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Monday, December 30, 2013

Film Score Live to Projection

When I was just beginning to discover Hollywood Film Scores and composers, I would go by bus, all the way from Thiruvanmiyur to Spencer Plaza Music World and Land Mark just to hang around the “Soundtrack” shelf that had hundreds of Hollywood Film score CDs. I would read reviews of the film scores online and then would go there to check if it was available in the store. For almost an year, I was just looking. After a lot of research online, I decided to buy one compilation CD pack. John Williams’s Greatest Hits 1969 - 1999 is the first Hollywood Score CD I bought. I had’t seen any of the films, the score of which I was listening to, but every single piece of music in that CD gave me an experience I never had before. I was awestruck by the sheer power and sound of the symphony orchestra, and of course John Williams’ robust orchestration and instantly catchy and hummable motifs.

In one of those visits, I stumbled upon 20th Anniversary edition of John Williams’ E.T Film score on CD, and when I read about it online I learnt that the score in 20th Anniversary edition is the one recorded live when it was performed and conducted by John Williams, to the movie that was simultaneously being projected on a big screen. I didn’t know that it was possible. That was my introduction to the concept of performing the film score live to the projection of the film in a front of an audience.

Much later, I got to know from Satyajit Ray’s article on Background scores that even in the silent era, musicians were hired locally to perform music to the projection of the film. Concept of background score was in, even before Sound came to be in films.

Then came Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Howard Shore’s score for the trilogy. I was closely following anything and everything related to Lord of the Rings, and again heard that they have started performing the LOTR score live to Projection all over the world. I have seen hundreds of user videos on YouTube of these live performances and ever since it has been my dream to watch a film with its score performed live.

My dream is about to come true on 31st December 2013, and what makes it even more special is that, the film I am going to watch with the live film score is a silent film. The Artist (Score Composed by Ludovic Bource), which recently won Best Picture and Best Film Score Oscars, is the film I will be watching with the live score. I am going to experience a movie exactly the way people experienced movies almost a century ago. Excited beyond words!

However, I really can’t predict what the experience is going to be like. How can I concentrate simultaneously on the visuals and the performance of the orchestra? Or should I just not watch the orchestra’s performance? But, I am a fanatic of watching an orchestra, with violinists in the different layers of string section moving their bows in all different directions and yet collectively the music sounding perfectly in harmony. Maybe, I should just watch the film, and just experience the live sound of the music. At least if it is a film with dialogues and sound that can roughly guide me through the narrative, I can watch more of the live performance of the music and less of the visuals of the film. But, it is a Silent film.

I have heard Artist score before. It is a classic Hollywood film orchestral score operatic with lush strings, Xylophones, blended with smooth velvety Jazz strains. I don’t remember the score much though. Should I listen to the score at least once before going to the concert hall? Or is it best if I don’t, and give myself the gift of surprise? Or maybe I should watch the movie once? No, don’t. Maybe, the music will come rushing back to my memory once I begin to watch the film. With a film like LOTR, I know exactly what cue plays where, and I guess that is a totally different experience, which, watching Artist with live score is not going to be, but this could be an equally rewarding experience in a different way. And I am curious to see how the conductor knows when to start a cue when the movie is playing.

I always wondered how they would balanced different layers of sounds (the ambient sound, dialogues and orchestral score) in a movie live in such concerts - I cannot know in this concert. For that I have to wait till May, when Michael Giacchino’s score for new Star Trek is performed live to Projection again at Royal Albert Hall. Anyways, I am all set to watch my experience my first film score live to projection.

Now, which Indian film you would want to watch like this, with the score performed live to projection? Is that even possible? You need a Symphony orchestra, a rock band, a Jazz band, a folk ensemble and a wholesome ensemble of Indian instrumentalists all in one stage. Isn’t it?

Happy New Year!

And yeah, backgroundscore.com just crossed a Million Views. Yay!

Finally, my wish came true. Watched a movie with the live performance of the background score. London Symphony Orchestra and the sound design was so perfect that few minutes into the film, I forgot that the score was being performed live. Also, with only the sheet music stand lights kept ON, the orchestra was also relatively invisible on stage. After the end of the end credits of the movie, Orchestra played the brassy rock and roll end credits music again, and the effect of brass section in the orchestra live has to be heard to be believed. Incredible experience!

There is Pixar in Concert next month where they perform musical cues from all Pixar movies, I couldn't book the tickets online, looks like they are sold out already. I have to check with box-office again. How an earth can I miss Pixar concert! Scores of animation films are most musical of all movie scores now.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Background Score in a Song

A film director gives a composer all the information that he could about the situation in the film where he needs a song to convey or heighten the emotion and help the narrative. But, before making the film, or shooting the song, he could only have a vague idea of how exactly he is planning to shoot the song. He wouldn’t have finalised what exactly is going to be in the song - the scenarios, the location, the shots, the costume, visual style etc., you only have an emotion, or an action that has to happen in the song that takes the film’s narrative forward. A composer has to compose a melody that evokes the needed emotion, but in an Indian film song, there are these abstract instrumental sections called interludes that connects different stanzas. Now, how and why the interludes came to be in an Indian film song’s structure is a totally another topic worthy of elaborate discussion. Now how does a composer decide what should happen musically in these interludes? In Indian films most film directors have little to no idea of what to do with the interludes and what to ask for. It is there because it has to be there.

Maniratnam tells Ilaiyaraaja that he wants a song (Sundari Kannal Oru Sedhi from Thalapathi) on Love and War, about a king who goes to War and his wife longing for the King’s homecoming. While the stanzas take care of love and longing part of the premise, Ilaiyaraaja wrote intricately layered symphonic piece for Choir and Orchestra that has precision of that of a background score of a grand Hollywood battle scene. It is as if Ilaiyaraaja had a visual in front of him to write the score. Looking at battle sequence that plays over the interludes of the song, it is evident that Ilaiyaraaja had nothing in front of him. Staging and producing a battle sequence that matches the power and chaotic clarity of Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral work in this song is impossible even today with the monies that is flowing in Indian film industry.

From various musicians’ interviews I have heard how the song was recorded in Bombay, and it was clearly much before the movie was shot.

Now, again, with A.R.Rahman coming into the scene, music world turned flat. I am sure, if Thomas L.Friedman had known about Tamil film music, he would have included a chapter about A.R.Rahman in his book “The World is Flat”. There was nothing rigid, nothing concrete. So, for the song Uyire in Bombay, A.R.Rahman gave the song without any interludes, it just had a bar count to help Maniratnam plan his shots.

Maniratnam in Baradwaj Rangan’s “Conversation with Maniratnam” says,

“Infact, when we shot the song, we didn’t even have the interludes. We just had a bar count. We had to tell our story within that and get it to flow, and Rahman scored the interludes based on this flow”

Now that is really interesting. This after-approach makes a composer’s job easier, he knows exactly what is required now, and this being a song, composer can take the emotion to any heights with his music. It is not like the background score of a scene, where you are not allowed to go beyond a threshold of emotional decibels, where it easily gets excessively manipulative. If Maniratnam hadn’t revealed it, I am not sure if any of us would have wondered about such a possibility. With the song in entirety being so wholesome and perfect, you never really sit and think about individual parts and about what came first.

The ache in the Saarangi, the longing in the cooing flute, the Tabla rhythm that underlines the turbulence in the wind chasing the lady and acceleration in the rhythm to underline the anxiety, the alaap of the voices adding further to the oozing emotion - the instrumental interludes of Uyire song are perfect scored to the Picture. Maybe, A.R.Rahman would still have done something interesting if he had been asked to deliver the complete song with interludes before the shoot, but why bother if you can be more precise and get something as magical.

I always felt a connection between the interludes of Uyire song from Bombay and that of Kappaleri Poyachu from Indian. Similar instrumentation, the precision of the sync between the music and the visuals is equally astonishing in Kappaleri Poyachu. Ah! Rahman’s “la la la la laa lala la” when Kamal and Suganya find each other - unbelievable! I think Rahman composed this interlude also after the song was shot. What say?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Six Years!!!!!!

