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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Virumandi Theme - Ilaiyaraaja

I have always been intrigued by the chilling effect of Virumandi theme, which plays in its entirety in the opening credits of the film. When I watched it the first time, on the first day of the release, music in the opening credits got drowned in the euphoric noise of the Kamal Hassan fans in the cinema hall. I did sense that something strange, unusual, utterly original was playing underneath the imaginative title cards, but couldn’t catch the actual theme. It wasn’t until I watched the film again on Television that I heard the piece properly.

I ripped the music from the bootlegged copy of the film and added it to my Ilaiyaraaja score collection. I have heard the theme many times since then, but didn’t fully comprehend the intricacies in the orchestration that caused the chilling effect, until one day in the recent past.

The theme is orchestrated very precisely to evoke the overall morbid tone of the film, and also to suggest the film’s ambitious Rashomon-like structure. The narrative of the film offers two different perspectives on one incident — the truth narrated by the protagonist and the twisted version of it by the antagonist.

In the theme music, the two versions of the story are underlined by two layers in the instrumentation, in which two different instruments from strings family, play the same motif with a slight and yet acute variation in tone. A violin pronounces the theme with a dash of naiveté in its shrill registers, and underneath, a cello renders the same melody with a cunning intonation in its deep bass registers. Both are mixed in a way as if the cunning cello is snaking around and squeezing the neck of the innocent violin. The two layers are wound so tightly close in the final mix that the gap is ingeniously disguised; it isn’t immediately evident, in the same way the truth isn’t in the two versions of the story while they are being narrated. Later, a tender flute also joins the layers of strings, duplicating the main theme, probably to suggest the plight of Virumandi’s beloved Annalakshmi, the poor victim of the bloody war.


Other layers too are in the theme precisely for reasons pertaining the events and ideas within the film. The eerie chorus and tribal rhythms suggest the barbaric brutality of the violence in the key incident of the film.

Furthermore, all of these layers are magnificently knit together with musical integrity of an absolute piece of music written for its own sake. It would work just as fine and satisfying as a standalone mood piece for a listener, who hasn’t seen the film, or isn’t cognizant of the film’s complex themes and ideas expressed in its orchestration.

Numero Uno, indeed.

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