Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tamil Film Background Scores 2011



In Ilaiyaraaja Concert held recently at Chennai, R.Balki – director of Cheeni Kum and Paa, demonstrated what Ilaiyaraaja’s background score does to a scene in a film. I think it is the most significant section of Concert. He played a silent video clip of a scene from Paa, then played just the audio of the background score and finally played the visuals with the background score. That demonstration, when viewed by millions of people on Jaya TV, could achieve what I never dream of achieving by writing in this blog about Ilaiyaraaja’s background score for another ten years. Thank You, R.Balki.

R.Balki about Ilaiyaraaja’s background Score in the “Endrendrum Raaja” Concert

Also, for the first time ever, Ilaiyaraaja performed a background score piece in his concert and he chose the year’s best Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai theme

Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai Theme – Concert Version

Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai - Title Music

Easily, the best piece of background music in Tamil films of 2011 is the title music of Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai. Ilaiyaraaja introduces the main motif in its simplest and purest form on a solo Guitar without any accompaniments. With that short phrase, Ilaiyaraaja makes you switch off your mobile phones, calm your mind down, and primes you for pleasurable ride. The piece takes off with a Guitar Ostinato making an exhilarating entry into the piece flapping its notes in a speed close to that of the wings of a butterfly just freed from a cage. With the guitar ostinato suddenly changing its course, a velvety woodwind plays the secondary motif, and the piece gets to the pivotal moment where Ilaiyaraaja’s favorite Oboe would take the theme over from Guitar and pronounce the theme in its entirety and reveal the melody’s complete beauty. While an acoustic guitar is playing the secondary melody, a solo flute emerges playing a soul stirring counter melody and titillates your tear glands. However, in no time woodwind makes a peaceful pact with the Oboe, and together they reprise the main motif again. The heavenly string section that was merely doing a supporting part in the piece until now takes the lead and plays the secondary motif, and the deep Cellos too join the conversation. Oboe rises above everything else again and plays a haunting new melody. The following strings gradually take the piece to a soothing end, but the piece does not end without reprising and reminding us the main theme on a serene Solo guitar.

“Today I completed the background score of Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai. I was doing the title music today. You would instantly imagine rural folk music when you hear a title like Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai. This film does not have that genre of music. Switch off your mobile phones. Be silent for ten minutes. Leave all your day-to-day problems aside. Keep your mind calm. And, listen to the title music of Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai. If tears do not roll down from your eyes, I will stop composing music forever.” - Ilaiyaraaja confidently announced in a press meet.

Ilaiyaraaja aptly uses the title music for the protagonist Azhagarsamy’s entry point in the narrative. It could also be that Ilaiyaraaja composed the piece for Azhagarsamy’s entry and later extended it to be used as the title music. However, this is not the leitmotif of Azhagarsamy. The soothing strings section in the piece aptly overlaps with the ecstasy of Azhagarsamy when he finds his Horse. The main theme is designed to earn instant sympathy of the audience, when they see a character, who has just been introduced into the narrative, is brutally assaulted up the village folks. We do not know who he was and what this Horse means to him, and yet we are expected to sympathize with Azhagarsamy in this scene, and if not for Ilaiyaraaja’s rousing score, this would not have been possible. The theme plays in its entirety precisely when we see Azhagarsamy being dragged scratching the ground.

Of late, Ilaiyaraaja has been severely Oboe-sessed. Even in the instrumental version of the song Kudhikkira Kudhikkira that plays in the end credits, it is the Oboe that takes the lead. Irrespective of the milieu of the film (Nandhalala, Sri Rama Rajyam, Pazhassi Raaja, Happi, Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai) Ilaiyaraaja uses purer western classical sounds in his films. He has been using western classical idioms ever since he became a composer, but until now those western classical sounds came from Indian instruments and instrumentalists. Ilaiyaraaja used Oboe extensively in Thalapathi, but then, those pieces were not played with the real Oboe; they were recorded with a Keyboard. He now commissions Hungarian musicians for every film, and they bring an inherent western sensibility to Ilaiyaraaja’s instrumental pieces like it was never before.

When he says it is not regular rural music he means that do not expect him to score like the way he scored, say, a Bharathiraaja film. Even the film makers do not make rural films in the way Bharathiraaja did anymore. The music still has that unmistakable Ilaiyaraaja’s stamp of fusion, where one can hardly spot the line where various classical forms of music meet, but the sound is now worldlier. However, when it comes to underscoring the situations that are rooted in the place, Ilaiyaraaja uses native sounds; sample the wholly rooted sound of infinitely addictive Nadhaswaram folk piece that accompanies the festivities and procession in the final moments of Azhagharsamiyin Kudhirai.

For the spy themes in the film, Ilaiyaraaja again takes western route and uses pure Jazz. I have not seen Ponnar Sankar, but going by whatever little I heard from its background score, Ilaiyaraaja seemed to have treated the film with his background score more as a fantasy action flick than a period drama. Even in the songs, Ilaiyaraaja breaks free from the restrictions of a historical film and uses Synth beats. He goes to the extent of using distortion Guitars and artificial voice samples in Thedi Vandha Devadhayae song.

I guess (correct me if I am wrong), after Sathileelavathi and Mumbai Xpress, it is in 2011, a CD of Tamil film (Thandavakone) soundtrack composed by Ilaiyaraaja comes with two instrumental themes from the background score of the film. Mysskin film’s music discs always have instrumental themes from the backgroundscore of the film. The film music CD of the only film in which Mysskin worked with Ilaiyaraaja has songs that are not used in the film, but has no instrumental pieces from the omnipresent background score of the film. Mysskin’s Yudham Sei audio CD has five main musical themes from the background score of the film, though not the entire score.

Yudham Sei (K)

“Right in the scripting stage, Yudham Sei was decided to be approached musically by the director” – says K, the score composer of Yudham Sei. That is how Mysskin approaches every film of his. Though Mysskin’s films never had songs that are indispensable, the background score has always played a very vital role in his style of telling of a story. Yudham Sei, a crime thriller left the impact that it did, thanks to K’s strings-heavy orchestral score besides other aspects. I liked Yudham Sei background score for most part, but there were few problems and hence some questions. And I decided to ask those directly to the man himself.

The cue titled “A tale (Dark)” on the CD is used in the opening scene of the film, in which the key incident in the story unfolds. It recurs again, when for the first time, Dr.Purushoththaman’s family is revealed. And, I felt that recurrence of the cue particularly when the family is introduced could be a spoiler; it is the major clue to the whodunit puzzle. The music in the background clearly tells that the girl we see in the Purush’s family could be the unconscious girl sitting in the Auto rickshaw in the opening scene of the film. The Tale (Dark) theme diligently recurs again when the flashback episode begins. But, K trashes all these extrapolated theories of mine and explains his reasons for using the cue in the above mentioned scenes. “The cue, a tale (dark) was specifically placed in the beginning of the movie to get the viewer prepared for the rest of the story. It gives you a sense of darkness mixed with sadness which essentially is what the movie is about. When the doctor's family is revealed we play the same thing, with a small flute piece on top. So that forms what you can call the family's theme. The flute was placed there for the sympathy aspect.”

The score has very well defined themes for various recurring situations in the film. The Tale (Dark) Theme, the Purush’s family flute theme – it is played when the family is first revealed in the film and used extensively to evoke sympathy throughout the flashback episode, Thirisangu theme - it is heard for the first time when we come to know that ACP Thirisangu (Selva) is heading the villain gang, Box (Pandora) Theme that plays whenever a box is found in a public place, “Next Lead” theme – it is heard for the first time when JK informs Commissioner that Purushoththaman’s family case has to be reopened and again when JK informs Commissioner about the dirt in the Ashok Nagar Police Station, Revenge theme – the Arabic flavored strings piece is heard when the Family prepares to take revenge on all those who are responsible for their daughter’s death and it recurs when in the climax Dr.Purush and his wife march to kill the villains, Mysterious Murderers Theme – it is heard for the first time when we see an unknown person climbs the stairs, picks an electric saw and cut the arms of a victim, JK’s Piano Theme – that plays in every scene in which JK is alone thinking about his lost sister. K explains the process by which he could pull off such a detailed thematic score for the film.

“Work on Yudham Sei started roughly some six months before the actual shooting. I was present at almost all the discussion sessions right from the beginning. When the director and the ADs sat down and discussed various scenes and shots, I would note down important ideas that I think would probably work. The next day or a few days later, I would return to the director with some rough ideas and he would either approve of them right away or suggest some changes. This carried on till the end of the shoot. Towards the end we would put the music over the visuals and make changes according to the length or whatever else. This way most of the music was already decided. After we had the complete visuals, we (with director and team) sat and composed the other portions. You could say the spotting/composing sessions happened for a week or so. As far as the instrumentation is concerned, it is but natural to use certain things for certain situations. For JK's theme piano seemed to be the most apt choice. Having done most of the rough tracks, both the director and me decided it would be best to use a live orchestra. Mysskin is a person who loves the sound of a live orchestra and we both knew and decided that Synth sounds just wouldn't do justice to the score. Hence, live orchestra! Recording it was absolutely awesome. The orchestra was conducted by Mr.Yensone. It was 36 piece strong and had most of the usual players of the madras cine musicians group.”

The “Box” Violin theme is a nice idea. The recurring short phrase on Violin instantly builds a sense of curiosity. But, I felt that the way it was mixed with the film could have been better. It appears all of a sudden in the soundtrack in full volume. Maybe a slow and gradual entry of the theme into the soundtrack could have served the purpose even better (for example, the way Chevaliers De Sangreal gradually reveals itself when Robert Langdon traces the path to the location of the real Holy Grail in the climax of “Da Vinci Code”). Also, in general, the volume of the score in the film makes the film sound more melodramatic than it actually is, especially in the final act. It gives an impression that the composer has over-scored the film.

“The box theme was specifically done for the various 'box' scenes (scenes where the cardboard boxes were displayed in various public places). I've not seen Da Vinci code, so I'm not familiar with the scene you're talking about. Anyway, somehow the box theme and some other themes seemed good to us back in the mixing stage. Maybe they would have had some other impact if we'd done it otherwise! As a composer, I was involved with the mix, but to be honest I didn't ask for any major changes to the work the sound engineer did.”

There is music in almost every other scene where there are no dialogues. Sometimes, the music plays for no particular reason or rather reasons that are hard to decipher. When JK and his colleagues inspect Purushoththaman’s sealed house, there is too much build up in music as if something is going to happen, but nothing happens. Also, I couldn’t understand the use of Violins or maybe Cellos, when JK inspects Moorthy’s Auto-rickshaw or the music for the scene in the Tennis Court.

