99 Songs – Aashiqua

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An A.R Rahman album release is like Diwali , Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. An album with 14 songs is indeed icing on top of the cake. So this weekend , I spent all my time listening to the album and writing a post . Half-way through the post I realized that it would be a gross injustice to cram all my thoughts into a single post and this evening , I had the idea to tackle one song a day.

Indulge me for a minute and imagine that you are sitting on a flight . Your seat belts are fastened and the flight attendants are making a final round around the cockpit. As the pilot announces clearance , the flight starts pushing back from the gate. The movement is tentative , with a lot of starts and stops. The plane pauses for a moment and then starts taxiing towards the run away. The going is smooth and slow , like a toddler walking . Then the movement starts picking up speed and before you can realize , the flight takes off , climbing that steep incline towards a random waypoint 30000 miles up in the sky. The buildings become smaller and smaller and smaller until all you can see are the amoeba shaped clouds of the day time sky. You are taken aback when the flight starts its descent . It is rattling towards land and all of a sudden , the wheels hit the runway , the brakes screech gracefully and the plane taxies towards the gate carrying an exhilarated and excited passenger. There – Are you done Indulging me? Yes , you are Well , thank you for indulging me and waiting on me patiently as I took you through an exhilarating joy ride on a plane through my words. Now , If I were to tell you that there is a song , that makes you feel like a bird , soaring through the skies on a chilly spring morning , would you believe me ? If i were to beseech you to close your eyes , put on your headphones and soar through the skies , would you listen? You would? All right , O Aashiqua is the song you need to listen to.

A Sufi style entreaty to humankind ,O Aashiqua gently chides us for living a life of quid pro quo and expectations and compromises with one’s belief systems and principles. The repeating Oh jiya , Tu Jiya, Tu Jiya , Agar aise toh yaara kya jiya , Oh Jiya , Tu Jiya , Tu Jiya , hisaabon mein yaara kya jiya makes you reflect on your actions and your belief systems even as you are soaring through the vacuum in which the only solid entities are the song and your soul , waltzing through the vacuum making you dizzy with joy.

The guitars , the keys , the percussion and Arjun Chandy’s splendid choral arrangement stun you and as the song breaks into the O Maa stanza , celebrating motherhood and the sacrifices a mother makes , your imaginary flight breaks the sound barriers and you become one with the music, or rather the music absorbs the essence of your soul. The song ends and you land gently , with a smile on your face and a lightness in your thoughts. What a stunning flight indeed.

Oru Maalai Neram

So , life has been difficult off late .

I’ve been fighting the fight , weaving in and out of that imaginary line to avoid punches , keeping my head down , waiting for the eye of the storm to pass .

Today , as I walked out of my work cocoon , mentally prepping myself to walk that imaginary line dodging punches , I stopped and stared because the world was aglow with this otherworldly light .

I sat in my car , played a song and waited for the sun to sink beyond the horizon . The skies continued to glow silent and peaceful . Then came the blinding brightness , followed by the stealthy and silent night . The skies were no longer pink , but my horizon was and as I turned the ignition on , I thanked Mother Nature for lending some warmth and light . I drove on as the fire in my heart glowed and glowed bright.

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96 – A conversation

Love can be one-sided but a love story always has two sides. A man and a woman will have different things to say or have different ways to say things , at least in real life.

That , unfortunately is not the case when it comes to our films. More often than not , you have a man fantasizing about how he would like a woman to respond and 99 times out of 100 the response will be in a tone that that borders the servile. Women do write beautiful lyric but they don’t get the same space or footing and therefore their voices get drowned out in the din. Thankfully , 96 breaks the precedent . The album is nothing but a conversation between a man and woman on equal footing , where their views are given equal space and importance.

