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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

National Award for Background Score

The first ever National Award given for “Best Background Score” in a separate category went to Ilaiyaraaja for his score in a Malayalam film “Keralavarma Pazhassi Raja”. By giving the award to Ilaiyaraaja, whose symphonic score for the film was indeed the best in 2009, Jury had it easier the first time. In the future, if the Jury members are going to take a decision to award anyone else other than Ilaiyaraaja in this category, they have to be extremely careful. There are many questions to be asked and answered before taking a decision on a winner in this category.

Was the score originally written for this film?

Nowadays, we have sound and music libraries like Sonoton, where there are music pieces readily available for all varieties of situations in a film. Indian film fraternity’s integrity is well known. They would never reveal that they bought cues from a music library and used them in the background score of their film. And there is “Plagiarism”. Ram Gopal Varma openly admitted in his blog (rgvzoomin.com) about using favourite music themes from Hollywood films in the background score of his films. There have been many instances in which Indian composers have used popular Hollywood film themes for Indian films, and they continue to do so. Who is going to do all the research and verify if the background score is entirely original? To nominate a non-feature film for National Award, producer must furnish an affidavit with the declaration of Originality for the music score. Likewise, the producers of feature films should also be asked to submit an affidavit with the declaration of Originality for the background music score. In the application form, the National Film Awards regulation puts a note that says, “Please state if the music score is Original, in case of non-feature films”. It can be modified as “in case of both feature and non-feature films”.

Did the jury members listen to the film score?

At least if the original score is separately available on a CD, the music can be heard without the visuals and its quality can be judged, but National Film Awards Jury will not have that luxury. Original Scores of Indian films seldom get a legitimate release in India. The jury members have to observe the background score of a film carefully while watching the film. They can also ask the applicants, who want the jury to consider the film’s score for the award, to submit an exclusive compilation CD of the background score. If the score leaves any impact and if they find it worthy of an award, then there are many further doubts that have to be clarified before they can judge a film’s background score as the best.

How and how much of film’s background score is composed by the composer credited for the film’s background score?

In most of Hindi films, two different composers work independently, one on the songs and the other on the background score. The score composer of the film uses the melodies of the songs composed by the composer of the song in his background score throughout the film. In “Love Aaj Kal”, Salim-Suleiman has used the motif from Yeh Dooriyaan (Composed by Pritam) in the background score throughout the film. In Ishqiya, Hitesh Sonik (background score composer) has used the seducing flute piece from Dil to Bachchaa Hai Ji song (composed by Vishal Bharadwaj) in all those moments where Krishna (Vidya Balan) seduces Babban (Arshad Warsi) and Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah). In 13B, Tubby-Parik has used the melody of Aasman Odh Kar – composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, in the moment, when Madhavan is relieved to know that his wife will be safe. There is more to a background score than just the melody that is played, but if the impact of the score is because of the melody, who should take credit for it - Composer of the song for composing the melody? Or, background score composer, who used it wisely in the right moment in the film?

What qualifies to be a film background score?

Not all composers who do background score are like Amit Trivedi, who for “Wake up Sid” has not used any of the melodies of the songs composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for the film, in the background score. Furthermore, Amit Trivedi has added songs as part of the background score, and such song-filled background scores further add to the confusion. Will these songs with vocals and lyrics in it be considered as part of the background score? Amit Trivedi won the National Award for Best Music for his songs in Dev.D, whereas juries of regular Bollywood Awards were not quite sure of which category Dev.D music falls into. Most of them recognized Amit Trivedi’s music in Dev.D as Best Background score in 2009. That raises another fundamental question. If a song is not lip-synched by the characters in the film, is it a background score? How will a jury know whether a song was composed before or after shooting the film? If a composer composes a song with lyrics and voices, for already shot visuals, is it a background score or is it a song?

