” –

    But JWM songs, whether original or not :P, do work well outside the film. I don’t think the preference for a “soundtrack to a montage” format as opposed to a song and dance routine would necessarily restrict the appeal of the soundtrack outside the film. But if you compare Highway to JWM, the songs in the former are more ambient and atmospheric while the latter are based in conventional songwriting formats with their typical ebbs and swells (albeit with electronic ACCOMPANIMENT). It is possible that Highway appeals to those who listen to a lot of ambient music. It is not what I like and it does not seem to be Mr Rangan’s preference either. At any rate, the music seems to be such that is placed too much within ambient norms rather than a more universal vision of music with ambient influences (which used to be ARR’s approach earlier). That also seems to be a trend with his music these days. A song like Adiye was so heavily steeped in blues and soul traditions that it hardly bore his signature, ditto Aaromale.

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  24. Tambi Dude – Yes. That is Mythili’s theme. Heard repeatedly in that Vaayum Sirippumaa pidichittaen scene. You should watch the conversation between Saket Ram and Methyl in the Hospital, when she finally says “I know I am in love with you”. The themes and transitions in the background music in this scene are beautiful – especially, when Nee Partha Parvaikku melody plays for Mythili for the first time when Ram gives her his Ring, implying musically, that Mythili has now become Aparna for Ram.

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  25. I agree with everyone here about the score of Hey Ram. I think its one of the best scores ever for a movie. Ilayaraja simply outdid himself with this one. I must say i prefer the hindi version of Hey Ram more than the tamil one.Even the songs , the lavni number and the main themes of the film resonate much better in the hindi version. And to think that IR took over the film only after it was complete, ha truly miraculous.What on earth made Kamal choose L. subramaniam as the the composer for the film is a mystery to me. This had IR written all over it.

    Oh and anybody seen the hindi version of Hey Ram that was shown recently on a channel, Sahara,i think. Man almost half of the film was deleted. The entire riot scenes,Rani’s death scene, abhyankar’s rousing speeches, all comments made against gandhi, even the sex\violence scene post that terrific lavni number between vasundhara and Kamal were removed. What the hell was the point of showing that film , i wonder

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  26. BR, on a different note, I think film music itself has come a full circle or so it feels like. Any “progress” seems to be incremental at this point. I remember thinking 10-15 yrs back that there’s possibly new no new trends yet to come(even Karthik Raja supposedly opined the same around that time). Some folks at that time told me that ‘yeah, thats what you probably thought in 1991 too’. But it feels like with no new genres/paradigm shifts in music happening elsewhere in the world, no new pop idioms discovered, and with all classical genres more or less explored(and anything left is also being gobbled up quickly by these young composers out there who can access everything with the click of a button) a new presentation or a fresh approach to song-making which can also have a wider appeal(and that means the santosh nayaranans of the world wont cut it, theirs might be too experimental/niche) seems bleak to come by. I hope to be presently proven wrong in the coming years(after all who am I to presume that there’s nothing new yet to come) but we have been waiting already for about 10 yrs now.Tamil film music atleast is used to having a new trend every 15-17 yrs up until the 90s.

    If you happen to bump into some music guys in the industry I would be interested to know their take on this. At least off the record or anonymously they got to have some opinion on this.

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  27. I wonder if generic, ambient fare that doesn’t offend the ears is after all what Rahman is aiming for nowadays. I daresay in his misguided quest to please all his fans he is fast losing his identity. A song like Mahi ve falls within the template of manufactured top 40 hits in the west – i.e.nothing novel, but nothing too unpleasant and will appeal to the teen/MTV crowd and “go viral” as planned. It is a similar dilemma as the one that faces actors – mass or class. Rahman seems to be making a conscious choice for some years now.

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  28. @Vijay

    While I don’t believe it is ever possible to exhaust all the combinatorial possibilities with the 12 notes, it is true that for the most part there is a settled quality to music these days and the new crop of MDs are always waiting for something interesting to happen in the west so they can replicate it here, In the west, there are still some artists who are doing interesting things though it has not resulted in a large scale paradigm shift or revolution like what the “British invasion” led to, for example.

    The key point is that things have become too easy for these people. There is no need to innovate or experiment. Someone like GV Prakash has been handed success and fame on a platter and can continue to rule the charts with “Chillena”. Gawd, has there ever been another year in TFM history where such boring, insipid, predictable songs as Chillena and Oodha have ruled the charts. For a Raja junkie like me, there are always unheralded gems from not-yet-released-probably never-going-to-release-movies to savour, but I pity the ones reveling and wallowing in Chillena and Oodha.

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  29. Gradwolf: Oh, I thought the “Kadal” songs worked much better outside the film than inside. On screen, it was odd watching Arvind Swamy sing “Anbin vaasale,” but the song is just awesome to listen to.

    Ravi K: The “Rock Star” songs sounded rather generic compared to the best Western rock, punk, metal, grunge, etc.

    I don’t think the idea was to go to the levels of metal, grunge etc. I think the idea was just to make a rock soundtrack, and that, I thought, was pretty well accomplished. “Jo bhi main,” for instance, is a classic instance of the soft-rock to rock range of song. But yes, “Dev.D” was a different level altogether.

    Madan: But JWM songs, whether original or not :P, do work well outside the film.

    Exactly my point. I don’t want to have to watch a film every time I want to enjoy a song. Something’s being lost, IMO, in this whole business of “oh, just wait till the film is released and you’ll see that the soundtrack really works.” How come earlier composers were never subject to this rule? They did manage, after all, to make soundtracks that worked with the film and only as an audio-only experience.

    Speaking of JWM, I really enjoy Pritam’s scores. His masala (“R… Rajkumar”) as well as non-masala (“Barfi”, “Life in a Metro”) soundtracks are really enjoyable.

    MANK: At least “Hey Ram” is (justly) celebrated. The Raja soundtrack that got little love was “Mumbai Xpress,” and the background score in that film was pretty damn awesome as well. (The film itself is bloody underrated, BTW. It’s aged really well.)

    vijay: In a sense, tha last *real* paradigm shift came in the 1950s, when the MKT-era song format was discarded and the format of prelude-pallavi-interlude 1- charanam 1- interlude 2-charanam 2 was established. Every composer after that has been innovating on that format, but not really beyond that format — except in a handful of songs. And that often makes me curious. How come geniuses like MSV or Raja — or even ARR, for all his out-of-the-box-ness — never thought of breaking this (despite the staggering work they did *within* this format)? Did they feel audiences wouldn’t get it? Did they not want to touch something that they thought was sacrosanct, like the structure of a keerthanai? Or did the filmmakers blanch when confronted with odd song structures?

    But yes, you’re right. No one after ARR has quite “changed” the way songs sounded from the ruling compose before them. With MSV –> IR, and with IR –> ARR, we were able to genuinely discern a shift. But there’s been nothing “major” after that.

    Arjun: I have to say I enjoy Imman and GVP songs or even the odd Harris song if and when they catch my fancy — in the sense that if they’re catchy and fun, then I don’t see why they can’t be enjoyed without the expectation of “greatness.” “Oodha colour-u ribbon” had fun lyrics and a peppy tune and it worked on screen and for about ten listens on the radio. That was all the song wanted to do and it did it well. Not all songs are meant to last across eternities.

    About Rahman not offending ears, when has he — or any music director — chosen to “offend.” I think you mean “experiment.” But he has been doing that off and on, no?

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  30. Can’t wait for the Kaviya Thalaivan soundtrack — anyone know when it is going to be released?

    On Highway, early days for me yet; I do think the album holds promise, but nothing in it is as poised and perfect as Maryan’s “Yenga Pona Raasa”; and yet, despite its raucous and straightforward “surface”, “Pataakha Gudee” does linger (“Maahi Ve” is meant to linger, but so far, doesn’t; it has a bit of a Dilli-6 hangover and I prefer “Rehna Tu” any day)…

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  31. There was a shift from the 90s to the noughties in the sense that vocal melodies got even more Western and the tone became more post modern, for want of a better word. It is difficult to imagine a song like Oru Mani Adithal with its innocent earnestness becoming a hit today. In that sense, though the 90s brought in a lot of computerisation, emotional sensibilities were still in a conventional/classical mould and that seems to have changed. After THAT, there hasn’t been any further shift so far in the 2010s.

    And that mirrors the situation in the West for the most part. As Arjun said, there may be some artists here and there doing original work but it doesn’t seem to be majorly influential on trends as a whole. Maybe we have to face the reality that the boundaries of pop music (which is what pop, rock or film music broadly are) are defined by technology more than musical elements. The need to make the song short and very accessible places some limits on what all the artist can attempt.

    But from the 50s up to the noughties, there was a lot of technological disruption in music, i.e, the popularisation of electric guitar followed by synthesizer, which helped create a new sound. Ilayaraja to some extent bucked that trend, just like pyschedelic/prog rock in the 60s and 70s, by focusing more on expanding musical boundaries. Once both waves reached their respective boundaries in terms of giving something radically new to the audience, the only breath of fresh air was brought in by the move from analog to digital. And now that we have taken the digital sound for granted, we find a certain uniformity/sameness in music. Just like Western audiences who didn’t go along for the Bop ride probably felt just before the Beatles revolution. Melody, rhythm, ambience, it’s all been done. Only a true genius can forge a whole new direction all over again for pop.

