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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mankatha Music Review

So, Venkat Prabhu raised a voice for Yuvan Shankar Raja in Vijay TV Awards show. I haven't watched the show yet and I don't know what exactly he said. I don't know who other nominees in Best Music Category are, so don't know if not nominating Yuvan is a mistake. I, personally, liked Mankatha music. I wrote a review last year a month after the release of the album but never posted it in the site. Now, here it is.

When was the last time in the recent past we heard a theme music for a film, which when we hear even after a decade, has the ability to instantly flash the film’s name in our mind? I don’t remember any except Yuvan Shankar Raja’s Mankatha Theme. Of course, most of Ilaiyaraaja’s films have such theme music in the background score of the film, but they aren’t part of pop culture anymore. And that part-of-pop-culture quotient is a measure of the potential of the theme to become a favorite ring tone of millions of mobile users. The entire song Vilayadu Mankatha, which was released as a single much before the entire soundtrack album of the film was released (Harris Jeyaraj’s Lesa Lesa single started this trend), is built around this theme. The catchy trumpet theme has got the power, punch and the attitude. The soundtrack album also has an instrumental Mankatha theme which is based on this trumpet theme. Yuvan Shankar Raja plays a very tricky game with listeners with this instrumental track. 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. Well done Yuvan! Strings section plays some meandering phrases of melody and intermittently half-theme is hinted and it interestingly reaches another sub-theme that is exactly same as the second interlude of the song Yaar Solli Kaadhal Vandhadhu from film Padhinaaru.

With A.R.Rahman taken an oath not to invoke even faintest of Ilaiyaraaja in his music, there is only one composer in Tamil film music, who can bring together the honey-dipped brand of melody patented by Ilaiyaraaja with orchestral layers patented by A.R.Rahman. Yuvan does that quite brilliantly in Vaada Bin Ladaa from Mankatha. The relentless Synth bass layers, the Tabla beats that becomes a pickle to main course that is Techno beats, the Veena and flute pieces with a classical tinge that glides over Synth layers are all typical A.R.Rahman elements. The melody lines, especially in Charanam, travels tastefully on Ilaiyaraaja territory. Sadly, that which we could call Yuvan elements are in the irritating voice mix that cruelly butchers the singers’ (Suchitra and Krish) performance. Yuvan – we youth are matured to understand that it is hip song even without such unnecessary assault on singer’s voices and rendition.

Melody is all. The colorful Synth, peppy innovative rhythms, hook, symphonic orchestration, exquisite singing everything would fall flat is the melody is not right. And that Yuvan gets it incredibly right in Nanbanae song from Mankatha. The innately flowing melody carries within the pain of a betrayed love and adding to the heft of the emotions and serenity of the composition is Vaali’s musical poetry, which blends as one with the sonic contours of the notes in the melody. Yuvan elegantly layers the song with a single Synth layer for rhythm, a recurring motif that is as emotionally impactful as the main melody on string section and his vocal parts that sings a consoling coda to each of the main stanzas sung by Madhusree. The subdued cry in the song demands the shrill of Madhusree’s soprano voice. However expressive and exquisite her voice may sound, listening to Tamil in her tongue is a torture. To be fair, she is far better and tried her best to deliver the lines with right diction but it just isn’t good enough. The composers site all sorts of reasons for using singers who cannot sing in Tamil properly. They are confident of their melody that they don’t mind if people don’t understand few words in the song. We miss the inherent musicality of the language that brings its own beauty to the language of music. The new Government in Tamilnadu has introduced new set of rules for a film to get Entertainment Tax exemption. I request add 5% more tax, even if one of the songs in the film has a singer singing a Tamil song with terrible diction. Gangai Amaran once said, “Just because he is composing at Night, these guys are also composing at Night”.

