Saturday, August 18, 2007
Why I broke up with Ilayaraja
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Original post below:
I think it was the year 1994. The movie "Bombay" had just been released. There were thick patriotic feelings in the air. Rumors were that Mani Ratnam had "fixed" the movie to appease the Shiv Sena.
Around this time, in Tamil Nadu, there was another kind of fight brewing. I got the first inkling of this polarising divide that was splitting the unity of the Tamils in a barber shop.
There were four of us in the shop. The shop owner had the radio on. A song from an older movie (I think "Indha Minminikku") was being played. One of the guys just had his hair cut and was leaving. He stopped to enjoy the song and then said, "Ilayaraja is the best".
Another customer suggested that Ilayaraja's time was gone. To which the first guy said every music item EVER created was copied from Ilayaraja.
Soon the two guys were close to blows when the owner of the shop, a Keralite, got in and defended Rahman. He had the shaving knife and scissors in his hand - so the argument that day ended right there.
But the argument continued in millions of households and barbershops and tea shops around Tamil Nadu. Rahman and Ilayaraja themselves pretended the other person did not exist. I remember watching an interview in which Ilayaraja suggested that he was delivering a full feast while the public were going for fast food.
In the year 1992, during the Independence day special television show, I heard the song "Chinna Chinna Aasai" from the movie "Roja". That was the first time I was hearing it - I was completely enchanted. The next day, the whole college was discussing that song and Rahman. Over the next couple of years, particularly with the movie "Gentleman", we were all firmly in Rahman's camp.
I think whatever music you hear and like when you are in college sticks with you for the rest of your life. It is a wish for those heady days to come back. I still cannot countenance any criticism of Rahman, even though I myself see his weaknesses now - that his music is impossible to hum or repeat, with its multiple layers; that his music overshadows the lyrics so arrogantly; that he refuses to get rid of Udit Narayan; that his music rarely fits the mood of a movie and stands alone.
I like Ilayaraja a lot now, particularly after FM radio has rediscovered him. I sense a calm in his music that is inspiring. The movie "Bharathi" in the year 2000 was a turning point for him - his music for Bharathiyar's "Nirpadhuve Nadapadhuve" exctly reflected Bharathi's tragic life and the mood of the movie.
I tuned off Ilayaraja after college for a few years; that had nothing to do with his music or the arrival of Rahman. I felt that Ilayaraja had personally cheated me and my friends in college. This is the story of why I broke up with Ilayaraja.
Around the year 1991, the movie "Keladi Kanmani" was released. The promos for that movie were all ecstatic about a song, sung by S.P.Balasubramanian. The two stanzas of the song, "Mannil Indha Kaadhal" were reputed to have been sung by him without taking a breath (or losing a breath if you are a pessimist). We all went and saw the movie (after "taking permission" from college). It was True! He sang it without breathing and they mention that in the movie!
Me and my friends went to college the next day and could not contain our excitement. If SPB, who was atleast 50 kilos overweight could sing that, all of us young athletes should be able to, right?
Wrong, as it turned out.
Every afternoon after lunch all of us got together and one by one tried the stanza (starting with "Vennilavum Ponni Nadhiyum"). The first person to try went upto the third line and then exhaled loudly and started coughing.
While all my foolish friends were trying it I was secretly smiling. I had practiced breath exercises that morning and was confident of outdoing SPB.
My turn came; I drew a huge breath and then sang the way Vinu Chakravarthy speaks. Forget it, my goal was not to render a melodious song. My goal was just to blurt out the words, one by one by one of this awful...awfulll......
My friends were laughing their butts off as I rolled around in the grass drawing in huge gulps of Oxygen.
Thereafter we tried again and again. In a couple of weeks, Ilayaraja came on TV and said he had scored other breathless songs before such as "Kanmaniye Kaadhal Yenbadhu" from the movie "Aaril Irundhu Arubadhu Varai". This sent us into a frenzy. We started doing Yoga. Someone suggested we could sing it if we were doubled over, facing the earth. We tried that (we were all Physics students by the way). We tried closing our noses ourselves; had others close them. Someone suggested trying women's voice. We completely forgot the original goal and tried just SAYING the words without breathing.
It scarred us permanently. (Actually we moved on - there was a new hottie in college).
Anyway after a couple more years of college, all of us went our own ways and we forgot all about that song that nobody could sing.
5 years later
There was an interview by SPB in TV. I was watching it. SPB said the song "Mannil Indha" was NOT sung breathless - it was edited to sound that way.
I got enraged. I threw the TV remote to a remote corner and called up my only college friend in contact - Veera Raghavan.
I yelled, "Dude, they cheated us"
Veera heard my screams patiently and then said, "I knew all along"
"What? You knew and did not tell me? Why were we trying all that time?"
"It was fun".
I was in shock for a few days. When I recovered, I decided I would not sing Ilayaraja songs in the bathroom anymore.
We were SO over.