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Monday, March 30, 2009

Answer for Background Score - 52

This piece is from Swades. Composer – A.R.Rahman. I still get goose bumps whenever I watch the climax scene where Mohan Bharghav’s Boss says ‘Go. Light your bulb’ to Mohan, as he quits NASA to return to India. Precisely at this moment, the exhilaration, the ecstasy, the relief in Mohan’s face is magnified 1000 times by this piece. And yes, as most of them remember, it is also used in the scene where Mohan enters Charanpur for the first time driving his caravan in the narrow lanes of the village to meet Kaveriamma.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Answer for Background Score - 51

This piece is the title score of the movie Captain Prabhakaran and it was also used throughout the movie for grand action sequences. Composer is without any doubt Illayaraja. The grandeur of this piece hit me first when I saw the trailer of 'Makkalaatchi' which was made by the same director R.K.Selvamani who made Captain Prabhakaran. If a composer from India can match up to the grandeur of ‘Their’ orchestral scores, it is Illayaraja.

There were some interesting movies that came as answers, which had similar background scores. May be if I had posted the complete title score, without editing, everyone would have got it right. Here it is, the complete title score,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Their Scores

The first thought that crosses my mind, when I think of ‘Their Scores’ is the aural grandeur of symphonic swells that were scored to match up with the ever mounting visual grandeur in their movies. It is the grandeur that hit me instantly and grabbed my attention towards the phenomenon called background score. So, while I try to speak about my favorite ‘Their’ movie scores, I would like to start with the theme of visual grandeur. And that brings me to ‘Lord of the Rings’. The world is yet to see something that, if not more at least that is as visually spectacular and arresting as Lord of the Rings.

I am a big fan of Lord of the Rings trilogy and Howard Shore’s score for the movie. While, there is so much music throughout the trilogy, the one I have picked is ‘Lighting the Beacons’ from Return of the King. I get an overwhelming exhilaration whenever I watch this scene. The visual beauty, the thematic importance of the scene and the music, all put together stands out as a crescendo for what this audio-visual medium of cinema is capable of.

Suspicious strings creeps in hesitantly as Pippin secretively climbs up Amon Din to light the beacon, which would trigger the Gondor’s signal to Rohan for help. Once Pippin reaches the top and fires the beacon, the score starts off and as the flame moves from one peak of snow caped mountain to another, the momentum and loudness of the brass section of the orchestra builds up and up with strings stirring and swirling around. It all then bursts out to a bombastic beginning of the main Gondor theme (that fills most part of the Return of the King’s score) implying that Gondor is reaching in utmost desperation and urgency for aid from Rohan.

Monday, March 16, 2009

And The Award Goes To

A.R.Rahman after winning every possible international award for his background score in 'Slumdog Millionaire', is now winning every possible Hindian Best Background Score award for 'Jodha Akbar'. Given the length and the drama of Jodha Akbar, it is evident that Rahman has worked really hard on the background score of 'Jodha Akbar' and he himself admitted he composed more than 100 cues for Jodha Akbar's background score.

But as I already mentioned here, though Jodha Akbar has some great background scoring moments, as a whole, Jodha Akbar's score is not Rahman's best in 2008. In 2008, Rahman did background score for 'Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na', 'Jodha Akbar', 'Ghajini' and 'Yuuvraaj'. I haven't seen 'Yuuvraaj', so can't really comment on its score, but Ghajini's score was too loud. Unfortunately, Rahman has gone Harris Jeyaraj way in its loudness, and it may also be because the movie director is the same A.R.Murugadass, who directed the Tamil version.

In the interview with Raihana in the Rahmania show, Murugadass confirmed that it is he who wanted the score to sound like the way it is in the movie. Rahman delivered what Murugadass demanded and hence the loudness. But all that is an excuse, I thought Rahman with his influence would reduce the loudness and make the movie sound saner. There is so much scope in Ghajini for a much deeper and intelligent scoring, which Rahman didn't make full use of. Finally, 'Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na' is the movie which has a consistently good background score throughout the movie.

