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.