Ah! It has been Six Years since it began. I have hardly ever spoken to anyone in person a word about background score. It happened here, only here. It started like a fun quizzing exercise with me posting background score clips and the visitors of the blog guessing the name of the film from the background score clip. I had so much time back then that I worked six months collecting background score clips of Indian films from all over internet to start this blog. I wanted to have the content for at least first three months ready, before I published the blog to public.

Very soon, I got bored of the quiz. I started writing elaborate rambling pieces on background score. That wasn't an entirely original idea. It was at that time I discovered Lord of the Rings, the movie and the score. I became a huge fan of Lord of the Rings Trilogy Score and started searching and reading everything that is there on internet about Howard Shore's score. There were a lot of articles extensively dissecting and analyzing each and every layer in all the cues in the LOTR Soundtrack. I wondered why we don’t have such pieces written on Tamil film scores. I wanted to read such articles on Tamil film scores, and since no one was writing about it, I decided to write what I wanted to read.

I wish I had that natural flair for writing. It takes a lot of time for me to process a thought, achieve clarity and then condensing that clear thought into a piece takes even more time and finally when I post it, I would have already worked on it for a week or a month or sometime even a year.

I don’t think about who would read when typing long indulgent posts on background score. I realized that such write-ups eventually find its readers. I get emails and comments on Posts, years after I wrote them.

Recently I stumbled upon a blog who follows my writings and mention my name in one of his posts,

“Critiquing cinema is a noble profession, an art at that; read Roger Ebert or Raja Sen or Baradwaj Rangan or PS Suresh Kumar. And like those folks helped me see films from a totally different angle, I write for that one kid out there who's head is buzzing with questions on the nature of art, conformity with the masses, tools for objectivity and the auteur's intention behind the making of every shot. True, watching cinema is a solitary experience but discussing it can be an enriching one.”

No. I am certainly not delusional to believe that I am one on par with others in that group of Celebrity Cinema Critics, but I agree with what he said about the purpose of writing on an art.

Thanks to the regular readers and followers of this blog, and all the forums and social networking sites, where a link to a post in this blog triggered some conversation, that taught me a lot about music, background score, and music appreciation.

This space has given me and taught me so much, and the amount of learning and its subsequent effect on the things I do in everyday life are so intertwined that I can’t even begin to explain. If there was no backgroundscore.com, I wonder how I would have spent all those hundreds of hours of my life that I was lost in watching movies, ripping and editing background score clips and writing about them for 442 blog posts and many unpublished drafts.

There is so much more that I want to learn and write about, there are so many scribbled ideas to give a final shape to. There are hundreds of Ilaiyaraaja’s film scores, I want to listen to and explore various musical ideas Ilaiyaraaja executed in them. The site badly needs a more professional look and design. There are lots of audio links in many blog posts that don't work. I hope to fix them up soon.

Thanks everyone for being a part of www.backgroundscore.com

Happy Diwali!

Favourite post in backgroundscore.com – Do you have one or maybe more? Let me know.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

20 Years of Thiruda Thiruda! - A.R.Rahman

Maniratnam on “Thiruda Thiruda” Music – from Baradwaj Rangan’s Book “Conversations with Maniratnam

Even while we were doing the background score for Roja, he’d started composing the music for this film. He’d already worked on the first song— Kannum kannum. We were getting completely out of the Roja zone. This was much wilder, much bigger. Veerapandi kottaiyile went all over the place. The songs were elaborate pieces, and he’d take quite a bit of effort to get each piece done. It was not done in a hurry. It was done to near-perfection. For the Chandralekha song, he wanted to record a piece. He said, ‘If I play it as a tune, it will be nothing.’ We didn’t have any lyrics. We wrote some lyrics, then and there, in English, and we got the singer to sing a one-minute version of the song. That became the composition. Each song was different. In Raasathi, he wanted no instruments, only vocals. The more varied it was, the wilder it was; it started fitting into the film— because there was nothing straight about the film.

It has been 20 years since the world of Indian Film Music was shaken to its roots by A.R.Rahman’s Thiruda Thiruda. It triggered a tremor and it’s after effects are still felt in Indian film music. The freshness, the energy, the lunacy, the innovation and experimentation in Thiruda Thiruda music still remains an unparalleled achievement in Indian film music. Last month, on a weekend trip from Bangalore to Salem, I was listening to Thiruda Thiruda songs on CD in the Car Stereo System for the first time, and after one round of listening, I tweeted - “GREATEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK EVER. PERIOD” and It is.

When I first heard Thiruda Thiruda songs, I was 9 years old; I didn’t know Michael Jackson’s music, I hadn’t heard Rock Music, and I wasn’t conscious listener of Ilaiyaraaja’s music though it was always in the air everywhere, never heard of Western Classical Music or knew of a genre called a acapella – Thiruda Thiruda music affected me in ways I cannot even begin to explain. Now, I know a little of all those musicians and their music and musical genres and I am still as affected by Thiruda Thiruda Music. What Thiruda Thiruda music was when it first released to any discerning music listener is what it is and what it always would be. It is something that happens once in a lifetime of a composer’s career and it is all the more astonishing that it happened so early in case of A.R.Rahman.

There is no point discussing the technicalities and doing analysis on the Thiruda Thiruda music, experience the music if you haven’t yet - The Playlist.

Then, there is the equally breathtaking background score.

Maniratnam on “Thiruda Thiruda” Music – from Baradwaj Rangan’s Book “Conversations with Maniratnam”

And his background score was outstanding. He really worked on it. It was a big John Williams kind of score. We wanted it mastered in digital, 5.1 and all that, but we were not yet into DTS at that point. That’s when technology was changing. When he started doing Roja, we still used to record on half-inch tape. For this, maybe we used ADAT, a tape format that could record eight tracks of digital audio simultaneously. So with each film, the technology was jumping by leaps and bounds. And each time, he was there, on the ball, ready, ahead of his time, waiting for the technology to land where he wanted it to. He came in at the right time, when his every wish was coming true. And it’s still coming true.

The regular method of following the characters, recurring situations with motifs are all there, but no one of them Sounds like what we had heard before. There are strings, orchestral outbursts but the mix of Synth and Acoustic instruments made it sound grander and unique. When recently Rahman was asked about which score he would record again, now that he has access to all the Symphony Orchestras in the world, he said, “Thiruda Thiruda”. That would sound great, but the uniqueness of the sound of the score in the film as it was comes from heavy Synth dosage in the mix.

The chase theme from Thiruda Thiruda was played in the end credits of the television broadcast of the first ever GIMA – "Global Indian Music Awards", which is primarily an award instituted to recognize the best of Hindi film music every year. Thiruda Thiruda is a Tamil film. It was not even dubbed in Hindi. Only the music was released in Hindi, but I don’t think the theme was included in that Cassette. It is one of those pieces of music, like one of Yanni’s, like Mozart’s 25th, like Beethoven’s 9th - without you knowing who the composer is and when it was composed, it enters into life of every living being that has ever heard any piece of music. Thiruda Thiruda main Chase Theme is that last piece of an Instrumental music a Music Shop guy picks to fill in the left out tape space while recording songs in T-60 or T-90 cassettes, and whoever listens to the cassette would be hooked by the piece even though they don’t know who, what, where or how about the piece.

Never before we have seen a train heist episode in a film, backed by Rock guitars - the ones that actually sounded like rock guitars. The story suddenly shifts from City to Village, the first strain of music we hear is a distant voice (A.R.Rahman’s) singing a sombre tune Rasathi – we usually hear a pleasant flute when a story suddenly cuts to a Village from City.

Thiruda Thiruda is packed full with action and chasing sequences. A.R.Rahman’s orchestral arrangements for the chase sequences, with swelling string section, would conveniently fit in any Hollywood action film that he might compose music for in the near future. How do you score the umpteen numbers of chase sequences in the film differently, without any of it getting monotonous and yet maintaining a thematic integrity? Each chase sequence has a distinct music cue, but the one that stood the test of time is what we now call the “Thiruda Thiruda” theme and it plays when for the first time in the film Kathir (Anand) and Azhaghu (Prasanth) chase others to rescue Rasathi (Heera), instead of them being chased by others, and its reprise is again when they chase the Villain gang to rescue Chandralekha.