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  32. I don’t want to have to watch a film every time I want to enjoy a song. Something’s being lost, IMO, in this whole business of “oh, just wait till the film is released and you’ll see that the soundtrack really works.”

    - Good picturisation can certainly ENHANCE the appeal of a song, yes. But if one needs to watch the visuals to be able to like the song at all, it means that either (a) the song is not musically wholesome enough to stand on its own or (b) as I said, its musical appeal may be too specific for a broad moviegoer audience.

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  33. BR: Count me in as a die hard fan of music of Mumbai Xpress, IR’s path breaking album in the last 15 yrs. I like it even more than NEPV.

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  34. I sincerely wish Raja fans can take their discussion where it belongs – a Raja blog , a Raja album music review. AR fans don’t pay that much attention to Raja music & vice-a-versa. Even if some do , they will read up discussions dedicated to Raja music.
    I mean Hey Ram music over here – come on guys! – Give us a break!

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  35. @BRangan

    “About Rahman not offending ears, when has he — or any music director — chosen to “offend.” I think you mean “experiment.” But he has been doing that off and on, no?”

    Offend is probably too strong a word, what I meant was he is playing it safe these days. On and off, he does experiment, agreed, but he isn’t being anywhere near as bold and adventurous as in the “Thiruda thiruda”, “Mudhalvan” or even “Lagaan” or “Munbe vaa” phase. What I would like to see is him taking the Blues or rock or whatever genre he intends to explore and Rahmanise it which is something he used to do quite consistently till a few years ago. “Adiye” from Kadal is a very very standard Blues progression, there’s literally hundreds of songs which follow those exact same chords. “Nenjukkule” was a very pleasing melody, but not much else. The strings arrangement felt docile. I can’t see any rahmanisation in these songs.

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  36. ” In a sense, tha last *real* paradigm shift came in the 1950s, when the MKT-era song format was discarded and the format of prelude-pallavi-interlude 1- charanam 1- interlude 2-charanam 2 was established. Every composer after that has been innovating on that format, but not really beyond that format — except in a handful of songs. And that often makes me curious. How come geniuses like MSV or Raja — or even ARR, for all his out-of-the-box-ness — never thought of breaking this (despite the staggering work they did *within* this format)? ”

    There was a long discussion in a Raja forum about this topic and it can be objectively established that this is not quite accurate. First off, it needs to be acknowledged that there is only so much playing around with compositonal structures that can be attempted within a 2-6 minute song which is the range of most film music. That said, the non-film albums of IR explore myriad possibilities of structuring as one listen to HTNI or Thiruvasagam would confirm :).

    Now coming back to film songs, these are a few, but by no means all Raja songs which don’t follow the format you described:

    Nee paartha paarvai (Hey Ram)
    Ellorukkum nalla kaalam (Marupadiyum)
    Thendral idai (Eeravizhi kaaviyangal)
    Pazhaya sogangal (Eeravizhi kaaviyangal)
    Thenpaandi cheemayile (Nayagan)
    Alaigale vaa (Kavidhai malar)
    Vaa veliye (Paadu nilaave)
    Naada vinodhangal (Salangai oli)
    Kavidhai kelungal (Punnagai mannan)
    All the time (Nadodi thendral)
    Eramala kattukulla (Nadodi thendral)
    Thottu paar pattu pondra meni (Ennai paar, en azhagai paar)

    Some of these songs like Nee paartha paarvai revolve around a single stanza with successive harmonic embellishments being the theme. Some like “Naada vinodhangal”, “Alaigale vaa” have no discernible structure and are free-flowing for all practical purposes, “All the time” follows a western verse-chorus format. Some are situational – Thenpaandi cheemayile, Kavidhai kelungal. There are also innumerable songs where charanams 1 and 2 are different, which I haven’t included above. Rest assured this list is far from comprehensive so there’s definitely more than a handful. They might not constitute a significant percentage of his oeuvre, but that doesn’t tell us much about the actual numbers, does it? :)

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  37. “I have to say I enjoy Imman and GVP songs or even the odd Harris song if and when they catch my fancy — in the sense that if they’re catchy and fun, then I don’t see why they can’t be enjoyed without the expectation of “greatness.” “Oodha colour-u ribbon” had fun lyrics and a peppy tune and it worked on screen and for about ten listens on the radio. That was all the song wanted to do and it did it well. Not all songs are meant to last across eternities.”

    My choice of adjectives for describing the lyrics and tune of Oodha ribbon wouldn’t be as charitable ;), but if it caught your fancy, fair enough. Personally, for a piece of music to work for me, it needs to a) Offer something new musically OR b) Have a strong melodic quotient. This is why I abhor GVP’s much vaunted ‘Maalai neram” which employs one of the most basic chord progressions in western music (in addition to pretentious singing) or most of HJ’s so-called “western songs”.which are much the same. Which is not to say, I don’t like any of Harris or GVP – I don’t always expect greatness either, least of all from GVP. Pookal pookum tharunam was a good listen as was Urugudhee marugudhe. There are many Harris numbers (Nenjil nenjil, Uyirin uyire) which work for about 5-10 listens and even the odd song like “Vaseegara” or “Venmadhi” which age reasonably well.

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  38. “I sincerely wish Raja fans can take their discussion where it belongs – a Raja blog , a Raja album music review. AR fans don’t pay that much attention to Raja music & vice-a-versa. Even if some do , they will read up discussions dedicated to Raja music.
    I mean Hey Ram music over here – come on guys! – Give us a break!”

    Don’t be so tetchy. Neither Raja fans nor Rahman fans need to pretend that the “other” doesn’t exist. And there are many who like both these composers albeit to different degrees. And sometimes conversations in these pages gradually veer towards other subjects, though sometimes it is also deliberately steered there. Either way, chill. There have been worse digressions in internet comment spaces. Have you checked the Dhoom thread?

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  39. Madan: In that sense, though the 90s brought in a lot of computerisation, emotional sensibilities were still in a conventional/classical mould

    Except for one-off songs like “Oru koodai sunlight,” which dispensed with “emotion” altogether. I don’t particularly care for the song in a “keep listening to it” sense, but as a piece of musical architecture, it’s certainly interesting :-)

    RajaFans: I sincerely wish Raja fans can take their discussion where it belongs – a Raja blog , a Raja album music review.

    Well, maybe this discussion “belongs” here, because this space attracts a few “music fans” — namely, people who are fans of Music, first, and only then, fans of specific composers.

    Arjun: “Pookal pookum tharunam”? I think you and I differ greatly when it comes to GVP. I find this song most boring :-)

    Okay, and that bit about song formats in the earlier comment was a rather GENERIC statement (and I should have clarified further). I wasn’t talking about SPECIFIC instances of composers who have innovated, but in a rather generic sense — that some sixty-plus years after that FORMAT of song was established, it still rules.

    Otherwise, the entire Raja oeuvre has more than enough examples of one-offs that buck this trend. Or even speaking of older composers, we have instances of:

    (i) 2nd charanam being replaced by humming (as in “Kattodu kuzhal aada”, which I just posted in another thread).

    (ii) the entire song consisting of just humming and short instrumentals and one single repeated phrase (title song of “Ninaithaale inikkum”) — Jesus Christ, how awesome is SPB in this number!

    (iii) prelude replaced by a virutham, like the song begins with “Amaraavathiye” (in “Ambikapathy”) – then, no “charanam 1″ as such but just a repetition of the pallavi tune (which comes after the virutham) — but “charanam 2″ is a different tune — and the song closes with the final repetition of the pallavi.

    Or from the same film, the phenomenal “Sindhanai sei maname”, with the following structure: virutham (replacing prelude) – pallavi – (no interlude) jump right to charanam 1 – pallavi – (no interlude) jump right to charanam 2, which is a totally different tune from charanam 1 – pallavi (before the the segue to “vadivelum mayilum thunai,” which is another song in the narrative circumstances) — Jesus Christ, how awesome is TMS in this number!

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  40. “Okay, and that bit about song formats in the earlier comment was a rather GENERIC statement (and I should have clarified further). I wasn’t talking about SPECIFIC instances of composers who have innovated, but in a rather generic sense — that some sixty-plus years after that FORMAT of song was established, it still rules.”

    Ok, got it. Thinking about it, the old guys probably hit upon the perfect format for popular film music. It gives ample space to the composer to build upon a catchy melodic idea which occurs to him and take it to its conclusion in the charanams. Meanwhile the instrumental pre/post/interludes give further space to push boundaries and challenge oneself with innovative chord and key changes etc. The fact that the ludes need to lead back to the charanam/anupallavi necessitate a logical resolution back to the main scale, so the listener is always waiting in anticipation of something familiar and isn’t completely clueless about what’s happening. In summary, I think this format is very popular because in addition to offering plenty of scope for the composer, it has also proved very successful in holding the attention of the listener.

