Kaatru Veliyidai- Music Review by Ram Anand

Personal note: Two years ago, when Mani Ratnam’s last directorial venture OK Kanmani was about to be released, I was out of commission following an accident. The music review for OK Kanmani was the first time I found motivation to write anything, despite my hands not being fully functional, and the quest to watch OKK was the first time I had walked and stepped out of my house in close to two months. Similarly, Kaatru Veliyidai is helping me come out of what is also a rather difficult moment emotionally for me. And just like how their works inspired me to start dreaming 13 years ago, Ratnam and Rahman’s magic somehow keep that dream alive for me regardless of what beatings I take in life. And for that, their works will always mean something more than just a movie or a song.

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MANI Ratnam is a name that is largely credited with transforming the face of Tamil cinema. Soft spoken, media shy, and a man of few words- Ratnam has built an aura that completely contradicts his demeanour as an individual. The incoherence in his public speech is a contradiction to how his screenplays has flowed over the years. It takes a moment to appreciate the genius of Ratnam when you count the amount of films he has actually done. With Kaatru Veliyidai (Breezy Expanse), he reaches what is actually his first notable milestone in the amount of films done- it is his 25th film, some 34 years after he debuted as a filmmaker.

KV is only Ratnam’s seventh film since the turn of the millenium- and only three of his six previous ventures had been successful. But the fact that his name alone takes in such a following in an industry that often sees the name of actors and superstars to identify the value of a movie speaks volumes. KV’s release also marks 25 years since AR Rahman, the man Ratnam brought into the music scene in 1992, made his debut.

Rahman’s indisputable genius somehow seems to be able to bring an extra flavour and authenticity to the musical score whenever he works with Ratnam, and with KV, his first original album of 2017, the expectations does not seem to be misplaced. 

Nalla Allai (Sathya Prakash, Chinmayi)

The album starts with a bar raised high enough to cause a musical hangover. Just like Moongil Thottam (Kadal) and Parandhu Sella Vaa (OK Kanmani), Rahman delivers another poisonous ballad with an element of journey with Nalla Allai. Sathya Prakash, who shot to recognition after singing the delectable and hugely memorable Raasali last year for Rahman, does an exceptional vocal in the vocals, accompanied delicious percussions and sound arrangements- including the perfectly tuned strumming of the guitar in the background.

Chinmayi makes one of the best vocal cameos one can make without having a single line- her humming in the middle stanzas elevates the melody of this number. Vairamuthu, as he has done so many times, pens lyrics with excellent depth and beauty. 

Oligalil theedal enbathellam mounathil mudigindrathe, mounathil theedal enbathellam gnaanathil mudigrindrathe. 

Nalla Allai is however only four minutes long, and with such flawless arrangements, ends as soon as it starts. A breezy expanse is encapsulated with the start of this album.

Azhagiye (Arjun Chandy, Haricharan, Jonita Gandhi)

The romance gears up into a modern, playful territory with Azhagiye, but with equally addictive results. Azhagiye gets going with an energetic guitar base and the tone is set the vocal imitation of birds and the “bang bang” chorus. Rahman sumptuously balances the art of fusing energy and the same time retaining a heavy dose of melody with this song- building up nicely with the infusion of English words such as “marry me”, “flirt with me” and “get high with me.”

And right at the middle stanza, Punjabi folk music makes a surprise entrance, and Rahman transcends immaculately to Jonita Gandhi’s slow hum, setting the tone for some beautiful poetry and melody in the middle stanza. 

Thulli kaalam ketten, thulli kaadhal ketten, thulli kaamam ketten.

Madhan Karky has written lyrics for this number- and does an admirable job infusing the modern juggernauts in the opening lines, but the same time doing some seriously good writing in the middle stanzas. Arjun Chandy and Haricharan’s vocal combination works so well it is difficult to tell who is leading the singing at any one point of time. Definitely the song for an upcoming wedding season, or even a few proposals. 

Just like Nalla Allai however, Azhagiye is just under four minutes long and makes for a breezy and effortless listen.