Thieves’ theme song (sung by G.V.Prakash Kumar) instantly paints Kathir and Azhaghu as perfectly harmless thieves, and it is played at varied tempo depending the pace of their actions in the many robbery sequences in the film. (Cue_04, Cue_07, Cue_13)

The score for Dishoom-Dishoom action sequences in the Indian films are most repetitive, uninspiring pieces of music you could ever hear – but not in here, Rahman plays fiddle in one (Cue_20) and another is laced with Mirudangam (Cue_36) throughout.

Aathukkula Aira meenu song (Cue_34), which plays when villagers use the wild elephants to lift the Container Lorry out of the river, is a folksy little beauty amid high adrenaline action music. Then there is that freaking collage of samples and sound fonts in the wicked villain theme.

Even that computer access card gets a four-note motif that recurs whenever it passes hands in the course of the film. There is a little love theme (Cue_22) also. There is a piece with counterpoint (Cue_29) too - when Kathir asks Rasathi to marry his brother who is also in love with her, a hint of love theme on Piano is played as a counterpoint to the melody of the song Rasathi (this version sung by Srinivas).

A.R.Rahman pulled all the stops, not just in the songs, but also in the background score of the film. Folk, Rock, Synth, Voice and Sound Samples, Ambient, Orchestral, Filmy and many more that I cannot name – assortment of genres all in one score - Total Madness! Never before I had heard such distinct music cues in the background score of one film. Thiruda Thiruda background score is full on Rahmanathon. I hope someday A.R.Rahman officially releases these cues on a CD in High quality.

From my "Memoirs of a Rahmaniac"
I was attending private home tuition classes at my Class Teacher‘s (Bharathi Miss) house every evening after the regular school hours. They had a high-end music system, the biggest I had seen and best I had heard until then. It is in their house I first heard the Thiruda Thiruda songs. The music system was kept in a room next to the living room, and from where I sat I could clearly listen to the songs when they played them from inside the room. I saw the lyrics booklet (a first time for a Tamil movie soundtrack, I guess) that came with a nicely designed Thiruda Thiruda audio cassette box. I use to hide the lyrics booklet within my text book that I would be pretending to read. I would read the lyrics booklet, whenever I heard a song from Thiruda Thiruda being played in the other room. It was difficult to decipher the lyrics otherwise. I was yet to get used to the dense layers of instruments amidst which AR Rahman drowned his vocals in the songs. Ironically, there is in the same soundtrack an acapella song Raasaaththi – first ever in Tamil film music or probably even Indian film music. However, Veerapandi Kottaiyilae was the song that hit me like a thunderbolt. I could not believe what I was listening to. I could not understand anything, but I was wonderstruck by the energy of the beats and the unending twists and turns in the structure of the song.

Listen to the playlist with 41 Cues from Thiruda Thiruda Background Score

Thiruda Thiruda Score - A.R.Rahman by Suresh Kumar on Grooveshark

Amit Trivedi on A.R.Rahman and Thiruda Thiruda

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wolf's Growl - Onayum Aatukuttiyum - Ilaiyaraaja (3)

Listen to

Wolf’s Growl -

Ilaiyaraaja’s Musical Growl -

A decade ago, when I was discovering Western Classical music, I use to buy those “Best of Western Classical Music” CDs. In one of those CDs, I first heard the piece The Flight of the Bumble bee (Composed by - Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov). I was awestruck. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t know that this was possible - carving a musical piece out of a natural and not necessarily a musical sound. The rhythm, the flutter, the restlessness – not a note lingers on for more than a Nano second I guess - the dynamics in the piece, the way the strings go low and high in volume like the sound of a buzzing Bee while approaching and furthering from our ears, catching a musical motif from the DNA of the sound and putting all these ideas organically together on paper to create a musical bumbling bee - this is Breathtaking Achievement.

Ilaiyaraaja, who is a great fan of western classical music, adapted the idea behind the Bumble bee piece for the orchestration of the song Kothumbi in Thiruvasakam. But, Ilaiyaraaja does something similar and equally astonishing with the Sound of a Wolf in Onayum Aatukuttiyum score. Though the piece here is not as richly orchestrated, it creates the effect it intends to create in a listener.

You don’t need the name of the track The Growl to tell you that the theme is for Onai – the Wolf, the stomach churning bass register of Cello Section on which the staccato theme is played speaks for itself. Ilaiyaraaja is one of the very few composers who can effectively set darker emotions, sounds of evil and eeriness to melody for the background score of a film. Evil doesn’t always have to be an eerie noise or sound sample. Yes, the eerie electronic sound samples with the limitless possibilities of tweaking on digital machines do sound refreshing sometimes and there is nothing wrong in using them if it fits the character perfectly, but what is the role of composer in this – selecting the right sample from hundreds of them saved in a folder in his PC or a MAC. Between non-musical sound and Music, if the music and filmmaker decides to go for a sound for a character, then I would like it if it were done the way Hans Zimmer did in The Dark Knight, that eerie Cello theme for Joker, which is how you merge the Sound and music and create something totally fresh.

It takes a different kind of effort and musical acumen to create a musical motif that works just as equally as a mere sound, for evil or villain in the film. I was stunned when I heard “The Growl” track the first time. Ilaiyaraaja takes one of the most basic characteristics of a sound of an animal to define a human character whose actions and intentions are metaphorically linked to the animal. He doesn’t choose the high pitched Howl of a Wolf, clearly the villain is a Wolf who is crouching and scheming and doesn’t announce his arrival before the attack. He creates a piece that is in a frequency of that of a Wolf’s Growl, through not any ready-made sound fonts, but with a well defined melodic and rhythmic riff and the dynamics with which it is played with the staccato notes in the melody implying the calculated steps of the Wolf in its approach to attack.

I haven’t seen the movie, and Ilaiyaraaja might surprise me by using it for an entirely different character, mood or a situation. Can’t wait to watch the movie, especially, to hear how this piece of music is used.

Do you know any such pieces from movie scores or even other forms of music, where a Sound, which often we consider a noise, is turned into a musical piece? Please do share here.

P.S – In Yanni’s Nightingale (one of my all time favourites) there is an extremely nuanced piece in the beginning and the end where Flutist musically imitates the cooing of a Nightingale.

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja (1)

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja (2)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja (2)

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja (1)

I don’t know how well the Onayum Aatukuttiyum score has been absorbed and appreciated by the general music listeners. If you are one of those who find the score boring, I can understand why. There is a sense of monotony with lots of sad music, Solo Violin cues, dense string section and a slightly more pronounced western classical flavour than usual in the score. All the pieces may sound similar. But, Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestral scores, in general, are anything but monotonous, and definitely not this one.

Film score is incidental, narrative music that has to flow slavishly to the visuals, so there will be moments of long pause, a long stretched single note, a sustain, a bang, sections of no major action except strings simmering underneath, and these are not the kind of music one listens to on iPod at work every day for Joy. The pleasures are of different kind here.

Furthermore, having not seen the movie yet, there is no way one can visualize the movie while listening to the piece of music and marvel at the sync of mood and emotions between the movie and the music. Ilaiyaraaja has already primed us enough with his album The Music Messiah, where you don’t have any direct visuals to help you decipher the emotions the music plays for, you paints your own image in your mind from the music, deriving from your past experience of watching movies and listening – consciously or unconsciously to a film score. The Music Messiah is the score of a film that never got made (I know themes from Malayalam film Guru is used, but I haven’t seen Guru. But I could hear cues from Pithamagan too). Listening to Onayum Aatukuttiyum score before watching the movie is like listening to The Music Messiah.

Ilaiyaraaja has written a score that is intricately spun around many main musical motifs. It seems to be a score (I haven’t seen the movie yet) tightly knit to the visual narrative in the movie, and that has the incredibly unique quality of narrating a story, some story - though we won’t be able to connect all the dots - even without the visuals.

I don’t know how to make others hear the beauty I hear in a piece of music, but I believe if one listens intently and spots these themes in an orchestral score and follows their journey through the score – at least that is how I have been doing it, it would be a lot easier to experience the beauty of the music score in its entirety. So, here I have compiled some of the main themes that run through the score and its variations. The themes appear at different points in the different pieces. I am sure the ten clips Mysskin shared in his website for free download is not the entire score, so there could be many more occurrences and variations of these themes in the movie.