“Right in the scripting stage, Yudham Sei was decided to be approached musically by the director. Hence there's a lot of music. I don't think there was music for no particular reason in any portion. In Dr.Purushoththaman's house scene, the music was set to go with the lighting, the burnt house setting and the general idea that something bad has happened there.” So, there it is. The freaky music played in this scene is for what had happened and not for what is going to happen. “Auto-rickshaw scene, JK senses that something is wrong. Tennis court scene, it's a sort of thing for the two lecherous old men.” Yes, it was quite obvious, what with the camera lingering a little too longer than necessary on those two old men while they sip water and curiously watch the two girls playing Tennis.

There are moments in the film in which the score is the vital reason for the impact they had on us. In that Basement-Car-Parking scene, the deliberate silence maintained in the natural soundtrack is amplified with sustained strings in the score, and when the jump-out-of-the-seat moment happens, you can’t help but jump out of your seat. The effect wouldn’t be the same, if there were some percussions or instruments playing music loud while JK gently drives around the area and inspects.

There is an interesting conversation that happens between Harp and Strings in that bridge action sequence, though both music and the visuals follow the pattern of a similar scene from Anjaathey. K agrees. “Yes the harp aspect makes it similar to Anjaathey”. When Mahesh Muthuswamy moves up in the escalator and disappears in the blinding white light, the Cello that rises is uplifting and leaves us with a sense of hope.

But, that Cello piece in the end credits music, or the Box theme for that matters seem to be heavily inspired by some foreign film scores.

K has not even heard the pieces that Box theme is allegedly inspired from. “Most international films have strings as their basic element. Such a script, I feel, simply cannot have any other kind of music. Can you imagine psycho without the violins! I don't know why some people keep saying that the box theme is a copy of some international piece (I think from some Japanese soundtrack). I can assure you that I've never heard of it before. All the pieces in the film were inspired by the script first of all. No creation I believe can happen without some inspiration. It might be on purpose or otherwise. I believe the music of Yudham Sei is inspired by a lot of western classical music. I don't remember completely, but I think Predator and King Kong were given to me as references and tracks from the same were used as temps.”

A Song Composer Vs A Score Composer - “I was absolutely delighted and slightly worried at the same time because it's my first feature film. To be honest, the fact that there were no songs in the film didn't bother me one bit, I mean that thought didn't cross my mind at all. I'm not sure why though! I don't think I prepared myself in any special way. I listened to a lot of music, watched some movies, that's about it!”

OST CD - “I don't think any Audio company in India would be ready and willing to release the entire soundtrack on CD. Guess it's the same case with Yudham Sei. As it is no one buys audio CDs anymore. I would love to have the entire thing released. I hope to work on it soon.”

Vaagai Sooda Vaa (M.Ghibran)

Well, if a composer really intends to take his music (background score, in this case) to as many people as possible, then M.Ghibran’s is the way to go. For the first time in Tamil film music history, the complete background score of a film was released on the internet by the composer for free. M.Ghibran released the entire background score of the film (28 cues) in CD quality on soundcloud.com. Thank You M.Ghibran!

On twitter, M.Ghibran, while he was composing the Vaagai Sooda Vaa score, asked his followers to suggest the instruments that they would like to hear in the background score of the film that is set in 1960s. I thought about the instruments for a day or two. I wanted to suggest M.Ghibran to use a one-string bow instrument - the one we hear in the second interlude of A.R.Rahman’s Pachchakili Paadum Ooru (I gather that the name of this traditional Tamil instrument is Sirattai Kinnari). And Gab Gubbi, which M.Ghibran already used, in Thanjavooru Maadaththi song. But, I had totally forgotten to send him my suggestion.

Accordion, which M.Ghibran has used amply throughout the score of the film, never came to my mind. Composers did use accordion quite a lot in Tamil films in 1960s, but I am not sure if they used it in films set in a rural milieu. I vividly remember the presence of an accordion player in the Avalukkena Song video from Server Sundaram. When A.R.Rahman wanted to invoke the sound of classic old world, in Ay Hairathey song in Guru, and Pookodiyin Punnagai in Iruvar, he took to Accordion. But, these are songs.

To me, especially after having heard few world movie soundtracks, sound of accordion is purely European. The accordion piece played for introduction of Madhu would easily go with, say, an Amelie. The Vaagai Sooda Vaa score has plenty of Celtic violins too. However, I did not mind the usage of Accordion or Celtic violins in this film. They do not sound odd. They never seek my attention. They do not disturb the authenticity of the film’s universe.

M.Ghibran applies every rule in Tamil Film background music scoring book authored by Ilaiyaraaja. The instrumental versions of the songs, the somber versions of the happy tunes, the recurring motifs (Goat Chase theme), and jaunty music pieces for the male and female lead’s entry into the narrative, swelling orchestral pieces for the emotional moments and the details in the character motifs (Kuruvikaarar Theme) are all there. Kuruvikaarar theme is my favorite. M.Ghibran uses a haunting phrase of melody from the song of revolution Aana Aavanna for the key character Kuruvikaarar, who has been waiting forever to witness that revolution to happen. The most intriguing aspect of M.Ghibran’s score for Vaagai Sooda Vaa is the minimal usage of flute, which, if were used, could have diminished the harshness of the deserted and dry, barren lands of Kandeduththaankaadu that Sargunan intended to depict.

From Vaagai Sooda Vaa score, it is evident that M.Ghibran is a composer who can do much more than just arrange a background cue. He could spot or compose a malleable phrase of melody, and orchestrate the melody in varied shapes and forms to suit any given situation in the film, which is a key quality required for a background score composer. Listen to the piece he plays whenever Madhu hangs her face down in disappointment; it is that sweet and shy Violin motif from Sara Sara Sarakaaththu song, which M.Ghibran skilfully bends and orchestrates into a sombre piece. In the orchestral version of Senga Soola Kaara that plays when innocent villagers happily bid adieu to Velu, Ghibran adds beautiful supporting and counter melodies to the main melody. M.Ghibran could orchestrate a hefty, intense melody of Aana Avanna to suit a fluffy lighter moment in the film, when Velu tries to impress the kids by narrating stories. That, he could have pitched the orchestral pieces less loud (too much of brass) for Aandai (Ponvannan) is my only grouse.

Mankatha (Yuvan Shankar Raja)

The best brass-based theme music of the year is obviously of Mankatha. After a long time we have a music theme in Mankatha Theme that is popular, worthy of being a mobile ringtone and has that quality to remind even a casual filmgoer of the film, when he hears the theme coming from a distant audio even a decade later (though film itself has already been forgotten). The catchy trumpet theme has the power, punch and the attitude needed to back a charismatic hero, which Ajith is in this film.

Yuvan Shankar Raja plays a very tricky game with listeners with this instrumental theme. It begins with string section playing the first half of the main trumpet theme. That is expected. That is the way to hint at a theme. You can’t play the complete theme instantly in the very beginning of the piece. That is a nice strategy to keep the listeners interested in the piece. We anticipate that after playing enough with the notes of the first half of the melody, the composer would lead us to a satisfactory end with the theme playing in its entirety at least once at an unexpected point before the track ends. While I was waiting for the surprise, Yuvan totally surprised me by surprising me in a way I did not expect; Yuvan doesn’t play the theme in its entirety till the end. And that worked too. The theme always ends the moment it hits its peak note. Maybe, that is to imply the infallibility of the hero, because the second half of the theme actually descends down from the high point the theme reaches in the middle.

Mankatha theme is used throughout the film whenever Vinayak Mahadev (Ajith) makes a surprise entry or does something unexpected in a scene. There aren’t many variations of this theme in the film except the one with additional heavy Rock Guitar layers and it plays in a crucial scene. The other important theme in the film is the strings-heavy heist theme which is used throughout the episode in which the Heist is planned and executed. Obviously, it is inspired by scores of various Hollywood action films, but sounds quite catchy and effective in this film.

Yet again, after Saroja (the Car toppling scene) and Aaranya Kaandam (a bit from Vivaldi’s Four Season in Chasing Pasupathi sequence), Yuvan plays a western classical piece (I gather that it is Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041) for an action scene in this film too. Our film makers or sound designers are yet to learn their lessons when it comes to mixing the score with the film. As always, it is too loud in Mankatha too. By the way, Background score assisted by Karthik Raja, Bhavatharini and Premgi Amaran it seems. Whatever that means!

Avan Ivan (Yuvan Shankar Raja)

Yuvan Shankar Raja got the opportunity to score music for the most unconventional hero introduction scene in a Tamil film, in Bala’s Avan Ivan, in which the hero Vishal is introduced as a transgender. Musically too, the song is unconventionally wordless except for that “Dia Dole” phrase. It is difficult to put a song together with all extremely well known folk rhythm patterns and yet make it sound refreshing. The key is picking the best of all folk rhythm patterns, and then arriving at a sequence in which if played the piece would pack maximum punch and Yuvan seems to be gaining mastery in doing just that. Of course, I seriously doubt if Yuvan composed the high-energy live folk rhythms section towards the end of the song.

Clearly Bala is losing interest in songs. Or, maybe Bala is not clear about the music that the script demands. Three songs composed for the film Avan Ivan were not used, but he wanted two more songs to be composed after the entire film was shot and edited, and of course, they were not released in the film's soundtrack CD. That folksy little songlet Kaavakaara Kiliyae composed, after the film was made, for Vishal's romance, suited the situation far better than Rasaththi Pola composed, before the film was made, for Arya's romance. That is how I would like film music to be made, once after the complete film is shot and edited, and it is easy to do when the songs are not going to be lip-synched by the characters in the film.

In Naan Mahaan Alla, Yuvan had composed a different song for the situation in which Iragai Polae plays now. After watching the visuals, Yuvan totally changed the song to what it is now. In Mankatha too, Kannadi Nee song was composed after the film was shot as a replacement for the song that was composed earlier for the same situation. Of all film makers, it is Bala who can easily switch to this model. He is not a filmmaker who is going to have an item number in Music CDs to to create a buzz about the film before its release.

By the way, what is with Bala, Kunal Ganjawala and the songs composed at the last minute? The beautiful Maa Ganga that plays in the opening credits of Bala’s previous film Naan Kadavul, and now Kizhakum Merkum in Avan Ivan are sung by Kunal Ganjawala. I guess it is for this situation Yuvan composed the sweet, lilting melody Oru Malaiyoram. A lovely instrumental version of the Kizhakkum Merkkum song, with a solo flute playing the main melody plays out in its entirety in the opening credits of the film. In the film too, instead of the song with vocals, I feel that the instrumental version would have implied the breeziness of the situation better. Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score for that shoddy, crowd pleasing episode in Avan Ivan where Vishal makes facial expressions for nine basic human emotions to prove his acting skill, in front of Surya, is a sample of what it would feel like if Ilaiyaraaja scored music for a Vikraman film.

