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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kadhal Konden Score

Happy Birthday Yuvan Shankar Raaja! And Congrats on 100!

It is one of those few Tamil movies and the first one, the complete background score of which, was released on a CD after the movie's release. I don’t know if Yuvan Shankar Raja’s background score was seriously noticed before "Kadhal Konden", at least I didn't (Recently came to know that Thulluvadho Ilaimai background score was done by Viji Manuel – Ilaiyaraaja’s Keyboard Player). 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 with all of its details and emotions in my mind. Creating such an impact on the audience with the background score is difficult.

“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 Ecstasy

This theme was released along with the songs in the CD - 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 Aadhi 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 Aadhi with mad wild enthusiasm.

Vinoth’s Excitement and Mystery

It is heard when Vinoth walks into Divya’s room for the first time. He is so excited to see the grandeur 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 to make sure 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 tense 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 for 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 Vinoth takes forward as he walks into the classroom and finally it ends with a very unique mandolin sound playing some middle-eastern 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 the impact 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 eerie 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 a little while ago. 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 moment in the movie when Vinoth does some tricks to bring all the necessary things for Divya to make her feel comfortable in the middle of 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 subtly 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 Aadhi. 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 support from behind. Also percussions are added aptly at right places like thunder in the already stormed 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 labour 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 Ilaiyaraaja 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 a bird let out after being locked in a cage for years. Do I need to say anything more about this piece? Just experience it for yourself.

Unnai Thozhi


Thathi Thathi


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 Aadhi. 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 himself 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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cue-It Up - 2

Cue-It Up – 1

Total Running Time: 13 mins 03 secs

Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams)

I can’t put in words the amazement I get every time I listen to the piece “Becoming a Geisha” from Memoirs of Geisha by Film Score God John Williams. Such a haunting melody and listen to how breathtaking the variations, counter points, the way the melody is divided with the orchestra are! Each and every turn in the piece perfectly punctuate the cuts in the beautifully shot visual montage where Sayuri becomes a Geisha. The whole Memoirs of Geisha soundtrack is such a soothing departure from John William’s usual brass and bombast.

Becoming A Geisha by Soundtracks on Grooveshark

Amelie Theme (Yann Tiersen)

Amelie theme – Orchestral Version – You can’t think of a better piece of music to lighten up your mood. It is such an exhilarating melody and that moment when the Strings section takes over the melody from the tinkle bells and Vibraphone – Transcendental stuff!

Amelie Theme - Orchestral Version by Yann Tiersen on Grooveshark

W.A.T.E.R (Monty Sharma)

The ‘W.A.T.E.R’ theme from Black is a soul-stirring incidental music that plays with absolute precision to the moods and emotions in the visual when Debraj (Amitabh Bachchan) pushes Michelle (Ayesha Kapoor) into the water. The music begins when precisely light begins to spark and sneak into the un-flickering darkness of Michelle’s 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 the flute gently whip up a sense of overwhelm in our hearts, and a deep male voice sings to the calm and comforting relief we see in Debraj’s face as gets astounded by the miracle that just happened now and here in front of his eyes.

WATER - Black by Monty Sharma on Grooveshark

Schizophrenia (Karthik Raaja)

The main theme from Kudaikkal Mazhai is an instant classic. A short and sweet melody and an incredible Orchestration - how many changeovers within two and half minutes and how astoundingly seamless the transitions are! I go simply speechless whenever I listen to this track. Karthik Raaja – Only other composer who can compose Ilaiyaraaja-Class Orchestration.

Kudaikkul Mazhai - Theme by Karthik Raaja on Grooveshark

Drizzle Delight (A.R.Rahman)

A cue from Kadal score. A riff with the leftovers of now world famous loop used earlier in Munbe Vaa, and it is layered with subtle strings that underline the mystery about the unknown girl - a patient sneaking out of the Hospital. Before we know who she is and what she is up to, the scene cuts to Thomas who is flying as he is riding a bike with his hands spread wide open like wings, and the music continues seamlessly to play the main theme, but now with a jaunty folk rhythm for Thomas’ excitement of being in the Town. More importantly, the theme is used again when Thomas asks the Father to baptize him in the church. Love the choice of this piece for this moment, it spreads invokes a pleasant aura.

