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Actor Dhanush in his film Padikaathavan says: “Guys like me are not liked on sight; will be liked as they are seen more and more.” I have often thought if these lines were written keeping in mind music composer A R Rahman. The reason is that there is a critical opinion right from his early days that his songs can be appreciated and liked only if they are listened to repeatedly. Rahman’s songs need to grow on you. They are rarely quick on the ear.

During the times of Puthiya Mugam and Uzhavan, Rahman used to compose music only in the dead of the night. But he is now keeping normal working hours. The range and content of his numbers have undergone a sea-change. Yet the general criticism about his music remains.

Can the songs he has composed in the Mani Ratnam-directed mega project Ponniyin Selvan Part-I prove conventional wisdom right? There is an unwritten rule that historical films in any language must have pristine dialogue as well as songs. What may also work against PS is that a glorious past may not quite appeal to millennials.

There is an unwritten rule that historical films in any language must have pristine dialogue as well as songs.

Six enough?
The song Ponni Nathi Paarkanumae (need to see the Ponni river) is the first one from the film presented to film buffs. The gushing admiration of the lush and plush landscape, the sparkling and surging river and the sublimity of the people is the pivotal spirit of the song. Reflecting this is the first line of the song: Words will bloom, narrating the glory of Chozham. Rahman had extracted the most elegant words from lyricist Ilango Krishnan.  But it is a mystery how he goofed up in pronunciation while singing the song.  For instance, the Tamil phrase Kaattrai Pola (Like wind) is pronounced ‘kkaaththa pola’ in spoken Tamil. But Rahman being what he is – a master composer — the faux pas is deftly camouflaged by intermittent notes from bugle-like instruments.

Yet another song takes the cake in bungling.  Chozha silaithaan ivalo Cholak kathiraayi sirichaa Eezha minnal unnaalae naanum rasichida aagatho” (Is she a Chozha statue? If she laughs like a corn crop, won’t I enjoy the Eelam lightning?). Rahman sings this song almost as if he wanted to assign these numbers to his regulars, Udit Narayan and Sukhwinder Singh, whose mangling of Tamil words was usually received with friendly mirth. It appears as if a non-Tamil has sung this song. Or was this a ruse to get the younger audience sample Ponniyin Selvan. Or maybe, this was to help Karthi, the actor, lip synch.

Also Read: Tamil songs that KK sang will live forever

In Ratchasa Maamanae, lyricist Kapilan’s words, “un aaraam puththi thaeraa puththithaan” (your sixth sense is the sense that does not pass muster) and “meesai vatcha miruka mirukana” (moustacheod beast-man) are no doubt aesthetically charming. Yet the words “kaattu mullu vaetti pola” (like wild thorn dhoti) appear like malapropisms. Perhaps Shreya Ghoshal was trying to make it easy for Sobhita Dhulipala?  The answer will be known when the film hits the screen. It looks like the voices of Palakkad Sriram and Mahesh Vinayakram, which echo in the middle and end of the song, have been placed for Jayam Ravi or Jayaram.

The humourous “maaplae, maamaa” in the classic film ‘Bhalae Pandiya’ voiced by M R Radha and Sivaji Ganesan was probably the inspiration for this song. The song, Sambo Sambo in Puthiya Mugam also comes to mind. Unfortunately though, younger audiences will not get the connect..

Rahman sings this song almost as if he wanted to assign these numbers to his regulars, Udit Narayan and Sukhwinder Singh, whose mangling of Tamil words was usually received with friendly mirth

The Devaraalan Aattam (dance number of a group of ‘temple performers’), which begins with high-pitch harsh humming marked by the onomatopoeic sounds of ‘tumtumtumtamatamarae’, is a fantasy-oriented dance-and-song exposition intended to lighten up the high politics of Ponniyin Selvan. The words talk of conspiracies and valour vanquishing the palace intrigues described in detail in Kalki’s novel, but in a celebratory tone.

The song Chozha, Chozha is an archetype of hero idolatry. It will likely reverberate in the background of a battle or at the site of some martial art training.  Maybe, this song will provide acoustic support to the scene of the hero and his minions seeking support and egging people on.

The brief song Kaadhodu Sol (say in the ear) is a melodious version of the number Yaro Yarodi Unnoda Purushan (who, who’s your husband?) in the 2000 film Alaipaayuthey. Lyricist Kritigha Nelson’s lines sound charming, conjuring up the picture of a woman’s dream man. The silvery waters and their splashing by the women invoke playfulness as well as coyness.

Of the six songs in the album, the song Alaikadal Aazham Nelavu Ariyatho (Doesn’t the moon know the depth of the wavy sea?) rushes to the music buff’s minds like a gushing flood, feeling like an exposition of a fisherwoman’s ruffled romantic feelings. It seems modelled on the lines of the song Evano Oruvan Vaasikkiraan (someone is playing the instrument) in the film Alaipaayuthey. The 22-year-old playback singer Antara Nandy who is singing the song, feels like the next Shreya Ghoshal or Swarnalatha. The minimal use of instruments has enhanced the simplicity of the song. Lyricist Siva Anand’s lines are appropriately poetic; yet they could have been simpler in keeping with the music.

Alaikadal Aazham song takes us across the long avenue of centuries back to the classical times the story is set in. Probably the other songs may impress us when we see them reverberating on screen.

Also Read: When Sivakarthikeyan, Simbu, Dhanush pen lyrics, they go viral but will they be timeless?

Will new light flow?
Rahman’s troupe had probably undertaken some research on musical instruments used in countries such as Indonesia invaded by the Chozha kings. Much discussion must have gone into the choice of words and phrases.

It must however be said that the songs of PS – I are not jaw dropping instant hits. Listening to the songs may not bring to your experience new beams of light. Perhaps the song picturization will make the difference.

Rahman’s score has aptly brought back the the past in period films such as Iruvar, Indian, Earth,  Zubeidaa, Lagaan, Meenakshi, Nethaji Subhas Chandrabose, Mangal Pandey, Kisna, Jodha Akbar, Kaviya Thalaivan, Mohenjo Daro and so on. In those films, Rahman’s music was pronouncedly marked.

Perhaps the songs are intentionally ordinary so the story and the filming are not drowned out by extraordinary music. Perhaps Rahman,and Mani Ratnam wanted to ensure the film and the story would need to stand on its own legs without the songs taking over.

But his Ponniyin Selvan songs are not unique. They are surely not sublime as only as his songs can be. Perhaps all the slogan shouting and high decibel chorus has drowned it all.

Perhaps the songs are intentionally ordinary so the story and the filming are not drowned out by extraordinary music. Perhaps Rahman and Mani Ratnam wanted to ensure the film would need to stand on its own legs without the songs taking over.


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