Friday, October 13, 2006

Euphoria and Melancholy

Note: I have zero knowledge about music. Will be grateful for any errors that are pointed out. Thanks.

Not "learning" music is something I regret a lot. Something I intend to put right someday. But then I guess I never was the musical type when I was a kid.

So anyway, having an interest in music and there being not a lot to choose from, film music occupied -- occupies -- a lot of my "music time". The following clips are two of my favourite pieces of Tamil film music.

But if you're going to hear them, I suggest you get a pair of good headphones/earphones, crank up the volume on the PC and the headphones, and really listen. The effect is totally lost on speakers.

Now that that little technicality is out of the way, here you go -

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The piece, of course, comes from the song "Rakkamma", in Mani Ratnam's movie Dalapathi (1991), composed by Ilayaraja.

And it's the closest I've come to finding a musical meaning of the word 'euphoria'.

The guitar starts the piece and sets the raw tone and mood that then continues till the end (Again this is where I suck. Is it the guitar? I'm sticking with guitar for the rest of the piece. Let me know if I'm wrong). The sound has this unoiled quality to it (you can actually hear it whining as it strains) just to make sure that the perfection of the violin isn't overshadowed. I particularly like the way the guitar hovers in the background all throughout, keeping pace, taking over after the violins have climaxed. Brilliant.

Euphoria is never an abrupt emotion. It builds up. Slowly. And one is aware of this process of building up. Almost as if joy keeps increasing in tiny little increments and suddenly everything boils over and you're drowning in euphoria. Like how the first four in your innings is encouraging, the second reassuring, the third convincing, the next dizzying and before you know it, you settle into the zone. Euphoria is never gentle, always dizzying, always aggressive, leaving you on a peak you are reluctant to leave.

That piece of music is precisely how euphoria should feel. First the modest guitar, establishing base camp. Then the two violin strains -- the first one steps up the tempo, you're climbing the first of those steep ravines, gasping for breath. And just when you sit back to get your breath back, Ilayaraja nails you with repetitions, each more violent than the one before, the crescendo taking you higher and higher up the precipice of joy, finally leaving you with the guitar again as you plant your flag at the summit, all sweaty from the climb, looking down superciliously, condescending at mortals wallowing in misery. And you feel like saying, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

In fact, the song, the lyrics I mean, not only matches the music fabulously, but also the situation in the movie. Mani Ratnam is indeed a master in using the song as a narrative device.

Anyway, after the euphoria of Ilayaraja, Rahman -

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That piece is from somewhere in the middle of the song "Chinna Chinna Aasai", composed by A.R.Rahman, from the movie Roja (1992).

I've always felt that there was more pain in Rahman's music than in Ilayaraja's. To me the latter always strikes a hopeful chord even in his saddest pieces. Maybe it's their personal philosophies, Ilayaraja making his name in the '70s - '90s, when life was probably simpler and hope kept people going, while Rahman is a product of the global '90s, when futility and hopelessness came to stay.

Anyway, I digress.

The song itself is an all-time favourite, both for the nostalgia that it evokes and the simplicity that drips from the words. The song was meant as a girl-growing-up piece in the movie, a supposedly cheerful, pastoral composition. But somehow it's never been that for me. It's nothing if not melancholic. Every little image the words draw up, every little note in that song -- especially that interlude in the clip above -- leaves me sad. I guess the past makes us all sad in one way or the other. And if you notice, there is this clear dichotomy between the video and the words. The video shows the girl doing everything she talks about in the song, but the words have this "I would love to do this, but then ..." feel to them. Almost everything that is sung about is frustratingly out of reach, almost as if the protagonist is being prophetic, proclaiming "This too shall pass."

Back to the piece. I absolutely love the transition that it brings about in the song. Until then, you're there, enjoying the words vicariously, and then Rahman chips in with his absolutely heart-wrenching "Elelo", and you know he set you up. Almost like how the sanguinity of childhood sets us up nicely for the bear-trap that adulthood really is. You want it, you got it. I can almost hear A.R.R. chuckling, 'There, so you thought this was another of those everyone-gets-what-they-want pieces eh? Take this!'

The transition starts with a kind of "stick music" (please tell me what instrument this is! I have no idea what to call it) accompanied by sounds, I imagine, of stars twinkling. That's where Rahman invites you to take this brief ride on a magic carpet, asking you to leave behind the idyllic world suggested by the lyrics. He then shows you sweeping valleys, broad, meandering rivers, brooding hillocks, all coloured in the scarlet dusk of twilight, cloaked with the sadness of the evening, the earthy drum and the rueful veena pinning you firmly to the ground, not letting you escape to the skies. And you begin to realize the enormity of everything about you. And of course, that solitary fisherman singing "Elelo", the perfect metaphor for Life itself.

And then, suddenly, smoothly, seamlessly, just like how it all began, Rahman drops you off right back where he picked you up, and leaves you to enjoy Vairamuthu, a mischievous glint in his eyes as he speeds away on that carpet of his.