Moving away from A.R.Rahman, of all the movies that I got a chance to watch in 2008, two movies had background score that is worth talking about - Mithya and Aamir. Though the main theme sounds heavily inspired from the theme of Requiem for Dream, Amit Trivedi did a good job in pushing the raw energy, pace, tension and the suspense with his score in Aamir. If the score is just as good as the movie, then my best background score award for 2008 goes to Mithya. Beautifully subtle and adequately expressive is the score for Mithya. Evoking the feel of classic Nino Rita's Godfather score, Sagar Desai’s score for Mithya, to me is the best of 2008.

Hear Mithya Suite

Download mp3

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Listening Black

Of all Sanjay Leela Bhansali movies, Black is the most musical and definitely the best. The moment you say, it no more exists - The Silence, but the moment you play it - The Piano, the silence is best expressed. With Piano as voice, Monty has written a simple yet beautiful melody that becomes the word to speak the silence in Michelle's world. And Debraj also gets his turn with the Piano for the silence that later engulfs his world. Monty picks a sympathetic melody on Piano for Debraj but it also gets massive help from Duduk which beautifully evokes the fuzziness that Debraj gets into as he begins to forget everything. Duduk instantly takes us into Debraj's world where there is nothing but blur everywhere, where there is pain which is so deep that it isn't a pain anymore. These are the two themes and instruments that are used throughout the movie to maintain coherent soundscapes for the two principal characters of Black.

Michelle’s Theme -

Debraj’s Theme -

Black has no typical songs, but not a frame of Black is without background score, which includes the silence that has been deliberately brought in as punctuation, for the orchestra to hit the next highest decibel while playing the Michelle's theme. Every scene that is there to make a poetic point, that is conceived to build up to an emotional high ends with the full throttled orchestral version of the main Michelle theme, which unfortunately made the not so keen listeners to push this complete musical off as a loud score, loud - as loud is in a movie like Ghajini, which is so unfair. This loudness is not always for the sake of loudness, it genuinely helps to elevate the emotions which are already played by the lead characters in the loudest possible way (I don't say that in a derogatory tone).

The beauty of black lies in the loudness of its silence. Each time the loud score appears to close a particular episode, it implies the start or punctuates the end of an important episode in Michelle's life. The first time we hear the Michelle’s theme is when we see the now grown up Michelle stretching her hands to the sky welcoming the snow to fall. It is a typical protagonist introduction score playing the main theme in its complete form and sound. Immediately, as Michelle takes us back to her childhood, we hear the just born version of the theme as Mr. McNally informs her wife that their daughter is deaf and blind. Each step Michelle takes, each obstacle she breaks, on the path towards light, the theme is played loud on orchestra, informing us that it indeed is a big step that she has taken. When she completes her first day of school with Debraj, her first set of lessons on words like spoon, napkin, ball, and when finally the miracle happens and even after at every step the theme accompanies her.

But the theme doesn’t always shout out in this form for just Michelle, it also turns towards other principal characters in the movie. It becomes Mrs. McNally’s theme when it is played on higher registers of a violin expressing the choking emotions of a mother (and we the audience) as she hears her deaf and blind daughter calling her ‘Ma’ for the first time. It is such an aching yet relieving piece of music that etches the magically captured visuals of a miraculous moment eternal in our mind.

A Teacher’s Miracle -

In the first half of the movie, when Michelle is still trying to understand the link between world that she is in and the one that she is in touch with, when she doesn’t have a voice of her own, the theme appears mostly on Piano or some other instrument, but once she turns knowledgeable, moves into light, she gets a voice of her own, and that is beautifully reflected in the score too, as Monty uses more of voices in the second half of the movie. It is so evident especially at the conversation between a male voice that emotes at the lowest of the registers (for what goes inside Debraj’s mind) and a female voice that sings at the sweetest of its registers (for what goes through Michelle’s mind), at the climax of the movie where Debraj finally shown to be recollecting the past as he sees Michelle in the graduation robe. The master stroke in this scene is of course the turn of Michelle’s theme to Debraj, when he does signature dance move of Michelle as a sign of joy in seeing her as a graduate. At this juncture, Michelle’s theme becomes Debraj’s theme and Michelle takes Debraj's position as teacher and like Debraj, Michelle teaches the first word 'Woah - W.A.T.E.R' to bring Debraj back into the light of Knowledge. As they both open the doors of the window and stretch their hands out, the most triumphant version of Michelle theme appears for one last time, but this time it is for both Michelle and Debraj, who have done their share of miracle in each others lives.