Listen to the clips and see if it helps. Listen closely to the development, subtle variations in each occurrence of the theme in the score. Also, let me know if you find any piece that doesn’t sound like the variation of the theme

Theme 1

Using a sharp half note in the start brings a dramatic suddenness – could be for an emotion or an action, that precisely marks the moment when sudden shift occurs in the mood or emotion or action. I like how the sharpness is gradually blunted out as the theme progresses in the course of the score, implying a gradual subsidy in the intensity of that which it implies.

Theme 2

This theme could easily be identifies as the main theme of the film.

Theme 3

The Redemption Theme – The piece of music for which Mysskin wanted Ilaiyaraaja. There is a Piano part and Violin Part of the theme. I didn't want to split them.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score - Ilaiyaraaja

A quick post on the Onayum Aatukuttiyum Score, this is like screaming in Ecstasy. I am sure it will take many more rounds of listening to absorb all of its beauties and nuances.

First all Thanks a zillion to Mysskin for releasing cues from Ilaiyaraaja’s background score for Onayum Aatukuttiyum, online for free download, even before the release of the film. I guess, this was possible, because, Mysskin is the producer of the film too.

When I first saw the trailer of the film with those brisk cuts, chases and action sequences, with a dramatic orchestral score (not composed by Ilaiyaraaja), I expected the background score to be something with hyper violin runs, bombastic brass and pounding percussion. But, the 19 minutes of orchestral score that Mysskin has shared so far online is exactly the opposite - quiet, subdued, Solo - Solo Violin! Solo flute!! Solo Cello!!! - Instrumental pieces without a single percussion stroke.

The solo instrumental melodies aided abundantly by dense string section ooze various tender emotions kindness, sympathy, yearning, longing, solitude throughout the score. It is difficult to catch hold of a motif on the first hearing, but the last track “Somebody Loves Us All” comes to rescue, which is arranged like the film’s score suite with the themes playing in queue one after the other. Once we have heard this track, it is easier to listen to other tracks where the themes appear in various instrumental forms.

You don’t need the track name Growl to tell you that the theme is for Onai, the stomach churning bass register on which the staccato theme is played speaks for itself. So, is the redemption part of the score, the sudden melt down from tense lower octaves to a relieving, tender middle speaks for the sudden splash of light in the dark, the change of heart of villain that Mysskin keeps talking about in his interviews. That brilliantly subdued all-brass arrangement in suspenseful "The Grim reaper" is something I have not heard before from Ilaiyaraaja, maybe it is just because of listening to the score in such High quality.

And Ah! That Walk between Life and Death – actually a Waltz between Life and Death – the Strings section is quite soul-stirring. I had tears instantly. This is music in its purest form. Thank You! Yes, Mysskin, “Somebody loves us all” and that somebody is Ilaiyaraaja.

I am glad that movies are getting made in Tamil that deserve such a Score.

I can’t wait to watch the film!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ehsaas-e-Kashmir Concert - Zubin Mehta

I don’t know the political or historic significance of the Ehsaas-e-Kashmir Concert (Performed by Bavarian State Orchestral from Munich and Conducted by Zubin Mehta), I got to know the date and time of the live telecast of the Concert on DD National Channel because I follow on A.R.Rahman on Twitter whose timely tweet on the same helped and as a follower of Ilaiyaraaja’s music for past 20 years, I developed some taste for Orchestral music and such Western classical concerts happen very rarely in India.

Few years ago, Zubin Mehta had come to Chennai to conduct an Orchestra for a Concert celebrating 250th Anniversary of Mozart in Music Academy. I badly wanted to attend, because, then, I hadn’t seen in my life even one live performance of any Symphony Orchestra, but later, every time I got a chance to travel out of India, I attended at least one Concert by the local Symphony Orchestra. It is an experience listening and also watching a collective sound emerging from hundred musicians all doing all different things at once.

The first piece of the concert was a real surprise; I didn’t think they would try such a thing. The piece had a simple and charming folksy Kashmiri melody tossed between the Western Symphony Orchestra and an ensemble of traditional Kashmiri instruments (Oud, Rabaab, and Santoor) and it was a delightful sound. The conversation between the two worlds was simple, gentle with each supporting the others’ statement and without major counterpoints. Western orchestra brings an exuberance and largeness to the sweet little bouncy Indian melody. I woke up with this melody playing in my head the next day. It is usual practice to end such Classical concerts ends with an energetic piece with loud pounding percussion, clashing cymbals, roaring brass and the strings running in a hyper speed and Strauss’s piece Lightning and Thunder did that for this Concert but surprisingly Zubin Mehta wanted the audience leave on a different kind of high and quite fittingly the reprise of the first piece, the Kashmiri music, though just the last few bars were played, helped the concert end on a much elated note.

I am not used to listening to full length Symphony concerts. Some sections of Symphonies or Concertos tend to meander a lot. But, I guess they knew that Indians are not really that much into Western classical music, they have wisely chosen pieces or parts of the pieces (usually the third movement of a Symphony or a Concerto), which is brisk, rhythmic and where all parts of the orchestra actively engaged in the overall sound of the piece and such pieces keeps even a beginner engaged.

My idea of listening to these pieces is to catch hold of the main motif and follow its transformations and its journey through the piece and always staying alert for any new motif that spring in the subsequent movements. Of the Western classical pieces performed, the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto sounded incredible. I heard two varied motifs, one very melancholic and soulful, and other almost comical and bouncy. The Violin Soloist was totally into the piece; at one moment, he was about to fall as he was playing with his mind and body totally in Sync with the rhythm and contour of the piece. I always love the section of a Western Classical piece where the main motif is played as a Solo by each section of the orchestra, and even more so, when the melody is as delightful as it is in this one.

Hayden’s Trumpet Concerto, I don’t remember much. I have heard Beethoven’s 5th symphony before, and I am sure most of us would have heard bits and pieces of it or at least the main four-note motif “Pa Pa Pa Pom” somewhere (it was also sampled in the track “Main Hoon Yuvraaj” in Yuvraaj Soundtrack). The piece was explosive, and especially for the third movement everyone in the audience there (most of whom were yawning for earlier pieces) was listening to with rapt attention, with their heads shaking and feet tapping. I am no expert and I haven’t heard many live performances of Beethoven’s Fifth, and I cannot say how differently Zubin Mehta has interpreted the piece. In fact, I am yet to fully understand the role of a Conductor and what he brings to a piece being performed. I could just Google and read, but I am waiting for the purpose to hit me like the role of filmmaker in a film hit me or the role of a film score and a composer of it of a film hit me on its own without no one ever telling me about it.

DD’s coverage was neat, but I don’t know why they switched to a far off Camera, whenever the piece moved to sections where the whole orchestra explodes at a moment in the piece, at that distance, the Orchestra was barely visible. The camera rightly focused on the sections of the orchestra where the main action is at any given point of the piece. The sound could have been better, but then it is Open air and also I wasn’t watching in HD.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and I am eagerly waiting to watch it on YouTube again when I get back to the place where Internet speeds allow me to stream it at decent speed.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kadhal Konden Score

Happy Birthday Yuvan Shankar Raaja! And Congrats on 100!

It is one of those few Tamil movies and the first one, the complete background score of which, was released on a CD after the movie's release. I don’t know if Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score was seriously noticed before "Kadhal Konden", at least I didn't (Recently came to know that Thulluvadho Ilaimai background score was done by Viji Manuel – Ilaiyaraaja’s Keyboard Player). It also has got something to do with the director Selvaraghavan who with his subsequent movies proved that he is one of the few directors who understands the importance of music and especially the background score in movies. I picked to write on the background score of 'Kadhal Konden' because I was able to put this together without even watching the movie again. When I listen to the OST CD (which doesn't have a descriptive title given to each track) the scenes start to play with all of its details and emotions in my mind. Creating such an impact on the audience with the background score is difficult.