Venkat Prabhu always likes to have at least one song in his film with 80s Ilaiyaraaja sound and feel. That Ilaiyaraaja sound is something which Ilaiyaraaja himself, for whatever reasons, doesn’t invoke anymore in his songs. For Chennai – 600028, he asked Yuvan to compose a song similar to Edho Mogam from Kozhi Koovudhu and Yuvan made Yaaro Yaarodu Ingu Yaaro. Ilaiyaraaja’s music in 80s is characterized by live orchestration. Goa also had it share of folk songs tuned and orchestrated in typical Ilaiyaraaja style. And then there was the epic “Idhu Varai” which while sticking to the ethos of Ilaiyaraaja’s music, stands on its own as a soft rock ballad. With live drums, unadulterated acoustic guitar pieces in the interludes, live strings backing and a melody that structure of which is inspired from Ilaiyaraaja’s “En Kanmani En Kaadhalan”, “Nee Naan” is that Ilaiyaraaja type song in Venkat Prabhu’s Mankatha. Any day, this is a soothing template to have in a song. The contour of the melody is interesting but it depends a great deal on the orchestration to achieve its goal, which is good. It is difficult to sustain the melody for far too long with short phrases stacked in quick succession, but Yuvan pulls it off beautifully here. The song does finally settle down to longer phrases when Bhavatharini’s part begins and takes on a breezy melodic path until the end with the main melody sneaking in now and then.

Venkat Prabhu asks Yuvan Shankar Raja, “Yuvan, I want a song like Sarajo Samaan Nikalo”. Here it is - “Machi Open the bottle”. “I want a song in 80s Ilaiyaraaja template”. Here it is – Nee Naan. I want a theme Hip-hop song for the Youth – Here it is Vilayadu Mankatha. I want a sensuous song – Here it is “Vaada Bin Ladaa”. I want a song like “Jalsa Pannungada” with an instant hook line. Here it is – “Ballelakka”. Hook is the keyword. In contemporary Hindi film music, almost every song is written with a hook line, which gets repeated throughout the song. Even in the soundtrack CD’s back cover, the songs are titled, not with the line with which the song begins, but which the song wanders and meanders all the way to hit - the punch line, the hook. Fortunately, this isn’t a trend in Tamil Film music yet. Such songs have meandering and middling melodies that takes path leading to that one Hook line. It is the hook line that is important. Even if Tamil film music composers go for such hook phrases, the other parts of the melody are also given equal importance. Thankfully, in “Ballelakka”, the main melody is as interesting as the hook. The other most interesting aspect of the song is playing the hook with a marriage procession band. Despite being a part of Tamil Culture, we don’t find brass and rums of marriage procession band in our Tamil films songs. This is very welcome. The hook sounds even better on the trumpets of marriage procession band. When was the last time we heard a full length song in Tamil Cinema that used the format of marriage procession band? Deva’s “Vennilavae Vennilavae Vekkam yaenamma” from Kaalamellam Kaadhal Vazhgha I guess.

One can find two types of remix songs in a newly released Tamil Film soundtrack CD. It could be the remix of an old classic song or it could be the remix of the new song composed of the films’ soundtrack. I could understand the need to remix an old classic song but I don’t know why there should a song and its remix should feature in the Soundtrack CD of the film. In Hindi Films, they include such remixes before most of the time promotional videos are shot mainly shot for the remix songs. It would be played repeatedly on all Hindi film and music channels. Tamil Films are hardly promoted this way. Kamal Haasan tried promoting Nalathamayanthi with a promotional music video featuring him shot for an original song and not remix. The remix of the song from the film never feature in the film, not even in the end credits. So, I don’t understand why these songs are there in the CD. There is nothing interesting in Vilayaadu Mankatha Dance mix (by Premgi Amaran). Increase the tempo and add technical beats you get a typical remix. A dance remix is meant only for dancing and not for listening. Fair enough. I shut my case. What else could be done in a remix? Probably, it is time someone did and showed us.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Various themes or variations of a single theme from a film score are compiled and arranged coherently in a sequence to form what is called a Suite. Compiling a suite in itself is an art and you realize it all the more when you hear a piece like the one John Williams arranged as a tribute to film makers George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg for one of his recent concerts.

Listen to how seamlessly John Williams sails from one theme to another. A composer or the arranger ought to connect the themes seamlessly in the suite, for the performance of it to earn a greater emotional reaction from the audience. The audience’s applause when John Williams dramatically shifts to Star Wars theme was not just because it came when they least expected it but also because John Williams picks a precise moment in Jaws theme to make the transition to the Star Wars theme. It is seamless and yet has an element of surprise. I had goose bumps, when I first heard it.

While listening to the suite for the first time, precisely in a moment, when another theme was still playing, I expected E.T theme to make a surprise entry and voila it did in that very second. John Williams fan, I am. Check if you are also one. While listening to the piece, try to guess the entry point of E.T theme, and if you could guess, pat your back yourself on my behalf. You are a John Williams fan too.