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  41. And yes, Raja is by no means the first person to break out of the format. Older composers in Tamil as well as Hindi (and I am sure other languages too!) have all played around with structures. Love the catchy title song of Ninaithaale inikkum too!.

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  42. BR: Oru Koodai Sunlight, I guess you mean the song from Sivaji? That’s also noughties. I guess ‘emotionless’ music also goes with the post modern ethos of adopting a casual, ‘cool’, disengaged attitude.

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  43. Thank you for this very thought-provoking essay. I was just able to order Highway this morning, we prefer to wait for the actual CD. Also, thank you for the 2007 article 15 years of A R Rahman which was at the bottom. I don’t think I knew about your site way back in 2007. Thank you for mentioning Varaha nadikkarai oram from Sangamam. This will sound awfully silly to all of you but it was the music to Sangamam that changed my life. I was never the same after Sangamam. Something happened deep in my brain. Eventually I began learning Thamizh and when our homework assignment was to do a presentation on a person that influenced one’s life, I constructed a harmonium out of a shoebox (I read that Shankar played a harmonium when he was two) and sang that song in class, much to the amusement and confusion of my 8-10 year-old Thamizh classmates! I will never understand how something so foreign to my life would have such an effect on me but, isn’t that the true power of music?

    I hope I gave everyone a good laugh today!

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  44. Why has ‘Tu Kuja” not been mentioned? For me, that was the best song. A poignant prayer sung by Sunidhi Chauhan (her voice breaking endearingly at “Main Ekaaki de dayaa ki bheekh raja.. hain adhar mein shwaas bhi meraa…”.. The lyrics are also beautiful, though I had to google for the english translation…

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  45. BR, have wondered about that(song format no-change) long back. I believe Kannadaasan helped shape that format. Difficult to guess. Maybe reluctance from music producers/lyricists to veer off the beaten path? . I mean, what stopped MDs from having different tunes for the 2 stanzas as default? esp, when they could have different interludes as default.

    A 4 or 5 minute song offers the possibility of only a few lines of melody. So why repeat 4 of them again? Even when friends of mine jammed together in amateur musical efforts we used to have different stanza tunes as default. I cant buy the sacrosanct structure theory. Nothing has ever permanently been sacrosanct in TFM history be it the lyrics, the diction, the ability of the singer, so why only this? A question for ARR, if you meet him again :-)

    BTW, blasphemous as it may sound even Thyagaraja was strictly structure-adherent with the anu pallavi’stune/notes repeated in the charanam’s last 2 lines for most of his krithis(pancharathna krithis might be an exception) and him somehow finding a a way to squeeze in his name in the last line of the charanam. And they say he just stood up after a dip in the river and spontaneously burst into one of his compositions :-) Dikshithar was more interesting.

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  46. Donna – that is a beautiful anecdote. It is always wonderful when you can look back at a particular moment and identify it as a watershed.

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  47. Arjun: Since we don’t know, we can only theorise — but another reason for this format to have not changed may be that it allows good room for the choreography aspect too. When you have one prelude and two interludes — i.e. just music — it allows for more dance steps.

    Of course, the birth of this format is a logical extension (i.e. gradual padding out and ‘casual’ising) of the Carnatic composition, which is how the earlier film songs were constructed. You can actually find niravals in early songs like MKT’s “Rajan maharajan” :-) (See part at “thejaswaroopan” below).

    I mean, let’s not go to the Trinity-era. Even a (relatively) modern-day composition like “Theeradha vilayattu pillai” has a pallavi, a bit of breathing space (which, in films, gradually came to be filled by music), and then charanams and return to pallavi and the next charanam and so on.

    Speaking of other-language composers RDB did a lot of rule-breaking of this format. “Logon na maaro ise” is just one long fusion of pallavi/charanam and its repetitions :-)

    donna: Why laugh? That was quite a touching story. Thanks.

    vijay: I mean, what stopped MDs from having different tunes for the 2 stanzas as default? esp, when they could have different interludes as default.

    But aren’t these two separate things? Pre-Raja, you can find many songs with different melodies for each line (i.e. no repeating lines at all) in addition to different tunes for charanams. BUT, the interludes would almost always be the same.

    And in the Raja and post-Raja era, it’s the reverse. Lots of repetition in the melody lines, the same tunes for the charanams — BUT, completely different interludes.

    But yes, each era had its own kind of what you call “default.” And you wonder why…

    And speaking of Thyagaraja, let’s not forget that in earlier days a song was sung for a much longer time than it is today. So — and I’m generalising a lot here — after a long alapana, when you get to the “main tune,” a bit of repetition isn’t out of place. (Besides, the successive repetitions of the lines were embellished with sangatis.) And in the manodharma portions, there is a LOT of repetition — especially in taanam-singing. Even Western classical compositions that “depend” on repetition — Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, or Ravel’s “Bolero” — take a VERY long time to “resolve” themselves, like a slow-spreading ripple across a pond. It’s when these principles are found in 4- or 5-minute film songs that it becomes a little mystifying.

    It would be fascinating to know why these “rules” — whether in classical or film music — came to be. Of course, there are many film songs that use this repetition badly, and many that use it beautifully — my personal favourite among Raja songs is “Thulli ezhundhadhu paattu” (where it’s essentially a “flat” repetition, without much sangati-fying; and yet, the song is so beautifully textured that it’s never boring).

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  48. Another thing I had noticed in older songs (pre-70s I think) was that a song would have 3 stanzas (is that the same as a charanam?) and the interlude (instrumental) prior to the 1st and the 3rd stanzas would be exactly the same. Sometimes one of these stanzas would be eliminated in the film, perhaps due to their length.

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  49. ” but another reason for this format to have not changed may be that it allows good room for the choreography aspect too. When you have one prelude and two interludes — i.e. just music — it allows for more dance steps.”

    But lots and lots of songs are not “dance songs” right? And most choreography in the 80s was atrocious anyway, hardly worthy to merit any consideration from the composer.

    “Of course, the birth of this format is a logical extension (i.e. gradual padding out and ‘casual’ising) of the Carnatic composition, which is how the earlier film songs were constructed. You can actually find niravals in early songs like MKT’s “Rajan maharajan” :-) (See part at “thejaswaroopan” below).”

    That’s a good point. Hadn’t heard that song before. Thanks!

    Regarding structuring in general, a lot of prog rock in the 70s broke free of the verse-chorus format and went completely free form, but the genre as such never attained the mainstream popularity as classic rock (Madan should be able to say more about this :) ). Something tells me most people LIKE organization and structure in music – it helps make sense of a composition. How and why such and such format came to be the default in such and such era probably has more to do with trends and individual styles and perhaps also lyrics as Vijay suggested.

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  50. Baradwaj, I really liked ‘Highway’ music and was quite pleasantly surprised about Rahman’s vocal experimentation in male version of Patakha guddi. But then I saw this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5fCChuvOEk and that kind of spoilt it for me. Rahman seemed so unnatural in front of camera. I hope he remains behind camera. Vande Mataram was good or even Coke Studio or MTV Unplugged, but I hope he doesn’t come in front of the camera too often.

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  51. Arjun: But that’s been the case. Simpler constructions have always been more popular, more widely used. Why do you think 90% of popular music is in the 4/4 time signature?

    Ceaser: Don’t know if you’re kidding, but I was referring to the Bharathiyar ragamalika :-)

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  52. Regarding structuring in general, a lot of prog rock in the 70s broke free of the verse-chorus format and went completely free form, but the genre as such never attained the mainstream popularity as classic rock (Madan should be able to say more about this :) )

    - Well, I wouldn’t say a LOT of prog rock went completely FREE FORM though the very essence of prog rock involves breaking out of the verse chorus format. They just tried to mimic the structure of long classical compositions and developed music in a linear rather than cyclical way. A lot of prog rock is probably more tightly organised than the classic rock of that period, if anything. Hackett plays the Firth of the Fifth solo more or less the same way each time with only subtle variations whereas rock guitar Gods are duty bound to improvise and expand on their solos.

    But the concept of linearity in itself is more complex and harder to digest. What the cyclical nature of pop or pallavi-charanam/mukda-antara does is to reinforce ideas until they are ingrained in the minds of the listeners. The goal for a pop wizard is essentially that the audience should be humming snatches of the tune after listening to it for the first time and the music can’t be too dense to achieve that kind of memorability. That is why not all prog rock shuns reiteration of themes within a linear structure and certainly not the more popular bands. Starless for instance reflects great use of repetition for impact. Ditto some of the great classical compositions like Ninth Symphony. Pop just uses this principle at its most basic level for the sake of simplicity and artists like Ilayaraja or later-Beatles fall into some zone in between by maintaining a pop accessibility but introducing unusual complexity within that format.

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  53. Brangan,yup u got me. Just checking :-)

    Btw how do u feel a song like ek ladki ko dekha from 1942 fits in. I thought it was so pathbreaking, nobody mention it here. no pallavi, charanam etc. just 3 individual stanzas. even the picturisation was novel. a song that equally good to listen and watch.evey1 so obsessed with IR &ARR that nobody seems to see beyond them.