Vaan Varuvan (Shashaa Tirupati)

AR Rahman is known for his slow poison numbers- songs that seems too ordinary at first but grows years, or even decades later. But Vaan Varuvan is a little different- its a poison that works pretty fast by his standards. Three or four listens in, the full appreciation of this beautiful composition comes easily to fore. Sashaa Tirupati, who has been behind the vocals of some Rahman’s best numbers in recent years- including Naane Varugiren from Ratnam and Rahman’s previous collaboration OK Kanmani, does not get a single vocal chord wrong and carries this song almost entirely with  beautiful voice.

The film’s setting the chilly northern hills of India such as Ladakh can almost be felt in the way Vaan was composed- paced not an inch too slow nor inch too fast. Rahman starts with soothing piano base before introducing the flute, and then infuses the middle parts with ever-so-subtle techno beats. This is the kind of song that Rahman often speaks about- where you feel a certain “connection”. 

Something that definitely should be done in a Coke Studio setting, similar to what Rahman did with Nenjukulle for Kadal (2013), another Ratnam film.

Saaratu Vandiyila (AR Raihanah, Nikitha Gandhi, Tippu)

Can a semi-erotic piece of poetry be a wedding song?

That appears to be what Vairamuthu, Rahman and Ratnam have combined to do here, with some phenomenal results. A special mention has to go to Ratnam for the way wedding songs have been picturised in his films over the years. Ratnam’s films are known to include songs that celebrate the act of lust, and shot ever so sumptuously too. After the likes of Yaaro Yaarodi from Alaipayuthey, he has clearly recreated that playfulness and mischievousness with Saaratu Vandiyila. 

Rahman walks a fine line- at times, this is like a throwback to the 1990s AR Rahman, which an entire state grew to love and adore. But he makes sure there are enough tweaks and little surprises to take the listener of a fresh journey. Rahman’s sister AR Raihanah brings her unique voice to the table, accompanied by Tippu, who returns to the mic after a notable absence, and nevertheless brings his own playful flavour to the song.

The real winner here is however Rahman’s sound arrangement- the use of traditional percussions, including flutes and tablas, to set a wonderful wedding aura. And Vairamuthu accompanies that mastery with a semi-erotic assortment of lyrics- the kind of lyrics that can make you baulk if you realise the meaning behind a series of beautifully arranged words. Vairamuthu and Ratnam have done this before- as recent as Parandhu Sella Vaa in OK Kanmani. 

And Vairamuthu proves yet again how the beauty of poetry can describe even the most mundane acts into a grand celebration. 

He says ratham sudu kolla paathu nimisham thaan raasathi,

And then she says aanuko pathu nimisham thaan, ponnuko anji nimisham. Go figure!

And this is truly the AR Rahman- Mani Ratnam “Baani” (style).

Tango Keelayo (Haricharan, Diwakar)

A salsa-melody (as the title implies), Tango Keelayo sounds experimental in the first few listens, but is a gem that has some exceptional act of fusion that displays Rahman’s musical range. The number starts with a heavily influenced usual tango music, with the initial parts handled ably by Diwakar. But soon Haricharan enters to infuse a little melody with lines like “Unnai Pirindhaal” and “Nee Ennai Maravai”.

And at 2:50, a little bit of magic happens- tango beats accompanies Haricharan as he stretches his vocals to his melodic best setting the listener into a pretty quaint zone. And suddenly, what initially sounded experimental, now looks like a deliberate work of genius.

Probably there’s very thin line between being experimental and being a genius. Rahman constantly threads this line and has made a career out of being able to come out of it being the latter and not just the former. 

It takes two to tango- and here Rahman’s music sensibilities pairs that tango with the sensibilities of the avid listener. An underrated and underdog of a number.

Jugni (AR Rahman, Tejinder Singh, Raja Kumari)

Just like Tango Keelayo, Jugni (Firefly) does not immediately fall into place. Sung mainly by Rahman itself, the song however clearly seems to be the most important pivot for KV’s plot, describing the polarisation of both the protagonists. 