Mayakkam Enna (G.V.Prakash)

It was not just Bala. Selvaraghavan too paid tribute to Vikraman in his style in Mayakkam Enna. Selvaraghavan’s films have always had loud background score, but it is in Mayakkam Enna, for the first time, we feel the loudness. Let us leave Pudupettai aside. The symphonic score for a Slumdog-to-gangster saga was totally wrong. That may be because the emotions in Mayakkam Enna are pitched far lower than it was in any of his other films, where the loudness in the score perfectly gelled with loudness in the mood of the visuals. In Mayakkam Enna, the score for the first half sounds apt.

I liked the way G.V.Prakash unleashes the main love theme – the one we hear in audio CD as Mayakkam Enna theme - gradually. It is good that G.V.Prakash thought of developing a theme from point A to point B. The electric guitar version of the theme, possibly hinting at the path of destruction he might tread by falling in love with his best friend’s girl friend, is not heard until after Karthik kisses Yamini.

Karthik’s passion for photography is given a musical theme, which is rightfully introduced in the moment, on a solo clarinet, when Karthik sees beauty in an ordinary wrinkle-less face of an old woman sitting on the roadside, and captures it. The Passion for Photography theme plays again in the scene in which Karthik does a dog-act in front of an acclaimed photographer, whom Karthik idolizes and wants to work under as an assistant. The reprisal of the theme in this moment is apt, but it reprises without any distinct variation. The mood in the earlier scene, where Karthik clicks pictures of an old woman, is totally different from the mood in the scene, where he sacrifices his self-esteem for his passion. There has to be an instantly recognizable difference between the orchestration of theme used for exhilaration of a Eureka moment and the sufferings of a struggling artist. The thematic melody could be the same, because both the exhilaration and the suffering, Karthik experiences, are because of his Karthik’s passion for photography. The difference in the consequential emotions can only be underlined by a marked difference in the way the composer orchestrates the theme.

The “Passion for Photography” theme plays out in its entirety when Karthik wanders in search of birds in the forest and finds one, but thankfully, G.V.Prakash beautifully orchestrates the theme to be in sync with the cuts and transformations in this scene. Most contemporary composers fail in background score department – despite having the ability to create catchy musical motifs – because of their inability to create enough orchestral variants of a theme to use them throughout the film. It is the variety in orchestration why even when Ilaiyaraaja uses a theme a dozen times in a film, it never sounds repetitive.

The overall sound of the score turns tedious and monotonous in the second half of the film, because of the unimaginative use of the string section and Synth choir. In the second half of the film, the score gets louder and louder, though there are long stretches of silence in between. Meanwhile, composer for Selvaraghavan’s next is Harris Jeyaraj. Me, ticking off Irandam Ulagam from the list of films, which, when I watch, in a theatre, I would carry my recorder to record the background score.

The two to three minutes long instrumental themes G.V.Prakash releases in the film soundtrack CDs have a certain pattern. It begins with the introduction of a simple, elegant, instantly hummable theme in its entirety on some basic instrument without any accompaniments. The theme is then passed on to two or three other instruments, which play the theme without any variation or development or even a change in tempo. The string section would then take over the theme and play it with some obvious supporting melodies. Finally, sometimes heavy percussion rhythms would join in, and everything would return to the original version of the theme. The pattern could be noticed in the themes of Madharasapattinam, Deivathirumagal, Mayakkam Enna, Aanandha Thaandavam, Irumbukkottai Murattu Singam and Aayirathil Oruvan. I love all these pieces strictly for the main melody. The haunting Violin theme from Kireedom is my favorite, which does not strictly follow the aforementioned pattern.

Aaranya Kandam (Yuvan Shankar Raja)

Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score in Aaranya Kaandam is the most refreshing score of 2011. Aaranya Kaandam is a Yuvan Shankar Raja Musical. Yuvan Shankar Raja is in a hugely exciting phase of his career. He is the only composer in Tamil Cinema now, whom all kind of filmmakers approach for all kinds of films - low or a high budget, stars or no stars, commercial or art. He cleverly caters to each of their demands in the way they ought to be.

Aaranya Kaandam cannot be what it is without this score. The background score is intrinsically woven into the design of the visual narrative. The film throws up a challenge for a composer and Yuvan Shankar Raja lives totally up to it and how! I do not remember the last time I heard so many different genres of music in the background score of one film (Thiruda Thiruda?). And yet none of them sounds alien to the film’s universe. There are distinct themes for all principal characters of the film. The themes do not undergo many variations through the course of the film, but recur aptly at the right moments.

The score is very well balanced with aesthetically loud music and stretches of silence. The score, just like the film, has part European and part Hollywood sensibility. Obviously, half of the credit should go to film’s director Thyagarajan Kumararaajan for guiding Yuvan Shankar Raja in doing something that he would not have done or done as proficiently if it were left only to him. Clearly, Thyagarajan has temp-ed the entire film with already available music, before he took it to Yuvan for the background score, some of which Yuvan seemed to have retained after making minor rearrangement. The piece that plays when Gajendran’s gang reaches the Lodge is an interesting brassy rearrangement of Camille Saint-SaĆ«ns “Carnival of the animals”. Is this Plagiarism or just inspiration? I would like to give the benefit of doubt to Yuvan Shankar Raja in this case.

Aadukalam (G.V.Prakash)

Talking of Plagiarism, G.V.Prakash has been shockingly blatant.

When the end credits begin to scroll up, Vetri Maaran lists the films that inspired him to make Aadukalam

Cache - Michael Haneke Babel - Alejandro Gonzales Innarittu Amores Perros - Alejandro Gonzales Innarittu Thevar Magan – Bharathan Virumandi - Kamal Haasan Paruthi Veeran – Ameer

I wish Vetri Maaran had shown these films to G.V.Prakash as well, to study and understand how the composers of the respective films have handled the background score. For a film, that is set in the hinterland of Madurai and that deals with rooster fights, the heroic trumpets (The title credits music, also later used in an action sequence) and Spanish Guitars - that reminds us Ennio Morricone’s scores for American westerns - sound totally out of place. Yogi B’s Tamil rap, though an alien sound to the film’s universe, is marginally better in synch with the mood of the moments where it is heard in the film.

Ideally, the second half of the film should have no background score. In the second half, the performances, the visuals and writing are brilliant enough to grip the audience. G.V.Prakash’s score gets overtly manipulative and melodramatic. These instrumental background score cues would work well as stand-alone music pieces, but in the film, they are used when not necessary.

G.V.Prakash’s score is not detrimental to the extent of being annoying or distracting. However, with a film like ‘Aadukalam’, the composer should also dare to go a step forward to be more sensible, economical and subtle while writing the score. I wouldn’t blame G.V.Prakash completely, because, at the end, it is the film maker who approves of such a score. I have heard Vetri Maaran’s sky high praise for G.V.Prakash’s background score in ‘Polladhavan’, which I think is another highly overrated score.

What baffles me most is that none of these misfires in the background score dilutes or disturbs the impact of the film. This film and its score made me think about the basic necessity of background score in films. Even with a less than appropriate score, a film manages to be what it intends to be.

If this has happened with a B-grade film made by just another film maker, with music by a lesser composer, I wouldn’t even bother to listen to the score. G.V.Prakash and Vetri Maaran would have sat and discussed for at least an hour about the sound of the score, the instruments to be used and thematic ideas. So much thought has gone into creating something totally inappropriate for the film. And that is the concern. At least, the audience should do their job right. Don't tell G.V.Prakash that his score in the film is as terrific as the film and that it has elevated the film. It isn’t, and it hasn’t.

Vetri Maaran forced G.V.Prakash to adapt Godfather theme and use it in all the scenes between Pettaikaaran (V.I.S.Jayabalan) and Karuppu (Danush). Vetri Maaran, in an interview, mentioned that he wanted to use Godfather theme for Pettaikaaran, because, he wanted to show him as a father figure for Karuppu. It would then be a shock to the audience – the Tamils who, according to Vetri Maaran, think about Fellini’s Godfather in every breathing moment of their lives - when the grey shades of Pettaikaaran is revealed. Themes from Red Cliff and Chronicles of Narnia are blatantly lifted and played in the rooster fight episode in Aadukalam. “There is just only one episode, where I felt the score lived up to the film. The background score for the long rooster fight sequence is brilliant. There is just right amount of music at the right moments amidst ample stretches of silence and subtle music throughout this episode.” - That is what I wrote in this site about background score in rooster fight sequence, before I knew that those pieces were not original compositions.

Plagiarism, G.V.Prakash

That is not all. The De Lesseps’ Dance theme from Shakespeare in Love became the main theme of Deivathirumagal. In Mayakkam Enna, it is “Dead Already” from American beauty. G.V.Prakash has tried his best to make it his own by slightly tweaking the thematic melody, but by repeating the distinctive template of the original, he makes it fall in the blatant rip-off category. The “Dead Already” clone is played for the slideshow of the photographs clicked by Karthik. G.V.Prakash also uses this theme as Yamini’s phone ringtone. I guess Kudaikkal Mazhai is the only other Tamil film, in which a musical theme (composer – Karthik Raaja) from the background score of the film is used as the ringtone of the protagonist’s phone. But, in Kudaikkal Mazhai, these phone calls and the phone itself is a part of the narrative, hence the usage, but I guess we have to ask G.V.Prakash to know if there is any special reason for using the theme as the ringtone of Yamini’s mobile.

When I sent him a mail seeking an explanation for Red Cliff piece in Aadukalam, he politely replied saying that he would avoid using inspired piece in future. I don’t understand where the composers get the guts to plagiarize Hollywood film scores, without any fear of being sued by the original composers. In this internet era, everyone can see everything. The recent Deepak Dev (Urumi) case is a classic example.

Others

Of other films, composer Sathya’s background score in Engeyum Eppodhum was adequate for the film. Nithya Menon’s love theme in Nootrenbadhu composed by Sharreth is another favorite. As it has always been, Tamil film music composers, continue to give equal importance to songs and background scores. Of course, composers emerging from the land of Ilaiyaraaja can hardly be otherwise. Ilaiyaraaja was at his best, as usual, in Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai. Yuvan Shankar Raja made a leap in Aaranya Kaandam. Karthik Raja was happy assisting his brother in composing Mankatha background score. I don’t know what to make of G.V.Prakash. He tweeted that he is planning to release Aayirathil Oruvan background score in Mayakkam Enna CD, but it didn’t happen. Harris Jeyaraj did nothing notable in background score. I remember liking Dong Lee’s theme in Ezham Arivu.

Vijay Antony, who is not known for his background score composing abilities, released the theme of Velayutham from the background score of the film, on twitter, few days before the film’s release. I don’t know where Sundar C.Babu, who composed some noteworthy score for Mysskin’s films, is heading. I haven’t seen both Thoonga Nagaram and Poraali, but the audio CD of the both the films had instrumental theme music. As for Mouna Guru, I was so engrossed in the film that I didn’t pay any heed to what Thaman was playing in the background. The music CD has a very eerie instrumental theme, however. We can’t trust Thaman; he lifted entire cues from Dark Knight for Eeram background score.