Ilaiyaraaja does not use commercial loops or samples or already available music pieces in his background score. Ilaiyaraaja always composes background score of all the films he composes the songs for (Except a few in which his son Karthik Raaja did the score and was duly credited for the same). Even if he agrees to do only the background score (Lajja) he will use not the melodies of the songs composed by another composer. I dare not use the words - Ilaiyaraaja and Plagiarism in the same sentence. Awarding Ilaiyaraaja in “Best Background Score” category is the safest, easiest and quickest decision a National Film Award jury can take anytime.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Needle Drops

Is Ilaiyaraaja doing the background score for Anubhav Sinha’s “Ra.One”? He definitely is doing one song in the film about which Sukhwinder Singh has given an interview. I don’t think Ilaiyaraaja would agree to do only one song in a film and so there is a good chance of the news about him writing the score, being true. I heard that it is a science fiction film. If Ilaiyaraaja is doing, it is going to be Budapest Symphony Orchestra again and as it is a big budget Shahrukh Khan Film, there is a very good chance of background score getting released in the soundtrack CD. Let us wait and watch.

It is confirmed. A.R.Rahman is doing the background score for Danny Boyle’s next “127 Hours”. Matt Dunkley - the Orchestrator, has posted a message in his webpage that he is orchestrating and conducting A.R.Rahman’s score for 127 Hours in London.

August 2010 - orchestrating and conducting A.R.Rahman's beautiful score to Danny Boyle's new movie "127 Hours", which will close the London Film Festival.

Matt’s response in Facebook about the score -

"It's beautiful as always - with electric guitars mixed in with orchestral strings and samples. No songs as far as I know - it's more subtle under-score fitting the subject matter of the movie, which deals with one man's triumph over adversity and the power of the human spirit"

Now, the trailer is out with A.R.Rahman's name in the credits

I saw “Naan Mahaan Alla” on a cam-rip and therefore cannot comment on Yuvan’s background score as a whole. Even in that dirty, small sized cam-rip I saw, the film is thoroughly engaging. I ripped two themes that I could hum on the very first viewing of the film. Here they are

Naan Mahaan Alla – Villan Theme and Title Music

Naan Mahaan Alla – Love Theme

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Counterpoint

Ganapathy Ram, who has been following this blog for a while, sent me an interesting observation of a background music cue in Thalabhadhi.

It is the scene in which Rajini comes to Arvind Swamy’s house and asks him to leave the city. A heroic trumpet piece, which I would call “Clash theme”, plays in all the scenes of confrontation between Arvind Swamy's group and Mamooty’s group. When Arvind Swamy comes to talk to Rajini, the clash theme proudly pronounces Arvind Swamy’s perception of this meeting – yet another verbal clash. When Arvind Swamy says “Bhayamuruthiriyaa”, Rajini replies “Illai, Kenji Kaetkuraen”, and in between Ilaiyaraaja brings the clash theme from a high-headed trumpet to a subdued Oboe. The real masterstroke is when in parallel strings play “Chinna Thaayaval” melody. While Oboe version of clash theme is to sound how Arvind Swamy perceives this conversation, the “Chinna Thaayaval” is to sound Rajini’s emotions.

Brilliance. Sheer Brilliance.

Also see Maestro's Masterpause

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sholay Background Score

It has been 35 years since “Sholay” – the most popular and celebrated film in the history of India Cinema got released, but I watched it for the first time, only a week before. I saw Sholay without an iota of innocence and with complete ignorance of Hindi Cinema that came before “Sholay” or even after it. I belong to the Lagaan era of Hindi cinema. I have been watching Hindi films, regularly, only since 2000. That explains why the some of the sentences that should have ended with an exclamatory mark ends with a question mark in this article. Everyone has a story behind when, where, why and how they watched Sholay for the first time. Here, is mine.

