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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.


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


Harp in Action

Aaranya Kaandam

Love Blossoms

Nothing But Wind



Azhagarsamy Suite


Velu in Kandeththankaadu


Sweet Sixteen

The War

The Heist


Kizhakkum Merkum


Food Con

Life Goes On


Love Theme


Unlock the Safe


Ana Avanna



Celtic Chase

A Tabla and A Trumpet

A Silent Victim



Azhagar is back




Hideous Lute

Love Birds


Kaavakaara Kiliyae

Spy in Raajazz

Goat Chase

A Tale

The Game Begins

Scottish God


Flamenco Fight


Orchestral Version of Best Song of the Year 2011



Aakarsh said...

What a wonderful post! Couldnt identify with lot of stuff in the 2nd half of the article, because I havent watched those tamil films. But I did enjoy your write up about Ilaiyaraaja in the 1st half. Balki's narration captured by you is a true teasure! I cant thank you enough for that!

Keep writing!

Ganapathy Ram said...

Suresh u came for concert ???

Cha i missed a chance to meet u there :(

Rangabalaji said...

Beautiful sync between your commentary and music on ASK BG. Thx for writing this. Your commentary is the BG for samaniyan's like us to appreciate the Gr8ness of IR and some budding MDs in the world of BG score. Thx once again.


Unknown said...

Well written post Suresh. I didn't read fully yet, but I absolutely love the Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai title score. It is very high in emotion. No wonder, Raja was so confident.

Regarding Balki's demo, he should have shown the demo first with the dialogues and without the music. What he did was a little exaggerated. And I thought he could have used some other bgm with much more impact from the same movie.

Vignesh said...

Great post! Looks like Raja and Young Raja are ruling the "BGM scene". Yuvan, in particular, is emerging as a competent film composer. His songs may not always be likeable, but he is doing a superb work, in regards to background scores. I think, almost half of these 50 pieces are from Yuvan, magnificent!

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Ramesh - Totally Agree on Silent video played by Balki. It did exaggerate the importance of Ilaiyaraaja's score, but I guess, it wasn't deliberate. Balki couldn't have gotten a clip with just the dialogues, so he simply muted the scene. The point is that Ilaiyaraaja's music shifts the focus from the characters to Rashtrapathi Bhavan, and that came through quite wonderfully in his demonstration.

Lakshman said...

Fabulous analysis this Suresh. However, am I the only one who think the main climax BGM score in Aaranya Kandam which is played with a single guitarish instrument is lifted from the Corrs hit "Toss the feathers"? YSR had already lifted Corrs for Kadhal Kondaen as well.

Anonymous said...

i would surely disagree with your view when u said orchestral score for a pudhupettai was wrongly chosen, i felt the movie managed to survive at the box office due to the score, i believe the movie score was one of the best scores in a tamil movie, which elevated the style to a hollywood level.

Vijay said...

Cracker of an article.

Jany said...

Nice article!I I have read some of the articles here... and I really loved the Soundtracks you posted on the bottom of the page.

Is it possible for you to post some of your favourite soundtracks on YouTube? Then, I can show them to my friends, and tell how great these scores are... I would really appreciate if you created a personal account on YouTube. That would create many "Tamil Soundtrack Geeks"!!!

Thank you my friend... continue writing... from today, I am your 100# fan!!!

Greetings from "JaniksKey95" in Norway!

naavika said...

excellent post sir..but off late the one which i likd in particular is from a movie called 3..