I was expecting that Ilaiyaraaja would again hint the main melody of the next piece on his Harmonium, but he didn’t. Anil Srinivasan started to play what is unarguably the piece heard most as the ringtone in the mobile phones in Tamilnadu. Every mobile in Tamilnadu, at least once in its life, would have rung playing Mouna Raagam theme. It sounded a little different when heard live on a grand Piano, the tone of the Piano being much heavier than the one in the original recording. I liked the way it started not instantly with the first note of the main melody of the theme, but with a short prelude like it does in the opening credits of the film. Thankfully, Anil Srinivasan didn’t improvise or add any so called dynamics to the piece. Usually such seasoned musicians tend to do that while performing, otherwise what is the fun in it for them.Mouna Raagam - Karthik Theme
The funky, livelier version of the theme with that kick-ass bass line, jaunty drums and the main melody played on mute trumpet followed — it still boggles my mind that one could give such extremely varied orchestral colours to the same melody. The theme soon went back to where it belongs though, Anil’s Piano, but this time Strings joined, and after two iterations, when the strings were bowing the last note in a way suggesting a fade out, I thought that was the end of the piece. Just after a breathtakingly measured pause, the strings took over the main theme entirely and played it on a higher tempo, it is the darker version of the theme that is heard in the scene when Karthik is shot in front of the Registrar office.
The pleasure of watching this sad version of the theme live is the sight of the Strings section playing it. I got a seat that is right in the middle of the auditorium in the Grand Tier (and it helped that the Concert Hall’s website had a virtual tour feature which shows you 360 view of the Hall from the Seat you choose to book), neither too close to the stage, nor too far, neither too high nor too low to the level of the stage. It was just the right distance to witness the beauty of the sight of Violinists’ hands moving together in military precision while bowing the strings to play some of the most sublime set of musical phrases written by Maestro Ilaiyaraaja. If you sit too close to the stage, you don’t get to see the whole, only the set of people playing the First Violin section of piece, which isn’t exciting enough. There are many sections in an Ilaiyaraaja piece where the Violinists sitting in the first row play a melody while violinists sitting in the second row play a totally different melody that supports or counters the first violins, and the waves their hand movements whip in air is a beauty to behold.
When playing this version of the theme, the first violins play the main melody in its incomplete form (just the way love story that the theme represents ends incompletely) on a higher register in one layer, and the second set of Violinists go wild playing a repetitive phrase in high tempo for the rush, anxiety and chaos in the moment, and finally, all the layers unite in playing the main theme in extremely slow speed. You get to see live, the harmony that you have always marvelled at. Violinists in the different layers of string section moving their bows in all different directions and yet collectively the music sounding perfectly in harmony, and that audio visual experience is one of its kind.
Anil again took over the theme to his Piano and was looping just the main bars of the theme in a reducing tempo and volume. I was sure that it was going to end. People in some corners of the concert hall even started to clap, but some of them were still not sure of whether the piece is reaching its end, some were hesitantly clapping thinking that they can clap heavier once everyone in the audience joins to clap. However Anil was still playing. When he was on to his fifth or sixth iteration, amidst discrete clap sounds in the auditorium Ilaiyaraaja’s Guitarist Sadhanandham started to played Mohan’s theme on Guitar and Anil Srinivasan was still playing the main theme on Piano mildly like a riff, a contrapuntal melody to the Mohan theme, it was a surprising juxtaposition of two main themes from the film, that Ilaiyaraaja never did even in the film’s original background score. That moment of both themes being played perfectly in sync as counterpoints was enough the (generally criticised as exorbitant by even hard core fans) price I paid for the concert.
Expectedly, Ilaiyaraaja didn’t stretch the idea too far. Anil Srinivasan stopped playing the main theme when Sadhanandham started to repeat the main Mohan theme second time. Though the other Hungarian Guitarist was there, I am glad Sadhanandham played this piece, for I didn’t really like that western tinge — a slide or glide in that last note in the name of dynamics — with which Hungarian guitarist ended the notes in Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai theme in one of the Ilaiyaraaja Concerts organised by Jaya TV. Every damn version of Mohan theme — the flute, Solo Violin with String section, Saxophone, Clarinet and String section, just the String section, just the Cello section, and even Veena version which plays in Kambili-poochchu-oorra-maadhiri-irukku scene was played and all the solo pieces were strung together as one seamless piece. Every soloist made sure they got their share of glory by standing up while playing the lead melody.
It helps the audience to see who is playing, because it was a massive stage with 100+ orchestra and 50+ choir. However, the big screen at the top of the stage was also capturing the performances as it should be, spontaneously switching to the feeds from cameras focussing on the section where the action is at any given point in an instrumental piece. In this case, focus was mostly on instrumentalists performing the lead melody with occasionally sights of the string section and other accompanying instruments. I wasn’t concentrating much on the screen though, but I could see that they were making sure that none of the action is missed.
When the climactic version of Mohan theme, with Strings, Piano and happy drums brought the Mouna Raagam suite to a satisfying closure, it felt like I experienced the whole movie in ten minutes. I wonder if watching a collage of images or muted clips from the movie would make us experience the key emotion of the movie as much as the collection of cues from the background score just did.
Mouna Raagam - Mohan Theme