“Kadhal Konden” is about the life of Vinoth who goes through a varied range of emotions. It demands a wide variety of sound in the background score to create a sound scape of Vinoth's varied moods and emotions. No single theme can bring in all these mixed feelings of a character. Yuvan has gone in for a variety of motifs, and it is good that no single theme is derived from the melodies of the songs in the movie. Furthermore, these background score pieces are also enjoyable as standalone tracks. But I want to emphasize that music, even if catchy, if not relevant to the scene and if it doesn't add that extra something to the emotions in the scene is of no help as background score material. In Kadhal Konden, each music piece has achieved its purpose by being such an inherent part of the movie experience and it goes far beyond from sounding just catchy. In his father’s style, Yuvan Shankar Raja has gone for a live orchestra with dominant usage of strings section, flute and piano to orchestrate these themes and this orchestral richness helps in enhancing the involvement of a viewer in the movie. Let us go on a sympathetic journey into Vinoth's life through Yuvan's score.

Vinoth’s Ecstasy

This theme was released along with the songs in the CD - as “Kaadhal Konden theme” - even before the release of the movie. I thought Yuvan was going to use the same theme with different orchestration throughout the movie but fortunately, he didn't. As I told, every single scene or emotion of Vinoth has its own theme and its own pattern of development as the movie progresses. This theme is such a vibrant and enthusiastic piece with a peppy rhythm and tune that is perfectly in synch with how Vinoth feels after kidnapping Divya. He dances with so much joy and adding a thumping energy to this joyous moment is this theme's addictive rhythm. The real master stroke is the usage of this theme in the clash between Vinoth and Aadhi in the climax. It goes on to prove how far Selvaraghavan has gone in conceiving the scenes in the scripting stage with music in mind. It is one of the movie’s highlights. It perfectly suits the climax action sequence and the reason being Vinoth's passion and undying hope for a happily ever after life with Divya, as he kicks Aadhi with mad wild enthusiasm.

Vinoth’s Excitement and Mystery

It is heard when Vinoth walks into Divya’s room for the first time. He is so excited to see the grandeur of the room. Vinoth rolls over her bed and does all crazy things like a kid. Yuvan bursts out with a grand orchestral burst piece at the start as if some grand palace is being shown (in the eyes of Vinoth, even this small room is a palace). The strings playing a theme in high tempo to punctuate the high speed actions of Vinoth and flute piece playing a pleasant melody to add an innocent flavour together conveys everything to make sure that what is conveyed to our ears is exactly in synch with what is conveyed to our eyes. The mystery part comes when suddenly Vinoth starts to behave strangely. This music cue with tense strings implies the mystery behind Vinoth. I like the way the mystery part played slowly on strings gradually moves to a solo flute piece that sounds Divya’s sympathy for Vinoth. This kind of seamless transition and blending in synch with the cuts and emotions on the visuals is very important for an effective background score.

Vinoth – An Alien

The uneasy look of the other students, the mix of feelings like nostalgia, fear and embarrassment of Vinoth are well brought out in this theme. The slow beats in the background sounds the hesitance in every step Vinoth takes forward as he walks into the classroom and finally it ends with a very unique mandolin sound playing some middle-eastern notes, as Vinoth opens a window of the classroom. I don’t know who decided to go for music in the background for this scene, because it would have worked even without music or with just few chords on strings, but such a complete theme linking every single happening in the visual takes the impact to next level.

Vinoth uncomfortable with urban life

This piece appears when Vinoth's impatience and intolerance with the way people live in cities is emphasized. The mysterious piano start, a strange eerie sound (quite terrifying) and the fast running strings when Vinoth runs away from the ugly city people, are all put together nicely for implying Vinoth’s discomfort.

Divya speaks to Vinoth

Yuvan gradually raises the pitch of the theme in every next phrase of melody that is playing on a huge string section to sound how Vinoth’s excitement level and emotions are rising from inside. It is one of the most emotional pieces of the movie that perfectly adds a waltz-like rhythm to the emotional beats of Vinoth's heart at that moment. One may complain that the music is so loud in this scene, and it overlaps with what Divya is speaking to Vinoth. But I think this is deliberate. Divya talking to Vinoth is more important than what she talks to him. When Divya approaches Vinoth, we already know that she has accepted him as a friend and she is going to repeat what Vinoth was talking alone a little while ago. So it is not the words of Divya that is important in the scene, instead it is the emotions of Vinoth. But when director makes Vinoth dumb and shows just his eyes with the images in his spectacles silently speaking for him, it is the composer who has to add a voice and sound to Vinoth’s emotions. And Yuvan has done it so perfectly in this scene. You can listen to the same cue in one more moment in the movie when Vinoth does some tricks to bring all the necessary things for Divya to make her feel comfortable in the middle of the forest. Now, it is Vinoth’s turn to surprise Divya. This time, the theme is for Divya’s surprise.

Vinoth and Divya in Canteen

This is one of the beautiful and difficult scenes in the movie where there are no dialogues but just the minds of Vinoth and Divya silently speaking a strange language. The music plays a vital role here with flute, piano, guitar, mild strings and vocals alternatively performing beautiful melodies matching the cuts in the scene. Every single look and variation in the actions of Vinoth in the scene is perfectly punctuated by switching the beautiful romantic theme on various instruments. The flute and female vocals bring in all sympathetic sound needed. This theme can be termed as the love theme of Vinoth as this is where he first gets acquainted with Divya and also the variations of this theme are used for many other scenes in the movie.

Vinoth in the Symposium

This piece starts subtly and hesitantly with the strings sounding Vinoth's hesitation to speak before a huge audience in the symposium. Slowly the strings come forward to play the notes more boldly, when we come to know that Vinoth has started to speak confidently, leaving all the inhibitions behind. The oboe piece is beautiful in this theme, and gives a sort of a victorious sound and the highpoint is when slowly the strings paves way to the haunting flute piece (the canteen theme) for Vinoth hugging Divya, as Vinoth shares the moment of pride and joy with her.

Vinoth’s Disappointment

This piece is heard just before the intermission when Vinoth comes to know that Divya is in love with Aadhi. It starts with a sad solo violin version of the love theme (Canteen theme) which slowly moves to a more emotional flute piece with strings providing ample support from behind. Also percussions are added aptly at right places like thunder in the already stormed heart. The percussion beats synch with the shots of shutting doors of the shops around Vinoth as though the whole world is again closing down putting him in the same old lonely zone.

Vinoth’s Childhood

This piece is a story told in music. I am just going to list the images crossing my mind when I listen to this music (please note, last time I saw the movie was almost 2 years back). The piece starts with sad strings playing for Vinoth being sent as a child labour to a factory by his mother. Then follows a sad melody played on a vibraphone, the very sound of vibraphone brings in the image of kids and the sad melody suggests that they are being tortured. Slowly the flute takes over (which could be easily mistaken as an Ilaiyaraaja composition), the haunting flute sounds the sweet acquaintance of Vinoth with another girl working in the same place and the following female vocal suggests the longing of kids to live a free life, (as they watch kids playing happily with their parents outside), then suddenly after a brief mysterious piece suggesting that something wrong has happened to that girl, a sad chorus bursts out for her painful death and more than her death the music is for Vinoth, who has become all alone again. Then the sudden transformation to somewhat relaxed mood happens with the sound of the very first note of the flute suggesting the freedom of kids, the percussions that follow are for Kids escaping and the flute theme along with strings playing a very pleasant melody suggesting that the kids are finally free and flying away a bird let out after being locked in a cage for years. Do I need to say anything more about this piece? Just experience it for yourself.

Unnai Thozhi


Thathi Thathi


Very rarely does surprise small songs which were not previously released in the soundtrack makes so much impact on very first listening. And the due credit should go to the lyricist Na.Muthukumar, because in all the four songs, it is not just the music but also the beautiful lines aptly written for the situation that helps to elevate the scene. Like the music, the lyrics also instantly stick to our mind. I feel no music could have registered the dilemma in Vinoth’s mind as convincingly as the words Unnai Thozhi enbadha, en Paadhi enbadhaa, Unnai Kaadhal Enbadha, En thedal enbadha. So are the lines for Natpinilae song. Adding beauty to the lines is Yuvan’s piano. Thathi Thathi is a very peppy tune. I felt the music really added a lot to this long funny scene without which the scene wouldn’t have had the same impact. The instrumental version of this song appears again when Divya falls in love with Aadhi. Vidamalae is heavily inspired by Rahman’s Salaam Bombay, but as I said before, what is important is that the music is apt for what Vinoth goes through at the moment and hence it works. The heavy rhythms are a perfect choice to sound the fire inside Vinoth.