In Hollywood film scores, most of the End Credits music is a Suite of all the themes from the film’s score. In Indian films, rarely we get to hear such score suites in the End credits; mostly one of the songs from the film, or remix of a popular song is played nowadays. Ilaiyaraaja has arranged such score suites for the Opening credits of umpteen films. My most favorite suite arranged by Ilaiyaraaja is not from a feature film, though.

The track India 24 Hours Theme in the India 24 Hours album is actually a suite made of themes from all the other tracks in the album. The seamlessness in transition from one theme to another is quite astonishing in this track. If you listen to this piece without hearing rest of the album, you cannot guess that it is a collection of various themes. It sounds like one coherent piece. That is how a Suite should be.

For my listening pleasure, I always compile themes from films into Suites, many of which I have posted in this site too. But, they were compiled from available audio clips ripped from DVDs, so you can’t expect it to be as coherent as the ones composers compile for the live concert performances.

Some of my favorite suites I put together - How to Name it, Nothing But Wind, Rang De Basanti, Mouna Raagam Mohan Theme, Big Bang Symphony (I have been trying to fit in one more variation of the theme within this Suite, haven't been able to do it yet), Ninaivellam Nithya Love Theme

Now, Greatest of all Suites I have heard is the one John Williams arranged and conducted in Oscar 2002 as a tribute to 75 years of Hollywood Film Music (Jump from 20th Century Fox music to Star Wars, Psycho to Jaws and Godfather to E.T – Several goose bumps in five minutes)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Film Score Fans in Television

In the Flying Themes post, Ravi Krishna mentioned the cue The Egg Travels (2:20) from the film Dinosaur as one that would fit the theme of my playlist. I heard the piece. Almost towards the end of the track, I realized that I have heard it before, many times. Yes, I hear last few seconds of Egg Travels every day in KTV as the lead music that plays just before the 8 p.m movie “Super Hit Iravu Kattchi”.

I have heard many such Hollywood scores and non-Indian instrumental music on TV and they got firmly etched in my mind, much before I started watching Hollywood films.

John Williams’ Star Wars Theme played in the background whenever a Winner in announced in the Filmfare Awards.

Yanni’s Standing in Motion (3:00) – I heard in one of Sun TV’s special shows where they brought in a Train, the winner of a contest from all over Tamilnadu to some amusement park in Chennai.

Yanni’s Santorini – A show in Raj TV called Crush’s Dhaagam Dhaagam

Even very recently,

I heard the cue Success Montage from the movie Wanted first on Vijay TV Awards show’s Promo.

Surprisingly, some of the cues from Indian film scores were also used for TV shows

I heard A.R.Rahman’s May Maadham Theme first as the title music of Solomon Paappayya’s Dhinam Oru Thirukkural in Sun TV

Prakash Raj’s theme from Duet and the logo music of Television series Production Company called “Minbimbangal”

I heard the Jazzy action cue from Dharmathin Thalaivan first as the theme music of the then Sun Movies Channel.

Even this last week, In Indian Idol, they were playing A.R.Rahman’s Moments of Kerala from Ek Deewana Tha as background music in one of the emotional moments.

In Airtel Super Singer Junior, in the audition round, whenever a contestant is through to the next round they play an exhilarating orchestral piece, which I am sure, must be Yanni’s. They played even A.R.Rahman’s Animal Spirits (3:15) from Couples Retreat many times in the preliminary rounds.

And I lost the count of the TV shows and serials that used tracks from A.R.Rahman’s Warrior of Heaven and Earth.

Some hard core film score fans in India are working in Television.

I am quite sure that in next few weeks I would catch a cue from A.R.Rahman's People Like Us soundtrack in some TV channel.

Let me know if you have spotted any themes from Hollywood or Indian film scores in Television shows.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

People Like Us Soundtrack Review

A.R.Rahman’s non-Indian film scores, almost always had its share of Indian elements. Indian Tarana blends with Spanish flamenco for the introduction scene of a Spanish Yoga guru – Salvadore, and Americans undress to the rhythms of a Ghatam in Couples Retreat. It is Darbari on Continuum Fingerboard or Harshdeep Kaur’s haunting hymns in times of despair for Aron Ralston. A solo Saarangi playing the theme set on an unmistakable Indian scale fills the entire soundtrack, be it for Her Majesty from Great Britain (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) or for the reunion of three estranged sisters from Austria (Passage). When, I first saw the Credits of People Like Us soundtrack, I was surprised that there are no Indian instruments or Voices used, probably for the first time in an A.R.Rahman soundtrack. People Like Us is an all American family drama. However, the instrument used doesn’t matter as much as the melody to set the score in a specific milieu. The major thematic melodies in People Like Us score do not have the Indian inflections and that make the score sound not necessarily American, but it is anything but Indian.