09. Beatrice Intro by A.R.Rahman on Grooveshark

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Swades Score - A.R.Rahman

All the cues described in the post can be heard in the playlist embedded at the end of the post

Is AGPPL (Ashutosh Gowariker Productions Private Limited) the only film production company in India, in the films of which, the company’s logo appears in a colour and graphic design that is reflective of the subject matter of the film? For Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh painted AGPPL in glittering gold against a silky red carpet; for Swades, it is all black and white. In the world that Ashutosh paints in Swades, there is no place for grey. Moreover, even the music that accompanies the logo when it appears in the beginning of the opening credits of the film is not constant. There is no fixed musical theme for AGPPL. In Swades, a Synth flute piece evoking a mysterious sound that is used in one of the most pivotal moments of the film is chosen as the theme for AGPPL. It is a fascinating choice, for two reasons. One, practically, this short piece of music perfectly fits the length of the footage of the introduction of AGPPL’s logo in the opening credits, two - to use a musical theme that plays in a critical moment in the film and hint at the narrative hinge-point or hook of the film.

Or, simply, it could be just a random choice of a piece of music that fits the length of the AGPPL Intro footage. But, do you remember, in American Pie, the music that plays when the Universal Pictures appear first on screen is the funky bass guitar piece that is used when Jim looks at an Apple Pie in his house, just after knowing from his friends what a third base feels like. Even, in recent English Vinglish, the theme that plays over Hope (you like the file) Productions is the theme that plays when finally Sashi gives a speech in English. So, I want to believe that there is some thought process behind choosing music for Intro music, and it is not a random choice.

AGPPL logo gets a theme that is used in those episodes of the film in which the problems thus far existed in the story gets solved and a new stage is set for a new problem. Gita (Gayatri Joshi) wants Kaveriamma to stay in India. Mohan (Shahrukh Khan), on the other side, wants to take her along with him to America. Kaveriamma is confused. Just after the intermission, there is a scene (which is not in the theatrical version of the film but it is available in deleted scenes section of the DVD), in which Kaveriamma (Kishori Balal) discusses with one of her neighbours about her dilemma and the difficult decision that she has to make. Kaveriamma is unable to decide on what to do. Kaveriamma’s friend gives her an advice, which sparks an idea in Kaveriamma’s mind.

Rahman plays the music theme that was played for AGPPL logo, in its entirety for the first time within the film, when Kaveriamma is beginning to contemplate about implementing the idea. Kaveriamma asks Mohan Bharghav to go to a village and collect money from Haridas, a farmer. Mohan asks Kaveriamma about her decision on coming with him to America. Kaveriamma replies that she would decide once he completes this task, thereby throwing a clever hook on Mohan. Rahman also uses his hook on Mohan, by playing the theme precisely when Kaveriamma gives a mysterious reply that links her decision with the completion of the task given to Mohan. When bewildered Gita asks why she is sending Mohan to meet Haridas, Kaveriamma says that she knows what she is doing. Rahman adds to the mystery with the theme continuously playing in here too. The musical hook used for Kaveriamma’s shrewd move, which is going to lead Mohan to a life-altering moment in his life, is the same hook that Rahman plays for AGPPL in the very beginning.

Gita, after calling Mohan names like NRI (Non Returning Indian), walks in to see Kaveriamma sneakily watching he quarrel with Mohan, and yet pretend as if she hasn’t noticed anything. After Gita leaves, Kaveriamma heaves a sigh of relief because she has found another way to make Mohan stay in India, and diligently Rahman adds a musical nod by playing the Synth flute piece again in here.

Ashutosh Gowariker asks a composer for title music (the music that plays in the opening credits of the film), much in advance, even while composing songs for the film (Got to know this from Satyajit Batkal’s book on making of Lagaan called “Spirit of Lagaan”). Rahman and Ashutosh did it for Lagaan, and they did it again in Swades. The Swades title theme is one of the catchiest title theme music pieces an Indian film has ever had, so much so that Rahman could convince even a Danny Boyle to use the theme as the ring tone of Salim’s mobile phone throughout the film Slumdog Millionaire.