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  54. btw speaking of Theeratha Vilaiyattu, i have heard the rendition of d.k.Pattamal and there was no breathing space as u put it, it just go on and on :-). or may be i didnt feel it whaddya say?

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  55. evey1 so obsessed with IR &ARR that nobody seems to see beyond them.

    - Actually I am pretty heavily invested in the wide musical world outside of both composers. But I thought and still think Ek Ladki was a pretty boring song. I cannot fathom why that soundtrack became such a big hit and even came to be written about as RDB’s posthumous ‘comeback when he did much better work in several 80s films (when he was written off as a declining composer);.

    But while we are on the concept though, IR did use a single stanza in two iterations with a musical interlude separating them (i.e. not unlike 1942) rather than pallavi-charanam in Ellorukkum off Marupadiyum (1993). Also consider All The Time from Nadodi Thendral.

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  56. Madan: The goal for a pop wizard is essentially that the audience should be humming snatches of the tune after listening to it for the first time and the music can’t be too dense to achieve that kind of memorability…

    This isn’t about a work being too dense, but also how the repetition became much more pronounced in the latter-day songs. Take an early song, one with the classic MSV-TKR style pallavi, with its four different melody lines. (Say, a big audience-friendly hit like “Chittukuruvi mutham koduthu”), We have four different lines of melody in the pallavi (okay, the second line is an iteration of the first, but with a slight twist at the end), and then the charanam, again, has four different lines of melody — and then we go on to a repeat of the pallavi and then the second charanam is a repeat of the first.

    So we have the repetition factor, yes, but it’s not as much as the latter-day songs in which each line in the pallavi would be repeated twice (or sometimes, four times), and ditto for the charanam (male singer sings one line, female singer sings the same melodic line, either with the same lyrics or different words).

    There’s nothing right or wrong here, but it’s interesting and there’s certainly some curiosity about why things were done the way they were.

    Ceaser: Speaking of “Ek ladki ko dekha,” I did mention RDB earlier, though, as Madan says, I am not a fan of either this song or this album. (I did like this song when it first came out, but it became old very quickly for me.) And that example I gave — Logon na maaro ise, from Anamika — was exactly what Madan said: “a single stanza in two iterations with a musical interlude separating them.”

    A couple of Salil C songs also are stuck in my head, can’t recall them offhand.

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  57. BR: I was responding to Arjun’s digression on prog rock vis a vis classic rock there and not so much about older Tamil songs vis a vis 80s and onwards.

    Another thing, apart from the fewer no. of repetitions of pallavi, is as such the older songs are much more compressed. As in, they wound up three charanams in the same time that IR would finish two. The explanation I have often been given is of reel constraints but that doesn’t explain why they would write three charanams! In the 90s, songs became even more spaced out and it’s pretty normal now for a two charanams songs to exceed 5 1/2 minutes. Maybe it has partly to do with what I mentioned earlier about ‘breathing space’. By repeating more and spreading out the ideas, the composer gives the audience more time to absorb the music. Speaking of pallavi repetition, Mazhai Varudhu is a particularly notorious example. It’s a beautiful composition, sure, but it seems to take ages to get to the last maane un marappile before interludes. :D

    Cannot recall off hand any examples of Salil da dispensing with the mukda-antara routine. Pl do post if you remember, would be curious. Need to listen to that Anamika song as well. I am sure I must have heard it since I love that soundtrack but cannot recall what it sounded it like at the moment.

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  58. By the by, while we are on Hindi, Naushad Ali’s O Duniya Ke Rakhwale deserves a mention as every antara in that song is different. Also has some short but magnificent interludes. I asked elsewhere whether there were any Western pop compositions from the same period as ambitious in terms of structure as this song and did not get an answer then, so repeating the question here. I guess the historical/mythological epic format of Hindi movies from that period afforded him the scope to carry out such grand projects but it’s still incredible.

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  59. lol, ha ha, of course I have heard Logon Na Maaron Ise, so familiar now that I am listening to it. Didn’t make the connection from the words and because I don’t like it too much, never noticed that it has no antaras.

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  60. guys, whether u like the song or not or u find it boring is not the point,Were not discussing favorite songs here right, we are discussing unique song structures , and i believe its as unique as they come.The relevance is more as it came in 94 when sarkhaylo khatiya & choli ke peeche were the national anthems.

    As for being RD’S comeback and widely appreciated and all,precisely the point, he went back to their true rabeendra sangeet roots and created something totally different from choli ke peeches of the time.Of course after somebody’s dead, everything they did appear more wonderful.

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  61. @Madan:

    Not just Big B’s ninth, most popular western classical works are those that have catchy, recognizable motiifs that feature regularly throughout the composition in various guises. Repetition, IMO is a MUST for a composition to be popular and accessible.

    @BR

    “but it’s not as much as the latter-day songs in which each line in the pallavi would be repeated twice (or sometimes, four times), and ditto for the charanam (male singer sings one line, female singer sings the same melodic line, either with the same lyrics or different words).”

    Not sure I agree with this generalization. there are too many Raja songs where repetition of lines is minimal, particularly in male/female solos and Charanams. And often there are slight variations similar to the “Chittukuruvi mutham kuduthu” example you gave. Anyway, agree with the larger point that repetition became pronounced compared to MSV/KVM/GR eras.

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  62. Arjun: there are too many Raja songs where repetition of lines is minimal

    Okay, if this discussion is going to be of any interest, we have to stop thinking of music directors and look at this from the POV of music trends. As I said in a comment earlier: “Otherwise, the entire Raja oeuvre has more than enough examples of one-offs that buck this trend. “ But even with his music, the percentage of songs that buck the repetition trend is less than that of the ones that stick to it is less — and this isn’t a “good” or “bad” thing, more a trend/era thing that we are trying to talk about.

    Madan: they wound up three charanams in the same time that IR would finish two

    That’s mainly because they didn’t give interludes the importance that Raja gave, no? To a large extent — and again, there are many exceptions to this — the interludes then were brisk affairs, whereas with Raja, they were pretty much the meat.

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  63. @BR:

    “Okay, if this discussion is going to be of any interest, we have to stop thinking of music directors and look at this from the POV of music trends. ”

    Well, as you acknowledge there are several songs which buck the trend, not just in IR’s, but other composers’ works as well, one would think an instructive way to analyse trends would be to look at the exceptions and ponder what made the composer try something different – situation, whim, experimentation, lyrics whatever. But if you are not in favour of such an approach, that’s fine.I have pretty much said all that I had to say in my previous posts. It’s difficult to talk about trends or the idea of repetition in music (itself a difficult subject to talk/write about) abstractly without invoking specific examples.

    ““ — and this isn’t a “good” or “bad” thing, more a trend/era thing that we are trying to talk about.””

    Oh come on, you don’t have to spell that out :)

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  64. Arjun – When we talk about recurring motif in a symphony, I guess we have to keep in mind that when these pieces were written, they were written for live performances and recording and replaying wasn’t a possibility, and the theme had to be repeated so many times to sow it strong in the minds of the listeners for them to hum it on their way home. When they come in for the next performance of the same piece, now that they know the motif by heart, they could listen to and marvel at the beauty of motif’s variations, and the way the piece arrives at and departs from the motif in its journey.

    Film songs those days weren’t much different, you could listen to a song only when you watch a movie in a theatre and then when you stumble upon the song on Radio, and then there was weekly Chitrahar or Oliyum Oliyum. No one would have thought that very soon we were going to have such easy access to every piece of music every composed in any part of the world. Back then, there were only a few opportunities given to a song for it to find its way into the listeners’ mind. Hence the structure that became a convention and the repetitions of the melody lines.

    I always wondered what Mozart would have done if had a recording studio with a 120-track mixer? What if he knew people would be able to listen to his work as many times as they want without him having to perform it live at all?

    And No, I am not trying to justify A.R.Rahman’s most popular title here.

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  65. “whether u like the song or not or u find it boring is not the point,Were not discussing favorite songs here right, we are discussing unique song structures”

    - If you wanted an objective answer, you should have addressed an objective question instead of indulging in an “everyone only talks about IR and ARR” barb. I was then forced to clarify that I didn’t mention Ek Ladki because (a) I don’t like the song and not because I don’t pay attention to what RDB does. While I do consider IR the most accomplished of Indiia’s film music composers, I would be the last person to obsess over ARR at the expense of RDB. RDB wrote many songs that I find far more daring in terms of resolving tricky melodies or chords than ARR. Kya Janoon Sajan, Zamaane Ne Maari, Tumne Mujhe Dekha, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Tere Bina Jiya Jaaye Na, etc. ARR’s choices in that regard sound a lot more ‘vanilla’, predictable to me. It’s another matter that ARR probably had nowhere to go in terms of carving out a distinct niche, melodically or harmonically, after HFM + MSV+IR and so had to choose a sort of ‘sonic experimentation’ path.