Cartoonist turned film critic, Madan had some good things to say about Vidhyasagar’s background score in Thambi Vettothi Sundaram. I haven’t seen the film yet. A.R.Rahman didn’t compose music for any of the Tamil films released in 2011, but he released a collector’s edition audio CD of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya that had two cues from the background score of the film – Jessie’s Land and Shreya Ghosal’s Aaromalae Alaap. There were many more beautiful cues, some of which A.R.Rahman had reserved for Ek Deewana Tha audio CD. Composers K, M.Ghibran and Sathya made promising debuts in 2011. Overall, with respect to background score, 2011 was good.

Nadunisi Naigal

In Vijay TV Koffee with Anu show, Gautam Vasudev Menon interviewed Bharathiraaja, as part of the promotions of his film Nadunisi Naigal. In the show, Bharathiraaja seemed most curious to watch Nadunisi Naigal, not because the film is inspired by his Sigappu Rojakkal, but because the film has no background score. And Bharathiraaja’s curiosity is not surprising because he could not imagine his Sigappu Rojakkal without Ilaiyaraaja’s arresting background score.

Gautam Vasudev Menon made a brave attempt by not having music – not just songs but also background score – in his psychological thriller Nadunisi Naigal. I, from the very beginning, even before the film was released, felt that Gautam’s idea of not having background score emerged not from the confidence in his script or visual telling. Gautam’s idea seemed more practical than artistic. It seemed like a deliberate attempt to convert a crisis aesthetical and arty. To make a thriller to work with no background score is too high a feat to achieve. I have not seen the film, but going by the reports and the reviews, absence of a background score seems to be the least of all the problems in the film. Thus, 2011 began with a director attempting to raise a middle finger at the idea of having background score in films.

Nadunisi Naigal got me thinking, again, about the importance of background score in a film. It is a tool that could easily be done away with, if a filmmaker writes the visual narrative of the film keeping no background score in mind. Would Mysskin have choreographed the bridge action episode in the same, if he were to make the film without a background score? With due credits to composer K and what his music does to the emotional impact of the film if there is one film (in 2011)that would have worked equally well with no background music, it is Yudham Sei. However, Yudham Sei is not your regular Tamil film. What about commercial masala films? I do not know how, but when I downloaded officially released version of Dabangg from YouTube through Real player video downloader, I got a version without the background music. Did it happen to anyone else? I saw the film for the first time without any background music. But, even without the background score, the film was just as entertaining. Maybe, even Dabangg is not the right film to consider, for Baradwaj Rangan, after watching Dabangg and Singam (Tamil) remarked thus - “Though after Dabangg, I wonder what it'd be like if a director who's more than just a good technician (like Selvaraghavan, say) steps up to make a hardcore masala movie in Tamil”.

That debate aside. Menon is no Coen, and this is no country for movies without background music. Let us discuss it, when a Tamil film maker gives us an immersive movie watching experience without using a background score.

My 50 Favorite Cues from Tamil Film background scores in 2011

Sweet Memories

Bliss

Harp in Action

Aaranya Kaandam

Love Blossoms

Nothing But Wind

Mankatha

Poraali

Azhagarsamy Suite

Hangover

Velu in Kandeththankaadu

Vidya

Sweet Sixteen

The War

The Heist

Photography

Kizhakkum Merkum

Namboodiri

Food Con

Life Goes On

Kasturi

Love Theme

Kasi

Unlock the Safe

Festival

Ana Avanna

Chaos

Gajendran

Celtic Chase

A Tabla and A Trumpet

A Silent Victim

Ombodhu

Donation

Azhagar is back

Danger

Hope

Revenge

Hideous Lute

Love Birds

Sanjana

Kaavakaara Kiliyae

Spy in Raajazz

Goat Chase

A Tale

The Game Begins

Scottish God

Madhi

Flamenco Fight

Box

Orchestral Version of Best Song of the Year 2011

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Vaagai Sooda Vaa Background Score



On twitter, M.Ghibran, while he was composing the Vaagai Sooda Vaa score, asked his followers to suggest the instruments that they would like to hear in the background score of the film that is set in 1960s. I thought about it for a day or two. I wanted to suggest M.Ghibran to use a one-string bow instrument - the one we hear in the second interlude of A.R.Rahman’s Pachchakili Paadum Ooru (I gather that the name of this traditional Tamil instrument is Sirattai Kinnari). And Gab Gubbi, which M.Ghibran already used, in Thanjavooru Maadaththi song. But, I had totally forgotten to send him my suggestion.

Accordion, which M.Ghibran has used amply throughout the score of the film, never came to my mind. Composers did use accordion quite a lot in Tamil films in 1960s, but I am not sure if they used it in films set in a rural milieu. I vividly remember the presence of an accordion player in the Avalukkena Song video from Server Sundaram. When A.R.Rahman wanted to invoke the sound of classic old world, in Ay Hairathey song in Guru, and Pookodiyin Punnagai in Iruvar, he took to Accordion. But, these are songs.

To me, especially after having heard few world movie soundtracks, sound of accordion is purely European. The accordion piece played for introduction of Madhu would easily go with, say, an Amelie. The Vaagai Sooda Vaa score has plenty of Celtic violins too. However, I did not mind the usage of Accordion or Celtic violins in this film. They do not sound odd. They never seek my attention. They do not disturb the authenticity of the film’s universe.

M.Ghibran applies every rule in Tamil Film background music scoring book authored by Ilaiyaraaja. The instrumental versions of the songs, the somber versions of the happy tunes, the recurring motifs (Goat Chase theme), and jaunty music pieces for the male and female lead’s entry into the narrative, swelling orchestral pieces for the emotional moments and the details in the character motifs (Kuruvikaarar Theme) are all there. Kuruvikaarar theme is my favorite. M.Ghibran uses a haunting phrase of melody from the song of revolution Aana Aavanna for the key character Kuruvikaarar, who has been waiting forever to witness that revolution to happen. The most intriguing aspect of M.Ghibran’s score for Vaagai Sooda Vaa is the minimal usage of flute, which, if were used, could have diminished the harshness of the deserted and dry, barren lands of Kandeduththaankaadu that Sargunan intended to depict.

From Vaagai Sooda Vaa score, it is evident that M.Ghibran is a composer who can do much more than just arrange a background cue. He could spot or compose a malleable phrase of melody, and orchestrate the melody in varied shapes and forms to suit any given situation in the film, which is a key quality required for a background score composer. Listen to the piece he plays whenever Madhu hangs her face down in disappointment; it is that sweet and shy Violin motif from Sara Sara Sarakaaththu song, which M.Ghibran skillfully bends and orchestrates into a somber piece. In the orchestral version of Senga Soola Kaara that plays when innocent villagers happily bid adieu to Velu, Ghibran adds beautiful supporting and counter melodies to the main melody. That, he could have pitched the orchestral pieces less loud (too much of brass) for Aandai (Ponvannan) is my only grouse.

For the first time in Tamil film music history, the complete background score of a film was released on the internet by the composer for free. M.Ghibran released the entire background score of the film (28 cues) in CD quality on soundcloud.com. Thank You M.Ghibran!

Vaagai Sooda Vaa Film OST Unmix by MGhibran

Friday, November 11, 2011

Rockstar Background Score



Cues from Rockstar Background Score

Jo Bhi Mein - Movie Version
Mission Junglee Jawaani
Love Blossoms
Sherawali Ambe Maa
Ting a Ling in Prague
Hawa Hawa Meets Tum Ho
Tum Ho on Flute
Prelude to Aur Ho
Tum Ho on Guitar
Tum Ho Orchestral Version & Phir Se Udd Chala on Flute
Jordan is Heer Disease
End Credits

Rockstar Background score is one of the most restrained of all of Rahman's Indian film scores. The film is quiet throughout, with no music to push or exaggerate the emotions in the visuals. Even the scenes in which one usually expects music in the background, like say, when Jordan meets Heer for the first time, or when Heer finds Jordan in Prague, Rahman maintains an astounding silence. These stretches of silence further add to the intensity of emotions, especially in the latter half of the film. The most used musical piece in the background score of the film is the least heard piece of music in the entire soundtrack CD – the Synth soundscape that Rahman builds around Rumi’s poem. It is aptly used in some of the key moments of the film.

As I expected after hearing the soundtrack with fourteen songs, most of the background score cues are derived from the melody of the songs. There are no new musical themes. It certainly is not necessary to write new motifs, when you have sixty seven minutes of music already created for these very characters, their emotions and the situations. The haunting Tum Ho melody and its Piano motif, is interchangeably used as the recurring musical themes for love, passion, longing and pain of Jordan. It features in varied forms in the background score throughout the film. There is a techno Ting-a-ling (from Katiya Karoon) version that plays when Jordan and Heer do in Prague, what they did in India with the Punjabi version playing in the background.

This film is unthinkable without A.R.Rahman’s score. Imtiaz Ali has brilliantly married the music with the narrative. I like the idea of creating two versions of a song, one for the film and one for the Soundtrack CD. In CD version, Hawa Hawa ends with a solo Guitar playing the melody of the line “Azaadi dhedhe mujhe, mere Khudha”, whereas, in the film, the song ends with Kavitha Subramanian humming Tum Ho melody, because the visuals in those precise moments cannot have anything else playing behind, except Tum Ho. This deep interconnection between the film and the music was quite evident even before watching the film, when we heard a soprano whispering “Tum Ko” melody down underneath Orianthi Panagaris’s Guitar interlude – which in itself is an improvised Guitar version of Tum Ko melody - in Sadda Haq song.

I am still wondering why A.R.Rahman cued the guitar riff of Saadda Haq as background music in the scene in which Janardhan Jakad, comically, lists the pains that he had not gone through in his life. Ironically, Saadda Haq, he sings with a spitting angst, much later in his life, immediately after going through moments of heartbreak and pain. As the film has unusually minimal background score, I am sure some thought must have gone on every single cue that finally made it to the film. Hence, the choice of Saadda Haq guitar riff for Janardhan Jakad, who is yet to become Jordan, is intriguing. Well, when it is A.R.Rahman scoring, it is not just the film you keep thinking about days after watching it.