The instantly addictive rhythm fades in first and grabs our attention. An arresting Accordion melody bounces out of nowhere, and with the pounding rhythm, the music as a whole makes us excited, lights up our spirit and lifts up the curtains for the title card "Swades – We the People" to appear. Despite composing music for so many years, only a Rahman can still evoke this feel, among even his worst critics. In a little while, strings and flute join in, playing their own tweaked, staccato versions of the theme along with the Accordion. When Mohan wakes up and passionately looks at the aerial view of India, Rahman seamlessly blends the endearing ‘Hey Hey’ motif of Yeh Tara Woh Tara song along with the title music. The introduction of a totally different melody in the middle of the title music is to underline the mild shift in Mohan’s mood when he looks out through the window. Playing the ‘Hey Hey’ melody in Accordion instead of using original Udit Narayan’s version is to keep its musical flavour in sync with that of the title music, and also not to draw too much attention on to the fact that the composer is trying to underline the mood shift through his music.

Rahman gives a hefty purpose to this catchy title theme by playing it in different forms in the scenes where Mohan progresses in making a change in the lives of the villagers. It continues to play in the background, in all those scenes, in which Mohan goes to each and every villager’s house, to request them to send their kids to school. It turns mellow on strings and plays to the sympathy of Mohan when he gets angry at villagers, whom talk so proudly about India’s culture and tradition. It also plays in the scene where the villagers begin to construct the reservoir of the mini Hydro-electric power plant.

A mini hydro-electric power plant to generate electricity for Charanpur is fully erected. Mohan asks Mela Ram, who is standing next to the valve near the reservoir, to open the valve, to allow the water to rush into the turbine. The water rushes. The voltage rises, and when it is about to reach 230 Volts, it suddenly drops down. Water is not flowing with enough pressure to the turbine. The outlet of the reservoir is blocked. Mohan rushes up to the reservoir, dives into it and removes the blockage. It is the one last difficulty that Mohan puts himself through to enrich the lives of villagers, and Rahman faithfully brings the title theme back and plays it in its original form for this blockage-removal episode.

In the final act of the film, in which Mohan Bharghav successfully generates electricity and lights a bulb, it is Rahman’s background score that pumps in the rhythm and energy in the visuals. With such a dry and academic subject matter like power generation, without Rahman’s score, Ashutosh would have had a tough time in keeping up the pace and interest of the audience in those final episodes. Probably, Ashutosh might have told this to Rahman, and hence Rahman plays quite loudly in these scenes.

When Mohan enters Charanpur driving his huge caravan, an exhilarating piece of music, a song that begins with dominant kids chorus singing ‘Aayo Re’ plays for Mohan’s excitement in meeting Kaveriamma after so many years. The innate innocence in the vocals of the Kids harmony, a melody seeped in longing, excitement, euphoria, the restless folk rhythms and ethnic percussions, intriguing layers of flute and soaring strings converge to create an exotic symphony in ‘Aayo Re’. However, the piece gets its real due and meaning only when used in the climax.

When John (Mohan’s Boss at NASA) says Mohan that he could have gone places, Mohan with a quiet confidence, replies ‘I am going places’. John, after a pause, says, "Alright Mohan. Go light your bulb". There comes the goose-fleshy moment of the film brilliantly aided by the background score. Rahman lights up the smile that rises on Mohan’s face with the kids’ chorus beginning to sing ‘Aayo Re’ again. Cut to - A Landing plane. The music continues. The camera moves as if it is placed on the nose of the landing plane and it zooms into the Charanpur Temple grounds where Postman (Rajesh Vivek) and Mohan are wrestling. While, in the beginning, the music was for Mohan’s excitement, it is only now the piece finds its real purpose. All the multiple layers of sound, instruments and choral parts are justified as if the whole village or rather India is singing a warm and euphoric welcome for Mohan.

Rahman seems to get intrigued by the thought of an NRI coming back to India. Even in Delhi-6, Rahman does something similar with a short melody on Santoor. The sound and the pace of hammering the Santoor strings are apt, and instantly bring a native aura, when Roshan (Abhishek Bachchan) lands in India. However, only when we hear Rahman playing the same theme again in the end of the film for Roshan coming back to life from an after-death experience, we realize what Rahman was trying to imply musically, when he used the same piece for Roshan’s return to India.