Vinoth’s Destiny

So much happens in the climax and this music is a summary of it. The musical moment is when Yuvan brings in the canteen theme sung by an innocent female vocal when Vinoth understands that Divya has a soft corner for him and decides to let himself go. The chorus that follows is a mass for Vinoth’s death. It is a perfect closing piece for the romantic musical thriller. The music in these final moments makes the impact of the movie's ending to linger for a longer time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cue-It Up - 2

Cue-It Up – 1

Total Running Time: 13 mins 03 secs

Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams)

I can’t put in words the amazement I get every time I listen to the piece “Becoming a Geisha” from Memoirs of Geisha by Film Score God John Williams. Such a haunting melody and listen to how breathtaking the variations, counter points, the way the melody is divided with the orchestra are! Each and every turn in the piece perfectly punctuate the cuts in the beautifully shot visual montage where Sayuri becomes a Geisha. The whole Memoirs of Geisha soundtrack is such a soothing departure from John William’s usual brass and bombast.

Becoming A Geisha by Soundtracks on Grooveshark

Amelie Theme (Yann Tiersen)

Amelie theme – Orchestral Version – You can’t think of a better piece of music to lighten up your mood. It is such an exhilarating melody and that moment when the Strings section takes over the melody from the tinkle bells and Vibraphone – Transcendental stuff!

Amelie Theme - Orchestral Version by Yann Tiersen on Grooveshark

W.A.T.E.R (Monty Sharma)

The ‘W.A.T.E.R’ theme from Black is a soul-stirring incidental music that plays with absolute precision to the moods and emotions in the visual when Debraj (Amitabh Bachchan) pushes Michelle (Ayesha Kapoor) into the water. The music begins when precisely light begins to spark and sneak into the un-flickering darkness of Michelle’s world. As she spells ‘W.A.T.E.R’ with signs of alphabets, the piano that plays in synch with the rhythm of water drops, the strings, and the flute gently whip up a sense of overwhelm in our hearts, and a deep male voice sings to the calm and comforting relief we see in Debraj’s face as gets astounded by the miracle that just happened now and here in front of his eyes.

WATER - Black by Monty Sharma on Grooveshark

Schizophrenia (Karthik Raaja)

The main theme from Kudaikkal Mazhai is an instant classic. A short and sweet melody and an incredible Orchestration - how many changeovers within two and half minutes and how astoundingly seamless the transitions are! I go simply speechless whenever I listen to this track. Karthik Raaja – Only other composer who can compose Ilaiyaraaja-Class Orchestration.

Kudaikkul Mazhai - Theme by Karthik Raaja on Grooveshark

Drizzle Delight (A.R.Rahman)

A cue from Kadal score. A riff with the leftovers of now world famous loop used earlier in Munbe Vaa, and it is layered with subtle strings that underline the mystery about the unknown girl - a patient sneaking out of the Hospital. Before we know who she is and what she is up to, the scene cuts to Thomas who is flying as he is riding a bike with his hands spread wide open like wings, and the music continues seamlessly to play the main theme, but now with a jaunty folk rhythm for Thomas’ excitement of being in the Town. More importantly, the theme is used again when Thomas asks the Father to baptize him in the church. Love the choice of this piece for this moment, it spreads invokes a pleasant aura.

09. Beatrice Intro by A.R.Rahman on Grooveshark

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Swades Score - A.R.Rahman

All the cues described in the post can be heard in the playlist embedded at the end of the post

Is AGPPL (Ashutosh Gowariker Productions Private Limited) the only film production company in India, in the films of which, the company’s logo appears in a colour and graphic design that is reflective of the subject matter of the film? For Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh painted AGPPL in glittering gold against a silky red carpet; for Swades, it is all black and white. In the world that Ashutosh paints in Swades, there is no place for grey. Moreover, even the music that accompanies the logo when it appears in the beginning of the opening credits of the film is not constant. There is no fixed musical theme for AGPPL. In Swades, a Synth flute piece evoking a mysterious sound that is used in one of the most pivotal moments of the film is chosen as the theme for AGPPL. It is a fascinating choice, for two reasons. One, practically, this short piece of music perfectly fits the length of the footage of the introduction of AGPPL’s logo in the opening credits, two - to use a musical theme that plays in a critical moment in the film and hint at the narrative hinge-point or hook of the film.

Or, simply, it could be just a random choice of a piece of music that fits the length of the AGPPL Intro footage. But, do you remember, in American Pie, the music that plays when the Universal Pictures appear first on screen is the funky bass guitar piece that is used when Jim looks at an Apple Pie in his house, just after knowing from his friends what a third base feels like. Even, in recent English Vinglish, the theme that plays over Hope (you like the file) Productions is the theme that plays when finally Sashi gives a speech in English. So, I want to believe that there is some thought process behind choosing music for Intro music, and it is not a random choice.

AGPPL logo gets a theme that is used in those episodes of the film in which the problems thus far existed in the story gets solved and a new stage is set for a new problem. Gita (Gayatri Joshi) wants Kaveriamma to stay in India. Mohan (Shahrukh Khan), on the other side, wants to take her along with him to America. Kaveriamma is confused. Just after the intermission, there is a scene (which is not in the theatrical version of the film but it is available in deleted scenes section of the DVD), in which Kaveriamma (Kishori Balal) discusses with one of her neighbours about her dilemma and the difficult decision that she has to make. Kaveriamma is unable to decide on what to do. Kaveriamma’s friend gives her an advice, which sparks an idea in Kaveriamma’s mind.

Rahman plays the music theme that was played for AGPPL logo, in its entirety for the first time within the film, when Kaveriamma is beginning to contemplate about implementing the idea. Kaveriamma asks Mohan Bharghav to go to a village and collect money from Haridas, a farmer. Mohan asks Kaveriamma about her decision on coming with him to America. Kaveriamma replies that she would decide once he completes this task, thereby throwing a clever hook on Mohan. Rahman also uses his hook on Mohan, by playing the theme precisely when Kaveriamma gives a mysterious reply that links her decision with the completion of the task given to Mohan. When bewildered Gita asks why she is sending Mohan to meet Haridas, Kaveriamma says that she knows what she is doing. Rahman adds to the mystery with the theme continuously playing in here too. The musical hook used for Kaveriamma’s shrewd move, which is going to lead Mohan to a life-altering moment in his life, is the same hook that Rahman plays for AGPPL in the very beginning.

Gita, after calling Mohan names like NRI (Non Returning Indian), walks in to see Kaveriamma sneakily watching he quarrel with Mohan, and yet pretend as if she hasn’t noticed anything. After Gita leaves, Kaveriamma heaves a sigh of relief because she has found another way to make Mohan stay in India, and diligently Rahman adds a musical nod by playing the Synth flute piece again in here.

Ashutosh Gowariker asks a composer for title music (the music that plays in the opening credits of the film), much in advance, even while composing songs for the film (Got to know this from Satyajit Batkal’s book on making of Lagaan called “Spirit of Lagaan”). Rahman and Ashutosh did it for Lagaan, and they did it again in Swades. The Swades title theme is one of the catchiest title theme music pieces an Indian film has ever had, so much so that Rahman could convince even a Danny Boyle to use the theme as the ring tone of Salim’s mobile phone throughout the film Slumdog Millionaire.

The instantly addictive rhythm fades in first and grabs our attention. An arresting Accordion melody bounces out of nowhere, and with the pounding rhythm, the music as a whole makes us excited, lights up our spirit and lifts up the curtains for the title card "Swades – We the People" to appear. Despite composing music for so many years, only a Rahman can still evoke this feel, among even his worst critics. In a little while, strings and flute join in, playing their own tweaked, staccato versions of the theme along with the Accordion. When Mohan wakes up and passionately looks at the aerial view of India, Rahman seamlessly blends the endearing ‘Hey Hey’ motif of Yeh Tara Woh Tara song along with the title music. The introduction of a totally different melody in the middle of the title music is to underline the mild shift in Mohan’s mood when he looks out through the window. Playing the ‘Hey Hey’ melody in Accordion instead of using original Udit Narayan’s version is to keep its musical flavour in sync with that of the title music, and also not to draw too much attention on to the fact that the composer is trying to underline the mood shift through his music.