Rockstar Music Review



Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ilaiyaraaja's Happi



Watched the trailer of "Happi" (Directed by Bhavna Talwar) in PVR. Music is by Ilaiyaraaja. Pankaj Kapur is in Charlie Chaplin avatar. How it would be if Ilaiyaraaja scored music for a Charlie Chaplin movie? I guess, we would get to know when we watch this film. The trailer music is awesome. I guess it would be a soothing symphonic score with strings, Solo Violin and Oboe (which he recorded with Hungarian Musicians)

Listen to Happi Trailer Music by Ilaiyaraaja


Friday, September 30, 2011

Rockstar Music Review



That, one can never predict how an A.R.Rahman melody would flow in a song is common knowledge, but even by Rahman’s standards, the flow of the melody in “Phir Se Udd Chalaa” is stunning. Not a single phrase falls in line with your expectation. There is no groove to groove to. There is no hook to hook to. There is no comfort for a listener here, only twists and turns, surprises and more surprises. Rahman does give you a hook – “Tu too du”, but by the time you catch hold of it and prepare to settle down with the song, the song ends. But, of course, to give us some comfort, there is that Mandolin hook that Rahman introduces right in the beginning of the song and allows it loop throughout the song. That is how A.R.Rahman, even when he is at his lunatic self in experimenting with melody structures and song patterns, manages not to alienate the listeners. Also, all these thrills, chills and surprises in the melody are never employed in a song at the cost of the mood and emotion.

Who else, but A.R.Rahman could have the audacity to use those zany, delicately stacked “Ya Ya Ya” phrases as the sing-along phrase of a rock song in Jo Bhi Mein. I can not yet hum that phrase while I am not listening to the song. Rahman does not leave even the format of qawwali “Kun Faya Kun” untouched. Yet, the deviations in the structure of the song and not in the melody pattern happen not at Rahman’s whim in this song; it seems to have emerged from the demands of the situation in the film. Can Rahman ever settle for just some generic goodness with Qawwali? Rahman whips up an immersive divine fervor in every Sufi-qawwali composition, in the way only he can. Rahman sound, here, is in the melody. In my opinion, ever since Minsara Kanavu, the meaning of “Rahman sound” has changed. Rahman sound, now, is not characterized by dense layers of Synth loops. Even when he decides to build a soundscape with sounds and Synth loops, he does it in a way no other composer in the world could do – sample Aaj Dil from Blue.

These forever revealing layers in Rahman’s soundscape are now constructed from real instruments. Like, he does, so brilliantly in the groovy Hawa Hawa with multiple layers of all that is Tango and a middle-eastern tinge. Can Rahman ever go wrong with Middle-eastern stuff? The contour of the main melody in Hawa Hawa song has not yet revealed itself entirely to me, but I am instantly hooked and it is not just because of the Hawa Hawa hook. The melody, with its short phrases and sudden pauses, has an infectious charm despite the zig-zag sharp cuts it takes on its course. And that “Tango for Taj” is a Jaw dropping amalgamation of Tango and Mughal Music. The other instrumental track “The Dichotomy of Fame” with the Jugalbandhi of Balesh’s Shehnai and Kabuli’s Guitar has a familiar template (Yeh Jho Desh Instrumental from Swades) and yet the rooted flavor of the Shehnai melody makes it a refreshing soother.

With just a single Guitar refrain, Rahman Rahmanizes even an utterly traditional Punjabi melody in "Katiya Karoon". When that guitar refrain looms large in volume, in the final act of the song, the comforting feel it gives to a listener is inexpressible. It spreads a sense of positivity in the aura like no song did in the recent past. Nothing could explain this Rahman’s process of Rahmanizing a song better than incredibly funny and funky Seher Mein. A composer (Is it Anu Malik?) is teaching a song to the singer, and what the singer does with the basic melody that is given to him is what Rahman does to turn even the most conventional melody into his own.

Have you been longing for a song like that of vintage 90s A.R.Rahman? Then, "Tum Ko" (or Tum Ho) is for you. The haunting main motif (Aaaaaaaaaah Aaha Haaha), pristine Piano pieces, flute, tinkle bells, breezy strings, soft Synth pads come together to take us to a lonely, romantic wonderland. Want more? There is another version of the song that uses the dulcet registers of Kavitha Subramanian’s voice to its advantage, and with even more enchanting layers of Saarangi and Tabla.

Rahman’s soundtracks have always been eclectic. I thought Imtiaz Ali would finally make Rahman stick to one genre for the entire soundtrack. But he didn't. Rockstar is amazingly eclectic. Even within Rock, all the rock songs in Rockstar are entirely different from each other. There is the soothing soft rock in the intoxicating Jo Bhi Mein, psychedelic Sufi rock in Aur Ho, generically mixed forms of rock in exuberant Naadaan Parindey and grunge rock in anthemic Sadda Haq. Mohit Chauhan. The spitting anger in Sadda Haq, submission to the supreme in Kun Faya Kun, flamboyance in Phir Se Udd Chala, exuberance in Hawa Hawa, the longing in Tum Ho, the suffocation in Aur Ho – Mohit Chauhan nails every emotion to perfection is all the songs.

A.R.Rahman has always maintained that his music is a collective effort, and that his job is to musically realize a director’s vision. Imtiaz Ali’s vision has been triumphantly realized by Rahman in Rockstar soundtrack. The music, though enjoyable on its own, is deeply connected to the film which is why you hear a soprano whispering “Tum Ko” melody down underneath Orianthi Panagaris’s Guitar interludes in Sadda Haq. A.R.Rahman has come a long way as a “movie” music composer, and that is why he is the darling of all great Indian Filmmakers, and he would remain so. Is there any other Indian Composer, who remained the most sought after by most of the Indian filmmakers (whose films matter), even in his 20th year in business?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mankatha Background Score


The catchy trumpet theme has the power, punch and the attitude needed to back a charismatic hero, which Ajith is in this film. Yuvan Shankar Raja plays a very tricky game with listeners with this instrumental theme. It begins with string section playing the first half of the main trumpet theme. That is expected. That is the way to hint at a theme. You can’t play the complete theme instantly in the very beginning of the piece. That is a nice strategy to keep the listeners interested in the piece. We anticipate that after playing enough with the notes of the first half of the melody, the composer would lead us to a satisfactory end with the theme playing in its entirety at least once at an unexpected point before the track ends. While I was waiting for the composer to surprise me, Yuvan totally surprised me by not playing the theme in its entirety until the end. And that worked too. The theme always ends the moment it hits its peak note. Maybe, that is to imply the infallibility of the hero, because the second half of the theme actually descends down from the high point the theme reaches in the middle. This theme is used throughout the film whenever Vinayak Mahadev (Ajith) makes a surprise entry or does something unexpected in a scene. There aren’t many variations of this theme in the film except the one with additional heavy Rock Guitar layers and it plays in a crucial scene. The other important theme in the film is the strings-heavy heist theme which is used throughout the episode in which the Heist is planned and executed. Obviously, it is inspired by scores of various Hollywood action films, but sounds quite catchy and effective in this film. A piece with prominent brass section backed just by Tabla beats is used for a comical situation in the film. It sounds quite fresh and totally in sync with the situation for which it is used. Yet again, after Saroja (the Car toppling scene) and Aaranya Kaandam, Yuvan plays a western classical piece (or is it an Original composition?) for an action scene in this film too. Our film makers or sound designers are yet to learn their lessons when it comes to mixing the score with the film. As always, it is too loud in Mankatha too. Between, Background score assisted by Karthik Raja, Bhavatharini and Premgi Amaran it seems. Whatever that means!

Some of the cues from Mankatha Background Score

1. Trisha Intro

2. Tabla for Trumpet

3. The Spy

4. Hangover

5. The Heist Theme

6. Mankatha Theme

7. Violence Symphony


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Memoirs of a Rahmaniac



A.R. Rahman completes 20 Years in Indian Film music. I wish A.R. Rahman continues to make music that I like, like he has always been. So looking forward to the next two decades of A.R. Rahman’s music!

I started writing Memoirs of a Rahmaniac to post it in here on 20th anniversary, but as I kept pouring my heart out and writing about every little thing that happened in my life in association with A.R. Rahman’s music, the whole write-up grew so huge in size that I realized that it cannot be just a blog post. What started off as a 2000-word blog post became 18000-word e-book. I don’t have to add much to Memoirs of a Rahmaniac to make it the Autobiography of an A.R. Rahman fan. This was pretty much my life from 1992 – 2012.

A.R. Rahman is no Mozart. I am no Salieri. And Memoirs of a Rahmaniac is no Amadeus. But you get the idea.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Big Bang Symphony - A.R.Rahman


After writing this post (about A.R.Rahman’s Orchestral Concert at Hollywood Bowl), I kept thinking about the pieces that I would like to see performed when such a concert happens in India. Now here is something I put together which I would like to see performed as the opening act of the concert. I named it “Big Bang Symphony”. The transitions from one piece to another may sound rough and abrupt but I guess that is because of the difference in the audio quality of the source material. Also, there shouldn’t be any difficulty in making the transitions seamless with conjunctive phrases of music when adapting this piece for a live orchestra. The Synth layers and vocal parts could be easily transported to an equivalent instrument in the orchestra.

Big Bang Symphony


Some grand orchestral pieces from Shankar's films are strung togather in this suite, which I would like to call "A Gentleman, An Indian and a Mudhalvan - A.R.Rahman"

A Gentleman, An Indian and a Mudhalvan - A.R.Rahman


In Lagaan Suite, always only the "Once Upon a Time in India" theme is performed. This Lagaan Suite includes also the song "My heart it speaks" and its various instrumental versions, the "Waltz for Romance" and the flute piece from the opening credits of the film.

Lagaan Suite


I like the themes to appear in this order (Jwala Theme, Captain Gordon Theme, Mangal Pandey Theme, Biting the Cartridge, Rising, End Credits) in Mangal Pandey Suite.

Mangal Pandey Suite




Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A.R.Rahman at Hollywood Bowl - What went wrong?

Not many who watched A.R.Rahman’s concert with L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra live at Hollywood Bowl seem to have liked it. They expected a regular sing-song A.R.Rahman concert, though A.R.Rahman himself mentioned in many of his pre-concert interviews that this is not a regular concert and that the orchestra would be performing themes from his film scores. Even if not for these interviews, the moment one sees L.A. Philharmonic orchestra, one could have guessed that it is not one of those Jai Ho concerts. Your ignorance is not Rahman’s fault. Also, instrumental music is not everyone’s cup of tea. But, that is not the problem. Irrespective of the expectations of the audiences, if music performed had that magical power to infuse a sense of joy in the hearts of the people, no one would have complained.

I did not watch A.R.Rahman’s concert with L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra live at Hollywood Bowl. It is not fair to pass a judgment without having the first-hand experience, but still these YouTube videos do give a strong sense of what it was like when they were performed, live. After watching all the dirty quality videos of the concert in YouTube, I feel I also would not have liked the concert if I were there. What was wrong? I can only say why I would not have liked it, even if I had gone there expecting a concert with Orchestra performing Rahman’s instrumental film scores.