A Student’s Miracle -

One cannot fill the entire movie score with just two motifs. There are other musical pieces that are composed to match with the actions in specific scenes and are left without being repeated. The main themes do accidentally pass through these pieces. The ‘W.A.T.E.R’ theme is such a deeply moving piece which is heard when Debraj pushes Michelle into the water. It is heard when finally light begins to spark and sneak into the un-flickering darkness of her 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 flute kindle a sense of overwhelm in everyone’s heart. A deep male vocal sings the calm relief as we see in Debraj’s face who gets astounded by seeing at Michelle finally stepping out of her darkness.

W.A.T.E.R -

There are quite a lot of clashing moments as the two eccentrics, Debraj and Michelle, fight to take control over each other and all of them have very loud drumming, turbulent acoustic strings putting up to a beautiful dramatic music to underline the dramatic visuals.

Michelle’s First day at School -

Pushing into Water -

‘50 Steps’ piece is for the funny Chaplin walk of Michelle. It is heard when Debraj asks Michelle to practice walking independently and she ends up walking in the wrong direction. It is a flamboyant piece of music sounding every bit like composed by some European composer, with a dose of Indian sound in Tabla. When Michelle says, ‘Those were happiest days of our lives’, we feel it through such pieces of music being used in that phase of her life.

50 Steps -

‘A Ray of Light’ is a collage of a composition that puts together so many little pieces into one seamless symphony to match up with cuts and shifts in the montage where little Michelle comes into Debraj’s control and learns the words spoon, napkin, ball etc., Shot by shot, frame by frame Ravi K.Chandran weaves a visual magic with his mythic and mystic lighting in this montage and keeping up the visual beauty is Monty’s score. I especially like the way the music seamlessly shifts to a brief staccato to underline the funny way in which Michelle lifts the ball as if going to throw on Debraj’s head.

A Ray of Light -

And there is more music in the movie and I have touched upon only the highlights here. One fine Sunday evening, I was listening to Black Score, my Mom was sitting next to me having her coffee, as she heard the grand orchestral version of Michelle's theme, she turned and asked me curiously, 'Is this music from Titanic? It sounds so familiar'. She doesn't know a word in Hindi, but she watched Black long back on Home Video with subtitles, and she liked the movie very much. Given that it was difficult for her to watch the movie simultaneously reading the subtitles, background score would be the last thing that she would have consciously paid any attention to. And that pushed me pull this piece.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Listening Kadhal Konden

It is one of those few Tamil movies and the first one, the complete background score of which, was released after the movie's release. I don’t really know if Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score was seriously noticed before "Kadhal Konden", at least I didn't. 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 out to its minutest details and emotions in my mind. Creating such an impact on the audience with the background score is difficult. Considering the track record of Yuvan’s 'inspirations', I am not sure whether the background score pieces used in this movie are genuine and original compositions of Yuvan but what is more important is that they fit every single frame of the movie to T.

“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 happiness – This theme got released along with the songs - 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 Aadi 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 Aadi with mad wild enthusiasm.

Vinoth’s Excitement and Mystery – It is heard when Vinoth enters Divya’s room for the first time. He is so excited to see the luxury and richness 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 sp 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 serious notes on 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 towards 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 of Vinoth as he walks into the classroom and finally it ends with a very unique mandolin sound playing some Arabic 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 it 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 err… 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. 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 place in the movie when Vinoth does some tricks to bring all the necessary things for Divya to make her feel comfortable in 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 mildly 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 Aadi. 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 emotional support from behind. Also percussions are added aptly at right places like thunder in the already storming 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 labor 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 Illayaraja 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 like butterflies. Do I need to say anything more about this piece? Just experience it for yourself.

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 Aadi. 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 his life 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.