Typical of all Ashutosh’s films, there are many small characters, playing meaty parts in the film and all of them get a thematic, musical nod from Rahman. The ever enthusiastic Mela Ram (Daya Shankar Pandey) gets a funky Bhangra-rap song for his idea of opening a Dhaba in partnership with Mohan at Freeways in America. The Postman of the village is an enthusiastic learner. He gets a piece with catchy bass line and a rhythm that ticks in sync with his energy and enthusiasm. The melodramatic instrumental version of Aahistha Aahistha song fills Kaveriamma’s sentimental scenes with Mohan. Even NASA, for all the machinery and high-technology ambience of it, gets a peppy techno track, with no trace of any real instruments anywhere in the piece. An exotic Saxophone plays leisurely in the background announcing the high life and luxury of Mohan in America, while he with his friend, returns back to his house, after a typical day of work at NASA. Surprisingly, the same Saxophone theme reprises again like a secondary love theme between Mohan and Gita in the later part of the film.

The fun, playfulness and the childish innocence prevalent in some of the scenes are underscored by a common musical theme with Rahman’s typical pizzicato strings. It plays when Mohan, like a kid, closes Kaveriamma’s eyes from behind, and quizzes her to tell who he is. It chirps when Chikku (Master Smith Seth), on Kaveriamma’s instruction, does not allow Mohan to get inside the house. It smiles when Kaveriamma introduces Chikku to Mohan as Gita’s younger brother, who has lied of having a stomach ache to bunk the school today. It plays when Chikku refuses to come closer to Mohan. It giggles when Kaveriamma asks Mohan about Nashaa job - misspelling NASA as Nashaa (in Hindi). It creates a sweet, innocent clamour when a group of excited kids enter and start to play around in Mohan’s caravan.

Mohan meets Gita for the first time in a book shop. Typical of Indian films, it is love at first sight for Mohan. Mohan, who is already impressed by Gita’s philosophy, is stunned by Gita's beauty, when he sees Gita descending down the stairs. In the scene in which a family comes to see Gita with a marriage proposal, Gita stuns Mohan yet again when she comes out of her room wearing a gorgeous Sari. In these scenes, Rahman makes her look more gorgeous than what she is with that serene Santoor postlude of the song Saawariya Saawariya.

The romantic ballad Dekho Na is the least appreciated song of the film and yet its melody is the most recurring musical theme in the film. It must be one of Rahman’s most favourite melodies. As the melody remained underrated in its Tamil version Baba Kichu Kichu Thaa from the Tamil film Baba, Rahman gave the melody a new life again by ornamenting it with a refreshing orchestration in Dekho Na. Rahman uses this melody throughout the film for all lighter, romantic moments between Mohan and Gita in the film.

After already having fallen for her classic beauty, Mohan, sitting at the cash counter of the book shop, has his first conversation with Gita. While Mohan uses a calculator to prepare the bill for books that Gita is buying from the store, Gita instantly calculates the amount in her mind and tells him the numbers before he finishes pressing buttons on the calculator. Mohan is impressed. First time, when Gita tells him the right figures, there is no music, but the second time when Gita says 637; Rahman introduces the bass riff of the song Dekho Na, because it is the second time that Mohan is mighty impressed. When finally Gita leaves without taking her balance amount back, Mohan runs out to give the money to her but Rahman allows Alka Yagnik to hum a sweet phrase in the background, to suggest that maybe Mohan’s run is not just to return the balance money.

Mohan and Gita meet again in Charanpur School. Mohan is surprised to see Gita as a teacher and also as the caretaker of Kaveriamma in Charanpur. While Rahman made us hear only the bass riff and layers of the song Dekho Na in their first meeting, he gently plays the complete main melody of the song on a Piano in this scene, because it is now Mohan knows who Gita is, giving a whole new chance for his instant attraction towards Gita to go to the next level.

Gita comes back home and opens the door, slamming it on Mohan’s back, without knowing that he is standing behind the door. In the accident, Gita’s books fall down. Mohan picks the books, and returns it to Gita but halfway through, takes it back, cleans the dust off, pays respect to the book as a teasing reaction to the philosophy that Gita was giving to someone in the earlier scene about the books, in the book shop. Rahman helps the audience in understanding the connection and the subtle humour better by playing the Dekho Na theme again here.