I do not like listening to orchestral concerts in the open-air auditorium, no matter how powerful a sound system you provide. The nuances in orchestral pieces are best experienced in a closed auditorium. And A.R.Rahman is no John Williams. Rahman’s orchestral pieces mostly are not chaotic, unpredictable, and bombastic and intricately layered enough to engage me in a live concert in an open auditorium. Rahman’s is mellifluous, haunting tunes that are just expanded on an orchestra with different sections playing supporting parts. Such pieces require the walls of a closed auditorium to give the audience an immersive experience. Compare the experience of listening to the performance of "Mausam and Escape" in Nobel Peace Prize concert with that of in Hollywood Bowl.

I am glad to read that Rahman is planning for one such concert in India. I hope that when it happens, it happens in a closed auditorium. There may not be closed auditoriums in India that could pack in 20,000 people, which is the minimum number of attendees of any given Rahman concert. But, filling the hearts of a given number of people with joy and satisfaction is much better than merely filling a given auditorium space with more people most of whom would leave with a sense of disappointment.

The idea of playing visuals from the films in that giant screen has gone terribly wrong. I understand the purpose, non-Indian audiences and all that. But, this is ridiculous. The screen shows frantic action sequences from Endhiran, when the orchestra is performing a calm and subdued version of “Pudhiya Manidha”. It is such a distracting contrast. It totally turns off one’s interest in the music piece. And when you have Rajini on screen doing all those stunts, I wonder if anyone would paid any attention to the orchestral music.

The audience cheered in the middle of Lagaan theme because the peak in the crescendo was perfectly synced with the visual of Aamir hitting that epic winning shot. This is the amount of satisfaction that a perfectly synchronized music and visuals can give the audience, but it looks like that did not happen in any of the pieces performed except Lagaan.

“Arima Arima” chant by Ragapella group was totally out of sync with the orchestra. Also, the number of singers singing “Arima Arima” is less. It totally lacked the grandeur and was not effective. In an interview, Rahman told that he recorded Arima choir parts with 20 voices and overdubbed it multiple times to make it sound like a grand choir. At least 50 singers should have been there on the stage singing that part for that piece to be effective enough.

I am not sure if the suites compiled from the films’ cues were tight enough. There were too many middling loose moments in the middle of the piece. The transition from one cue to another in a suite is particularly crucial. It should be neither abrupt nor take too long. Seamless is the word. In Robot Suite, the middle section lingered far too long on ‘Pudhiya Manidha’ melody. There are so many other bombastic pieces in Robot. The whole suite includes only film’s End Credits music and few variations of Arima song. Mangal Pandey Suite also had the same problem.

For “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” Suite, of all pieces from the film, they have chosen ‘Desert Storm’. I love that piece. However, considering that the performance is for a live audience, most of whom may not have heard the piece before, I doubt if it is a right choice. Instead, ‘Mountains’ would have worked better. It has a serene melody and is richly orchestrated with wood winds and strings. Not to mention, the most bombastic of all pieces, ‘Warriors of Heaven and Earth’, a suite of this film’s score without this piece, for me, is unthinkable. I do not know if they were played in the concert. None of the videos in YouTube has a full version of the performance of this piece.

Most of the pieces were performed in a tempo lesser than that of the original (especially the End Credits cue from Mangal Pandey in Mangal Pandey Suite) and this I guess is one of the main reasons why the pieces sounded long and tiring.

I liked the orchestral version of Lathika’s theme and Mausam and Escape from Slumdog Millionaire, though they were stretched tad too long. Did Naveen play the Lathika’s theme as a solo on Indian flute? I could not hear it properly in the YouTube videos. Lathika’s theme sounds its best on an Indian flute. Naveen, as always, was brilliant in Bombay theme. However, I never liked western orchestra playing Bombay theme. The way the strings orphan the notes in the very first bar is something an ear trained to listening to the original cannot stand. I do not know how to play a Violin. Is it so difficult to bow and pluck the notes in that phrase with the required fluidity on Violin?

I am not much in favor of putting a symphony orchestra behind Rahman’s songs. I could not recognize that the orchestra is playing “Tamizha Tamizha” melody, until the brass section took it over for the final crescendo of the song. “Cry of a Rose” is a Naveen show, symphony orchestra does not add much to the experience. However, “Naan Varuvaenae” is one of those few Rahman songs to which we could put a symphony behind. I would love to listen to it in better quality. But, in this concert, Rahman’s singing of “Naan Varuvaenae” was quite tentative and lacked the soul of the original.

The only piece I have no complaints about in the concert is ‘Intervention’ from Couples Retreat. The strings section is this piece is purely divine, and Rahman’s alaaps were perfectly in sync with the orchestra. I do not know what other pieces were included in Couples Retreat Suite. Jason and Cynthia theme suite is a must, I guess. I would be happy if someone uploaded full version of Couples Retreat Suite. Also, I am eager to know what was performed in 127 Hours suite. If "Liberation theme" were included in the suite, wonder how they had managed to perform it without Guitars.

As a Rahmaniac, I am dying to watch such a symphonic concert in India, but hope the execution is far better than it was in Hollywood bowl. “Anything that goes out of my studio has to be good”, said A.R.Rahman. I hope he extends that policy to his live concerts too.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Avan Ivan Background Score


Avan Ivan is Bala's worst film. Yuvan Shankar Raja has done his job right. Listen to some of the cues I liked in the background score of the film.

Opening Credits

Highness

Unlock

Love Theme

Ombodhu


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

10th Anniversary of Lagaan





Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan is the most definitive Indian film that truly crossed over and appealed to people from all over the world. Moreover, that Lagaan is the first Hindi film I ever saw in a cinema hall, is what makes this film special for me. I saw Lagaan at least four times within one month of its release in a theatre called Suprageet in Salem. Today we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the release of Lagaan. And here I write or rather I should say re-re-write, again, on Lagaan background score, which is A.R.Rahman’s best yet. Lagaan is one of those films for which A.R.Rahman composed Ilaiyaraaja-level background score.

Complete Lagaan Score (32 mins)



In Lagaan, every known ingredient of a typical Indian masala film is in near perfect proportions. A.R.Rahman had to follow and use almost every single film scoring rule and technique for writing the background score of Lagaan. Every principal character gets a musical theme. Every dramatic moment gets an uplifting music score. Every song’s melody is used appropriately in the background score throughout the film. Every musical theme that is not based on any of the song’s melody is deliberately tuned catchy, so that it could get a life even out of the film. There are big bangs and grand orchestral outbursts. There are moments with measured silence amidst ample music. Every tear-jerking moment is filled with an instrumental soliloquy. Every instrument in the score is carefully chosen, and every piece is carefully orchestrated to convincingly transport us, a century back in time. The beauty of Lagaan’s background score lies in the way all of these techniques come up in the right proportion, in the right context, in the right moments of the film.

Distinct musical themes are written for principal characters in a film. They add a sense of uniqueness to each of the characters, and help the audience understand the characters quickly. The theme could be inspired by any aspect of a character; it could be their mannerism, body language or attitude, relationship with other principal characters or their prevalent mood and emotions. The main theme of the characters plays when they first appear on the screen or when a trait of theirs, which is critical for the drama, is established for the first time in the film. It recurs whenever the focus is shifted to that particular character, or whenever the characters establish that unique trait of theirs, based on which the theme music is written.

In a film like Lagaan, which has a running time of more than 200 minutes, a film maker cannot waste screen time in elaborately establishing the nature of every single character of the vast and varied ensemble. Within the given screen space and time, Ashutosh seemed to have done his best and delegated the rest to Rahman. Rahman’s character themes are crucial in this film, helping the audience to understand the uniqueness of every single character that the film maker wants to highlight. Rahman has written distinct musical themes for Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), Gauri (Gracy Singh), and Bhuvan’s mother (Suhasini Mulay), Captain Russell (Paul Blackthorne), Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), Laakha (Yashpal Sharma), Guran (Rajesh Vivek), Goli (Daya Shankar Pandey), Bagha (Amin Hajee), Tippu (Amin Gazi), Ishwar Kaka (Shri Vallabh Vyas) and Yardley (Chris England).

Conventionally, in an Indian film, a hero’s or main protagonist’s theme appears when the character’s face is first shown or when their characteristics are first revealed in the film, giving a cue for the fans to stand and cheer up for their hero, when they watch the film in cinema halls. Lagaan is not a regular Indian masala film to have a grand hero introduction scene, in which a hero could appear onscreen with the backing of blowing trumpets, and throttling orchestra. There is no any specific musical theme for Bhuvan in Lagaan, though there is a music piece that recurs in scenes that establish his courage. This piece is not exclusively used for Bhuvan, but still, it could be termed as one of Bhuvan's theme.

When we see Bhuvan for the first time on screen, he is in the forest, aiming to hit a deer with a stone in his hand, and we are not quite sure about his nature yet. Later, when we come to know that he was trying to distract the deer from getting hunted by Captain Russell, we realize his true colour. The brassy orchestral piece with pounding drums, pumping up the energy in the action, as Bhuvan runs alongside the deer, works on two levels, one, as a grand establishment of Bhuvan’s courage and his empathetic nature and the other as the racy and rushing incidental action music. The same brass piece plays when Bhuvan comes forward to pick the ball and picks it despite an English man warning them not to touch the ball. It perfectly fits for Bhuvan’s dare and the subsequent tension in the scene. The notable variation in music in this scene is the elimination of the pounding drums, which makes the music sound in sync with the tempo of this scene. The music piece is again used, much later in one of the most crucial moments of the film, for a totally different purpose. It is when Bhura (Raghuvir Yadav) gets himself out to save Bhuvan. With heavy bangs of Piano chords perfectly echoing Bhura’s confusion, the music keeps up the overall shock factor and tension throughout the scene.

Captain Russell’s theme speaks of his arrogance. Bass strings playing discrete phrases of eerie melody and the sound of wind Chimes speak of menace and arrogance of Captain Russell. The sound of Wind chimes is an intriguing choice here. Wind chimes produce music, when a relatively harsh wind or an object forcefully disturbs the peacefully hanging metal tubes that are arranged in a defined pattern. Captain Russell’s arrogance being the harsh wind here disturbs the peace of villagers leading to all the noise, music, chaos and drama. Captain Russell’s theme first appears when Russell points the gun at Bhuvan, threatening to kill him for distracting the deer that he was trying to hunt. It is also used in some of the most crucial moments of the film - when Captain Russell asks a vegetarian - Raja Puran Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), to eat meat and when Captain Russell tells villagers that it is possible to cancel the tax on one condition. These are moments, when the arrogance of Captain Russell is at its peak, and the decisions that he takes out of arrogance in these scenes are critical for all the subsequent action and drama.

