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I don’t listen to a few songs very often. Not because they are bad, but because they are difficult to get out of the system once I hear them. One such song is the indescribably beautiful Devanin Kovil. The song is the quintessential example of everything in my books. The way he uses it in the film deserves a study which I aim to do today. But first the song. I am duty bound to lead you folks to two fabulous pieces on this song by Violin Vicky and Suka for Solvanam. Having done that, I shall start.

I don’t have any emotional baggage with this song. But often, the inexplicable melancholy in this song makes me run this in my mind at random hours and playing this song churns my gut out every single time. It starts with a Goosebumps inducing Raaja voice in chords singing in Tenor, Soprano, Alto and Bass all at once. He sings different synonyms for love (preparing us for a song of love). The effect it has is incredible. It is written like a shlOkA but rendered in a grammar true to Western Classical Music (WCM). As the knockout prelude ends, it is accompanied with what sounds like an organ and we have the piano ushering us to Chitra’s magical voice. The bass guitar does incredible things which Vicky explains in his post.

The first interlude, as with Chitra’s voice, tune and Gangai Amaran’s fantastic lyrics bring a strange sorrow. It is strange because the song is set to a scale and rhythm reserved usually for peppy songs. Yet there is this sadness that pervades. The interlude brings violins with a church gong which underlines there is a Christian theme inherent in the film. As Chitra carries on to the charanam with wonderfully melancholic emotions and lyrics indicating separation (iNaivadhu ellAm piRivadharkkAga… maRandhAl dhAnE nimmadhi), we get a feel this may not be happy film. The entire charanam sucks our soul and brings us to our knees.

The second interlude has the violins going in rounds in a quick counterpoint before Gangai Amaran nails a hum in his voice with “thandhana thandhana thananna…” and again this is a folk phrase usually reserved for peppy situations and yet when GA sings, at high pitch of all scales, instead of happiness he translates a sorrow as with Chitra’s voice. A flute follows held together by the bass. As we are flummoxed at the sad soul in such a beautiful melody, Chitra starts her second charanam and at Arudhal thEdi alayudhu nenjam, azhudhida kaNNil neerukku panjam. nAnOr kaNNi kAdhali, we are reduced to a lump due to the combination of an ethereal voice soaked with sorrow, music and lyrics. What a song! As for folks who might have a baggage with this with their personal life, which Suka and Vicky talk about, I can imagine how rude a part this song plays in their lives. One of Chitra’s greatest songs.

Now I shall try to decipher the song and its place in the movie. I will say this is one of Raaja’s greatest songs and the film revolves around this song and if not for this song, the film is not 1% of what it is. I would be glad to get into a physical brawl (though I’d lose) with anyone who disagrees. This is the song’s video. Aah so it is the film’s title song. Not very different from the audio version except that it has just the first charanam. It follows a woman on a motorbike across a path. The song underlines to us that it could be a sad path. The song ends and gives us clues on what this possibly failed love story could mean.

The film begins and this girl, face not shown, speaks to a sad Vadivukkarasi and leaves the house with a letter. We are taken to a flashback and are introduced to Pallavi, an orphan brought up in a Christian missionary by nuns. Watch this scene. It starts with Chitra humming the theme of Devanin Kovil and strangely, there is calm in the church. There are no downturns in the tune or the sorrows heard earlier and Chitra keeps it high on notes and in spirit (so much that a singer can bring in). It shows a young girl who looks happy with life as her mates sing in harmony. As she goes on her doctoral assignment, she spots statues and as she explores them; we are presented a folk leitmotif (different versions of one theme) in a flute which reflects the lush surroundings and her exploratory nature (a restless, energetic soul). He takes a detour of the same song, embellishes it with lovely twists which evoke a village in a flash. Leitmotifs are Raaja’s zone. He is unmatched there. This film is a living proof.

Pallavi has had an unsavory meet with Prabhu and she comes across him with his disciplinarian dad as he is celebrating and mistaking him to be a worker, complains about his misdemeanor. Watch the score here. It turns serious and as his father publicly reprimands him, the same theme is present in violins having a heavy cello for base showing her shock at the unexpected turn of events and feeling sorry for Prabhu and guilty at her own self. The score nails it.

As Pallavi meets Prabhu who is punished further that night, she apologizes and is taken in by his straightforward innocence and charm, the theme recurs and we see a strain of happiness with the piano, bass, mild rhythms and guitars as a friendship is made.