A.R.Rahman is extremely good at writing pieces combining Synth and acoustic instruments, which, thankfully, is what People Like Us soundtrack is full of. People Like Us is more melodic than atmospheric. A.R.Rahman wisely allows the Synth and atmospheric soundscapes to dominate a piece, only when gloom is the mood that he is after in the piece (Dad’s Shaving Kit, Dad’s Dead). The Synth in other pieces is there to make even most emotional of thematic melodies less mushy. With a subtle synth always thudding, tugging, lingering and looping along underneath, the solo acoustic instruments parade one after the other to make the main thematic melodic statements, and minimal yet abundantly adequate strings section provide a tender supporting cushion to ease the burden of the main melody to evoke intended emotions. There is a delectable innateness in the melody, intimacy in the way solo instrumentals are layered and the breeziness in the orchestration throughout the score. With the score emerging from the softest of the registers of every solo instrument - Piano, Harp, Harmonica, Clarinet, Flute, Horn, Acoustic Guitar, Cello – used, the score as a whole is exquisitely soothing to listen to.

People Like Us is also thematically rich, with the themes and their variations adequately recurring throughout the soundtrack, in an attempt to narrate the complete story and hint at the key moments, even without the aid of the visuals. A strong melody is introduced right in the beginning in the People Like Us track, strong enough to make us believe it to be the main theme of the film. The theme from People Like Us track appears immediately in the next cue Newyork to L.A where every note of the melody is hesitantly hit on Piano with longer gaps in between the notes to suggest the mind of Sam, who at this moment wants to avoid attending his Dad’s funeral. Just a few bars of the main Frankie theme (Sam’s Sister) are hinted toward the end of this piece, hinting at the surprise that awaits Sam.

Frankie’s theme recur most number of times throughout the score, undergoes a number of delectable orchestral variations and is even expanded as a song “Dotted Line” (Co-Written by Liz Phair). Frankie’s Theme is heard in all its glory in Tacos. The themes and so many instrumental layers from the various cues crisscross each other in varied forms throughout the score. A melodic-synth layer from Dad’s Studio sneaks into Discount Prom Dress, the People Like Us cue makes a soul stirring reprise in “Breakfast for Mom/Just be People” hinting a sense of closure attained in the narrative. “I’m your brother” is a delightful conversation between a subdued Horn (Sam reveals that he is Frankie’s brother) and a Cello (that plays Frankie’s theme). However, even if you aren’t much into such motif-spotting exercise, the immensity of emotions the pieces invokes is reason enough for someone to immerse himself into this score.

My only little grouse about this entire soundtrack is the song “Dotted Line”. A.R.Rahman attempts a mainstream American film song and it sounds like a typical mainstream American film song, with a very faint stamp of A.R.Rahman in the Orchestration and that is so atypical of A.R.Rahman. There definitely seems to be some problem in knitting English words with an already composed Rahman melody. It has always been much better when Rahman sets already written English verses to a melody (Journey Home from Bombay Dreams). But, that is from someone who has been closely following A.R.Rahman’s music for past two decades. The other song Airport Adventures (featuring Michael “Nomad” Ripoll) laced with many layers of assorted Guitars and drums that scream the American sound, injects the much needed energy in an otherwise totally mellifluous album.

There are cues that don’t rely on any of the main motifs, and that liberty of not having to use one of the motifs A.R.Rahman uses to his advantage to make the soundtrack much more exotic and eclectic.

Sam follows Frankie (Following Frankie) with cascading layers of Celtic tinged Violins racing over an unstable synth rhythm that suggest a sense of urgency and uncertainty. “Welcome to People” set in a relaxed Waltz rhythm is relentlessly mellifluous, melodious and the arrangement is simply sublime. Beat the Living starts off like a solo guitar piece but makes a surprise turn midway and becomes a cool whistle-along whistle melody with a swing rhythm.

