Readers Write In #10: Composers languishing in obscurity

Posted on March 11, 2017

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Tamil Cinema has been blessed to have been graced by a dizzying array of music composers, right from the days of Papanasam Sivan till  may I say… Santosh Narayanan, but lost in the vortex of box-office success, many have fallen by the wayside, this article is about my personal favorites , who were not as successful as they should have been !

Ramesh Vinayagam

Much before T-Series turned the concept of ‘multiple composers’ for a single film into a debauched mockery , Vasanth( who has a fantastic taste for fine music) introduced multiple composers for his movie ‘Ey Nee Romba Azhaga Irukka’, with one of them being the criminally underrated Ramesh Vinayagam.

Here’s a trivia question. ‘When Raajkamal films decided to go with a new composer after sticking to their decades old de-facto composer, Illayaraja, whom did they go with ?’

Answer, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy ? Ghibran ? Naah !

It was Ramesh Vinayagam for Nala Damayanthi. Kamal Hassan, who sure knows a thing or two about music, green-lighted this relatively obscure composer for his Production house, and what smashing melodies !

‘Enna IthuEnna Ithu’, is one of the most exotic fusion of Western notes with Carnatic that I had heard at that point of time, this melody simply soars, with the lyrics  aptly describing the trajectory of the ‘Aarohanam’ in the line ‘Enrume… parakalam…

One of the best rock songs from the previous decade was from the film University, ‘Nenje…’ had a thumping sound , which the visuals failed to capture. In the agonizing video, Jeevan channelizing his inner-Sathyaraj, waves his tree trunks around, as the backup dancers duck in terror.

It is heartening to note that D.Imman who is riding a wave in Kollywood at the moment, has recommend Ramesh’s name to some of the movies which he was not able to sign, very rarely we see such camaraderie in this industry.

Sabesh-Murali

Yes, it took them a long time to venture out of their elder brother’s shadow and it was also a tainted legacy. The natural assumption being that they would be associated with a raucous form of low-brow music.

Samudhiram, their first movie as independent composers, had this delightful ditty, ‘Vidiya Vidiya.. Pesi konde irukalam’, which in spite of Udit Narayan and his terrifying tongue unleashing a machete on the Tamil language , had enough signs that indicated that these two would attempt to tread a different path, compared to their illustrious brother. There’s even a delightful interlude where a Nadaswaram interspersed with a Thavil bounces along merrily.

Pineapple vannam’, must have been the first-ever Jazz based composition from the house of Deva !

Sabesh-Murali’s most outstanding work came with Cheran, who surprisingly ditched  Bharadwaj after a couple of decent collaborations ( Pandavar Bhoomi / Autograph).

Thavamai Thavamirindhu which was one of the best soundtracks of  2005, had this knockout melody ‘ Unnai Saranadainthen’, which in hindsight does remind me of ‘Sandai Kozhi’ from Aayutha Ezhuthu ( same Raaga perhaps ?)

After briefly dabbling in the world of Illayaraja and in the process getting his fingers burnt, Cheran dutifully returned to Sabesh-Murali for his next film ‘Pokkisham’ , the most popular song from this soundtrack being ‘Nila Nee Vanam’, there was a certain grace in the orchestration, an iota of  subdued maturity in the arrangements for this movie.

Sabesh-Murali even went retro, achieved by sprinkling a certain amount of ‘MSV branded’ magic dust onto their songs for the movies ‘Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi’ & ‘Indralogathil Na. Azhagappan’

Yet, they have in their kitty, only a fraction of the number of movies in Srikanth Deva’s marsupial pouch, and even a lesser amount of recognition that their nephew has bewilderingly managed to generate.

Dhina

Back in the so-called ‘golden era’ of Television, there was one song which would echo throughout Tamil Nadu at 9 PM every single weekday. Yes, I am talking about Radhika Sarathkumar’s Chithii…

Out of the cauldron of terrible ‘Mega serial’ title track composers emerged one name, which eventually graduated to Tamil cinema, Dhina.

Chithii’s Kanin Mani was not my personal favorite though, it was Suhasini-Priya’s Anbulla Snehithi which was a real delight, starring Swarnamalya & Anu Hassan.

Yet it was for his insanely foot tapping number, Manmadha Raasa, that catapulted him to the top of charts, with actor Vijay sniffing a possible successor to Deva, snapping him up immediately for Thirupachi.

When Pandiarajan launched his son Prithvi in ‘Kaivantha Kalai’, the only good thing about the entire movie was Dhina’s ‘Suttipoove’. Based on the majestic raga Sri, Suttipoove is one of those songs which languishes in obscurity , and requires every ounce of ‘word of the mouth’ marketing. There is not even a YouTube link available for this song , but trust me, spend some time on Google and listen to this song, it will make your day.

Joshua Sridhar

Back in the 1990s & early 2000s, when Rahman was striding like a colossus on the plains of Tamil Film Music , being notoriously reclusive and selective about his projects, there was a huge demand for music which ‘sounded like Rahman’ , in the face of  a waning Illayaraja, there was a genuine paucity of successors.

There was an explosion of programmers and keyboard players who worked under Rahman, turning into music directors including Suresh Peters, Ranjit Barot,Pravin Mani, Aslam Musthafa, coughcough* Harris Jayaraj, Kabuli, Taj Noor and drum-roll Joshua Sridhar.