In Captain Russell’s theme, there is also a subdued wily melody that plays on a wind instrument, which initially sounds to imply teary eyed Bhuvan’s remorse for hunted deer. This subtle windy melody recurs when Captain Russell meets Bhuvan again in the cricket field and says "Jungle mein thum hi the naa" (Are you the one who was there in the jungle the other day?), to our realization that it is a theme to establish the gradually growing friction between Bhuvan and Captain Russell. Bringing that melody again in this scene aurally reminds us the negative vibes and friction that had already developed between Bhuvan and Captain Russell in the earlier scene.

In a series of events, while the film establishes its principal characters, their characteristics and the nature of relationships they share with each other, through the visuals, so does the musical score. The composer not just gives a theme to each one’s characteristics but also introduces a theme to the vibes in their relationship - in this case it is the gradually growing animosity between Bhuvan and Captain Russell, which is pivotal for the drama that is going to unfold. This way of linking scenes and emotions of two different scenes through music cues indicates that there was a genuine thought process behind writing the score of every single scene of the film.

Gauri’s theme is for her jealousy towards Bhuvan and Elizabeth’s growing friendship. Gauri’s character turns jealous only after Elizabeth comes into Bhuvan’s life, so it would not be appropriate to use Gauri’s jealousy theme in her introduction scene itself. However, it might not have sounded odd, because a part of Gauri’s jealousy theme fits for the beauty of Elizabeth. It plays for Goli's expression, who gets awed by Elizabeth as we see him in that round trolley shot of him looking stunned with his mouth open. The use of Gauri’s Jealousy theme for Elizabeth’s beauty is justified in a way, as it is the Elizabeth’s beauty that makes Gauri insecure and jealous.

In Gauri’s introduction scene, the Camera slowly moves from focusing on Gauri’s palm to upwards. While the visuals reveal her cute face, Rahman starts the music precisely from the moment we see Gauri’s palms and hear her voice. Rahman treads a conventional path, with earthy flute and serene Santoor playing vibrant melodies and folksy Dholaks beating rhythms to match with the inherent innocence and pleasing nature of the character. In Gauri’s jealousy theme, however, the doubtful melody on flute, multilayered sounds and subdued percussions precisely underline the turbulence in Gauri’s mind. Gauri's Jealousy theme plays in all the scenes, where the focus is on Gauri’s furrowed eyebrows as she watches Bhuvan and Elizabeth talk cordially with each other.

Jealousy is an evil but Rahman differentiates the jealousy of Gauri from that of Laakha in the score. Though Gauri is jealous, there is a fun element in it for the audience, but the same cannot be said about the jealousy of Laakha. While Rahman uses a flute for both, he brings in the difference by pitching the Laakha’s theme much lower than that of Gauri’s.

Laakha’s theme is a short menacing melody played in the lower registers of a flute. The windy sound, with which the melody is deliberately played, brings with it an evil aura. It suits the jealousy, cunningness and evil intentions of Laakha. Laakha’s theme plays in the first scene in which he appears, wasting no time in hinting at his nature. The flute piece recurs whenever Laakha plays against his own team in the final match, secretly supporting the opponents in order to quench his thirst for vengeance on Bhuvan.

It is surprising how the same melody conveys a totally different emotion of the same character, when shifted from lower registers of a flute to higher registers of a violin. When Laakha finally confesses and tells Bhuvan why he is playing against his own team in the match, the violin version of the theme played in a much lesser tempo is used. We tend to sympathize with him when this melody on violin instantly turns the dark shades of Laakha to grey. We are almost moved to tears when the violin version of the theme makes one final appearance for Laakha, who gets miserably hit out by Yardley’s tricky, wild and wily spell.

Yardley’s theme is for his bowling style. It is his fiery bowling style that brings in some sober moments for the Champaner team. His theme is single gong of a church bell resonating with a tone of menace. Whenever he aims for hitting the batsman’s head with his ball, Yardley’s action is captured on screen like a visual motif – camera lingers on, as he exchanges the ball between his two hands and it slowly moves up to reveal teeth-clenching fury in his face. Whenever this visual motif appears before the delivery of a ball, we are sure that the batsman is in danger. Rahman’s gonging bell motif fuels our fear further.

Goli’s theme is for his unique bowling style. Goli rotates his hand many times before releasing the ball. This action confuses the batsmen who face his delivery. The batsman becomes unsure of when to time his hit. The theme for this action is a rhythm on a percussion that sounds like that of an earthy south Indian percussion instrument called ‘Udukkai’, with an additional layer of hits on a triangle, looping around. This rhythm plays in Goli's introduction scene, in which we see Goli rotating his hand many times before throwing stones at Bhura’s Chickens. The film maker cleverly convinces the audience by pre-introducing Goli’s technique thereby making his bowling action in the match natural and convincing. Rahman gives a nod to the film maker by using a common theme to link Goli’s bowling style and his stone throwing technique, and as a bonus, the rhythm naturally enhances the comic flavour in the scenes where batsmen look bewildered by the unpredictability in Goli’s spell.

Rahman makes a percussion instrument - Dhol, to play a character in the film score. Dhol beat is the voice of the mute percussionist Bagha. He always expresses his emotions by playing rhythms on Dhol. Bagha’s introduction scene starts with an energetic Dhol rhythm, which he plays to call all the villagers and make them witness the rain clouds finally coming over to their village. The same rhythm is exactly used when he finally gets his catch right in the match (after missing many critical catches) implying how inseparable Bagha’s emotions and Dhol rhythms are. Like how, each language has a definite word to convey something, Rahman gives definite rhythm patterns for each of Bagha’s emotions. He links Bagha’s excitement in seeing the rain clouds and his excitement in catching the ball with the same rhythm pattern. Rahman, who uses a Shehnai or violin or Saarangi for sober moments of Champaner, shrewdly uses raw Dhol beats with deafening silence in between each stroke, to imply Bagha’s disappointment, when Bagha, the batsman gets out in no time.

Guran’s theme is for his funny beggar-saint looks and his unique body language. The theme music is multilayered with varied percussions playing rhythms that match with Guran’s walking and bowling style. There is also a layer with Ektara plucking its strings in sync with the beat for Guran’s saint-like looks. Guran’s theme first joins him, when he picks the ball, walks up to Bhuvan, and tells him that he is with him. The theme comes back to him again in the final match when Guran starts to bowl, plays smart and picks a wicket. A rhythm on Kanjira plays out in a slower tempo creating a mild anticipation when Guran bowls his first ball. We take Guran seriously when the tempo of Kanjira rhythm slightly increases in the second delivery. Guran theme finally starts to play when he fiercely walks forward, fully confident of throwing the batsman out with this delivery. It continues to play for the euphoria he whips up by winning a wicket in the third delivery. The same rhythm of Guran recurs when he comes to bat, but interestingly Rahman turns silent after that. With all that odd posturing of his, in front of the wicket and aggressive batting, Rahman is too aware that Guran’s innings is not going to continue for long. There is nothing dramatic that happens in this episode and so no music.

A classic western melody, oozing with romance is Elizabeth’s love theme. Throughout the film, this theme never jumps on to any Indian instrument and is always elaborated differently with symphonic western orchestration. The Elizabeth’s love theme comes from the melody of the English part "My heart it speaks" of Oh re chori song. Elizabeth’s introduction scene does not have this theme; instead, Rahman uses the flute piece from the title score. Elizabeth’s introduction scene comes right after the tense moments between Russell and Bhuvan in the deer-hunting episode in the forest. The grim feel in the previous scene is suddenly relieved when we hear a pleasant western flute playing a mellifluous melody. The melody instantly communicates the charm, dignity and tenderness of the character in focus. It would be totally wrong to use the main love theme here, because Elizabeth is yet to meet Bhuvan.

Elizabeth’s love theme first appears as an Oboe solo when Elizabeth, impressed by the courage of Bhuvan, passionately fixates her eyes on him and asks what his name is. With Elizabeth’s eyes fixed firmly on Bhuvan and with Rahman’s romantic melody filling the communication gap - if any that could arise, we realize what Elizabeth begins to feel for Bhuvan. The theme that just appeared on a solo instrument gets a heavy orchestral backing, when Elizabeth secretly comes out of the cantonment. She does so to meet the villagers and help them in learning cricket, against the will of her brother Captain Russell. In this version, an Oboe takes over the theme with the strings section rushing through and pizzicato plucking under, for Elizabeth’s curiosity. For the visuals showing Elizabeth running out, it may sound odd to have the love theme, but it is fully justified as we know that she is going not only to help the villagers but also for her love towards Bhuvan. We get to know the reason behind her urgency at the end of this episode, when she proposes her love to Bhuvan.

The mellowed strings section plays a deeply emotional melody in this love-proposal scene. The strings here bring out a state of desperation, longing, pain, suffocation, and earnest love. The emotion peaks and chokes with an aching solo Cello piece, when she is fighting a battle within herself before saying ‘I Love you’ to Bhuvan, who does not understand English. The whole strings section piece from this scene plays again, in the climax, when Elizabeth bids farewell to all villagers. The difference in this music, when it is used in the climax is that there is an additional Indian flute piece layered over, which plays out precisely when Elizabeth hugs Bhuvan’s mother. It is Rahman’s musical way of saying ‘Here she is, an English lady returning to her homeland with an Indian in her heart and as an Indian at heart’.

Ishwar Kaka is known as a doctor and Gauri’s father for the most part of the film. There are no scenes focusing on Ishwar Kaka until he comes to bat in the final match. Finally, here comes his theme. It is a string of Tanpura straining and droning for the strained and exhausted Ishwar Kaka, whose stamina and energy seem to be fading after each run.

The little boy Tipu, the runner of the injured batsman Ismail (Raj Zutshi) gets a musical theme for energy and enthusiasm he shows when he gets an opportunity to contribute on the cricket field. In Tipu’s theme, the flute piece that traverses notes in a hyper speed perfectly fits for the speed with which Tipu crosses the grease to fetch more runs for his team. After Tipu comes in, overall momentum of the game increases. Bhuvan and Ismail are scoring runs nonstop. The pounding percussion rhythms and riffing guitar in the cue capture this sudden acceleration of momentum in the game and it adds to the euphoria in the high-scoring moments of Champaner team.

The momentum picks up further with Rahman shifting to the folk rhythm of ‘Mitwa’ song that has a maddening increase in tempo on every next cycle of the beat. The camera slowly shifts its focus onto Tipu, who is running between the wickets. Russell (off-screen) and we, the audience, realize the mistake that Tipu has been making for a while and when the tempo of the rhythm is about to reach its peak, the music stops suddenly, along with the puzzled Tipu, who stops after running out of the grease. When Tipu begins to run and moves out of the grease-line even before the delivery of the ball, the bowler hits the stumps. This scene is one small sample of how powerful an impact a precise shift in the score can bring in a scene. The impact, the surprise, and the shock we get and the suddenness of it all in this scene is unthinkable without Rahman’s technique of accelerating the percussion rhythm to extreme tempo and applying a sudden brake at the peak.

