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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

OK Kanmani - A.R.Rahman

Parandhu Sella Vaa. It could have been another Hai Rama Yeh Kya Hua - with its restless rhythms and raaga based melody that sounds like a song Rahman conjured for the visuals of the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho coming to life to make love. It could have been a Maja Maja Maaja (Jillunu Oru Kaadhal) or a Thazhuvudhu (Anbe Aaruyirae) loaded with tribal rhythms and many musical moments filled with incessant moaning that goes with the idea of making love as a mere carnal pleasure with no bigger emotional heft whatsoever attached to the experience. Or it could have been all about the breezy romance, the fun and froth in the moments when a couple in love live together for the first time - Kaadhal Sadugudu (Alaipayuthey). Or it could have been something that ambles between the quiet slumber and passionate crescendo like In Lamhon Ki Daaman men (Jodha Akbar). In OK Kanmani, Rahman thinks of something refreshing for the situation in question and gives us the song of the soundtrack - Parandhu Sella Vaa. He sets the experience of intense physical intimacy to the ecstasy of a bird freed of a cage after years of imprisonment and its never ending flight after that higher and higher above the clouds. Bits and pieces of musical elements from all the other aforementioned songs are in here too — a softly thudding tribal rhythm, the musical moaning, mischievous mix of voices and sounds in the backing orchestration etc, But, they come together to paint a kaleidoscopic soundscape that entirely belongs to this song and this song alone.

Song has an interesting structure. It starts off with a gentle and cheerful foreplay section, a shaker, a peck-on-the-cheek sound loop, and a melody that keeps repeating, he does something and she does the same, no one knows where all of it is leading to, but soon a gentle rhythm kicks in and sets a groove to the action implying that they have taken a step further ahead. And she takes the lead and starts moaning melodically and it is so beautiful and classical that he might reach his peak without another touch. He moans along too but his is restrained and just enough to calm and bring her a new notches down from up above. Everything takes flight to a higher emotional plane sooner when he goes Nanaindhu kollavaa Mazhai Illamalae, and to an even higher and stronger emotional plane when a deep cello section joins as she goes Midhandhu pogavaa megha thundu pol. And that is where it stays afloat on Parandhu Sella vaa, Parandhu Sella Vaa. After a phase of passionate action, they jump to a frothy, playful phase for a short while when the song shifts to the most ecstatic musical moment of the whole soundtrack. Saasha’s scat singing backed by a cute and chirpy pizzicato strings in this section gives me an indescribable high every single time I listen to the song. With Kadandhu Pogavaa Boodham Aindhayum and a grand choir backing the lines, the song shifts to the emotional plane again, and then it doesn’t end, it just stays there. Nobody is in a rush to hit the climactic orgasm. They want to fly and fly and stay afloat savouring every micro second of the experience without having to reach any pointed destination. I just like that.

Rahman’s in OK Kanmani is light music. Lightness is the overarching mood and feel and this aura of light is sometimes easily mistaken as superficial. And the lightest of all that is light in the album is Aye Sinamika. With relentlessly strummed guitars and acoustic drums, a variety of e-nstruments and the cheerful chorus interludes, the song creates an infectious positive vibe and is a bundle of joy. That everything in the song keeps circling far too long around so small a musical pivot is my only gripe, could have had a little more meat. Kara Aatakkaara also has similar problem, meanders a bit and though has many interesting parts doesn’t come together well. I can’t deny feeling disappointed when the song quickly turned to Tamil rap, because I was so hooked to the Kaara Aatakkaara section when the first teaser of the movie broke out with it, and I have been eagerly waiting to hear what comes after that.

Rahman is always after a sense of musical and conceptual balance within a song, within songs in an album and within songs of similar genre in his overall repertoire. It is in Prabhu Deva’s movies you will hear the slowest of Rahman melodies. There would always be a Mellisayae to switch from Romeo Aattam, or a Naalai Ulagam Illaiyendral to go to after No Problem, or a Ennavalae after Errani Kurradhaani. There would mostly be a carnatic section laid on club beats in most of his jaunty dance music. Thirikita Dhaana motif in Pappu Can’t Dance was to balance the crass loudness expected in a party song. The classical sargams in Yaakai Thiri was to give a musical heft to the harmless fluff in a party song. And maybe the overt carnatic flavour in OK Kanmani music is for the same reason. And in OK Kanmani too, Rahman is after a musical balance within the songs and between the songs and he is able to achieve that without it being detrimental to the core mood and musical premise of the song. Maybe I am stretching the theory too far, maybe all of its comes from what the film needs but maybe not.

There Ulaa is an interesting exercise in Rahman’s penchant for balance. The song’s structure is dangerously fragile with scattered fragments of musical phrases and long stretches of pauses in between. A listener doesn’t get anything to hold on to easily, apart from the addictive techno beat that is deliberately played on a tempo higher than that of the melody. Each and every phrase should be able to stand on its own to make the song feel tighter. And also all of it should form a sweetly melodic and sensible musical structure when the listener is able to clearly map the whole journey of these fragments of musical phrases in their mind. Rahman pulls it off like he does every time. That female solo in the middle of the song is such a beautiful carnatic crux to build the song around.

Mental Menadhail is the only straight forward peppy techno track in the album that is not bothered about being all out fluff though Rahman tries to give a softer melodic bend to all the straight edges in the melody in its female version. First time I heard the female version, felt it sounded better, but have gone back to Rahman’s version now. Somehow the female version has subdued the fun and sound inhibited compared to the freak-out Rahman’s version.