    And secondly…

    , “and i believe its as unique as they come”

    – To which I had already cited two IR songs that date before Ek Ladki and which do not have a charanam/antara either. BR has also mentioned on RD’s own earlier compositions. So it’s hardly pathbreaking or unique in that sense. I do not think that what song is pathbreaking or unique depends ONLY on the quality of music that surrounded it in its time but that is your view and you are entitled to it. But objectively I do not find it either unique or pathbreaking and won’t reiterate my subjective feelings about it. :D

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  66. That’s mainly because they didn’t give interludes the importance that Raja gave, no?

    - That’s part of the reason, certainly. But I also noticed that even the vocal melodies of IR songs have more ‘steps’. For eg the Partha Nyabagam Ilayo charanam has just two steps. While there are certainly many MSV songs with more steps than that, I can hardly think of any IR songs with just a two step charanam and the typical number is four. There’s a certain mathematical pattern of repetition and interplay (interplay by its nature also makes some amount of repetition necessary) that IR tends to follow. I remember you had mentioned a sort of conversational pattern of switching between vocals and oboe in Kaatrai Konjam charanam so it continues to be one of the signature aspects of his music.

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  67. Madan, chill out dude, the barb wasnt personal,was just mentioning a trend i had observed in these threads.About the uniqueness of the song, well i am clear about it and it seems so are u. :) maybe u heard more songs than me :)

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  68. @Brangan
    “With more and more songs being used in the background, over montages of situations, have songs, of late,become the background score?”

    How exactly are you defining “of late”? As in the last couple of years, last decade or what? I ask because only yesterday I was quite ecstatic about having discovered the Dev D soundtrack, which I found to be a very strong album in its own right having not seen the film still. While I am admittedly a little late to the party, that album is still only 5 years old, so it counts as fairly recent to me. Plus from what I understand, the film is a non-traditional one made by an adventurous filmmaker. So that goes against your theory that the new wave of Indian cinema is driving soundtracks to become more scores and less a collection of songs that can stand alone.

    Also, that same year produced two other brilliant soundtracks in Delhi 6 and Kaminey, which again I discovered recently and found very enjoyable without having seen either film. Actually, Delhi 6 is probably the best Rahman album I’ve heard in recent times. And it’s a shame that Vishal Bhardwaj doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a composer. The man does a great job of fusing world music influences with Indian sensibilities.

    As far as Highway’s soundtrack goes, I actually found Implosive Silence to be the only interesting track. The rest varied from bland to generic to somewhat catchy but familiar sounding.

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  69. Why is everybody on here is ignoring the white elephant in the room? The real point is whether ARR’s Oscar win is weighing him down or not.

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  70. Oscar is 2009 already. Surely that can’t be weighing him down?

    idk, the more I think about it, the more I feel this is what he always wanted to do. I didn’t know certain things about A R Rahman and his musical preferences back in the 90s but I later learnt he is a big fan of, all things, international music (if you will excuse my snarkiness). Which is short for big chartbusting Western moojik like MJ, Bryan Adams, Sting, Madonna, etc. I think this is what he wanted to do all long. Maahi Ve or Adiye, but for the language, would blend into international music radio, all too easily at that to the point you wouldn’t identify it as a Rahman composition. And that is probably the whole point. I don’t think it has anything to do with any creative drought. There may or may not be that issue, but I think it is a very deliberate choice to come up with this sort of music.

    I remember one avid ARR fan defending the music for Kadal on the grounds that was coastal music meant to resonate for the world and not just for TN. I now believe ARR himself has always had this kind of thinking but could not do it in the 90s when parochial boundaries of our films were clearly drawn. He began by unifying the music of Bolly and Kolly, coming up with soundtracks that could work in both sectors. Now he wants to make music so generic that it would ‘work’ anywhere across the world. Of course there’s the danger that he gets himself, or rather his specific songs, slotted too much in a genre to appeal to a larger audience but maybe he is willing to take that risk. As Arjun said, there is no Rahmanisation happening anymore. And that looks (sounds) more intentional than unintentional to me.

    A few years back, I fumed when some dudes touring India smugly responded to a question on the increasing Westernisation of Indian music with something on the lines of, “Yeah, it’s just one world, one culture now.” As if we had some obligation to discard our identities so that the global music industry could prosper. Now that seems to be the reality and some people have been converted enough that they believe it is the ideal. Not that I buy into any parochial jingoism built around music but diversity is not something undesirable or something to be sneered upon, especially if this international music thingy intended to replace it is a very boring, homogenized beast.

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  71. @Madan, you are really ripping it here man. I too think that ARR was a more interesting composer when he had this parochial Damocles sword hanging over his head. now that he has become so powerful he had really lost his signature touches in an underlying ambition to mix in with the international musical crowd. Yes i think he always considered films specially tamil films a necessary evil to make that breakthrough to the international market which was always his ambition. In that matter he is not so different from his mentor Mani rathnam ho became more and more irrelevant trying to take his cinema national and international.

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  72. BTW “boring, homogenized beast.”,Man never thought anybody would use that term to define music :) . And about his oscar win , i think he had already started losing his signature touch by that time, now with the oscar and international recognition and all , there is no stopping him ,i guess..

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  73. “Yes i think he always considered films specially tamil films a necessary evil to make that breakthrough”

    - Necessary evil is THE word. :D

    @ “beast”, lol. Well, it IS a pretty monstrous beast. Say at 7 PM, switching from 93.5 to. 94.3, you can hardly tell the difference apart from the language.

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  74. all those of you ARR criticising people . Just 1 question .Tell me one tamil soundtrack better than KADAL or MARYAN in 2013. All’s over haa !!!!!!???????…

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  75. Kadal audio was released in 2012 itself. Regardless, Megha soundtrack over either comfortably for me. Kalvane is a one molten hot, scorching jazz fest (if those are valid adjectives to apply to jazz).

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  76. @Madan – I didn’t even know that such a soundtrack existed. Agree about Kalvane after just a couple of listens. I don’t see why those adjectives wouldn’t apply. I mean, I know cool and smooth are probably the adjectives that tend to be associated with jazz most often. But this is a different beast. Actually, it is scorching but also smooth and yet has the classic Raja flavour in the interludes. Thanks so much for leading me to it.

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  77. quraizee21: I didn’t like the choice of Yuvan for, especially, Mugilo, though I still like the song for the melody, Ramya’s vocals and the arrangements. Chellam and Enna Vendum are pretty dull anyway. But Kalvane is one of the ‘all the time greats’, right up there with his best tracks so I can forgive everything else in such an event. :D

    Bayta: You are most welcome. Yeah, scorching AND smooth. Maybe it’s the creativity and verve that’s so scorching while the tones are all so beautiful and elegant. Agree also about the interlude. As such, the whole song has a vintage Raja flavour but at the same time is nothing like whatever he’s done before, something different.

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  78. backgroundscore: I guess we have to keep in mind that when these pieces were written, they were written for live performances and recording and replaying wasn’t a possibility

    I agree that that was the reason for the leitmotifs — at least ONE of the reasons. Which is why I would have understood if the MSV era had had a lot of line repetition and the Raja era had had separate melodies for each line, given that recording devices etc. had become really popular by the latter’s time and one could listen to a song “on demand.” That’s what’s a little puzzling.

    Bayta: Oh “Dev.D” is easily one of the all-time-great soundtracks. Even as a standalone album, it’s just mind-blowing. But the way the songs fit into the film and outline the characters and moods — that’s even more fantastic.

    quraizee21: Oh man, don’t even get me started about the singers Raja uses sometimes. “Saaindhu saaindhu” has astonishing preludes and interludes — really really heavenly stuff, and some really good recording for a change — and yet, the singing is so off-key, it literally hurts the ear. But yes, “Kalvane” is extraordinary, with Haricharan and Ramya NSK. I’m not too fond of the latter’s delivery in the higher ranges, but at least she has control over the pitch. I’ll take her kind of false-voice-in-the-higher-ranges any day over off-key singing, which is a bloody disgrace.

    Who are the really good (young) female singers in Tamil today? They seem an interchangeable lot, but is there a Haricharan equivalent among the women?

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  79. He didn’t make her go too high in Kalvane, fortunately. But in terms of voice, I actually prefer Ramya on that song. Her voice has a certain brightness that’s missing in Haricharan (or Karthik for that matter).

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  80. @brangan – I haven’t seen Dev D yet, so yeah, I find the soundtrack brilliant on its own. I could tell that the songs were tailored to fit the proceedings in the movie to a T though. Looking forward to watching the movie itself. Soon hopefully.

    I agree with all of you about Yuvan’s vocals being a misfits on both “Saindhu Saindhu” and “Mugilo”. They’re both great tracks with lovely arrangements that are almost ruined by the singing. As for Ramya NSK, I like her voice precisely because of her lower range. I have an aversion to sopranos, and unfortunately, our music scene is filled with them.

    Btw, I’m so in love with Kalvane that I just had to write about it – http://tinyurl.com/k4tzbax

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  81. Bayta:

    “I agree with all of you about Yuvan’s vocals being a misfits on both “Saindhu Saindhu” and “Mugilo”.”

