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.
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.