Readers Write In #58: Vada Chennai and Wasseypur: Rooting cinema with music

Posted on November 6, 2018

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It’s been merely weeks since Vada Chennai released and the film is being talked about as a work that will go down in Tamil cinema as a milestone. Apart from solid writing, good camerawork and some stellar performances, there’s another factor that elevates the movie: The distinctive music.

Criticism has risen about the way the music has been used in the movie, with no song being completely included and dialogues overshadowing the lyrics in many parts. But the very synthesis and flavour of the music in the movie is unique. Unlike the formulaic combination of two romantic songs, a montage, a repentance elegy and a resurrection anthem, Vada Chennai’s music travels and evolves with the movie.

Take the song Mathiya Seraiyila for instance, which is sung in the voice of a prisoner yearning for freedom. The tinkling beat that accompanies the song actually sounds like it’s being tapped out with spoons and plates in a jail cell. There are two songs which mark the funerals of eminent people…. And a kuthu number at a public ceremony. The music grows organically from the place, Vada Chennai itself, rather than being the personal property of the protagonist.

Music like this is not new to Tamil cinema. Apart from the really well-fitting songs like Othaiyila nikkurendi from Iraivi and Sengal soola kaara from Vaagai Sooda Vaa, there have been entire films that were held together with the music. Vetrimaaran himself has done this before in Aadukalam, interspersing rap with the rooster-fight tournament’s milieu. Subramaniapuram is another excellent example: The Subramaniapuram theme and Madurai Kulunga captured perfectly the rustic and festive nature of Madurai. It’s noteworthy that all these movies are centred around a particular place: The music is from the place and the place is defined by the music. Consequently, the story takes on an epic avatar instead of being shackled to one person’s story.

Apart from these films closer to home, there’s one other example that really solidifies this idea: Gangs of Wasseypur. With an almost identical usage of songs (One in a jail, some funeral dirges and a wedding song), Wasseypur seems like a precursor to Vada Chennai. Yet each is unique, because the music stems from that region and sticks true to it. Though ‘King of the sea’ and ‘Keh Ke Lunga’ are functionally similar, they are vastly different in their soul.

The music in Gangs of Wasseypur evolved from Part 1 to Part 2 : While the music in the first part had a folksy touch to it, Kaala re from part 2 had an almost Rahman-ic touch to it, as if the music reflected the generation’s taste. It will be interesting to see if SaNa produces this temporal shift in the coming parts of the trilogy.

Ultimately, music is not only meant to elevate. A good piece can even synthesize visual memories that you didn’t see on screen in the first place. One of the advantages of this age, where the audio is launched well in advance of the movie is that viewers are so well-acquainted with the songs before entering the theatre that they wait in expectation for the song to play on screen. But my initial disappointment at the omission of Kaarkuzhal kadavaiye faded when I realized it didn’t really have a place in the movie without disrupting the vibe that had been so painstakingly created. Days later, I am imagining visuals for Goindammala and Maadila Nikkura Maankutti which I’m sure never existed in the first place. It’s like a feeling of nostalgia for a time which I never experienced.

So what if only bits of the music were used? Their purpose was to root the film, and they did. Dhammathundu anchor dhaan da avlo periya kappalaye niruthudhu.

(by Adhithya)