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.

O Kaadhal Kanmani- Music Review by Ram Anand

OK Kanmani’s music has nothing on Alaipayuthey’s music, it instead has something completely different, unique, and inventively mesmerising on its own.

It is difficult to be generous with my words on a keyboard when you only have one and a half hands to function with. But I guess that is how much I owe my will to persist to my inspirations- Mani Ratnam and AR Rahman, that I have to review their latest offering, OK Kanmani.

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Many comparisons have been made between OK Kanmani and Mani’s 2000 film Alaipayuthey, owing to the fact that the film retains the same youthful romantic spirit last seen in a Mani film 15 years ago. But knowing Mani and AR Rahman well enough and having followed their careers together over the past 23 years, these two never offer a repeat dish on a platter. OK Kanmani’s music has nothing on Alaipayuthey’s music, it instead has something completely different, unique, and inventively mesmerising on its own.

Kaara Attakara (Dinesh Kanagaratnam, Saasha Thirupathi, Darshana)

The theme song that had accompanied the trailer for the film, the album starts as refreshing and breezy as we had expected, with a full-on whacky rap number interluded with melodious breezy renditions in the middle.

Dinesh is in top form, while Darshana gives him great company. Shashaa Tirupati comes in with dialogue based whispers in the middle. This is like the Endrendrum Punnagai of Alaipayuthey, breezy, and trend setting.

And of course, it looks like it will go with the image of a young man in love riding a Royal Enfield in the middle of a massive city. (rings a bell?) This song will definitely run through the movie.

Ya man!

Aye Sinamika (Karthik)

Bring in those light touches of guitars strumming, Karthik behind the mic, and AR Rahman orchestrating the whole arrangement to lyrics penned by Vairamuthu, then well, you have- a gem.

With minimal use of instruments, Aye Sinamika is an unique expression of love just like the masterful Usure Pogudhey from Raavanan. Though not the same intensity, it is another demonstration of Karthik’s talent of owning and handling an entire number like this with perfection and restrained intensity in his voice.

This song might take some time to grow on you-but once you get used to its irregular qualities, you won’t stop being hooked to it. A perfect song to be imagined along with Mumbai’s coastline. Redefining and full of soul, and what other combo can bring such an effect?

Nee ennai neengadhe.

Mental Manadhil (AR Rahman Male Version, Jonita Gandhi Female Version)

Like-a-like my Laila!

The most groovy, youthful number of our times, of course, has been doing rounds for sometime now since it was released as a single. AR Rahman is in top form as both singer and composer in the the energetic male version of the song. A definite chartbuster!

The female version by Jonita Gandhi is sung using Jonita’s own talents and unique voice modulation. This is Jonita having fun with a stripped down version of the instrument heavy male version. Equally catchy, equally appealing, and added with with some class too. Equally, and uniquely, good.

Parandhu Sella Vaa (Karthik, Shashaa Tirupati)

Just like that- what a composition. Masterpiece in simplicity. Paced ever so subtly, sung with such clarity, almost seductive voices, Parade Sella Vaa is the diamond of the OK Kanmani album. The minimalistic vocals at the background are accompanied with stunning variety in the modulation for both Shashaa and Karthik. We knew how good Karthik was for over a decade now, but to see the quality Shashaa offers on the vocal range is nothing short of pure magic.

Karthik brings the song to another level by enlivening it with a second half ballad accompanied ARR’s genius touches that brings you to a zen mode.

An absolutely stunning piece of work. The Pudhu Vellai Mazhai reinvented with a modern touch, 23 years later.

Naane Varugiren (Shashaa Tirupati, Sathya Prakash)

Again, Shasta’s voice immediately grips you with its class and she owns this number throughout. Laced with contemporary touches based on very classical raagas, Naane Varugiren is AR Rahman at his inventive, fusion best. The song takes its own sweet time to pick up, but two minutes in, the quality is splattered all over it, before Sathya Prakash comes in with beautiful classical notes in the interludes.

Naane Varugiren reminds one of Snekithane from Alaipaayuthey on so many levels- only that they don’t sound the same, at all.

But the effect and the quality of it is pretty much at the same level. This is musical beauty in its purest form.

Threera Ula (AR Rahman, Nikita Gandhi)

Probably the only song in the album that is filled up with mostly electronic touches, but even in that Nikita Gandhi comes in with classical interludes making this another fantastic fusion number. This song sounds more like a situational number than one with lengthy picturisation, but it is very good nevertheless.

Malargal Keatten (Chitra, AR Rahman)

Remember the Alaipayuthey Kanna number from Alaipayuthey? Just like that, this sumptuous number starts with complete classical notes before ARR weaves in his magic with his brand of fusion. It is refreshing to hear Chitra sing a song for an ARR composition after a long gap. The touches of the flute in the middle is the work of a genius.

Vairamuthu’s lyrics are also brilliant for this song. AR Rahman has a small bit at the end, and at times, this number also reminds one of Enge Enathu Kavithai from Kandukondein Kandukondein.

Truly classical.

OK Kanmani is another inventive, ground breaking offering from Mani and ARR as they attempt to define modern day romance set in a metropolitan city in 2015.

AR Rahman is in top form, as he always is for a Mani Ratnam flick, while the lyrics are sumptuous. There some gorgeous vocals from Karthik and Shashaa Tirupati especially, not to be missed.

I would pick the whole album for a complete experience, but my personal favourites are- Parandhu Sella Vaa, Naane Varugiren, Mental Manadhil (Male), Malargal Kaetten, Aye Sinamika, and Kaara Attakara.

Er, that’s pretty much the whole album, isn’t it?