    On mugilo, you shouldn’t even bother with the Yuvan version (There’s a Raja version). But Saindhu saindhu is irreversible, I’m afraid. Good to see another person appreciating Kalvane. That makes it 12 of us.

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  82. Madan: Oh I think Haricharan is easily the best singer we have today. The peaks and valleys of his rendition of “ayyayyayyo aanandhame” or”anbin vaasale” — mind-blowingly fantastic.

    Bayta: No, what I meant is that she doesn’t seem to be too comfortable in the higher realms. This isn’t about being a soprano. But even if you take that kind of voice, the really great singers (Sushila, Lata, Shreya) don’t lose their timbre/tensile strength when they go high (or low). They don’t slip into a false-voice kind of rendition — or, to quote Thyagaraja, the nabhi-hrid-kantha aspect of their singing is intact. Similarly, the huskier voices like Swarnalatha or Asha — they don’t switch to singing different high/low. That’s what a good singer does. I like Ramya’s voice when she sings low, but she sounded “false voice-y” in the upper registers of the songs I’ve heard her in.

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  83. brangan: I love Haricharan’s expression. For that, I like him a lot more than the other, more decorated Hari. What I feel is maybe he is not positioning his voice as much to the front as he should, sort of low larynx stuff. I can’t say for sure, a voice coach can judge that. But say when SPB sings, his voice seems to have much more presence without losing brightness/sweetness. Karthik also has the same problem but he also lacks Haricharan’s expression on top of that.

    I agree on your observations on Ramya. Especially Sattru Munbu, the last climactic high portion of the charanam lacks power. But I should really measure the notes to see how high they really are. They ‘sound’ high but that could also be because her voice is not that strong high up. Chellam Konjam/Mugilo were also a bit ‘struggle-y’, Kalvane was more comfortable for her. The pitch in which she speaks (compared to Janaki or Chithra or even Shreya Ghoshal) also suggests she’s more of a low voice type.

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  84. So…I did measure Sattru Munbu and she gets up to an F5 in that last portion, finishing on a sustained E5. It’s pretty high in general terms but not especially so for a soprano. What is more intriguing is she opens the pallavi on an A3. If she is not a soprano (or in fact even if she is one), she should be able to go lower comfortably. Kalvane tops at a Eb5 and that’s probably the upper limit of her comfort zone.

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  85. Among other young female singers, I haven’t really heard her properly on any originals I liked, but Priya Himesh gave a very impressive performance of Raathiriyil Poothirikkum in Engeyum Epothum Raja show. And the ease with which she was singing the pallavi of that song suggests that she must be a soprano.

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  86. @Arjun: “On mugilo, you shouldn’t even bother with the Yuvan version (There’s a Raja version).”

    - So there is! It didn’t show up in my youtube search for Megha songs before for some reason. Anyone else find youtube singularly temperamental in the results it returns on searches?

    @brangan – Okay, I think I understand your point now after carefully listening to Sattru Munbu. She does seem to go into that false voice space when singing the higher notes, and that portion of the song does fall flat. I hadn’t really paid attention to that before since I invariably watched the video when listening to the song and what was going on in the movie, along with the brilliant music, captivated me so much that I didn’t really notice the drop in singing quality.

    Also, I am pretty much completely ignorant about music theory (Madan’s comment above about scales(?) is might as well be latin), so I’m not that particular about perfect vocals. Which I feel is a blessing in disguise more often than not.

    @Madan – SPB is so far above everyone else in the expression department, it’s ridiculous. The only one who matches him is S. Janaki. Even though I’m not a fan of her tone (or is it pitch?), I can’t deny that her expression is stunning. Of the newer lot, Shreya Ghoshal is the only one who has stood out for me. Haven’t really paid a lot of attention to the male singers.

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  87. Bayta: I am sorry I used those weird names without clarifying but clarifying itself is a lengthy process.

    Those are the pitch locations. Say C = Sa and thereafter plot the major notes in terms of C,D,E,F, G, A, B and upper C instead of Sa, Re, Ga, Ma. The number next to it is the octave no. C4 is called middle C and that is typically the Sa that people would play to get started, warm up etc. Using C4 as the base, you can work out the octaves on either sides.Remember that with the next C on the left, you decrease the octave no. and the next C on the right, you increase the octave no. Upper C from middle C would be C5 and the next lower C from C4 would be C3.

    Now to contextualise those pitch locations: C5 is the highest note a western classical tenor is expected to sing. Pavarotti is famous for singing nine high Cs in La Fille du regiment. Or, “Bloody angels fast descending” from Black Sabbath’s Neon Knights, that bloody word :P is a high C. For a soprano, C6 is considered the highest note generally though many do go even higher, often using what is called a ‘whistle voice’. Mariah Carey in the coda of Emotions.

    With an instrument like keyboard, these notes are pretty easy to place but even without one, you can use this thing called an online tuning fork and locate the correct pitch online by ear. After sometime, you start recognising the rough pitch range, if not the exact note, from the tone and delivery itself. A tenor sounds powerful and dramatic on a C5 while a soprano singing the same note sounds light and effortless.

    When you watch Ramya sing Sattru Munbu live, you can say she kind of closes her mouth and gnashes her teeth for the high notes but the syllables are actually very open vowels. “VaadAAAA”/”Engeyyyy”. She still manages to produce a powerful enough sound on that note to be convincing. I think she is an excellent singer with a distinct voice and style but it’s just that composers should start making her sing a bit lower. Maybe IR was tempted to explore the potential of a singer with a very Western style of singing.

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  88. B, if this Highway’s a little bumpy, suggest you detour, make a U-turn and head down South to the soothing, stirring and anthemic strains of Kochadaiyaan.

    Is it just me or do other Rahman fans get the feeling of Christmas having arrived early when The Master chooses to grace us with not one but TWO terrific albums, one Tamil and one Hindi?

    I’ve barely gotten over the Twin Joys of the gorgeous Maryan and the sublime Raanjhnaa albums and here he comes with the 1-2 knockout combo of Highway and Kochadaiyaan. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the latter (at this point I can’t give a crap about the movie with it’s creaky mo-cap [judging by the latest trailer] that Robert Zemeckis would have considered old 15 years ago).

    And yes, in case it hasn’t become bleeding obvious, I’ve taken to the Highway after a few listens. Love Sooha Saaha, Mahi Ve and Heera especially!

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  89. @kaykay
    Agree with you about kochadayian music and visuals. A good score seems to have been wasted on a terrible looking film. i mean Beowulf made by Zemeckis 10 years ago looks much better than this one. of course there is a limitation to what 125 crs can buy as opposed to Avatar’s 330mn, but this motion capture technology is such that, if its not done well it looks real tacky. I think there has been a terrible backlash in all social medias ever since the trailer has been released.

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  90. “A good score seems to have been wasted on a terrible looking film”

    MANK I believe this is the bane of composers anywhere.

    I mean, ’nuff said about the picturizations of some of Raja’s gorgeous numbers in the “terrible ’80s”.

    As for Rahman, the cinematic landfills for which amazing albums like En Swaasa Katre, Kadhalar Dhinam and Sangamam to name but 3 was used for was downright criminal! Hell, The Man even gave an undeservingly mellifluous score to a turgid Vince Vaughn rom-com like Couple’s Retreat.

    I’ve said it a million times, using bargain-bin CGI to keep alive the legacy of a Walking Special Effect like Rajini is an exercise in redundancy.

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  91. KayKay: Have listened to “Kochadaiiyaan” a few times. Nothing’s clicked in a big way yet. The soundtrack of the year so far, for me, is “Jigarthanda.” Really good stuff. Innovative, yet not too abstract. I love what Santhosh Narayanan is doing. Liked the “Cuckoo” songs quite a bit too.

    Among the more mainstream music directors, I think Imman is making some really good music. He’s like Pritam. Solid mainstream stuff, with great hooks, instant appeal. Even a generic “kuthu” song like “Jingunamani” he sets to a 12-beat cycle (the first two lines) and makes the song sounds just a wee bit different.

    Madan: And let’s not forget the fact that the western notes are fixed whereas the Indian ones can vary depending on where you set the tonic :-)

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  92. “This isn’t about being a soprano. But even if you take that kind of voice, the really great singers (Sushila, Lata, Shreya) don’t lose their timbre/tensile strength when they go high (or low).”

    Wow, I’m gobsmacked.

    Can’t speak to Sushila, but Lata or Shreya’s voices dont lose their “timbre” when they go high? Listened to “sab kuch luta ke hosh mein aaaye” or “”bhor bhaye tori baat” from Dilli 6 lately? And Asha’s voice is “husky”? Compared to whom – Alvin and the Chimpmunks?

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  93. Not a single mention of Ghibran here. Me thinks he is one of the most exciting musical talents around along with Prashanth Pillai and Amit Trivedi.

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  94. @Madan – I didn’t mean to sound accusatory. Was just using your comment to illustrate a point. But thanks for the explanation all the same. I think I understand pitch a *bit* better now.