Kaveriamma, Gita and the kids come to have a look at the interiors of Mohan’s Caravan. Mohan’s Marlboro Cigarette packet is on the table. He wants to hide it from Kaveriamma. Mohan and Gita, silently, through their eyes, have a cute conversation, in which Mohan pleads Gita to hide the Cigarette pack. Gita hides the pack and Mohan thanks her. Rahman’s Dekho Na theme makes the chemistry between Mohan and Gita, the cute looks, and sweet conversation in this scene, lighter, livelier and sweeter. There is no romance in this scene, yet there is a sense of authority with which Gita looks at Mohan and the ease with which they interact and understand each other - Rahman’s music here is trying to underpin that ease and comfort.

A family comes to Kaveriamma’s house to see Gita and fix the marriage of their son with Gita. It is in here Rahman uses the Dekho Na theme to the best, boldly announcing that Mohan is indeed in love with Gita. As the talks are going on inside the house, Mohan who does not want this proposal to happen goes out to have a tension relieving smoke. Strings, curiously bowed in their lower registers, further stirs up the tension in the moment. Mohan turns back to see Gita standing and talking to everyone in an intense tone and posture. On hearing Gita’s refusal for the marriage proposal, Mohan feels totally relieved. Rahman begins to play the Dekho Na theme loudly and happily here, adding to the euphoria of Mohan who is greeting each of the members of the visiting family with a smile. The real punch comes at the end when Mohan swivels around the pillar and raises his hand as a sign of victory, and it is in here Rahman plays a triumphant rock guitar coda to the music cue and the scene.

Mohan decides to help Gita in getting Kids to join the school. He goes to meet the head of the village, asking him to send his daughters to school. While trying to convince him, Mohan starts talking about why education is essential for girl children and uses exactly the same words that Gita spoke about a woman on the other day while refusing the marriage proposal. In an Ashutosh Gowariker film, spoon feeding is obvious, and for his part, Rahman too helps the cause. In this scene, while Ashutosh makes his point clear by making Mohan look down and show Mohan recollecting the exact words of Gita, Rahman subtly plays the Dekho Na theme to make it easier for us to understand that Mohan is indeed borrowing the lines of Gita. It is one of those quintessential clich├ęs of background scores in Indian films, used quite convincingly in this film too.

Rahman uses a transcendental flute piece, serene and pure in its sound, when more kids come and join Gita’s school. This flute piece is first played when Mohan explains and shows how to connect the stars in the sky and make shapes out of it, to entertain the villagers, who have gathered to watch Yaadon Ki Bharath. The philosophy behind the stars episode, the song Yeh Tara Woh Tara are all to impress upon the villagers about sending the kids to school without any bias or prejudice about gender, caste or creed. Rahman links in this sequence and its consequence with the same piece, implying that because of that (his philosophy about stars and shapes), this (Kids of all castes joining the same school) happened.

The hinge moment of the film is when Mohan travels on Indian roads, rails and waters, sitting next to ordinary Indian people, to go to an interior village and meet a poor farmer - Haridas. The whole journey and his meeting with farmer stir a storm in his conscience. While Haridas speaks about his situation, Rahman bows the high registers of a solo Saarangi, to make us sympathize with the ache of Haridas. Rahman plays ‘Hey Hey’ theme from Yeh Tara song on a Solo flute, disturbing Mohan, who is staring at the Half moon in the night sky and contemplating about Haridas’s situation, and is asking himself about what he is going to do now. A strong bass is sustained as Mohan leaves Haridas’s village with a heavy heart. The bass deepens and continues until, the ‘Hey Hey’ arouses loudly on an orchestra, intensifying the thoughts of Mohan, who is now sailing on the boat in his trip back to Charanpur.

Cut to – Aerial shot of a train running. We know Mohan is travelling in that train. We are yet to see him, but Rahman creates a big turbulence in the air, with his strings, to sound the various thoughts that are clamouring in Mohan’s head and making him feel extremely guilty. Train stops in a railway station. Rahman pauses. A boy is selling water in the railway station. Strings slowly rise when Mohan decides to buy a glass of water from that boy, and it sustains a sublime cry when Mohan, for the first time, drinks Indian water from a clay cup. When Mohan breaks out with tears, the orchestra screams out the melody from the second stanza of the song Yeh Jo Desh hai Tera to Mohan, sowing the first seed of thought in Mohan’s mind, about the situation in India that badly needs his help. The usage of the melody of Yeh Jo Desh hai Tera in this scene is a master stroke. It is this song of nostalgia that finally brings Mohan back to India. With Rahman’s orchestral scream resuming in the background, Ashutosh slowly moves out of the window from Mohan’s close-up shot to that poignant aerial shot of Train departing from the station with the kid still standing there on the platform, counting the coins and waiting for the next train to arrive.