Rating: 9.5/10

Viswaroopam Music Review- Achingly beautiful

Bear in mind the film doesn’t have a single romantic song. But given the circumstances and the limitations provided by the nature of the script, Kamal and SEL have combined to deliver at least two classy numbers which are just as good as anything in Kamal’s CV.

TAMIL cinema has an unnering habit of not celebrating, or maybe even underrating a talent until it loses the talent to it’s “big brother” in Indian cinema- the Hindi cinema- maybe more popularly known by its internationally given moniker- Bollywood.

I wouldn’t say Shankar Mahadevan, Loy Mendosa, and Ehsan Noorani were Tamil cinema rejects- far from it- but you can’t help but to feel as though they should have been give more opportunities in the southern music scene- they only composed two Tamil albums in the past ten years- at the same period of time they have collaborated constantly with some of the biggest names in Bollywood and are largely recognised as one of Bollywood’s most reliable composers.

It is thus only ironic that they should return to Tamil cinema under the flagship of the very man who handed them their Tamil debut ten years ago- Kamal Hassan. Aalavanthan might not have worked as a film for everyone who had watched it, but there is no denying the fact that SEL had delivered a solid, variety-filled album that complimented Aalavanthan’s theme and mood so well. Aalavathan was easily one of the Kamal’s best albums post-2000, but it is a pity that it remained so underrated despite some great compositions. SEL are capable of delivering international standard music,something that Kamal has obviously marked down as a prerequisite for this ambitious 100-crore project which he is directing himself.

Viswaroopam- Suraj Jagan
Talk about a start! We have heard glimpses of this music in Viswaroopam’s trailer, but even after hearing those glimpses, I didn’t expect it to be this good, to be honest. Of course this is no masterpiece- this was meant to be a fast-paced theme number that is supposed encompass the genre of the film- a thriller. This is incredibly high on energy, aided by some stunning crooning by Suraj Jagan, who has sung a fair share of nerve-pumping numbers in Hindi but has hardly gotten the chance to do the same in Tamil. Vairamuthu’s lyrics are a peach, and the full studio sound arrangements by SEL works like a charm. This will linger for a long time, especially if the movie works with the masses. The haunting tone reminds us in some ways of Aalavanthan’s music as well. Ah well.

Thuppaki Engal Tholile- Benny Dayal, Kamal Hassan
This song starts with tune that makes you feel you are watching the credits of a Hollywood spy thriller, with Benny Dayal in charge of the English part of the crooning. In truth, this remains reminiscent of a spy thriller theme song for the first part, until Kamal Hassan comes in and gives impecabble stress on the lyrics, which were written by Vairamuthu. The song chronicles a man’s relationship with his gun- giving more insight to the film’s terrorism-based plot which I’m sure will trigger discussions aplenty when the film releases. This is not your conventional composition, it is more like situational song- but if you have an ear for good lyrics, you will appreciate what this song was trying to say- of course when Vairamuthu writes something and Kamal sings it- there must be a very deep meaning, right?

Unnai Kaanadhu- Kamal Hassan, Shankar Mahadevan

Oh, oh, standing ovation! Saying this is the work of a genius is an understatement. You want to know what a talent Kamal Hassaan is musically? Then listen to this.Forget all that nerve-pumping music, this is a pure Tamil classical song with Kathak influences, and Kamal has written some of the most divine lyrics you can imagine (not bad for an atheist, eh). I don’t have to say how well this song was sung- Kamal handles all the ‘sangeetham’ parts, and again flaunts hiw knowledge of carnatic and classical Indian music with an almost impeccable imporvisation of his voice. He wouldn’t fare so bad if he ever chooses to do a classical music concert. But whilst I’m effusive in my praise for Kamal, Shankar Mahadevan must not be forgotten. His voice is like a sweet nectar, and you can’t find a better candidate to have sung this song. SEL might be known for composing more contemporary music- but here they prove that given a chance, they can deliver classical beauties. This song is pure class!

Annu Vidhaitha Boomiyil- Kamal Hassan, Nikhil D’Souza
For some reason, this reminded me of the timeless “Nee Partha Parvai” from “Hey Ram”. Of course, this is not Kamal Hassan and Illayaraja at work, but this is not bad compared to such a classic. It is haunting, sad, almost tugging at your hearts. It starts with the lyrics- “There’s a place far away, I wanna be there someday”- rendered serenely by Nikhil D’Souza- and this lyric will stay with you at the end of the song, if not- then at the end of Viswaroopam for sure. Because Kamal Hassan’s lyrics bring out the pain of an isolated man whose has no home to claim as his own (probably a man who has resorted to terrorism without a chance.) When Kamal enters the fray crooning, he sings with such apparent sadness in his voice- he even goes to the lowest of stanzas to leave you thinking, or maybe even disturbed. With some great images, this song can have a deep impact on how we perceive terrorists or terrorism. Fabulous aching beauty!

Viswaroopam Remix- Suraj Jagan
Just send this to the clubs already. This is more of a club mix, not that it is a bad thing. It is a foot tapping number, but I personally prefer the original version. Remixes often  serve to heighten the tempo and this song does exactly just that.

When you pick up Viswaroopam’s album, you are aware that the film is a thriller so there is much scope for music. Bear in mind the film doesn’t have a single romantic song. But given the circumstances and the limitations provided by the nature of the script, Kamal and SEL have combined to deliver at least two classy numbers which are just as good as anything in Kamal’s CV. The theme music is captivating while Thuppaki serves its purpose well. There are only four songs in this album- but the quality that is served means you can’t really ask much more from a film with such a serious premise going for it.

Rating: 9/10