Karthik Netha waxes lyrical about love in Anthaathi , elevating the emotion to an omnipresent entity . To him , love is a dance that your mind and heart indulge in as you go about the world , a never ending search that remains your constant companion through life , adapting to you as you change to the rules and roles dictated by love. In Thaabangale , Uma Devi picks up from where Karthik left off . Love and desire have a form and shape she says . They tell their own story she adds , a story in which the racehorse of time takes you to that time and place in the past where echoes of a similar desire and love can be felt.

Yaen is a role reversal of sorts where Karthik gives voice to a woman who is clueless and hurting. Look at the way he paints her portrait  by describing her surroundings – The skies are grey , the clouds are missing , life is a puzzle and the path through it is drenched in tears that are prayers to find the missing. Her eyes are searching for him for he has left the city , but the heart keeps dissuading her search as he has forsaken his roots. The imagery is so vivid that you can envision a woman trying to soldier on despite the pain.

Uma Devi , on the other hand compares separation to a wasting spring  and a long stretch of never ending distance among other things. She compares the woman to the waxing moon of love and that comparison immediately took me back to the famous “Veramendrol valai negizhumme koorai thozhi yaan vaazhumaare” lines that speak so eloquently about separation angst. Vasantha Kalangal is all about Chinmayi and that brilliant guitar in the beginning , but once Uma’s lines take hold , they hold your heart in a vice grip and never let you go.

“Indha Thaamarai kulam neeril thani aaguthe. Athan Sooriyan pagal indri veyyil kaayuthe.

Oru paathaiyil iru jeevan thunai thedudhe. Ada kaalangal thadai meeri thadai poduthey. Nee indri naane dhinam vaazhavadhoru vaazhvaa , vaazhve vaa , nee thaan uyirin uyire “

Take a look at the uvamais in Iravingu Theevaai.  Karthik hails love in Anthaathi, and feels that a content life is one where  love is present in some form of other. Uma on the other hand , feels that a life without her lover is worthless , memories and love be damned. Her comparison of the woman to a lotus isolated in a pond sans her life line is poignant . Her comparison of the man to the sun who’s roasting in his own heat amidst the darkness is equally poignant .

If at all Karthik gets an edge , it is in “Life of Ram ” where his words paint the story of the male protagonist , a man who’s learning his lessons late in life . A man who is a slow learner, but keeps learning and keeps moving on. Karthik’s words help us paint a picture of the man and his past , his present and his hopes for future.  In the larger scheme of things though , this piece does not influence the larger conversation and for that I am super happy.

I set out on a mission to write about the music of 96. It is the best soundtrack to have come out of the Tamil Film Industry so far this year. It also has the distinction of having provided the same scope and space to its male and female vocalists . That in itself is a rarity. Govind then goes one step further and sticks with a single male voice and a single female voice for a major part of the soundtrack. The tunes are lovely , the guitar , flute and violin are soulful and dreamy and yet after multiple repeated listenings , it is the lyric that stands at the forefront – so much so that I am unable to look beyond them. One day , I will write about the music and singing for they deserve their own post. Until then , I am going to lose myself in this conversation and its words.

 

 

 

 

 

Kelayo..

VC was  a warrior , in fact  a fighter pilot , the ultimate alpha adrenaline junkie , so how could Leela even think of leaving him. How could she even – He’ll show her . He will show all of them . And then he meets her at the party , the one he attends , the one she attends but not with each other. He wants her back , but without losing face and thus the song starts Kelayo…

 

There is the warrior and there is the lover boy and what better way to emphasize this than to use singers with two different vocal qualities. Diwakar , with his restrained singing and dominative Shankar Mahadevanesque vocal quality represents the warrior who tries saving face by acting all tough and then Haricharan with that voice that would melt the insides jumps in to beg , plead and serenade our senses – what a brief sirjee.