They are friends and she encourages him to work. His dad severely reprimands him for the same and reduces his certificate to flames and theme comes back with the exact same instruments it did in the previous scene. But wonder of wonder, it sounds sad. Because the tempo is reduced and it fits the situation to a T. What wonders and pyro-techniques around one single theme! Even as she dreams about Prabhu being hung, I feel a single note from this song is sounded in a deep bass tone and brings in that horridness. As she discovers the following morning that he has attempted suicide and is forced to give a mouth to mouth resuscitation, he recovers. He proposes in his simpleton way and Raaja enters with that fantastic phrase Premam Premathi Prema Priyam… wow! He is using the prelude phrase for love that has bloomed now. Absolute Goosebumps! As she deliberates, the same leitmotif which played for friendship and sadness now plays to support their love. Magic.

Pallavi now privately realizes she is in love and deliberates and prays. The same Premam Premathi Prema Priyam… comes to her as she prays and is chased by the messengers of cupid. It digresses into a delightful folk tune as the Father, Ramkumar, enters and gives her the green signal. It breaks into a more delightful Kartharai nambi vidu in Malaysia’s voice as she is in love now. A fantastic folk shortie with pianos and guitars. There is merit to the argument that IR is primarily a WCM expert who uses folk and Carnatic idioms into music. As she imagines a world where she is married to him as a Christian woman but refuses, the theme waits with cellos, cutting back to her clinic and as it turns back to her coming back in a Hindu attire, it breaks into a lovely Kalyani in a veena. She has convinced herself. These are eminent tunes which can be copied. Balki was right.

Prabhu enters the scene and as he takes the bed, the same leitmotif with keyboard and guitars comes in this time for her love. As she agrees to his love and he reels back in shock, the scene cuts to a beach with the messengers of cupid throwing flowers of blessings as Raaja goes Premam Premathi Prema Priyam… The theme is nailed in happiness. I attribute this enjoyable picturization and this admittedly “different” depiction of the love to the music. The scene is developed around the music and not around the script. You are welcome to have a fight.

As they are expressly in love, they realize a woman is in trouble and egged by Pallavi, he chases them and as he shudders in his cowardice, the same theme turns comical at around a minute briefly as though underlining his faux bravery (due to love) is a farce. Brilliant! As his dad discovers their love and he takes her leave, the theme repeats more strongly with the older keyboard and guitars and as they separate, the violin underlines that the love has been sealed.

She is angry at Prabhu for being the coward that he is. He surprises her. The theme is fast; keyboard, pads, guitars present the silliness and fun at the devolving of the scene into the cute, if I can use the word, mess.

His dad permits to their love, and she goes to bring the nuns to begin her life with Prabhu, unaware of what is in store. She reminisces of the intimate times, the same leitmotif building the love.

Prabhu’s father has tricked Prabhu into marrying his minor cousin. As Pallavi enters the home and realizes this through the father’s acrid tongue, the theme is a dirge now. A wail in shehnai with a layer of violin. It melts the hearts. It is apparent why the song was sounding happy and yet offered a strange melancholy. As she feels the sadness, the leitmotif courses like a whirlpool in a river with violins in a counterpoint. As she meets Prabhu, the same theme with the same keyboard and guitar now play the same tune but it sounds sad at his unwitting betrayal. Absolutely magical.

The film courses along, Pallavi agreeing to leave the village but her clinic is burnt by Prabhu’s father with Prabhu’s wife also in it who wants to aid their love. Pallavi ends up dead, forgiving Prabhu, and Prabhu’s wife is seriously injured. Prabhu kills his father and is finally released after a life imprisonment. The woman we saw in the title track is his wife. It all falls in place now. Why the song sounded sad, why it made us feel weak. The song also plays on our suspense by making us wonder all the while if that woman was Pallavi. Now we know the tragedy and the import behind the line Devanin kOvil moodiya nEram nAn enna kEtpEn DeivamE

As he reads the letter from his mother, his eyes are a film of tears as his love life is reminded. A past full of lost memories buried in a tragedy with no hope of reclaiming it back. As he hushes in the inevitability of fate and life, all his feelings are reflected one last time by this theme from the sad heavens and as he reflects on his mother’s lines to accept his wife, which he does, her song, Chinna Ponnu plays as a theme indicating he is trying to put his life behind him and move on.

Now tell me if you disagree. This man has narrated the entire freaking film with a single score giving it the navarasas. He has fed human emotions into the film and the song and has made it immortal. That heavy sinking feeling of a cursed love as we hear the tune. That precision. That is Raaja, not just one of the greatest composers of songs, but easily among the finest story tellers in this world through music. Take a bow Maestro. To paraphrase Violin Vicky, life hangs around the strains of Maestro’s music.