The urge to watch Sholay came when I saw “Pancham Unmixed: Mujhe Chalte Jaana Hai’, a documentary on R.D.Burman. The interest in the film grew bigger when I read the book “Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios”. Both the book and the documentary film have lots of fascinating tidbits of information and anecdotes gathered from the musicians, who played in R.D.Burman’s orchestra, when R.D.Burman was recording the background score of "Sholay". I bought a “Sholay” DVD from Moser Baer, but somehow, I never found time to watch the film. A week ago, I saw someone’s tweet about celebration of 35th anniversary of Sholay, and I wanted to watch the film immediately to see what the fuss is all about and, I saw the film.

I immensely liked R.D.Burman's background score in the film. Ilaiyaraaja, whom I consider the god of film scoring, became a film composer, in 1978. "Sholay" got released in 1975, and its background score has most of the qualities that I admire in Ilaiyaraaja's film scores.

Silence - Though the full-throttled orchestral pieces work so well for the grandeur and energy in all chase and action sequences, the film and therefore the film score’s impact is most felt in the moments of silence. It is surprising that the score has such acutely measured stretch of silence in some parts of the film and it is the same film, which has the most massive of orchestras playing for some of the other parts. Silence and soaring music complement each other in Sholay. Be it the tense, heart-ticking moments or the emotional, heart melting moments, silence works brilliantly in both.

The entire episode, in which Gabbar Singh kills Thakur’s family, is accompanied by just the sound of a swing in the wind and a musical silence that instantly brings a lump in our throat. In the following scene, there is a sudden entry of massive string section rushing in to evoke the intensity of anger with which Thakur hops onto his horse and rides up to kill Gabbar Singh. If were continuously played in the preceding scene, the rush of the string section would not have created a strong impact on us. We would not have felt Thakur's anger as much as we do now.

The “Tera Kya Hohga Kaliya” episode also has ample scope for putting music that matches with every scream, every turn and every action of Gabbar Singh, but the complete episode is filled with an intimidating silence in the soundtrack. It creates a mild fear about Gabbar Singh even in the audience’s minds. The final combat between Jai and Gabbar Singh’s goons is again filled with silence, creating a storming restlessness and anticipation in our minds about what is going to happen. In this episode also, there are ample shots where music could be played, but until Jai gets up, with just one bullet in his pistol, to fight against the goons, there is no music and that made the music, that plays after the long silence, sound extremely heroic.

Gabbar Singh theme is the chilling Cello theme that sounds like a wily Cat's meow (came to know that it is a cello from the book 'Behind the Curtain'). It plays even before we see the face of Gabbar Singh in the film. This theme invariably plays in all the scenes in which Gabbar Singh appears, but what amazes me the most is the timing of introduction of the theme in all of these scenes. We already observed the silence throughout the scene in which all in the Thakur family are killed. However, when the grandson of Thakur, comes running out of the house, Gabbar Singh comes closer to the boy. We still hear a musical silence accompanied by the sound of horse-shoes hitting the ground. Gabbar’s theme starts to play precisely when Gabbar picks his gun and aims to shoot the boy. We do not see what happened to the boy after that, R.D.Burman has said it by playing the theme. R.D.Burman could have easily played the theme right from the shot, when Gabbar Singh begins to ride down the hill. This technique of writing character leitmotifs for principal characters in the film, and using it the way it is used in Sholay were not prevalent in the Hindi film background scores then. Were they?

Love Theme – There must be some music played in all those scenes, in which Jai speaks to Raadhaa through his Harmonica. Was it decided in the scripting stage, that Jai would play the same melody on his Harmonica to woo or rather speak to Raadhaa? Were, scripts written with all these details, then? Instead of playing a random melody in these scenes, R.D.Burman chose to compose a theme that could recur in all of these scenes. If we take out the innate, intimate and the intricate love theme that R.D.Burman fills the calm in the aura with, the Jai-Raadhaa love story would be totally lifeless.

