Saturday, August 18, 2007

Why I broke up with Ilayaraja

(Updated below)
Update I:
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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.
We failed.
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.


Anonymous said...

pada theriyadhathukku...ippadiyum karanam sollalama....

Anonymous said...

SPB said something like he drew "micro"breaths between sentences in that song (in the program Sangamam, I think) and demonstrated it again. He must have giant bellows for lungs.

Try that, it seems more difficult than singing without breathing.

Anonymous said...

SPB was able to sing it that way but any song in recording has to be edited mutiple times as song recording is very much like shooting a scene...he also sang it the same way in one private concert after the movie release...

Anonymous said...

wrong. I've seen spb sing the entire stanza breathless in a concert. he couldn't do the second one in the same song though.

Jillu Madrasi said...

Romba super post. Came here via Gilli

Adiya said...

hey :) nice post.

regarding the first its just affection what x people grew upon IR music Vs y people grewing on ARR people. generaly music lovers just enjoy the music admire people rather than Vs wars.

comming to the breathless thing its been widely accepted by S.P.B long long back in a stage show, when a college student sang that song in live. SPB was thrilled and told the same "micro" breath funda.

if u see closely its a clever part of a singer to manage the swarams within that only. forget about this song any singing should need a good breathing excerses and definited control on it.

well after that SPB actually sung that in live thats a story apart.

enjoy the music. :)

ranganathan said...


ellarukkum appave therinja maater-ai vechu nallaa pinnitteenga!!

kalaku kanna kalakku!!

Anonymous said...

When you say it was over, it was over for you. You only.

I sing Illayaraja everyday.He is one versatile master unmatchable in the entire universe!. That is me.

MURALI said...


if a person listens to tamil film music he shold be a fan of MSV,Ilayaraja & a.r.rahman as they are the trendsetters and no one can disagree with it.everyone of them is a gr8 personalities by their own and we should be proud they represent Tamilnadu.
dont compare and waste time as we have to bring the good things from the music not the comments which hurts others.


Anonymous said...

Ask any person who knows music. The richness and progression of Ilayaraja simply cannot be matched to anyone else in the field of tamil music ever.

Emjay said...

Good one. It reminds me of the days when we used to have similar fights about who is superior ARR or IR. I always end up incited and provoked by ARR fans.

IR means music to me and I have started to blog to share my 2 cents about what I know:

ANAND said...


sriram said...

ARR should change a lot. His BGM is still bad. You can see the same BGM of Duet in all of his movies. you can see the same Duet BGM in GHAJINI. How come he got a Golden Globe Award for Original Music. Raja's Period there was no Media to take to a world level popularity. Every one will accept this. Still we are all proud ARR is a student of Raja Sir. Any music director hailed from Tamil Nadu should have a influence of RAJA sir Music.

Anonymous said...

Ilaraja brought the music to us, from the sounds that has been living with us, but we never realized until he did it.

ARR brought music from western, you can humm it, or like it, or love one or two.

But ilayaraja songs live until you die.

Stop comparing both of them, you can't. NO ONE can match Ilayaraja, the music that touches your soul.

Tell me one song that touches your soul from ARR, I like some of his songs, but not one touched my soul.

It's because his music is not from our native instruments.

Anonymous said...

Ilayaraja is one of the finest composers India has ever produced, no MD in India has experimented like IR. What can we say when ARR himself said that "Ilayaraja is above oscars and he doesn't need any"...he also said "Elders like IR paved way and I am represented them"...

Ravi said...

Rahman was so humble to accept that IR and MSV are above him and they don't need Oscar. The veterans on their part are so generous to admire ARR's intelligence. So, why fight among us? Sunil Gavaskar should never be compared with Sachin Tendulkar. They are greats in their own way. So are MSV, IR and ARR. They made us Tamilians proud...

Anonymous said...

s..spb sung the song in a concert i saw it on tv.. he can sing breathlessly, but during recording it was done according to the wish of sound engineer.. so the song is meant to be sung breathleesly.. ilayaraja is always the best..

Anonymous said...

hey boy

ilayaraja is such a great man that no man can do music like him.
he is the best music director in the world. the folk content in the music can never be tried by any body except the gifted singers like spb,yesudas,etc.. stop abusing raja because of your disability. rahman had once been a disciple of ilayaraja.
my prediction: Raja is going to get OSCAR Award for best music director in for his movie PAZHASSIRAJA.

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Gulfu said...

Ilayaraja is a gr8 musician but not a good human being.. he has the thing called ego.. which has affected his music... his songs now a days are more ofear iritating background music with some good tunes.. .. i need to re edit in my music editing software to listen to it .. terrible...

**paazhasi raja is a pure shit film with very bad background score and re used music

Anonymous said...

I am reading this article second time today, you have to be more careful with content leakers. If I will fount it again I will send you a link

Thiru Vi Ka said...

You're so stupid to have believed that..

Manoj said...


you open said in your profile.. You can hear any song of A.R.Rahman .. Your ears are used to hear only Rahman songs.

Then why the hell you should criticize Raaja's music.. "One should love a person(or an artist or anybody) before trying to criticize his works".you guys won't do that.

if its a rahman song you will come up with a mindset that it will be good. even if it is not good at (first hearing or 3rd hearing) you hear the songs repeatedly just to make your mind accept that the song is an outstanding output from Rahman(which beats all the other songs done by him).. this is comprimise... And i would say that is called "pure worship".. Do that as you wish.. Have you listened to other music directors' songs more than 3 or 4 times during the release time. You are not a music lover you just love the image of Rahman. Thats bad.