Jugni does not have much in terms of lyrics. It is mainly filled with minimal Hindi lyrics, with two lines sung by Tejinder Singh. More of a journey song, Rahman also mostly repeats two lines- ha-chalengi ha, na-chalengi na. 

Just when it seems to become a little monotonous, Rahman ropes in Raja Kumari, the American-Indian rapper, with fantastic results. Raja Kumari elevates the middle stanzas with her subtle rapping- you’re there, you’re not there.

Though clearly a number that would carry the mood of the movie, Jugni’s juxtaposition of a little bit of Punjabi music, rap and techno beats is delectable to the ears.

Kaatru Velliyidai continues in the vein of every Mani Ratnam-AR Rahman combination, setting higher than usual standards and offering songs that each in their own right could develop a cult following. Only six songs, and none too long- but when four of them are absolute masterpieces, you can only call the album one thing- gorgeous.

Now, to wait for the movie.

AR Rahman 50- The 10 best compositions of all time

This is also his year silver jubilee year. And to reach the silver jubilee, Rahman had swept away all possible awards that he could possibly obtain to recognise the quality of his work- from the Indian National Award to the coveted Academy Award.

Allah-Rakha Rahman, known popularly as AR Rahman, turned 50 two days ago. Come May 11, he would have completed 25 years, or two-and-a-half decades since he first burst into the Indian music scene (Roja, his debut movie album, was released on May 11, 1992).

This is also his year silver jubilee year. And to reach the silver jubilee, Rahman had swept away all possible awards that he could possibly obtain to recognise the quality of his work- from the Indian National Award to the coveted Academy Award.

And he had never changed his trademark saying for 25 years- “Ellam pugalum iraivanekke.” (All praise belongs to God).

Needless to say, listening to his music has been a spiritual experience. When I got my very first Mp3 player when was 16 years old, the first album I purchased was a cassette for Aayitha Ezhuttu (2004).

My own personal journey with AR Rahman’s music began then, via Madushree’s effervescent “Sandaikozhi” and Rahman’s own rhythmic hum halfway through the song.

Here, I am charting down 10 best AR Rahman compositions (in my gestation), in chronological order of the song (album)’s release:

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Best five of Hindi cinema- 2016

Dangal was truly a case of saving the best for last as far as 2016 was concerned.

2016 wasn’t a particularly rich year when it came to fine filmmaking in Bollywood, so picking the best five movies seemed a relatively easy task given that there was a smaller pool to select from. Quite literally, the best bit of filmmaking that demonstrated the best of what the industry can offer came early on in the year, and late on, with so much left to be desired in the mid-year stretch.

The order of the films below are in chronological release date order, and in no particular order of preference:

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Dangal- Movie Review by Ram Anand

But when the curtains draw, Aamir’s dedication in preparing for this role and actually ensure his character does not overshadow the narration is the mark of craftsman par excellence. And just like in Rang de Basanti, Dangal is so much about what Khan underplayed as opposed to what he overplayed.

“AND finally, after 10 years, we all hear what we have been waiting to hear from him,” Dangal’s self parodying narrator, Mahavir Singh Phogat (Aamir Khan)’s nephew, says towards the end of the movie. Continue reading “Dangal- Movie Review by Ram Anand”

Dear Zindagi- Movie Review by Ram Anand

Dear Zindagi is a promise that delivered.

It does not trivialise the fears, tears and the breakdowns that Kiara has. Gauri allows the screenplay to flow, unmasking one fear after another, slowly charting her transformation from a woman who constantly questions her own imperfections to someone who actually embraces them.
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Mohenjo Daro- Music Review by Ram Anand

The way ARR has spread so much richness into a soundtrack with limited vocals goes to show the meticulousness that has gone into every recording.

Eight years. That was how long it has been since one of India’s grandest filmmakers, Ashutosh Gowariker, has teamed up with AR Rahman. To understand the significance of their collaboration, one has to look at the films they worked on together in the past- Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar- all three critical and musical successes. Since Jodha Akbar, Ashutosh’s films without an AR Rahman soundtrack seemed devoid of a soul and failed to live up to its the expectations of the three epics mentioned above. Continue reading “Mohenjo Daro- Music Review by Ram Anand”

Acham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada (AYM)- Music Review by Ram Anand

Bask. Enjoy. AR Rahman is a promise that keeps on delivering.