I can’t pin point to a specific aspect but there is something totally magical about Naane Varugiraen besides the obviously sweet, strong, raaga-based melody and the exquisite classical inflections in the way the syllables of the sung words are split, swirled, stretched and squeezed inside Saasha Tripathi’s seductive vocal cord. Is it the element of electronica in the backing orchestration? But that is standard ornamentation considering Rahman’s standards. Or is it the constant chase and catch drama that plays out between the melody and the percussion? And while I question all these questions on the experience of the song, Rahman points me to its telugu version Yedho Adaganaa Yedhainaa Adaganaa, and listen to it yourself to know what inherent musicality of a language does to a melody. Sundara Telugu! And so is music of A.R.Ameen’s Arabic in the calming Maula Wa Salim. Can I get a karaoke version with just the chorus to use for my meditation?

But, the question that remains after listening to each new Rahman album - Where is the surprise? Where is that never-heard-before moment? Most unexpectedly I found the answer for these two questions in Malargal Kaettaen - a very deceptively simple and conventional sounding song in the album. Listen to the path Chitra takes when she sings Unaiyae Tharuvaai the first time, it is not the route a melody usually takes when it is presenting itself for the first time, it is an improvised version, a route it takes after having gone through a conventional path for many times, but that is what we get the first time and only in the second time Unaiyae tharuvaai takes its most obvious melodic route. And the never-heard-before moment arrives when Rahman joins Chitra, and again I can’t explain why, but Rahman’s voice and the way he sings does something that nothing else could have done to the song. And only when Rahman joined that I truly understood the beauty of the melody in its entirety.


Santosh Kumar T K said...

Although I am not on Twitter anymore, I did look forward to your review, and boy, was it worth it! I have said it before and will say it again, PS, your reviews are testament to your skills, patience, ear for good (beyond the obvious) and respect for the work that makers painstakingly create.

Your review is as "light" as the album you say it describes. Light, but with weight where there needs to be some. Heavy, with enough "light" where it needs to be so. If anticipation and savoring of a Rahman album is one thing, sharing the communal experience with folks like you is on another level.

Elsewhere I asked Shasank Nagavarapu, and Baradwaj Rangan but in vain. I ask again here. The opening lines of Malargal Kaettaen : bhaja govindam , or vaishnava janato ?

To me Rahman's entry at the end of Malargal is about the tone, the texture, the slightest of grain that one gets, say, after a deep sleep. Add to that a hint of nasal quality. It's the mixture, and it's maddening.

"…what inherent musicality of a language does to a melody…" this is "exactly" what i described a few days ago to my non-Telugu speaking wife. I have been listening to it for years now and of late i play "Hello Guru Premakosame" from Nirnayam (1991) a lot on my car stereo.

I never understood what was at play upon the arrival of the following lines
kattukunte ninne tappa kattukone kattukonu
ottu pettukuntinamma..bettu cheyyake..
allibilli gaaradeelu chellavinka chinnadaana..
allukove nannu neevu malle teegala

I have realized it's the inherent rhythm and bounce in the letters (in "every single" word except in two; gaaradeelu and neevu) themselves (we call it otthulu in Telugu) that was adding to the trademark drum rhythm by Ilaiyaraaja. Cherry on the cake! :)

The beauty Sirivennela S Sastry brings to the Telugu versions of Aye Sinamika, Malargal, Paranthu Sellava, and even an exotic Theera Ula — while maintaining the native integrity of the original and visual sync— is beyond words.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Santosh Kumar - Thank you.

And yes, Vaishnava Janato is the first thing that came to my mind when I heard Malargal Kaettaen the first time.

Nicely written about Telugu version of the songs. I am buying them once they are on iTunes. It is true, what words does to a melody, and for a fanatic of instrumental music is general, songs like these are a jolt. Another proof that one should try all versions of Rahman's songs at least, you never know what you are going to get. I really liked Kannada Version of Godfather songs better.

sandeep18march said...

You just put words to all the mixed feelings I was having while listening to the soundtrack of OK Kanmani. The very next day after the album released, the internet was flooded with reviews of the album, and I was like, "Have these guys even heard all the songs yet?"
It took me a day or two to move from Kaara Aatakkaaraa to Aye Sinamika.
And you have taken your time, savoured each song, and then put them into words. And it shows just as beautifully.

Anonymous said...

"Kara Aatakkaara also has similar problem, meanders a bit and though has many interesting parts doesn’t come together well. I can’t deny feeling disappointed when the song quickly turned to Tamil rap, because I was so hooked to the Kaara Aatakkaara section when the first teaser of the movie broke out with it, and I have been eagerly waiting to hear what comes after that."

Amen, same exact thoughts here. Overall, I am disappointed with the album. Never felt this way about "I" or even "Lingaa". Certainly not good enough for a Maniratnam film. Proves Rahman is also human after all.

Pinchi said...

I don't know if I would have enjoyed Parandhu Sella Vaa as much without reading your incredible description! Lovely write up. Thanks. :)

R.Balamurugan said...

Haven't heard the telegu versions yet.
Every line of your review, except for this bit, is exactly how I felt/feel about this soundtrack.
The goosebumps in Parandhu Sella Va, the serenity of Malargal, the carnatic portions in Theera Ula, the switch between male and female versions of Mental Manadhil, the inability to find exactly what it is about Naane Varugiren and the MASSIVE disappointment that aatakaara spirals into after that ecstatic start.
Also, Theera Ula should come with a warning- to not be listened while biking. Very dangerous.

Ayush Chandra said...

A.R Rahman is a kind of a Artist who is still doing his Job as Passion, not for Money or Fame like others. His Passion brings to him Fame, not his intention, and this is a sign of greatness. We are proud of Him, and expecting more Good Music from him.