Never try to criticize other music director's works unless or otherwise you trust or love them. Most Rahman fans are upset with some Raaja fans and vice versa.. So you feel that Raaja is your own enemy. And you start complaining about the songs composed by him always. How many times you listened to the songs of pazhassi raja at first(before criticizing)?

How many rahman songs you hate? you will answer "no. Nothing.. may be one or two".. I request Rahman fans not to criticize raaja or any other senior music directors.(unless or otherwise you have heard all the songs (or atleast some 100s) composed by them).

I started my life as a Rahman fan and became a raaja fan(as well as rahman fan) now. You guys are one sided.. please be neutral and criticize other works..Music is what feelings sound like..

Murali said...


Its not S.P.Balasubramanian, its S.P.Balasubramanyam.

Anonymous said...

Singing that particular stanza without breathing was a cheap trick by the sound editors, just to generate some new discussion. SPB himself admitted the same several times and still the fans keep discussing the matter. It is a pity. The most difficult breathless piece was sung by tms, as early as in 1957 in ambikapathy. The song is 'vadivelum mayilum thunai'; it starts with 'kalai azhithida and ends with 'tamil malai thanai chooduvan'. This was original effort and no trick or gimmicks. None of the participants seem to have a real exposure to tamil playback singing from say, 1950.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jerk,

Nothing is going to change if u do not sing Ilayaraja's song in bathroom. You may be one of the group who thinks eating pizza is stylish and more chance of flirting.
If you want to enjoy AR's song then do it and dont shout that i am listening AR songs only...
You will be real jerk when a new music genius comes and make AR dummy...

Ashwin S Kumar said...

"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. "


Anonymous said...

ARR is legend IR waste fellow ARR international music director IR tamil music director

Kodeeswaran said...

Hi All,

All because of Media.. Media only creating such things.. During 70/80/90 .. there is not this much of media plays .. People making money with there audio release etc..
Simple i will say in one word
Traditional Food - Raja Music
Fast Food - AR music..

Both are legends..

Anonymous said...

:D its funny that you know nothing about music and you decided to break up with Ilayaraja because you found that there are some issues in his music and recording. Then you are cheated by other musicians a thousand times for every minute of so called music you hear because they are stolen or played with some computer etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Whom ever written the comments are of their feel they have written it... I took this like a project and spent many hours in the net, consulted my music master, listen to musics lot and at last I found, most of the time around 60% of ARR songs... are either inspired/similar and sometimes copyied.. he is a great artist who mixes other instrument to fade away the original... YES I DO AGREE..even IR has inspirations I could not locate more than 7-8% from considering his 2000 hits.. thats where I being an ARR fan fellback for IR... all these times I have wasted money in buying a mixing not an original... that vengence makes me very much angry on ARR...

Anonymous said...

I am a Telugite and a huge fan of Ilayaraja, having heard his music in tamil, telugu and kannada. He is unmatchable. ARR did become popular soon, but think of the media, internet, advertisements in ARR's time that was available to give publicity. None of these were at IR's initial times, but still he rose to great fame with his music. The ever great musician. Doesn't have language boundaries and has scored for hundred of telugu films and about 50 kannada films.

Anonymous said...

ARR is a legend and he is the person to make us listen all kind of music style panjabi, karnati, folks, classic, wetern, kawali, sufi etc.. including all kind of sounds.. You can not compare with any other music direcotr.. Raja is different and he is special in one area and he is good in that area..if you talk to different kind of music style lover, they will say which song they like from ARR (eg.. kawaja ..tera bina.. dum mera dum,, dil se (sufi).. all etc.. rock star..). You can not say i didnt here this type music in ARR including pettai rap..

Anonymous said...

foolish uploader.. i wasted my time to reading this..

Pranesh Moorthi said...

Ilayaraja is a Legend -- Accepted !

But, A. R. Rahman is Someone far better than Ilayaraja in all aspects. Ilayaraja failed to move on with time. His way of music dint change, he sticks to what he knows best.
But, Rahman keeps on changing, keeps on experimenting, is intrumental in bringing in world music genres to India. The artists working with him are famous too, its because of his gesture to give credits to them in a big way, which ilayaraja never did. ARR is so spiritual most importantly someone with no EGO. Am 21 Years old..My Age is exactly Rahman's carrier span. The way he inspired my generation cant be expressed in words....its just because you cant understand the depth in the composition of a music, you cant sue it! Mark My Words " After another 20 years of time, Rahman will still be giving Timeless Hits"
That's what Ilayaraja failed to do !!!

Anil bajpai,anantapur said...

Both are very talented music directors but Ilyayaraja music like a natural lake but Rehman music like a swimming pool.Ilayaraja music comes like a flow of water in River,Ar music flow like a water in canal.Ilaya Raja is the No.1 Music director in the world,but Rehman stood in 2nd position but i adore both's music.I love u IR&ARR.Ilayaraja music lives until humanbeing expired,but Ar music lasting maximum years but not forever

sharmi sridhar said...

Quite interesting to read this debates between those legends.
IR made films as superhit movies,but for ARR if screenplay is good then only songs seems to be hit.
IR composed 6 tune package ,insisted the directors to compose a screenplay,then only he can give the package of those tunes.The film was composed "vaidhegi kathirenthal" a super dooper hit at that time. Does any composers have such guts

Anonymous said...

First,,u know about music?