This is probably the longest wait that fans of Tamil or AR Rahman’s music has had to experience between a chartbuster single and a full album- six months to be exact. After a combination like Vinathaandi Varuvaaya, which soared up the chartbusters, box office, and also people’s hearts, Guatham Vasudev Menon and AR Rahman coming together again set expectations at a very high bar. Coupled with the fact Silambarasan has returned as the main protagonist, just like VTV, Acham Yenbathu Madamaiyada had big shoes to fill.

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Iraivi- Movie Review by Ram Anand

Iraivi isn’t about bonding. It is about unbonding. It is about rain, and getting drenched in it. The film starts with the shots of three women- a young school girl dreaming about the man she will marry, an educated woman hoping her marriage will be different than other marriages, and an old woman complaining about her husband’s neglect of her.

A protagonist of Iraivi, Michael, learns about the feelings that his friend had harboured for his wife all along, and true to the stereotype of men, he stutters his way into asking his wife if she reciprocated his friend’s feelings and if she had slept with him.

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24- Music Review by Ram Anand

Sid Sriram, in an AR Rahman composition. Has that combination ever gone wrong? No AR Rahman Tamil album is complete with even the least of Sid Sriram’s voice nowadays, and Mei Niagara comes across as the best song of this album.

For once, I was not particularly aware regarding the audio release of a new AR Rahman album until I chanced upon a review in one of the flimsy film sites calling the album of “24” a surprise- in a negative way. First of all, I would never understand how anyone who calls themselves a thorough reviewer can attempt to write a judgement on an ARR album within a couple of hours, and after listening to the tracks merely once. In fact, I’ll go even further and say this actually applies to the work of all musicians worth their salt.

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Best four of Indian cinema- 2015

The four films that earned my applause and repeated viewing in 2015.