R.D.Burman does not play the Harmonica version of the theme, in the first meeting of Jai and Raadhaa. Jai sees Raadhaa for the first time in Thakur’s house. When Jai sees Raadhaa in the attire of a widow, the first emotion that emerges is sympathy, which is beautifully underlined with a Saarangi that plays the main love theme. While Saarangi speaks of Jai’s sympathy, the main thematic melody is not played in its complete form on Saarangi. The soul stirring inflection in the second phrase of the melody is not there. The Saarangi deliberately avoids playing the inflecting note in the melody, to leave it incomplete, so that Jai can later complete the incompleteness in Raadhaa’s life, by filling the void and playing the inflecting note in the melody with his Harmonica.

A sprightly version of the theme plays on a Saxophone, when Raadhaa sees Jai riding a bull like a horse and making funny sounds. Then, the magical moment arrives. We hear Jai playing the theme on Harmonica, sending musical message to light up the gloomy life of Raadhaa, who is literally putting off the lights in her life.

The real masterstroke comes towards the end of the film. Harmonica plays the theme in its complete form for one last time on Jai’s funeral. When the camera pans to the lone Raadhaa, the Harmonica leaves the theme to the Strings just like how Jai leaves Raadhaa. Cascade of Violins play the theme with deep Cello section playing counter melodies to the main theme and without that sweet note of inflection in the melody, which is just like how Jai adds further to Raadhaa's sufferings and how Jai leaves Raadhaa’s life as an incomplete story yet again. Were, techniques like leitmotifs and development of musical themes along with the characters, common in the background score of Hindi films, then?

Title Music - The instantly catchy Guitar melody loops, and accompanies the journey of two strangers. A Saxophone takes the lead and plays the evocative main melody. With the guitar continuously strumming from behind, the strings, brass section, beats on triple bongos and acoustic drums, form a rich orchestral sound. When the strangers enter the streets of the village, the music shifts to folk melody, earthy percussions and rhythms, and it proves that enough care was taken to sync the music with the atmosphere shown in the visuals. All of these original ideas flourish in the track while still retaining the unmistakable flavor of Ennio Morricone’s that the film makers wanted to have in the music. The title music is specifically composed for the titles. It plays again for a brief while in the end credits. It is not an instrumental version of any of the songs in the film. The title music is not repeated anywhere else in the film. Were there any Hindi films before Sholay that had such exclusive title music?

There are few smaller music cues that work beautifully with the visuals. On seeing an Injured Jai, Raadhaa rushes, runs and descends down the stairs. The strings hustle and bustle to evoke what Raadhaa feels inside. The strings that start a melody on high octave, descends octaves exactly how Raadhaa descends down the stairs and when Raadhaa reaches the ground, strings reach the lowest octave that it could touch. It is no eternal music pieces, but it works, it just works so well, when a piece of music plays precisely in sync with the movements of the subject in focus in the scene and at the same time captures the emotions under focus.

In You Tube, there are thousands of videos of people playing the Title music and Harmonica theme of Sholay. Is there any fan-band of any composer, in India, performing the composers’ background score pieces in live shows? Even today, I guess no one does that. The composers themselves are not playing their background score pieces in their concerts. I have embedded below the video of a band playing the complete Sholay theme live. This live performance tells all about the reach and success of Sholay background music, which no other Indian film background score, has achieved so far.

I do not know if it is something to feel happy for or to be ashamed of, but only, or at least, in the week of the 35th anniversary of Sholay, National Film Awards committee announced that it is going to recognize “Background Score” as a separate category in the yearly National Film Awards from 2009.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Background Score - 72

Guess the film.

National Award for "Background Score"

Information and Broadcasting Ministry has given a press release today announcing the new changes and updates in National Film Awards. One of them is the inclusion of "Background Score" as an Award category.

Thanks to Mr.Shyam Benegal

Monday, August 2, 2010

Background Score - 71 is

This piece is from Chinna Veedu. Composer – Ilaiyaraaja. The immense sympathy that Kalpana’s character in the film gained might partly be because of Bhaghyaraj’s screenplay, dialogues and performances. However, the emotional impact or rather the weep-quotient of the scenes couldn’t have been so much without Ilaiyaraaja’s theme that tickles the tear buds at right spots throughout the film.