Shankar sure is a smart cookie and he must have seen something in Joshua who would have been toiling away at Rahman’s studio for one of Shankar’s eat-all-you-can-buffet soundtracks.

Kaadhal was a dream launch , any aspiring composer would give up his right arm for such a break.

Thandattikarupaiyee’, has 3 melodies built into one song. The haunting grizzled voice of the village matriarch (which also appears at multiple points in the movie), opens the song, with minimal instrumentation, and then we have a sprightly chorus with the titular hook. The song then meanders into  Western Music territory where the lead female vocalist, starts reminiscing about her bae ‘Avanai parthadhume naan…’ . These genre-bending shifts do not at any point sound discordant, and you feel it is the most natural thing in the entire world.

Joshua’s follow up soundtracks includes one in Malayalam , Keerthi Chakra ( Aran in Tamil), where we have this song ‘Poonjolai Kiliye’ ( Hindolam ?), which if we played a game of guess the composer(like how Gautam Menon is toying with us now), the answer would have been AR Rahman !!

Then came movies like Kaloori, which had standout gems like  ‘Un Arugil’ & ‘ June July Madham’. ‘Un Arugil’ is a classic example of a techno-melody where the accompanying instruments are purely synthesizer driven, as opposed to a more traditional  approach where indigenous percussion instruments are used for saccharine melodies.( A few other techno melody recommendations, ‘Pudhu Kadhal’ from Pudukottaiyil Irundhu Saravanan, ‘Megam Megam’ from Kannamoochi Yenada, ok we are digressing now).

It is inconceivable that Joshua is languishing in the Kannada industry these days, and in spite of people like Gautam Menon( Veppam) & Balaji Sakthivel having worked with him, he never really got going.

SS Kumaran

‘Kumaran who ?’

I know these would have been the exact words flashing in your mind.

Many years ago, when I heard ‘Avaram Poo’ on radio, I thought Illayaraja had come out with a new soundtrack after ages. I was gob smacked to realize it was a newbie composer.

Kumaran’s Poo had rustic melodies like ‘Maman Engirke’ & ‘Choo Choo Maari’ and this soundtrack was the ‘Sairat’ of 2008 i.e. Illayaraj-esque melodies , yet  not composed by him.

His follow up soundtrack Kalavani, had another scrumptious song, ‘Damma Dumma’, with director Sargunam eventually ditching Kumaran once he got a whiff of Ghibran.

Kumaran tried his hand at directing movies , in order to stay relevant and to award himself with opportunities , but eventually got snuffed out.

Bhavatharini

Similar to the ‘House of Deva’, we have the ‘House of Raaja’, where we have an array of composers starting from the maestro himself, Gangai Amaran, Yuvan, Karthik, Premji & Bhavatharini.

Though I personally have major issues with Bhavatharini, the singer, she is underrated as a composer.

Making her debut with ‘Mitr-My Friend’, I found the background score to be quite competent for a debutante composer, the all-woman cast not just being a marketing gimmick, but backed by stalwarts like Priya, Sudha Kongara & Fowzia.

After ‘Phir Milenge’ , where she was buried by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and was lost in the credits, Bhavatharini made her mark in tamil cinema with a little known movies called Amirtham.

Mugiliname’, is a terrific Reetigowlai based song, with a snappy percussion. A song which would make her father beam with pride.

Nenje Nenje’ & ‘Kadhale’ are the other two songs which in a different era would have benefitted had it been released as singles. The movie and the soundtrack sank into an abyss , and only people like me who have freakish memories for utterly useless facts , try fishing in those chasms of blackness.

Vijay Antony

It is ironic that one of Kollywood’s most bankable actors now was driven to produce and act in films out of sheer desperation( Source: Bossky TV). Vijay Antony, who confessed while being grilled by Bossky, that with dwindling chances, he had to do something drastic in order to stay relevant(and stay financially afloat) in the world of Tamil Cinema.

In my personal list of ‘Top 10 Item songs in Tamil Cinema’ & ‘ Top 10 insanely catchy songs of all times’, you will find the following songs( in no particular order)

Bombay Ponnu’ from Vedi  & ‘Nakka Mukka ‘ from Kadhalil Vizhunthen.

Mamta Sharma’s sultry Kabootar Jaa…. line from ‘Bombay Ponnu’ is bound to make even a wild tree branch swaying with impotent rage, embarrassingly stiff.

Harris Jayaraj is nothing when it comes to the original king of gibberish lyrics based songs.

On one hand you have riotously entertaining songs like ‘Dailamo’ from Dishyum, ‘Usimilarise’ from Uthama Puthiren , ‘Banaras Pattu/Mere Piya’ from Ninaithale Inikum, ‘Makayala’ from Naan etc.

And on the other hand, you have surprising melodies like ‘Karikalan’ from Vettaikaran, which is a pompously composed song based on Raaga Kaapi.

Though he has not exactly fallen by the wayside, acting and composing for his movies,  is taking a toll on Vijay Antony the musician, his songs being a case of diminishing returns with each soundtrack.

Authored by Rakesh Venkataraman, who still basks in his two seconds of fame on BR’s blog for coining the acronym SSS( Screenplay by Spouse Syndrome).

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