Happy Independence Day!

Listen to 54 Voiceless HQ Cues from Swades Background Score here. Running Time: 82 Minutes.

Swades Score by Suresh Kumar on Grooveshark

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cue-It Up - 1

There are so many film score cues that I love and play in my mind all the time, but rarely I listen to them coming out of real speakers. Through Cue-It Up series I wish to introduce to you instrumental music pieces from Film Scores that might stay with you for the rest of your life.

Roar (Michael Giacchino)

Let’s begin with a bang and bombast. Roar – Cloverfield Overture is the music that plays in the end credits of a movie that has no music score at all. A big disaster movie with a giant beast and without a music score! – Yes, they really did pull it off. The immensely addictive theme goes through a journey in the piece, as it would through the film if it were made to play to back the visuals of this film.

Roar - Cloverfield Overture by Michael Giacchino on Grooveshark

Four notes (Gustavo Santaolalla)

A note each for Arun, Shai, Munna and Yasmin strung together to make a melody, that is as sweet and heartfelt as the movie (Dhobi Ghat) itself. Glad that Aamir Khan released the score of this film at least in the Blu-ray package of the movie.

Dhobi Ghat - Four Lives by Various Artists on Grooveshark

Richard Alpert (Michael Giachchino)

Ab Aeterno is my most favourite of all episodes in Lost, where we get to watch the complete back story of one of most intriguing characters of the series – Richard Alpert. I instantly got hooked to this theme, when it first played in the scene where Ricardo rides a horse a long distance to a Doctor for the medicine to save his wife Isabelle. What a haunting tune!

Richard Alpert Theme by Michael Giacchino on Grooveshark

Veena Waltz (Anirudh)

One of the most haunting instrumental pieces I heard this year. With an instantly pleasing waltz rhythm, the melody takes uplifting scale shifts through the course of the piece. I haven’t watched the movie (Edhir Neechal) yet and I don’t think I would, but this piece will definitely stay with me forever. I like the way the flute solo of beautiful melody of the line Husain Bolt line from the peppy club song joins the piece in the second half and seamlessly connects with the Veena theme that reprises on flute. Anirudh – Way to go!

Edhir Neechal - Veena Waltz Suite by Anirudh on Grooveshark

Monkey Chatter (Ilaiyaraaja)

Monkey Chatter from Mumbai Xpress is a piece that belongs to a genre I would like to call Raajazz. Listen to the breathtaking orchestration and the interplay of themes and how seamlessly it flows from one section to another. Usually, I get bored of long instrumental Jazz pieces. That Tightness! The admirable tightness in the Orchestration! Only Ilaiyaraaja can make a piece like Monkey Chatter accessible to a Jazz-illiterate like me. I wonder if anything from this piece was used in the movie, I remember listening to multiple delicious variations of the jazzy Kurangu Kayil Maalai, but not this one.

Mumbai Express - Monkey Chatter by Soundtrack on Grooveshark

Gabriel’s Cello (Ennio Morricone)

This is Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello Version of one of the most popular movie themes of Ennio Morricone from The Mission. The theme is sheer Melody - Exquisite! One of those melodies that popularize the instrument on which it is played – Oboe in this case, but this is the Cello version.

Few years ago, in a BOSE outlet, I was testing a speaker that I was going to buy that day by playing different genres of music from my iPod. When I played this piece, for not more than 15 seconds, a guy from the Store was instantly shaken and stirred by the sound of the music, got curious and asked me the name of the piece. I wrote down the name on a piece of paper “Gabriel’s Oboe from the compilation Yo-Yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone”. This series is something like that.