For the scenes in which the spot light is on Deva Singh Sodhi (Pradeep Rawat) – a Punjabi and the only experienced Cricket player in Champaner team, Rahman adds a quintessential Punjabi flavour in the score. In Deva's introductory scene, we get to listen to the strings from the title score, but with Rahman plucking a Tumbi string, the music gets a typical Punjabi flavour, and it marks the entry of a Punjabi character. The Bhangra music plays for the euphoria and the joy of Champaner team when Deva gets the last wicket. Rahman could have easily used the same ‘Mitwa’ rhythm here which he used for other wickets, but it is Deva (a Punjabi) who is getting the wicket, and it has to be Bhangra.

In Tipu’s theme, there is a brief pizzicato phrase. We can hear it in the beginning of the piece, as it plays when Ram Singh announces that Tipu will be the runner for Ismail. The sound of this pizzicato phrase aptly fits for an unexpected twist in the tale. The same pizzicato piece plays in another unexpected event that turns out to be the game changer. It is when Bhuvan realizes that Kachra, whose spin was not working in the beginning of the game, can deliver the ball with that magical spin now. Now that, the ball has become older, Kachra’s spin begins to work, which leads to the exhilarating Kachra’s hat trick episode. When Kachra gets his first wicket, we just get to hear a happy rhythm, but nothing substantial happens in the score, and in the second wicket, the same rhythm repeats. Only when Kachra gets his third wicket in a row, the uplifting interlude music of the ‘Mitwa’ song plays in its entirety moistening everyone’s eyes. The same piece of music was used when Bhuvan tells the villagers that it is this crippled Kachra, who is going to win the game for them. Bhuvan’s prediction has come true and Rahman acknowledges it by repeating the musical motif.

This interlude of the ‘Mitwa’ song plays in many moments throughout the film. It links all the scenes in which the villagers, one after the other come and join the team and boost up Bhuvan’s courage and confidence in winning the bet. It is first used when Gauri comes to meet Bhuvan at midnight to tell Bhuvan that she is with him. The song itself plays in its entirety when Goli and Ishwar Kaka join the team. It reprises again when Ismail and Arjun join the team and finally when villagers, who were initially against having a person from lower caste in the team, agree to include Kachra in the team. These happy moments would not have suffered much without this piece, and some random, euphoric plucking of Sitar would have worked, but still Rahman chose to link these moments of similar emotion with a common musical theme. It is choices like these that transform a film score from being just right to indispensable.

Rahman uses the melody of the songs in the right amount and at right places in the film. The rousing Chale Chalo melody plays in the scene where Bhuvan demonstrates the game of Cricket to the villagers. The melody is not used as it is; Rahman orchestrates the melody according to the actions in the scene. The melody first appears on a lighter note in Guitar, and then gets little more serious and curious on a flute, aping the anxiety of the villagers, who are waiting to see Bhuvan hitting the ball. The melody then moves down to lower registers of strings aping the nervousness of Bhuvan, who is well aware that people are watching him in anticipation. Finally, it moves away from the song’s melody to a pleasant flute and sitar flourish to sound the excitement of villagers on seeing Bhuvan hitting the ball and the ball in turn hitting temple bell, which to the villagers sound like a go-ahead green signal from the God.

Just like how ‘My heart it Speaks’ melody turns into Elizabeth’s theme, the instrumental version of ‘Oh re chori’ becomes the love theme of Bhuvan and Gauri. The love theme plays right from the first scene in which we see Bhuvan and Gauri together having their conversation at leisure, and it instantly hints at the romance between the two, which had ripened much before Ashutosh Gowariker decided to tell their story.

The real genius of Rahman is in the way he brings all these melodies from the songs together to underscore the multilayered happenings in the climax, when finally Champaner wins the challenge. It starts with soul stirring strings playing the rousing melody from the interlude of ‘Mitwa’ song that perfectly matches with the emotional outburst of us - the audience and the villagers in that precise winning moment, and it then continues with rhythm from the Mitwa song for the joyful dancing of villagers in the moment of victory. Soon a small phrase of signature melody from ‘Oh re chori’ plays on Indian flute for the shot of Bhuvan and Gauri hugging each other. Immediately another sober western flute piece emerges for Elizabeth’s disappointment on seeing Gauri and Bhuvan together. All these pieces play in multiple layers, over the ‘Mitwa’ rhythm that continues to dance in the background.

Just because, the focus now is on Bhuvan-Gauri-Elizabeth love triangle Rahman does not cut off the rhythm to which the villagers are dancing in the background. Rahman just overlays the love themes over the rhythm, just like how the visuals overlap all of these different emotions of characters as one single event. Suddenly, music and dance stops. The score begins to sing Ghanan Ghanan melody when rain clouds approach. When finally rain god blesses the villagers with its shower, the chorus bursts into singing Ghanan melody, creating an eternal gooseflesh moment in cinema that would stay in our mind decades after watching the film. The chorus does not sing the lines, or subvert the melody with a hum; they sing the melody with open-mouthed ‘Aahs!’ because it was precisely a moment of euphoria for them and us. The melody of a Rahman’s song never matched a situation in a film as much as Ghanan melody matched in that precise moment in Lagaan.

There are many other scenes in Lagaan where the score precisely follows the trajectory of emotions and moods in the scene. There is music throughout the scene in which Bhuvan contemplates about and subsequently accepts Captain Russell’s challenge. Background score for this scene is another example of how a score’s precision to the changing emotions and moods of the scenes is so crucial to create the right impact. The score starts with Russell’s theme, indicating that Russell’s arrogance has come to the fore once again and that it is going to create a serious twist in the story.

When Russell and Bhuvan talk about cricket match, subtle, deep drum beats from behind prepares and hints at us about something crucial that is going to happen. When finally Russell starts to explain his challenge, a trumpet slowly rises from behind, and as he further enhances the bet, massive strings section kick starts a turbulence which Russell’s words have started creating in Bhuvan’s mind. The thumping beats with running strings in the background precisely cursors that a lot is running in Bhuvan’s mind at this moment, as he looks shocked, confused and surprised all at once. There is a constant bass in the background that keeps the tension intact. The bangs for all the shocks and surprises – the prominent one being for Bhuvan’s acceptance of the challenge are placed aptly. The whirlwind of strings in the end of the episode add to the chaos unleashed after Bhuvan accepts the challenge, while the helpless villagers run behind their King Raaja Puran Singh, who leaves the place without saying a word.

The thumping beats and running strings we heard for Bhuvan’s turbulence in this betting scene play to a greater effect in another crucial moment when Laakha is shown flying in the air, in a slow-motion shot, to catch the ball. Change in Laakha's character is a radical twist in the drama, without which Champaner would have never won the match. There is no layer of strings this time. The thumping beats play to create the effect and a sitar joins later to emphasize the ecstasy of Champaner team, when Laakha begins to play for Champaner and gives it all for winning the game.

The thumping beats and running strings play again in the climax, when Bhuvan gets his last chance to win, in the last ball of the match. Suddenly, the energy comes rushing. There is a sign of hope. We as an audience, who were already sitting at the edge of the seat, adjust ourselves to sit comfortably and confidently again. There is a sense of relief when we come to know that we have one more ball. That, Bhuvan’s regain of energy, and that which made us, sit comfortably again is not just the twist in the story and its visual staging, but also the energy that every beat Rahman pumped along with it.

For Champaner team’s struggling times in the cricket field, Rahman uses a short aching violin piece. It plays in the scenes in which British team continuously hits boundaries and sixers. At the end of day’s play, with 99 runs for 4 wickets, heads look down, eyes are filled with despair, and Rahman pours in the helplessness and the sense of loss with a deep Bansuri piece and a yearning female alaap.

Majestic brass themes for Russell’s horse riding scenes add to the authenticity of the period that the film wants to recreate.

The Title music that starts off with a beautiful flute piece acts as a primer for the audience to comfortably enter into the British era in which the film is set in. Ashutosh Gowariker’s intention in showing us the properties from those periods along with credits are clearly to prime the audience and take them back in time, to an era in which this story happens. When Indian elements are on focus, Rahman uses Indian sounds and instruments. When British properties and Victoria’s paintings come under spotlight, the music enters a dark orchestral zone with turbulent rhythms, symphonic strings and wily flutes.

In a film stuffed dense with many layers, a composer cannot use a single theme for the film as a whole. In Lagaan too, there is no single music theme that represents the whole film. However, there is one music theme, which was included as a track titled as ‘Lagaan – Once Upon a time in India’ in the film’s song album. This piece of music gets repeated throughout the film without referring to any single character. This theme has two distinct parts, one - a soft, melodic humming sung by Anuradha Sriram, which plays for all scenes focusing on Bhuvan’s mother, and the second part is Hey bhaiyya choote Lagaan - a spirited anthem of the villagers that plays for all dramatic, uplifting moments.

Hey bhaiyya choote Lagaan part of the theme plays in a subdued form when Amitabh Bachchan’s voiceover explains about the functioning of the government and Lagaan in that era. It is loudly used in its entirety in the scene where each member of the Champaner team walks forward and stands with ample confidence in their eyes, in front of Captain Russell. It plays when Bhuvan and Deva enter the field as opening batsmen. When Raam Singh announces that we have 20 Overs left for the day, the main theme of Lagaan starts playing in its entirety again, increasing the already raising momentum in the game to new heights.

Finally, there is this enthralling, nail biting last over of the match, where Rahman’s score is perfect, bang on, hitting right notes at right spots. Rahman puts us right in the middle of the cricket field in Champaner, by bowing the bass registers of Cello and hitting high octaves of Piano to tickle to the restlessness that prevails for each ball that is being bowled to the crippled batsman Kachra. When the whole village cries out for Kachra to hit the last ball, the strings slowly gather to a crescendo. It then comes to a deafening halt when Kachra’s hit does not yield the necessary run. When luck favours them with another ball, everyone is relieved. The momentum builds up again with Rahman shrewdly bringing up the same whirling strings and thumping rhythms that he already used for Bhuvan’s contemplation in accepting Russell’s challenge. We sit back firmly in our seats. Various thoughts pile up one after the other in Bhuvan’s mind, when he is preparing to hit the ball. Yardley comes running to bowl. There is a deafening silence except the sound of an accelerated wind throttling through a nozzle. Bhuvan hits the ball hard with all the energy that is left in his body. We hear the sound the ball makes as it touches the bat. It is the hardest Bhuvan ever hit the ball in this match. Ball goes flying in the air in slow motion. A powerful brass section intermittently pumps up tension, as we see the ball flying to fall directly in the hands of Russell. Rahman hits two banging strokes of shock when Russell catches the ball. Umpire looks at Russell’s legs and the boundary line, and then raises his hands to the sky. The rest is history.