And to think, it was his first movie. Oh, well ... I'm probably over-analysing as usual.


Anonymous said...

interesting comparison!!!

musafir said...

Ah, seems like the list of anonymous commenters on the blog is growing by the day.

So is this who I think it is? :P

Anonymous said...

It is not me :)

musafir said...

the second anonymous

And I have no idea who this is either!

Anonymous said...

Have a couple of things to comment upon.
1. "I have zero knowledge about music."
Knowledge isnt a pre requisite to enjoy music. Even an infant relishes lullabies. And your post seems to capture your emotional vicissitudes in tune with the music, rather than a general commentary on the songs.
2.Heard somewhere in some interview,that Ilayaraja sets music only after listening to the situation and brings out his songs after the lyrics have been written.. Well, what I feel when i listen to both rehman and raja, is that raja's music is more in appropos with the storyline.. mahendran,maniratnam,balu mahendra are some directors who in the 80's produced such moving masterpieces...And Raja's music was a powerful asset to their story telling.. Rehman , right from his leo coffee jingle has been a pleasure for the ears.. innovating each time with new sounds that grow on you... But post-rangeela rehman fails to stand in comparison to his own self before that...But one trend , which seems to strike me is that all the numbers for one movie all appear to be different designs woven on the same fabric.. Though the fabric changes each time, but one album is one cuisine...Maybe his inspiration of the season...

My personal favorite for the lyrics and the music is "putham puthu bhoomi vendum" from thriuda thiruda... Brings up a whiff of fresh green pastures every time i hear it...

But the magic rehman wove in roja was sadly missing in movies like kannathil mutham ittal, lagaan, swades etc, inspite of being masterpices in their own right, the later ones didnt scale up to the evergreen starter...

Jus my views, could have been a post, for the sheer length, but then commenting is a lot easier.. :-)...

P.S: My knowledge of formal music is extrodinarily blotched even for my standards...barring a few sporadic forays..


musafir said...

the soliloquist

Firstly, thanks for leaving a name :)

Now to your comments -

1. "Knowledge isnt a pre requisite to enjoy music." -- of course, I agree. What I wanetd to make clear was that I'm no guru when it comes to certain technical aspects of music and that I would love it if someone was to help me out there.

2. "And your post seems to capture your emotional vicissitudes in tune with the music, rather than a general commentary on the songs." -- This post was always going to be a very subjective one. See, it's like this. Appreciation of anything can be of an objective or a subjective nature. To appreciate objectively, one needs a certain degree of accomplishment. If one were to see Rahul Dravid play a flick against Shane Warne, a subjective appreciation would be of the beauty and grace of the shot which appeals to the observer. An objective appreciation -- provided one has the depth of knowledge required -- would be of how difficult it is to a) get into position b) counter the turn and c) the skill involved in manipulating one's wrists to time that shot perfectly, because all said and done, irrespective of whether the shot appeals to one personally, it still is a good shot because of a,b and c above.

Since I don't have the depth of knowledge required to "analyse" music, I can only resort to describing personal emotions, a subjective appreciation which need not be shared by everyone else and which cannot stand on its own. And to be fair to me, I have speculated so much in the post that it is anything but objective.

However, that said, I would still be very surprised if those specific pieces of music don't evoke similar sentiments in others.

3. "raja's music is more in appropos with the storyline" -- not sure if I agree with that. I feel both of them are good at "situation songs". To quote recent examples, "nee elai naan mazhai" in Aayutha Ezhuthu said more about the Siddharth-Trisha relationship than did the story. I'm sure I can come up with more. Maybe Rahman hasn't had a chance to work with great directors in tamil and maybe directors just massacre his songs with their videos.

4. "But one trend , which seems to strike me is that all the numbers for one movie all appear to be different designs woven on the same fabric.. Though the fabric changes each time, but one album is one cuisine...Maybe his inspiration of the season..." -- absolutely! I just told a friend something similar recently. How the music of Swades, Lagaan, Bose, Bhagat Singh, RDB are all reflective of their respective movies and how Rahman tries to create an album for a movie. it's almost like he doesn't want to leave a personal stamp on the movies. I think that requires a lot of talent. If you listen to Laggan, the music so easily evokes the ethos of that time. Same with Bose.

4. "My personal favorite for the lyrics and the music is "putham puthu bhoomi vendum" from thriuda thiruda" -- that's a favourite as well. The freshness is unparallelled. And what about "margazhi poovae"? I'm sure Ilayaraja could never have composed a song like that!

Personally I feel A.R.R. is going through a phase of disillusionment with the movie industry. He needs something more to get his genius working I guess.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe Rahman hasn't had a chance to work with great directors in tamil and maybe directors just massacre his songs with their videos."

So true.... Was absolutely crest fallen when I got see "new york nagaram" on screen... was expecting something more expressive than surya running around with a sullen face and jyothika's maudlin mumbling of the female part (thought that was supposed to blend with the BGM..)

Beats me... The apathy of the directors...