Rahman gives a hefty purpose to this catchy title theme by playing it in different forms in the scenes where Mohan progresses in making a change in the lives of the villagers. It continues to play in the background, in all those scenes, in which Mohan goes to each and every villager’s house, to request them to send their kids to school. It turns mellow on strings and plays to the sympathy of Mohan when he gets angry at villagers, whom talk so proudly about India’s culture and tradition. It also plays in the scene where the villagers begin to construct the reservoir of the mini Hydro-electric power plant.

A mini hydro-electric power plant to generate electricity for Charanpur is fully erected. Mohan asks Mela Ram, who is standing next to the valve near the reservoir, to open the valve, to allow the water to rush into the turbine. The water rushes. The voltage rises, and when it is about to reach 230 Volts, it suddenly drops down. Water is not flowing with enough pressure to the turbine. The outlet of the reservoir is blocked. Mohan rushes up to the reservoir, dives into it and removes the blockage. It is the one last difficulty that Mohan puts himself through to enrich the lives of villagers, and Rahman faithfully brings the title theme back and plays it in its original form for this blockage-removal episode.

In the final act of the film, in which Mohan Bharghav successfully generates electricity and lights a bulb, it is Rahman’s background score that pumps in the rhythm and energy in the visuals. With such a dry and academic subject matter like power generation, without Rahman’s score, Ashutosh would have had a tough time in keeping up the pace and interest of the audience in those final episodes. Probably, Ashutosh might have told this to Rahman, and hence Rahman plays quite loudly in these scenes.

When Mohan enters Charanpur driving his huge caravan, an exhilarating piece of music, a song that begins with dominant kids chorus singing ‘Aayo Re’ plays for Mohan’s excitement in meeting Kaveriamma after so many years. The innate innocence in the vocals of the Kids harmony, a melody seeped in longing, excitement, euphoria, the restless folk rhythms and ethnic percussions, intriguing layers of flute and soaring strings converge to create an exotic symphony in ‘Aayo Re’. However, the piece gets its real due and meaning only when used in the climax.

When John (Mohan’s Boss at NASA) says Mohan that he could have gone places, Mohan with a quiet confidence, replies ‘I am going places’. John, after a pause, says, "Alright Mohan. Go light your bulb". There comes the goose-fleshy moment of the film brilliantly aided by the background score. Rahman lights up the smile that rises on Mohan’s face with the kids’ chorus beginning to sing ‘Aayo Re’ again. Cut to - A Landing plane. The music continues. The camera moves as if it is placed on the nose of the landing plane and it zooms into the Charanpur Temple grounds where Postman (Rajesh Vivek) and Mohan are wrestling. While, in the beginning, the music was for Mohan’s excitement, it is only now the piece finds its real purpose. All the multiple layers of sound, instruments and choral parts are justified as if the whole village or rather India is singing a warm and euphoric welcome for Mohan.

Rahman seems to get intrigued by the thought of an NRI coming back to India. Even in Delhi-6, Rahman does something similar with a short melody on Santoor. The sound and the pace of hammering the Santoor strings are apt, and instantly bring a native aura, when Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) lands in India. However, only when we hear Rahman playing the same theme again in the end of the film for Roshan coming back to life from an after-death experience, we realize what Rahman was trying to imply musically, when he used the same piece for Roshan’s return to India.

Typical of all Ashutosh’s films, there are many small characters, playing meaty parts in the film and all of them get a thematic, musical nod from Rahman. The ever enthusiastic Mela Ram (Daya Shankar Pandey) gets a funky Bhangra-rap song for his idea of opening a Dhaba in partnership with Mohan at Freeways in America. The Postman of the village is an enthusiastic learner. He gets a piece with catchy bass line and a rhythm that ticks in sync with his energy and enthusiasm. The melodramatic instrumental version of Aahistha Aahistha song fills Kaveriamma’s sentimental scenes with Mohan. Even NASA, for all the machinery and high-technology ambience of it, gets a peppy techno track, with no trace of any real instruments anywhere in the piece. An exotic Saxophone plays leisurely in the background announcing the high life and luxury of Mohan in America, while he with his friend, returns back to his house, after a typical day of work at NASA. Surprisingly, the same Saxophone theme reprises again like a secondary love theme between Mohan and Gita in the later part of the film.

The fun, playfulness and the childish innocence prevalent in some of the scenes are underscored by a common musical theme with Rahman’s typical pizzicato strings. It plays when Mohan, like a kid, closes Kaveriamma’s eyes from behind, and quizzes her to tell who he is. It chirps when Chikku (Master Smith Seth), on Kaveriamma’s instruction, does not allow Mohan to get inside the house. It smiles when Kaveriamma introduces Chikku to Mohan as Gita’s younger brother, who has lied of having a stomach ache to bunk the school today. It plays when Chikku refuses to come closer to Mohan. It giggles when Kaveriamma asks Mohan about Nashaa job - misspelling NASA as Nashaa (in Hindi). It creates a sweet, innocent clamour when a group of excited kids enter and start to play around in Mohan’s caravan.

Mohan meets Gita for the first time in a book shop. Typical of Indian films, it is love at first sight for Mohan. Mohan, who is already impressed by Gita’s philosophy, is stunned by Gita's beauty, when he sees Gita descending down the stairs. In the scene in which a family comes to see Gita with a marriage proposal, Gita stuns Mohan yet again when she comes out of her room wearing a gorgeous Sari. In these scenes, Rahman makes her look more gorgeous than what she is with that serene Santoor postlude of the song Saawariya Saawariya.

The romantic ballad Dekho Na is the least appreciated song of the film and yet its melody is the most recurring musical theme in the film. It must be one of Rahman’s most favourite melodies. As the melody remained underrated in its Tamil version Baba Kichu Kichu Thaa from the Tamil film Baba, Rahman gave the melody a new life again by ornamenting it with a refreshing orchestration in Dekho Na. Rahman uses this melody throughout the film for all lighter, romantic moments between Mohan and Gita in the film.

After already having fallen for her classic beauty, Mohan, sitting at the cash counter of the book shop, has his first conversation with Gita. While Mohan uses a calculator to prepare the bill for books that Gita is buying from the store, Gita instantly calculates the amount in her mind and tells him the numbers before he finishes pressing buttons on the calculator. Mohan is impressed. First time, when Gita tells him the right figures, there is no music, but the second time when Gita says 637; Rahman introduces the bass riff of the song Dekho Na, because it is the second time that Mohan is mighty impressed. When finally Gita leaves without taking her balance amount back, Mohan runs out to give the money to her but Rahman allows Alka Yagnik to hum a sweet phrase in the background, to suggest that maybe Mohan’s run is not just to return the balance money.

Mohan and Gita meet again in Charanpur School. Mohan is surprised to see Gita as a teacher and also as the caretaker of Kaveriamma in Charanpur. While Rahman made us hear only the bass riff and layers of the song Dekho Na in their first meeting, he gently plays the complete main melody of the song on a Piano in this scene, because it is now Mohan knows who Gita is, giving a whole new chance for his instant attraction towards Gita to go to the next level.

Gita comes back home and opens the door, slamming it on Mohan’s back, without knowing that he is standing behind the door. In the accident, Gita’s books fall down. Mohan picks the books, and returns it to Gita but halfway through, takes it back, cleans the dust off, pays respect to the book as a teasing reaction to the philosophy that Gita was giving to someone in the earlier scene about the books, in the book shop. Rahman helps the audience in understanding the connection and the subtle humour better by playing the Dekho Na theme again here.

