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?