 

Then comes the tango tadka with the 2/4 , 4/4 rhythm ,brilliant violins , guitars , piano , violas and bass. Where is the accordion you wonder . Is it there hiding away until you notice it on the 500th listen or has it been replaced or done away with you wonder. There this refrain reminds you of Sundari , and oh this chord progression reminds you of Arima – This is the Tamil equivalent of Hawa Hawa , more sedate and equally brilliant. The words are a mumble at this point as you try to identify every single instrument and nuance in the song and tap your thighs in 2/4 , 4/4 and there , there is the accordion or so you think..

 

You don’t notice the words until the fifth day or so . All of a sudden , during the traffic filled commute back home , you notice the lyrics and sit up . How apt , how romantic and then Wham you go – Oh Vairamuthu is broadly painting VC’s character and the film’s story. The En Kuraigal Edhu Kandai makes you go – How arrogant you fool – and that unnai pirindhaal uyir vaazhaa line makes you go hmmm. So will they end up living together or dying together – why do you mind – Wherever they go they will end up together.

 

Thus ends Kelayo – one of Kaatru Veliyidai’s top songs for me at least until now. After a long time , a song that paints characters , storylines and narratives for you – straight out of that magic factory jointly owned by ARR , Mani and Vairamuthu . The lyrical quality of the whole album has been brilliant , the singing has been exemplary and the sound production is the best among the recent ARR albums and Kelayo brings all that together with a brilliant tune and imagination. Seldom has a song made me imagine the story so there job well done holy trio of the Tamil movies.

 

P.S. ARR should have christened Haricharan’s female voice with some fancy Spanish sounding name , so that our single music crazy youths got a new kanavu kanni.

 

P.P.S . Please raise your hand if this reminds you of Jordan and Heer at a happier place. Happy Listening.

P.P.P.S The transition between the two male voices is seamless and brilliant as if to prove that the lover and the warrior reside inside the same man . Take a shottu ARR . Bale Bale !

Accham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada

My post is going to start with a confession . I’ve never been a huge GVM fan – so to speak . I’ve seen all of his movies , liked them in parts , been affected by a few of those moments but I always had the feeling that his movies were set in a La La land that I could never be a part of. And that was because to me the average GVM leads were people I could never relate to.

They are not reflections of the society at large . They are slightly psychotic , slightly eccentric and when faced with ordinary day to day situations , they react in an absolutely unreal way  which makes way for interesting viewing on screen .  Take Vinnai Thandi Varuvaaya for instance , it resonated with a lot of people who had been through the turbulence that comes with first love , the angst that comes with heartbreak ,the inability to move on from a break-up and the searing pain that accompanies your life as a result of that. All of us had a friend who had loved and lost in college and the early career years , a friend who loved so deeply but bowed down to society and married elsewhere . But it was not every friend who faced that and it was never the norm. I could enjoy these movies but they never resonated with me and thus I had almost given up on GVM until AYM happened.

in AYM , You have a chubby , jobless MBA graduate who loves his sister’s classmate . She sees him in the buff , he later examines his figure in the mirror and says yeah I looked good but I can lose the belly . He has a posse of friends who are as normal as they come. He has a bike , plans to go on a road trip yet he stays back because Lovreeeee . She comes to his house for a stay and he tries to build a rapport and relationship with her. He wants her to accompany him on the road trip and yet when she arrives out of the blue , he warns her by providing reasons that are a deterrent . There is this lovely scene , where she keeps eating as they ride and he almost rolls his eyes . They are the normal , next door couple you could meet on your next road trip and boy did the first half resonate or what.

Me and the Mr kept chuckling as our minds went hurtling back to our early days when we dated around , where we did nothing but talk , that trip in Rhode Island where we sat in companionable silence watching the sun go over the cliff , the thanksgiving before the wedding where I kept nodding off because my sleep was ruined etc etc etc. GVM takes the entire first half to underscore this normalcy and BAM right in the middle of Thalli Pogathe throws this normal couple into an extraordinary situation that wreaks havoc in their life . The entire second half is about how this boy becomes a man overnight and how he reacts to this new crazy in an extraordinary way and yet GVM underlines this with a tinge of normalcy. There are no songs in the second half because lets face it who would have time to sing a duet when your existence is hanging by a thread or when your friend has been shot at and killed. The leads don’t make moon’s eyes over each other and they don’t seem to be sure or cognisable about what’s happening with them . They are in a nightmare that keeps getting worse and then there is sunlight. The mood is right , the scenes are set up the right way and Simbu has acted his heart out and yet this second half is so problematic that it has almost derailed the movie for most people.

