When I ended yesterday’s post, I mentioned Enna Samayalo is not even the song of the film. Let me delve a little on what I consider the song of the album today. Idhazhil Kadhai Ezhudhum, Lalita Priya Kamalam in Telugu with slightly changed percussion arrangements, is a song based on the raga Lalita. That it was composed and the director named the heroine after the raga is all folklore today. What makes this ragam and this song very special so as to warrant it a heritage status?
Permit a bit of an interesting digression, if you will, here. The ragam is a janyam of Mayamalawagowlai which is the 15th Melakarta ragam. Melakarta is the system which has 72 fundamental ragas, which have all the 7 swaras from sa to ni. Those 72 ragas can each have a gazillion janyas based on removing 1 or 2 swaras in the arohanam and/or avarohanam. I shall not get deeper but you now have a basic idea of what a janya ragam is and where this Lalita falls as a janyam (derivative) of the 15th Melakarta, Mayamalawagowlai. The 7 swaras are all that is there to music, to give a simple definition. Every musical phrase we see is these 7 swaras interweaved in different permutations and combinations and depending on the skill of the composer, the song appeals or falls flat. These 7 swaras each have a name and interestingly, are said to have been inspired by the sounds of birds and animals out in nature. Like they say, disturbance in silence is noise and a pattern to the noise is music. Sa is Shadjamam which is believed to mirror the scream of a peacock, Ri is Rishabam which, like the name suggests, derives from the bellow of an ox, Ga is Gandharam which is said to derive from the bleat of a goat, Ma is Madhyamam which is supposed to resemble the noise produced by a Krouncha bird (or a crane, which owes its etymology to Krouncha), Pa is Panchamam which resembles a cuckoo’s coo, Dha is Dhaivatham which sounds like a horse’s neigh and Ni is Nishadham which is supposed to evoke an elephant’s trumpet.
Of these 7 swaras, 2 can be said to be most important. Sa and Pa. Sa Pa Sa is one of the basic lessons in Carnatic music. These are the most stable notes in the scale, i.e. vibrationally stable. They hence form beautiful points to end a musical phrase and thereby relieve musical dissonance. With the ragam Lalita, it does not have a Panachamam (Pa). A song composed in a ragam which lacks a Pa is, to quote a friend from an Ilayaraaja forum online, like a suspension bridge without pillars, requiring some fantastic structural design for it to not collapse. So where Pa is absent, you only have Sa to fall back on to end the musical phrase. Too much of Sa to end musical phrases will make the song boring. So the only alternative is to have constant musical motion and very few musical pauses. As a result, this ragam offers a challenge to any composer, even classical, to compose a song. Of course, great masters have composed songs in Carnatic music over the years. But when we come to light music, it is like a tight rope walk to not deviate from the raga and also make the composition accessible to the common man. You will notice that this song has very few pauses and often runs breathlessly. But that’s just one aspect with the composer staying true to the raga.
The song is full of jaw dropping surprises lurking everywhere. The first interlude building on that hammerdrop rhythm and adding violins and a flute to criss-cross with a counterpoint (a musical phrase where 2 distinct, different tunes play simultaneously to produce music is a counterpoint) is one of it. The second interlude has another counterpoint with piano and violins. The chorus which goes “aahh” adding a layer deep behind in the charanam is another subtle cue which adds to the already unbelievably deep composition.
But when we think that the song is by now a masterpiece, which it is, the Maestro leaves us breathless with one final, magical cue. In the pallavi, at around 1:25 mins, SPB goes “thanimaiyil nerungida inimaiyum pirakkudhu” and again on to the first line, “idhazhil kadhai ezhudhum” for another round. In the charanam, at around 2:35, he revisits that very musical phrase suddenly with “manmadha kaaviyam ennudan ezhudhu” and the brain readies itself for the pallavi (because we have frikking heard that phrase before leading on to the pallavi!) but he takes a detour with Chitra going “naanum ezhudhida iLamaiyum thudikkudhu” and instead of relieving the musical tension, he most unexpectedly goes on to create more dissonance. When “maalai maNa maalai” is reached, the tension is at the edge of a knife and finally as he comes back home to “idhazhil kadhai ezhudhum”, the breath returns. What. The. F*ck. Was. That! Absolutely unpredictable, yet fantastic moment! This was akin to doing a tight rope walk with this raga and having a surface of fire below the rope with such experimentation. The genius actually pulled it off.
I have tried to describe the song, yet feel quite inadequate having tried to do so. A brilliant SPB, Chitra and some fabulous lyrics from Pulamaipithan (especially in the second charanam with an enjoyable dialog between the lead pair) notwithstanding, just the composition taken separately, has absolutely no frikking parallel in Indian film music. Indeed, I’d vote on this being right up there among the greatest Indian film songs ever.