  1. Uttama Villain (The good villain)
Cast: Kamal Haasan, K Balachander, Andrea Jeremiah, Urvashi, Pooja Kumar, Parvathy
Director: Ramesh Aaravind
Plot:
Manoranjan is an alcoholic middle aged South Indian superstar. At the premiere of his latest film, he discovers that he is suffering from a brain tumour and also discovers that he actually has a daughter from a previous affair that ended tragically.
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Now married with a son while at the same time maintaining an affair with his family doctor, Manoranjan confronts his mortality by returning to his cinema mentor to make one last movie, while at the same time reconciling all the relationships in his life- including his long estranged daughter who resents him.
My take:
Uttama Villain wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who had taken a liking to the film, it is highly likely to feature high in their list if they were ever to make one such list for 2015. Written by the ever versatile Kamal himself, Uttama Villain is an unique cinematic experience, there is an intense family drama, a deconstruction of fame, and a half-satire about mortality all rolled into one film.
This is something South Indian stars had almost never done before, deconstructing their own fame to a human level and even putting out their flaws out there for everyone to see. Uttama Villain was almost a self parody of the enigma that is Kamal Haasan himself and how he views his own life story- with ambiguous, albeit very personal, spiritualism.
And the way the screenplay weaves in all the relationships he has- with his wife, with his son, with his family doctor, his mentor, and also his past love affair which resulted in a daughter, is subtle and poetic, and the same time without judging or preaching about a flawed man’s life.
Easily the most delectable piece of work in Indian cinema for 2015.
  1. O Kadhal Kanmani (O love, my dear)
Cast: Dulquer Salman, Nithya Menen, Prakash Raj, Leela Sampson
Director: Mani Ratnam
Plot:
Aadhi and Tara are two South Indian youths plying their trade in India’s financial capital Mumbai. They hit it off immediately after meeting at a friend’s wedding and their whirlwind romance ends up with them living together under the same roof, albeit sharing the space with Aadhi’s middle aged landlord, who cares for his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
But as time passes by, Aadhi and Tara must confront the realities of living together in a largely traditional society, while at the same time choosing between chasing their individual dreams or staying with each other.
My take:
Mani Ratnam, the man credited for revolutionising Tamil cinema, has not had pleasant outings with his last two movies- Raavan and Kadal, even though the former remains an all time favourite for me.
OK Kanmani, in so many levels, is Ratnam going back to a turf he had not touched since his timeless romantic drama Alaipayuthey, which was made 15 years ago. But it also completes an unique romance trilogy that displayed his mastery as an auteur.
In 1986, Ratnam broke into the scene with Mouna Ragam, which explored the relationship between a couple who had got into an arranged marriage half heartedly and how they try to make it work. 14 years later, with Alaipayuthey, the central theme was about a couple who elope to get married without their parents’ consent.
With every movie, Ratnam had documented the changing societal landscape in India, which is still largely traditional. OK Kanmani explores live in relationships in the context of India, and also brilliantly juxtaposes it with the relationship of an older couple who are devoted to each other.
It also raises a crucial dilemma for the youths of today- being torn between chasing individual dreams and trying to reconcile them with a partner. Of course, above all this, is the ability of the 59-year-old master filmmaker to capture the pulse of the young generation in the way he develops the romance between the two leads. The dialogues are minimal yet exquisite, the shot compositions are typically masterful, and the overall mood of the film are in the hallmarks of a legendary filmmaker.
Mani Ratnam is back.
  1. Tanu Weds Manu Returns
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, R Madhavan, Jimmy Shergill
Director: Anand L Rai
Plot:
Four years after Tanu and Manu’s marriage, their romance has petered off, leading to consistent fights. Manu finally has a meltdown, resulting in him being admitted in a psychiatric ward. When he does get discharged, he is ready to divorce Tanu and in the process meets Tanu’s doppleganger, Kusum.
Things between Manu and Kusum proceed quickly and ends up in them being set for a marriage, but Tanu is not prepared to let go so easily, even though she initially starts dating other men in her effort to get over him.
My take:
If Tanu Weds Manu was sweet, twisted, and funny, it’s sequel is just double in dosage, thanks in no small part to Kangana Ranaut, who plays a dual role in this film.
She again steals the show as Tanu, but this time, she is not competing with with any other actors but herself- the other role- Kusum. And by the time credits roll, it’s difficult to tell which role packed a bigger punch.
TWMR is also packed with brilliant, quirky subplots that makes you feel like you are watching a Shakespearean stage comedy play. The pacing is brilliant, the acting exceptional, laughter aplenty, and a fitting ending to go with the tone of the rest of the movie.
TWMR is a pure, classy riot of an entertainer.
  1. Tamasha ( The spectacle)
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone
Director: Imtiaz Ali
Plot: 
Ved and Tara meet in Corsica during vacation and their romance takes off. They make a pact never to meet each other again post the vacation, but Tara could not get him out of her head despite four years passing by.
She tracks down the man she fell in love with in Corsica, who is a sales manager by professions, but is slowly confronted by the reality that Ved in Delhi was not the same Ved she had longed for from the French trip.
At the same time, Tara’s presence reveals Ved’s struggle with his inner creativity, his childhood frustrations, and his yearning to come out of a box.
My take:
The most beautiful movie of the year. Tamasha had the best music of 2015, by the timeless AR Rahman, and of course a filmmaker, Imtiaz Ali, who had made a glowing career by making each and every film with an element of self discovery.
Tamasha is the crescendo of what Ali has been building up over the years- here, he sheds conventional, methodical storytelling traditions, and weaves the screenplay like a stage play- divided into acts.
It is also a musical, filled with gorgeous music that flows seamlessly with the narration.
Ranbir Kapoor is immense as Ved, as the sales manager and the creative storyteller yearning to express himself. Deepika Padukone’s Tara shares excellent chemistry with Ved and holds her own in the scenes she is involved in.
Tamasha is just a beautifully made movie. And a movie that was made right from Imtiaz Ali’s heart.