It is interesting to explore IR’s works in period/mythological flicks, though there aren’t many worthy ones. He arrived a decade too late for that, for when he did enter the film world, the days of APN directed Thiruvarutchelvars, Thiruvilayadals, Thirumal Perumais and Saraswathi Sabathams were long gone. However, with a Nadigar Thilagam in his peak and a strong writer-director in APN, one can’t but imagine what fodder IR would have got in a hypothetical juxtaposition of his music, especially BGMs, in the mid 60s. In that strain of thought, ‘Rajarishi’ was a middling film at best. IR’s re-recording and songs sparkle in this 1985 flick. But the writing and lead performances, save Sivaji, let the film down. Agreeing with the school of thought that places writing and acting as the essential aspects in making a film and the music in merely elevating what is on the plate, I find it unsurprising that this film doesn’t have too many takers today. However, the song for today and the BGM that precedes it is out of this world.
Dushyanthan spots Sakunthalai and is instantly attracted. At around 25 seconds, we see an acoustic guitar repeating strains of music, in a meditative trance for we are in a hermitage and she is the daughter of an ascetic, backed by the bass guitar. At 30 seconds, beyond the hackneyed writing, poor Tamil and acting from the lead pair, a flute cuts through the air playing a Vasantha. The raga literally means beauty or springtime. The lead pair seem to be attracted here. Springtime makes the heart light and evokes love across traditions/cultures in poetry. Considering this portion was inspired, albeit poorly, from Kalidasa’s AbhignanashaakunthaLam, the springtime is all the more likely to have had a poetic flourish in the original. As an addition, this raga can be haunting too. When we juxtapose this for this particular situation with Ilayaraaja’s inherent mastery over orchestration and the likelihood that he might be serving Kalidasa’s genius than the film, the result is a flute and cello playing a counterpoint aka magic. The flute haunts. The cello adds a layer of incredible beauty to the flute.
As Sakunthalai picks up water, a sitar plays a strain of the raga that evokes a mysterious beauty with the increasing expectation of what is to happen. A Mridangam adds to the suspense and as she finds a ruse to bring him to her, a flute reveals her mind. As she makes her mind, a piano places a bell at 1:49 to mark the unfolding of the plan being put into action. As the thorn pricks her, a rush of violins mark Dushyanthan’s panic on seeing the woman he likes getting injured even as she expects just that. The Mridangam is still there with its element of suspense, for we don’t know what is to follow. As Dushyanthan touches her feet, the keyboard meditates on Vasantha with the bass to underline her pleasant shock. The Mridangam is gone for the suspense is revealed. As he places his mouth on her feet, the flute returns with the cellos repeating that leitmotif which will transform into the song and the result is magical. The music goes to the background as they converse and as she opens up on her attraction towards him, it returns in full energy in its near symphonic splendor. The love is sealed on the haunting strains of Vasantha. As they move away from each other, taking back pleasant memories, the flute changes tracks and plays a different melody. Till now was story narration via music. All this culminates in one peach of a song.
The song, Maan Kanden Maan Kanden, well written by Pulamaipithan, starts with a chorus in Vasantha leading to a flute with a bass which, when we feel will take the route it took earlier, repeats the first phrase and moves away from what it did in the second line previously in a delightful yet unpredictable path at around 3:42. All this gives way to a quick piano and takes us to the pallavi releasing all the pent up tension with KJY’s superb voice. Vani Jayaram is flawless too. The way they go down from a higher octave at puLLi maanA? maanida maanE! paLLi maanAi vandhavaL naanE presents the raga in its full splendor. It is worth noting that they essentially play up what the BGM with flute did. The little spark however is that the tabla provides the rhythm where the cellos operated. Somehow they seem totally unrelated yet a string section and a rhythm instrument essentially end up serving the same purpose with a breathtaking subtlety that we don’t notice as we are taken in by the song!
The first interlude is pure genius with its solo violin backed by a group violin section serving another counterpoint exploring more of Vasantha as they go along. The violin takes over for yet another counterpoint with the guitar and the tension built up is released by a gush of the flute at every line. We then receive another counterpoint with guitars and the piano. 6 mini tunes orchestrated in 1 interlude. This is a WCM masterclass inside a semi classical composition. The charanam has a vocal counterpoint with the lead voices and the choral flourishes. The way the charanam progresses is very unpredictable as a composition too, leading to the quick aalaap at the end with KJY and VJ, yet it remains true to the character of the raga. The second interlude has more awe awaiting. Where he gave us 6 tunes in the previous interlude, we have a 3 way counterpoint here with KJY’s voice, bass and the lead guitar each singing/playing a different tune. I have not heard such innovations before or after in Indian Film Music. As the chorus take over and end with a flourish, the lead guitar is in harmony with them.
If any one song has to explain what Raaja did with Indian and Western Classical Music, this is one sublime package.