The Mission: Gabriel's Oboe by Yo-Yo Ma on Grooveshark

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Zariya - A.R.Rahman - MTV Coke Studio 3

When I first heard that A.R.Rahman was going to be part of MTV Coke Studio Season 3, I was skeptical, because, in here, you need to present a piece of music that instantly connects with a listener. Given the track record of A.R.Rahman, though his compositions are hailed as masterpieces weeks later, first few days after the release, they were always criticized. I am mostly convinced that this phenomenon of A.R.Rahman songs growing after multiple listening is because of the short attention span of the music listeners these days. However, with Rahman relentlessly dishing out songs that break conventions, with quirky melody patterns, even if sometimes they are just superficial like song structure, I can understand where they come from when they say the song grows on multiple listening.

A.R.Rahman’s melodies these days don’t flow in an expected path. The game that Rahman plays with listeners in each and every song is so taxing and tiring initially, but once we understand the rules, we are sure to have fun. But, A.R.Rahman doesn’t have that luxury here, there is no time here for music growing and hitting someone, it has to touch, it has to hit, it has to evoke an emotion in the listener instantly. He has to do that with a totally new song, one that they have never heard before.

Ram Sampath nailed it to perfection with the show Satyameva Jayate, by having very strong melodies - straight from the heart, conventional, soul stirring, and minimal instrumental accompaniments. I am eagerly looking forward to Ram Sampath’s Coke Studio episode as well. Would ARR be able to do the same without compromising on his oath of unconventionality?

MTV Unplugged was much easier for A.R.Rahman, because all the songs performed were colossal hits and it was easy to engage the listeners with pleasantly surprising deviations from the original. MTV Unplugged, had a yet unreleased song Nenjukkulle, but Rahman pulled it off with panache, it was an instant chartbuster. When I first heard Zariya, all my doubts were thrown out of the window. If Zariya isn’t catchy and instantly engaging, then what is?

Most of the live music performances are about the musicians flaunting their virtuosity in playing an instrument, the way they can traverse or jump octaves with utmost ease and without going off anywhere while doing so. In the process, I feel the composition suffers a bit. A musicians’ mind works in improvisatory mode; there is nothing concrete, even after hours of rehearsals, something new might come up on the day of performance. A piece of music composed for a live performance, has to have significant parts for each or most of the instrumentalists playing in the band. Whether a particular composition (melody) demands all these instruments to drive the core emotion home is a question that a composer ought to ask.

Musicians, if you let them free, always tend to go overboard. This would certainly affect the tightness of a piece as whole. And the one who has an idea of the whole is the composer or music producer cum composer in this case, A.R.Rahman. You could see A.R.Rahman giving instructions to the instrumentalists in all those rehearsal videos and almost always he restricts them from playing something extra. Allowing the instrumentalists to do what they feel like and yet maintaining the core emotion of the composition and the tightness of the entire piece as a whole with no tentative or lazy moments - Very tough. With Zariya, I guess A.R.Rahman has struck that magical balance.

Live music needs a sense of drama, a slow beginning, a mid-tempo middle, an accelerated end, almost like a mini-symphony. Zariya fits this tempo curve perfectly. Structuring of the song is neat. Zariya seamlessly starts with a calm and serene, meditative Buddhist Traditional hymn, jumps to seductive Jordanian rhythms with classic Indian melody thrown in between. On the way, the piece throws multiple pleasant surprises at every little turn it takes between sections and genres. Surprise in a live performance – Rahman shows how to do when he starts playing on Fingerboard Continuum an addictive hook as a prelude to Rihada with Sivamani and Co at the percussion adding abundantly to the zing. Above all, what a piece needs is a central emotion and that is served by the Indian section with a set of angelic voices singing a soothing Indian melody. The moment the girls’ choir sings Zariya, it fills you with such warmth, like that of a hug of the one you love the most, and the hug here is just tight enough to embrace you ever so gently and not to choke or squeeze you with overt emotion. I wonder how A.R.Rahman does it, evoking an intense emotion with a tinge of lightness, without an iota of sentimentality.

Now that I have seen Zariya and teasers, my excitement levels have hit the roof now, can’t wait for Coke Studio 3 – A.R.Rahman’s episode, and Ram Sampath’s, and yeah, Amit Trivedi’s too. Wasn’t Amit Trivedi’s Yatra the best of all pieces in the last season of Coke Studio? That moment at the end when Sriram Iyer’s Carnatic sargams meets Yatra! Terrific stuff! Goosebumps I had when I watched it the first time!