    I still wonder if understanding music theory helps or hinders appreciation overall. I saw a mention about a discussion regarding this question somewhere in this blog (I’m reading posts and comments at random so I can’t remember where exactly). If someone can point me to said discussion, I’d really appreciate it.

    @Sutheesh – I liked Vaagai Sooda Va’s soundtrack, but then Ghibran had to go and make that lazy chiptune and dubstep influenced godawful earworm of a song.

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  95. BR: Yes, in fact that’s the one thing I really should have mentioned aside from other, less relevant stuff! Middle C is one unitary location, it cannot be played/sung anywhere you like. That’s why I suggest an online tuning fork as it helpfully highlights the middle C in bold! :D

    http://www.seventhstring.com/tuningfork/tuningfork.html

    Shalini: W.r.t Sab Kuch Luta Ke, the last note is a G5 and I think she sang it quite brilliantly. But as for timbre, you have to move to head voice for notes that high so it is going to get a bit ‘light’. I thought Lata bridged her registers pretty seamlessly (especially given the recording quality) but it’s a matter of opinion at the end of the day. :) As far as preferences, I prefer Talat’s version of this song. :) Shreya Ghoshal does seem to strain a bit high up but her technique/range seems to be better in that aspect than Ramya’s.

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  96. Shalini: Wow, I’m gobsmacked.

    Gobsmacked? Really? Even after knowing that our musical tastes are essentially two parallel lines, destined never to meet? :-)

    There’s a bit of generalising and hasty writing that happens in comment spaces. I didn’t mean “husky” — the correct word still eludes me, but I’m not going to look for it now for the sake of a comment, when anyone who’s heard Asha’s voice can guess what I meant. About Lata, I maintain that her chest voice/head voice etc. were pretty near perfect, and she rarely lapsed into false-voice territory. She sounds divine in the mid-60s songs, say, “Ajee rooth kar,” when her voice had achieved a little more maturity, fullness. In this song, she sounds as good in the low notes as in the high ones and her timbre is superbly consistent.

    As for Sushila, here’s a terrific MS Viswanathan number that has her leaping across octaves with ease …

    And here she is in a slightly thinner voice (as in, less “full” than the song above) — another terrific Viswanathan-Ramamurthy song.

    Bayta: I think they are just different ways of enjoying music (or any art). If you know what beat/tala a song is in, it just means you’re able to appreciate the fact that such a thing has been used in such a manner. And if you listened to the song without this knowledge, you’d enjoy it differently, probably by just tapping your feet. It’s just two different ways of enjoying the same thing.

    I get asked this wrt movies too, but I don’t find myself “enjoying” movies less because I look them more pointedly. It’s just that my “enjoyment” includes this aspect.

    Madan: My non-Indian friends who are into music are always amazed by this. So I’ll sing the basic Mayamalavagoula aarohanam. Then fix the “sa” at the previous “ga”, say, and sing it again. (I’m not talking about sruthi bedham. This is just to illustrate the malleability of the tonic.) The discussions that follow are mind-boggling. :-)

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  97. @brangan – There are different ways of enjoyment, sure. I guess I was wondering if intellectual appreciation ever gets in the way of emotional engagement. But now that I come to think of it, I recall reading an interview with a filmmaker (can’t remember who atm) who, when asked if he finds himself donning his director’s hat when watching someone else’s film, said that the mark of a truly great film was to make one forget that they were watching a film. So I guess that answers my own question.

    Also, there are definitely times when knowing the technical aspects help in better appreciating a work of art. For instance, I recently discovered Alvin Lucier and his works would certainly benefit from the listener having some understanding of their background. I was still captivated by what I heard even without that knowledge, but finding out about it afterward did add another dimension to it. Same with 12 Angry Men. I’ve loved the movie forever, but when I recently read about how Lumet used camera angles to increase the sense of claustrophobia as the movie went on, it gave me a greater appreciation for the craft that went into the making of this masterpiece.

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  98. BR: Exactly. The character of the raga does not change merely by transposing the sa upward or downward as long as, how should I say it, the linear distance between the notes is maintained as before. And great examples for P Sushila as well, yes, another singer with near-flawless technique. And I only use the word near because using an absolute phrase would lock my options. :P Also second the Ajee rooth kar mention. SJ set the pitch way too high (there was really no need when she had such fascinating dark colours in the low register) but she was still up to the challenge.

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  99. Big surprise indeed! And a pretty good list overall, though as one of the comments pointed out, Henry Mancini is a surprising exclusion. Didn’t really like the profile written for IR but I guess that could be said for all the composers in the list as only their significant films were mentioned and nothing by way of their style/strengths.

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  100. Bayta: I really, really doubt that a filmmaker — of all people — can forget everything else and ” forget that they were watching a film.” Maybe to a large extent, yes. But there’s always going to be a mind ticking away saying “oh look what he’s done here, and “oh look at that cut there.”

    Madan: Yeah, lousy bio. But the rest aren’t much better either. But Alan Menken on this list? Seriously? :-)

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  101. @brangan – I will try and dig up that quote for you. I don’t see why not though. As a writer, do you find yourself going, “oh look what he’s done here” every time you read someone else’s work? Surely, there must be pieces that make you forget you’re reading a peer’s work and get lost in the words and the world they conjure up? Why would it be any different for a filmmaker?

    @Madan – Yeah, I was pretty surprised to not see Mancini on that list as well. He should’ve been there. I also didn’t quite agree with the rankings (Glass should be ranked much higher, for instance), and yeah, the write ups were pretty blah. Still, it was nice to see IR being recognized, especially since it could help introduce him to a wider audience.

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  102. “I’ll sing the basic Mayamalavagoula aarohanam”…..you sing?!! Hmmmm….another thing I didn’t know previously which I learned today. I’m sure I can put that nugget to use sometime in the future! :-)

    Santosh Narayanan is certainly very interesting and so is Ghibran, to a slightly lesser extent, for me. However, I’d like to see more before I make up my mind about them. Imman, on the other hand, has seamlessly moved into the place seemingly vacated by Vidyasagar…dependable with melodies, capable of a MG soundtrack.

    On another note, In the past few months I’ve been immersed listening to covers and originals on Kappa TV on YouTube. Just google “music mojo” in You Tube and trip on the music that’s on offer. There’s a lot of malayalam fused alternative rock like Thaikkudam Bridge, but also takes on popular tracks by Tat Tvam Asi (their Pottu Vaitha Kadhal Thittam is a riot with some tight playing), Vidwan, Bennett etc.

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  103. Bayta: Oh no. I didn’t mean to say that the director didn’t say this. Just felt it was odd. Also, I’m not saying it’s impossible to “lose yourself.” Just that a bit of that analytical brain kicks in even as you’re “losing yourself.”

    Shankar: You know that’s the most basic raagam. right? :-)

    “However, I’d like to see more before I make up my mind about them.”

    Why? Isn’t it possible to enjoy a composer’s work even if it’s good only in one film? Do we always have to think about posterity?

    Here’s an interesting piece on music criticism not being what it used to be:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/18/music-criticism-has-degenerated-into-lifestyle-reporting.html

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  104. Interesting article. But isn’t it kind of like water under the bridge? I am fairly well acquainted with the music of the 60s and the 70s and let me share here a positively unbiased piece of criticism levelled on the American band Steely Dan by a British journalist.

    http://steelydanreader.com/1974/07/01/showbiz-kids-talking-jeff-baxter-critical-view-steely-dan/

    Just read the first para and its tone, that will do. :P So these folks who were paid to write about music and inform the public wasted their time spouting their prejudiced views about British bands (if they were American critics, e.g. Robert Christgau) or vice versa. If prog rock was about to beat itself into death, critics did their best to hasten it by obfuscating it as a lifestyle/status issue (snobbish prog v/s rootsy punk or some such oversimplified nonsense). Ted Gloria is only partly accurate when he says the record companies never announced that they had given up on the idea of music for music’s sake. In fact, they saw to it that it was wiped out because it was unpredictable as opposed to the lifestyle driven thing that they thought they could control. Er, what are they really complaining about, I thought this was what they wanted anyway.

    Not that I really mind. I am one of those avid music lovers who has stopped paying attention to mainstream media’s views on music. And I just bought the digital download of Mary Halvorson’s Burning Bridges. It’s very tough jazz music, but it’s great music that is not going to chart on the Billboard. And there’s plenty of such stuff out there, I am sure, if one knows where to look. I’d recommend anyone who loves music to do likewise and encourage the artists who know their stuff instead of lamenting that non singers can make a career in music in the times we live in.

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  105. “Why? Isn’t it possible to enjoy a composer’s work even if it’s good only in one film? Do we always have to think about posterity?”