Kaveriamma, Gita and the kids come to have a look at the interiors of Mohan’s Caravan. Mohan’s Marlboro Cigarette packet is on the table. He wants to hide it from Kaveriamma. Mohan and Gita, silently, through their eyes, have a cute conversation, in which Mohan pleads Gita to hide the Cigarette pack. Gita hides the pack and Mohan thanks her. Rahman’s Dekho Na theme makes the chemistry between Mohan and Gita, the cute looks, and sweet conversation in this scene, lighter, livelier and sweeter. There is no romance in this scene, yet there is a sense of authority with which Gita looks at Mohan and the ease with which they interact and understand each other - Rahman’s music here is trying to underpin that ease and comfort.

A family comes to Kaveriamma’s house to see Gita and fix the marriage of their son with Gita. It is in here Rahman uses the Dekho Na theme to the best, boldly announcing that Mohan is indeed in love with Gita. As the talks are going on inside the house, Mohan who does not want this proposal to happen goes out to have a tension relieving smoke. Strings, curiously bowed in their lower registers, further stirs up the tension in the moment. Mohan turns back to see Gita standing and talking to everyone in an intense tone and posture. On hearing Gita’s refusal for the marriage proposal, Mohan feels totally relieved. Rahman begins to play the Dekho Na theme loudly and happily here, adding to the euphoria of Mohan who is greeting each of the members of the visiting family with a smile. The real punch comes at the end when Mohan swivels around the pillar and raises his hand as a sign of victory, and it is in here Rahman plays a triumphant rock guitar coda to the music cue and the scene.

Mohan decides to help Gita in getting Kids to join the school. He goes to meet the head of the village, asking him to send his daughters to school. While trying to convince him, Mohan starts talking about why education is essential for girl children and uses exactly the same words that Gita spoke about a woman on the other day while refusing the marriage proposal. In an Ashutosh Gowariker film, spoon feeding is obvious, and for his part, Rahman too helps the cause. In this scene, while Ashutosh makes his point clear by making Mohan look down and show Mohan recollecting the exact words of Gita, Rahman subtly plays the Dekho Na theme to make it easier for us to understand that Mohan is indeed borrowing the lines of Gita. It is one of those quintessential clich├ęs of background scores in Indian films, used quite convincingly in this film too.

Rahman uses a transcendental flute piece, serene and pure in its sound, when more kids come and join Gita’s school. This flute piece is first played when Mohan explains and shows how to connect the stars in the sky and make shapes out of it, to entertain the villagers, who have gathered to watch Yaadon Ki Bharath. The philosophy behind the stars episode, the song Yeh Tara Woh Tara are all to impress upon the villagers about sending the kids to school without any bias or prejudice about gender, caste or creed. Rahman links in this sequence and its consequence with the same piece, implying that because of that (his philosophy about stars and shapes), this (Kids of all castes joining the same school) happened.

The hinge moment of the film is when Mohan travels on Indian roads, rails and waters, sitting next to ordinary Indian people, to go to an interior village and meet a poor farmer - Haridas. The whole journey and his meeting with farmer stir a storm in his conscience. While Haridas speaks about his situation, Rahman bows the high registers of a solo Saarangi, to make us sympathize with the ache of Haridas. Rahman plays ‘Hey Hey’ theme from Yeh Tara song on a Solo flute, disturbing Mohan, who is staring at the Half moon in the night sky and contemplating about Haridas’s situation, and is asking himself about what he is going to do now. A strong bass is sustained as Mohan leaves Haridas’s village with a heavy heart. The bass deepens and continues until, the ‘Hey Hey’ arouses loudly on an orchestra, intensifying the thoughts of Mohan, who is now sailing on the boat in his trip back to Charanpur.

Cut to – Aerial shot of a train running. We know Mohan is travelling in that train. We are yet to see him, but Rahman creates a big turbulence in the air, with his strings, to sound the various thoughts that are clamouring in Mohan’s head and making him feel extremely guilty. Train stops in a railway station. Rahman pauses. A boy is selling water in the railway station. Strings slowly rise when Mohan decides to buy a glass of water from that boy, and it sustains a sublime cry when Mohan, for the first time, drinks Indian water from a clay cup. When Mohan breaks out with tears, the orchestra screams out the melody from the second stanza of the song Yeh Jo Desh hai Tera to Mohan, sowing the first seed of thought in Mohan’s mind, about the situation in India that badly needs his help. The usage of the melody of Yeh Jo Desh hai Tera in this scene is a master stroke. It is this song of nostalgia that finally brings Mohan back to India. With Rahman’s orchestral scream resuming in the background, Ashutosh slowly moves out of the window from Mohan’s close-up shot to that poignant aerial shot of Train departing from the station with the kid still standing there on the platform, counting the coins and waiting for the next train to arrive.

Happy Independence Day!

Listen to 54 Voiceless HQ Cues from Swades Background Score here. Running Time: 82 Minutes.

Swades Score by Suresh Kumar on Grooveshark

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cue-It Up - 1

There are so many film score cues that I love and play in my mind all the time, but rarely I listen to them coming out of real speakers. Through Cue-It Up series I wish to introduce to you instrumental music pieces from Film Scores that might stay with you for the rest of your life.

Roar (Michael Giacchino)

Let’s begin with a bang and bombast. Roar – Cloverfield Overture is the music that plays in the end credits of a movie that has no music score at all. A big disaster movie with a giant beast and without a music score! – Yes, they really did pull it off. The immensely addictive theme goes through a journey in the piece, as it would through the film if it were made to play to back the visuals of this film.

Roar - Cloverfield Overture by Michael Giacchino on Grooveshark

Four notes (Gustavo Santaolalla)

A note each for Arun, Shai, Munna and Yasmin strung together to make a melody, that is as sweet and heartfelt as the movie (Dhobi Ghat) itself. Glad that Aamir Khan released the score of this film at least in the Blu-ray package of the movie.

Dhobi Ghat - Four Lives by Various Artists on Grooveshark

Richard Alpert (Michael Giachchino)

Ab Aeterno is my most favourite of all episodes in Lost, where we get to watch the complete back story of one of most intriguing characters of the series – Richard Alpert. I instantly got hooked to this theme, when it first played in the scene where Ricardo rides a horse a long distance to a Doctor for the medicine to save his wife Isabelle. What a haunting tune!

Richard Alpert Theme by Michael Giacchino on Grooveshark

Veena Waltz (Anirudh)

One of the most haunting instrumental pieces I heard this year. With an instantly pleasing waltz rhythm, the melody takes uplifting scale shifts through the course of the piece. I haven’t watched the movie (Edhir Neechal) yet and I don’t think I would, but this piece will definitely stay with me forever. I like the way the flute solo of beautiful melody of the line Husain Bolt line from the peppy club song joins the piece in the second half and seamlessly connects with the Veena theme that reprises on flute. Anirudh – Way to go!

Edhir Neechal - Veena Waltz Suite by Anirudh on Grooveshark

Monkey Chatter (Ilaiyaraaja)

Monkey Chatter from Mumbai Xpress is a piece that belongs to a genre I would like to call Raajazz. Listen to the breathtaking orchestration and the interplay of themes and how seamlessly it flows from one section to another. Usually, I get bored of long instrumental Jazz pieces. That Tightness! The admirable tightness in the Orchestration! Only Ilaiyaraaja can make a piece like Monkey Chatter accessible to a Jazz-illiterate like me. I wonder if anything from this piece was used in the movie, I remember listening to multiple delicious variations of the jazzy Kurangu Kayil Maalai, but not this one.

Mumbai Express - Monkey Chatter by Soundtrack on Grooveshark

Gabriel’s Cello (Ennio Morricone)

This is Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello Version of one of the most popular movie themes of Ennio Morricone from The Mission. The theme is sheer Melody - Exquisite! One of those melodies that popularize the instrument on which it is played – Oboe in this case, but this is the Cello version.

Few years ago, in a BOSE outlet, I was testing a speaker that I was going to buy that day by playing different genres of music from my iPod. When I played this piece, for not more than 15 seconds, a guy from the Store was instantly shaken and stirred by the sound of the music, got curious and asked me the name of the piece. I wrote down the name on a piece of paper “Gabriel’s Oboe from the compilation Yo-Yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone”. This series is something like that.

The Mission: Gabriel's Oboe by Yo-Yo Ma on Grooveshark