All that you know of Leela Raman comes from the hero’s view and it seems one dimensional . You don’t hear Leela in the movie , don’t know if she really feels for the hero and hence you are not able to justify why he does what he does for the longest time . He gets into an accident and confesses his feelings and she abandons him in the hospital and goes home . My father has been hacked to shreds and mother has been shot at she says and he goes in search for her because Lovvreeeeee. Even when they meet at the hospital and afterwards , you don’t know what Leela feels because Leela doesn’t tell us. Even the scene where she confesses her feelings is staged from the hero’s POV. Enakku theriyum he says and we are supposed to accept it as a valid justification for the scenes that went past – only that it becomes even more difficult to do that. The movie is about this man called ‘R’ what happened in his life and how that affected him and he is almost always myopic in the way he narrates that and therein lies the film’s strength and weakness. Take for instance the scene where his friend asks R ” If you think you were dying , won’t your parents and friends come to your mind first” and R says ” Yeah I remembered them in flashes but what mattered to me at the point was Leela” and you understand that this guy is myopic in the way he views things . What we see is his retelling of the things that happened so far , the things that are going to happen and its like ek haath ki taali , almost , because he is not narrating each and every moment and he has no way to delve into his lady’s heart. But it is an honest narration and Simbu is terrific as the narrator . He has gained oodles of weight , has lost his good looks , has a beer belly that he doesn’t hide and has finally learned to emote with his eyes. Its almost as if the career slumps he has faced has made him into this no nonsense actor who is here to do his job and he has aced his brief. Manjima is lovely as Leela but given the fact that Leela is told from R’s POV there is very little substance to her – if only GVM added a few extra minutes to flesh her out and if only towards the end Leela and R lived a fairly normal life – him as an IT consultant in a faraway country recounting this incident over a drink in a pub to his friends with Leela by his side but R’s name is Rajinikanth and with a name like that he has to become a cop , get posted to the villain’s precinct and kill him , we feel shortchanged. Next time GVM , name this new normal hero of yours Karthik and give us more tales about the normal.

The King has departed…

I was at a birthday party this evening. As we were toasting the birthday boy , my phone beeped and there was a tweet from a friend that MS Viswanathan , the legend was no more. I became numb for a second and then life moved on. I was asked if I knew the man personally and I replied with an emphatic yes ( and then added – through his music)

He was introduced to me through my mother.Amma employed her repertoire of MSV songs to put me to sleep ,  feed me and to get me do anything that she wanted me to , when I was but a mewling babe . The Vivid Bharti and All India Radio fan that she was , I guess she wanted to share her joy of music with me. Soon enough I had an MSV song for every routine in my short life. Malarndhu Malaradha indicated my nap time. Chittu Kuruvi muttham koduthu indicated the much dreaded bath time ( and I had quite an aversion to this lovely song because of that). kadhalikka neramillai , Anbe Vaa , Server Sundaram, Pudhiya Paravai and so many of his lovely albums went on to mark milestones in my life.

And then all of a sudden I stopped listening to him . I don’t know why that happened but his songs became unpalatable compared to a Raja or Rahman. I kept discovering new music and kept moving away from MSV and TKR until one fine day in 2008 , MSV came back to my life with the soft wind on a balmy sunday night. Tired and Cranky , I was on the way home from the cognizant office and FM 93.5 decided to play paarvai yuvarani from sivantha mann and I was hooked again.