    No, I’m not talking of posterity here. In fact, I have often appreciated composers that have given one or just a few albums (ex: Niru). I don’t have a problem with that. In this case, even you have often commented on these new composers and how fresh they sound, their new ideas and so forth. I appreciate all that but am just waiting to see if they are just a flash in the pan or if they have stuff. Maybe they are the next pillars of tamil film music or perhaps they are like HJ, wherein they have “some” stuff! :-) To understand that, I need some more data…in my opinion, the sample size is small. For example, if Ghibran starts employing repetitive structures or hooks, maybe my initial opinion might change. That’s where I was coming from…it is less to do with posterity and more to do with their knowledge and skill. Believe me, a lot of people can put out a few good songs!! :-)

    As an aside, I read this really good article by Anil Srinivasan, on his experiences of recreating HTNI…puts a lot of what we discuss usually, from the perspective of a musician.

    http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/the-king-and-i/article4771773.ece

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  106. It wasn’t a question of taste, but of imprecise language and mischaracterisation. Both unusual for you.

    Agree that Asha and Lata sound different but I’m still surprised to see you align the former’s voice with Swarnalatha rather than with her sister. Yes, Asha’s lowest low is lower than Lata’s (believe the CR masterpiece “tum kya jano” is the lowest Lata gets and I dunno – “jaan-e-jaan dhoondhta” is possibly Asha’s lowest) but they’re both essentially high, thin voices, no? I mean they are in the same “voice family” (no pun indented), right?

    If the only point you’re making is that Lata doesn’t resort* to falsetto to hit the high notes, then you’re obviously right and there is no quarrel. But, I think we disagree on how *consistently well* she performs on that score. This is in the realm of taste, but I can’t abide the Arzoo song that you cited to illustrate your point.:-) Sure she traverses the notes while maintaining her “voice” but the strain during the “nazar ki zuban se samjh jaiyega” line is unmistakable and to my ears, unpleasant. The lovely “haye re who din” is a far better example of Lata’s facility and prowess with notes. Or the amazing “madhbhari yeh hawaayen”. Now that *is* divine.

    *Lata (and Asha) do both use falsetto when appropriate, like the operatic “woh ek nigaah kya mili.”

    PS. Thanks for the Sushila links. Terrific indeed.

    PPS. Links to two Gulzar songs! I must be getting soft in my old age. :-D

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  107. B, coincidentally I’ve been listening to both Santosh’s Cuckoo and Jigarthanda. Glad you liked the latter, but it’s still an acquired taste for me. Santhosh is a fascinatingly experimental composer (like a Southern Amit Trivedi) but while I will appreciate the off-the-beaten-path approach he’s taken with Jigarthanda, it’s not an album I can listen to everyday. It needs a certain frame of mind, a mood for me to play it. Cuckoo on the other hand is gorgeous! it gloriously channels 80s Raja the same way Imaan’s Kumki (another fav of mine) did. Gibran’s another interesting composer but subsequent albums haven’t matched his awesome debut in Vaagai Sooda Vaa, IMHO.

    Re Kochadaiyaan, fair enough. I wouldn’t rate it as an awesome ARR album per se, just extremely good in comparison to his largely weaker albums for Rajini flicks past. The strictures of a Superstar vehicle doesn’t suit Rahman, in my opinion. Padayappa, Muthu and Sivaji had a few good tracks but uneven on the whole. The least said about Baba and Endhiran the better.

    Kochadaiyaan for me is worth the price of entry just for 3 numbers:

    The twin pair of tracks superbly sung by Lata in “Bride’s Promise” and it’s mirror track “Groom’s Promise” by Haricharan and “Idhayam” where Chinmayi’s vocals riding an amazing pitch rollercoaster yanks it out of it’s “Minsara poove” hangover.

    Throw in SPB’s dulcet tones in “methuvaaga Thaan” and a Rajini soliloquy married to Haricharan’s amazing vocals before finishing off with some awesome “jathis”, and you’ve got an ARR album for a Rajini flick that, for once, is an absolute keeper for me.

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  108. KayKay, hey i thought the Baba soundtrack was pretty good.All the songs were great fun, and Maya maya and rajyama imayama songs were really terrific.Especially ,Keeping the strictures of a Rajni flick, he did amazingly well with the soundtrack. I liked it better than sivaji or muthu.

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  109. Shankar: You are, in a sense, talking about posterity. You’re saying, “Okay, these guys make some nice music now. Let’s see if they do this consistently, and then we’ll know how good they really are.”

    And I’m saying the “making nice music now” is enough, really. Not everyone has to be a Raja or an MSV or SD Burman. The fact that a song/album isn’t going to make it in the long run shouldn’t be a mark against the composer — unless, of course, you’re making a case for this composer with one of the greats.

    Shalini: A little tough to explain what I meant without being vague, but let me try. The first point I was making was primarily about the voice QUALITY, with respect to the non-change in timbre — like you said. With Lata, in general, you see that the “weight” of the voice doesn’t change across octaves. That was one point I was making, give or take a song here or there. Whether you like the “Arzoo” song or not is irrelevant. It was an easy example of what I was trying to say.

    The second point I was making was about the voice TYPE. Lata is a clear-cut soprano — that silvery voice, that steely timbre that can cut glass. (I am only talking mainly about her prime.)

    With Asha, it’s a tougher call. Pre-RDB, one could say she sounded like her sister. (“Ab ke baras” and so on.) Though even here, there was a lot of “colour” in her voice… it wasn’t as clear-cut a soprano voice as Lata’s.

    And after RDB, you can distinctly see how “warm” her voice became, with all sorts of new colours. Listen, for instance, to how she sounds in this (and imagine Lata singing the same song, especially the “maana ki khata meri hai” like parts. It would be the difference between a soprano and, say, a mezzo soprano.)

    Other off-the-top-of-the-head examples:
    - “Jaana o meri jaana” from the same film
    - “pyaar karne wale” from “shaan”
    - “aisa ho to” from “ratnadeep”

    There is a difference in the TYPE of the two sisters’ voices — not as drastic a difference as say Lata vs Usha Uthup, but still there.

    And yes, I was probably hasty in clubbing Asha with Swarnalatha, but the reason was the whole “colour” thing.

    PS: “madhbhari yeh hawaayen” is gulzar? I thought it was yogesh. thanks.

    KayKay: I dunno. The “sathiyam… sathiyam” song sounds very blah to me. Sweet tune and all but… blah. And that Haricharan song is dull to my ears. One of the flattest numbers he’s sung. I’m with you on “Idhayam” though. It’s the only song in the album where something Rahman-esque is going on.

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  110. In any case, Lata hits a pretty strong Bb5 (I think, I don’t recall exactly, but it was thereabouts and higher than Arzoo) on Aa Ab Laut Chalen (the Aaja re part). Don’t think it has that glass-shattering quality though, her voice thins out a bit in the fifth octave. Western sopranos bridge it even better and can sing pretty massive fifth octave notes.

    I agree to some extent with Shalini about Asha Bhonsle. Her voice is pretty soprano but she learnt to use a lot of slide and sing a bit lower to differentiate her voice from Lata’s. And also because she was not as comfortable singing in a similar high range as Lata was, in spite of aforesaid soprano quality.

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  111. Madan: I didn’t literally mean “Lata’s voice can break glass.” That’s something one associates with a soprano voice, hence mentioned that. And that’s why I talked about Asha as a mezzo soprano (which is different from a soprano voice even if they do have a lot of similarities.)

    Lata and Asha aren’t exactly singing opera, so we can’t use these terms *exactly* in this case. It’s a loose approximation of a TYPE of singing voice, that’s all.

    The reason I clubbed Asha with Swarnalatha earlier is, as I said, the “colour” thing more than the TYPE of voice. When they sing low, their voices take on lovely colours. There’a a warmth here that one does not get with a Lata-Shreya type voice.

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  112. “…you can distinctly see how “warm” her voice became, with all sorts of new colours.”

    Ah! Understand perfectly. Peace. :-D

    Yes, “madhbhari” is Gulzar. Speaking of Gulzar (and 1942 A Love Story upthread) have you heard “saawan saawari aakhiyan” from Musafir? Here’a link to it. Remind you of something?
    http://db.oruwebsite.com/hindi/Songs/R.D.Burman%20-%20All%20Songs%20Ever%20-%20MP3/MUSAFIR-1984-GULZAR/Track%20%209.mp3

    @Madan – Aa ab laut chalen is wonderful. Lata does something similiar in aye dil kahan teri manzil.

    Really don’t think Asha was comfortable in the higher range? She seems to have an awful lot (too much for my liking) of high-pitched songs. From the conventional songs – “tere khayalon mein hum”, “jaane kya haal ho kal”, “man anand anand chhayo”, etc., to the RDB-type numbers – “sona rupa layo re”, “daiyya yeh mein kahan phasi”, “jo main hota ek toota tara,” etc. But I don’t know anything about scales, are they not comparable to Lata’s highs?

    I’ll exit the discussion with two Jaidev gems – one by each sister:

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  113. Brangan: Agree indeed that mezzos and sopranos are not the same anyway. But Asha has sung in a soprano range in lots of songs too. I think the difference is her voice is a lot more nasal compared to Lata and she tried to compensate for it by being more openly expressive. Swarnalatha too had a pretty nasal voice.

    Shalini: Only meant not as comfortable as Lata. Generally speaking, she did sing very high (though, nothing quite as high as Aa ab laut chalen iirc) in lots of songs but as I mentioned above, that nasal quality would make her high notes a little harsher on the ears.

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