A rhythmic beating and breaking of a shell of a cooked crab leads us to the most exhilarating piece of the soundtrack – Crab Drumming / Finding Sam. A guitar strums into way into the next section of the piece in a rhythm set by the drumming of the crab. What follows is the unmistakable signature A.R.Rahman sound in the blissful Piano piece that runs around a heavenly surge of strings and this piece precisely is what Alex Kurtzman could be referring to as “a sound unlike anything else” in his notes. The way the piece builds up to a crescendo and cuts itself at the peak, leaves you yearning for more. It is one of the most refreshing and rejuvenating pieces of music I have heard in a while, and ever since I heard the thirty seconds sample of the piece on Amazon, it has been the piece of the music that alarms and wakes me up in the morning every day. I couldn’t ask for a better start to my day.

A.R.Rahman sticks to simple melodies, ornaments the melodies with ethereal instrumental layers and maintains a thematic integrity. A coherent sonic texture and orchestral color is maintained throughout. I already like the score immensely and it can only get better with the film. People Like Us is another worthy addition to an eclectic repertoire of A.R.Rahman’s Hollywood scores.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shanghai Theme

Except for the omnipresent Dhol Drums, there is not much background music in the film. Once in a while, I remember hearing plucked strings echoing T.A. Krishnan’s state of mind, that too only very briefly. Dibakar Banerjee’s previous film Love, Sex aur Dhokha, also had no background score throughout the film except for a haunting Piano theme that gave a closure to all characters in all the three stories towards the end of the film. In Shanghai too, there is just only one big musical stretch. The combination of muted ambient soundtrack and the musical score (Composed by Mickey McCleary) in full volume, especially because there is no recognizable music throughout the film, works to great effect. Though there is no background score, the narrative and the performances are so gripping that you don’t realize it until we get to this long musical moment.

Shanghai Theme

The Composer Mickey McCleary has uploaded the entire background score on Soundcloud

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Flying Themes

Composers deliver their best when the key emotion in the music has to be the exhilaration in taking flight. The feel of flying in air, that ability to disengage oneself from the gravity – the biggest force that keeps us the prison of this planet, gives us utmost exhilaration and rekindles the child in all of us. Here I present a playlist of themes and cues written for moments in which something or someone is flying in air. I go to this playlist whenever I want to re-energize myself. The pieces in this playlist make me smile and cry at the same time; they give me orgasmic pleasure, musical frisson almost every single time I listen to them. Do share, if you know any such flying themes

Finding Neverland - The Kite, The Play and the Flight (Jan A.P. Kaczmarek)

Forrest Gump – I'm Forrest ... Forrest Gump (Alan Silvestri)

Wall-E – Define Dancing (Thomas Newman)

Avatar – Jake's First Flight (James Horner)

UP – Carl Goes Up (Michael Giacchino)

How to Train Your Dragon - New Tail & Romantic Flight (John Powell)

The Aviator – F1-Racer Plane (Howard Shore)

And, Of course E.T – Flying Theme (John Williams)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Is it Sathyan or Is it the sound?

In Nanban, when Satyaraj explains about his pen that is specially designed to be used in space, Sathyan gives an exaggerated cartoonish smile, and is accompanied by Harris Jeyaraj’s comic tone (Watch from 3:58) - the kind that S.A.Rajkumar plays in comedy scenes of Vikraman films. That very moment Sathyan becomes a caricature, a person who should always be laughed at. Is it because of Sathyan’s expression or is it because it is Sathyan playing the role or is it that ridiculous tone used in the background or it is the combination of all these aspects? I am just wondering what the scene without that tone in the background would have conveyed about the nature of Sathyan’s character. I cannot know for sure.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Buy Ilaiyaraaja's Music

It is Ilaiyaraaja’s Birthday today. We are celebrating. We tweet wishing him good. We write blog posts about how his music has enhanced our lives. We retweet others' tweets on Ilaiyaraaja. We make #Ilaiyaraaja trend on Twitter. We conduct special shows on FM channels and Television channels. We pray him, pray for him. We build temple in our hearts. We build websites exclusively about Ilaiyaraaja’s music. We listen to his music all day. But, how much of Ilaiyaraaja’s music that we listen to, we legally own? How many of you bought Ilaiyaraaja’s music today.

With Flipkart’s flyte, you cannot give regular excuses anymore. Most of his songs are available online for legal download. Why not for a change show your love for his music, by buying his music? I have shown mine, though I don’t think it is enough. If the number of followers, fans and devotees that I see on Orkut, facebook, twitter and other online forums are true, Ilaiyaraaja should be the most selling artist in Flipkart’s flyte by now.

Are you a true Ilaiyaraaja fan? Buy Ilaiyaraaja. NOW.

List of Albums I bought today (200+ Songs)