MSV became my companion on those tired journeys home , the late night graveyard shifts and saturday implementation support. His songs on a balmy stuffy night was a stress reliever and as I kept moving from goal to goal from moment to moment  his songs remained a constant companion. I had his entire discography in my iPod and depending on my mood I used to hit shuffle on a particular playlist.

He was there with me in New York and as I boarded the train towards Connecticut , leaving behind my fiancé of few hours , my iPod brought up anbulla maanvizhiye. I remember laughing at the co-incidence , wiping away the tears from my eyes while my co-passengers wondered if I had gone crazy .

These are just a few MSV moments from my life – There have been many many more and there will be many many more. The king of melodies has indeed departed but his music will stay on and enrich souls …

Bombay ki Baat Karen toh ….

Bombay is a fascinating city and the Bombay of 1960s all the more fascinating because of the transitional phase the city was going through. A lot of things were happening in Bombay in the 60s – the jazz scene , gentrification , migration . A city undergoing metamorphosis would make for a fantastic movie provided someone could spin a cohesive narrative from the chaotic happenings and therein lies Bombay Velvet’s problem.

Take Mistry and Khambatta , the childhood friends each running a magazine. Khambatta is    the gay capitalist , who has risen above genteel poverty . In a masterstroke , his character  is explained in a few words ” maine woh sab kiya jo kisi khambatta ne nahi kiya. Mistry on the other hand has married into property. Both men have sacrificed and gambled to build their fortune and fight on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Khambatta of the old money wants the elite ( his elite too) to control the economy and change the face of the city whereas Mistry , him of the new money talks about equality , help for the mill workers.  Their point of contention – an incriminating set of photos about a minister. Khambatta has his pawns Hiral and Johnnie to click his photos and Mistry sends his mistress Noronha to retrieve them . Both of them want to control the situation and force the outcome in their favor but are reluctant to get their hands dirty. This is a storyline that would make a hit. Plot this ” fourth estate” type narrative against the 1960s film and it screams blockbuster.

And then the love story , the fragile Rosie and Johnny who is quick to anger . In one of the telling moments of the film , Rosie sings naak pe hai gussa , sitting in a bathtub. Johnny comes home and she stops singing – perhaps she is guilty of romanticizing the angry outbursts (and probably abuse)of her man. He slaps her and she slaps him back. She loves him enough to give up singing and he does not love her enough – There in a dingy hotel room , cornered by adversaries and adverse situations ,she begs him to leave his plans and plots and run away. He refuses and she runs out , only to become a bait to draw him to his  death and there are those incredible push and pull moments between them.

The two narratives would have been great – provided they were made as two different movies. Kashyap combines these two narratives and they just don’t mesh. To me the movie struggled in finding the right balance between these two . The first half focuses on the conflict between khambatta , Mistry and the second half is dedicated to the love story making the balance go off kilter , and tragically the movie never recovers from this faux pas.

That said , it’s not a bad movie and has its moments of brilliance . There are fantastic performances within the film be it Karan Johar , Satyadeep Mishra or Manish Chaudry. There is that sizzling chemistry between Ranbir and Anushka. There is the jaw dropping music , taking the story forward , segueing with the situation and characters. I loved behroopia , sylvia , darbaan and I wanted to pause , rewind and watch dhadaam dhadaam again ( never mind I was sitting in a theatre ) cos I loved the way the narrative was mentioned in puzzle pieces.  I loved how the characters were named too – Rosie for she looks at the rosier aspects of life . Balraj , the brawny guy with little brain and then he gets that Johnny epithet added ( johnny come lately anyone ?).

This is not lazy filmmaking by any stretch – you can perceive that quite clearly when you watch the movie. I just felt that with separate narratives the movie would have worked better . May be years later , Kashyap would sit at the editing table , work on the footage he captured and give us those two movies about Bombay – but until then , I will love this movie flaws , warts and all for this is a labour of love . You might be bored , be disappointed with the jarring narrative , but you will take a piece of Bombay with you when you go back from the movies…..