Viewfinder: The affecting lightness of 96’s music
The author writes about the music album of the Vijay Sethupathi-Trisha starrer that was released last Thursday
96’s album by Govind Vasantha is remarkable, particularly for the tranquility that pervades its tracks. At a time when songs are getting louder and the emphasis is on cramming them with detail, there’s an incredible lightness of being about the eight songs in this film. The songs are admirable in their refusal to play by conventional rules — most of them are deliberately slow in development, for instance — and end up reminding you the beauty of being unhurried, of the beauty you can experience when you are. The emphasis of 96’s album is on mood, not on catchy hooks. That perhaps explains its general hesitation in using percussion instruments. You can see it in the wonderfully evocative Anthathi, into which parts of Kadhalae Kadhalae meld. It’s the same in Thaabangale, which plays almost for two minutes before a quiet thump — almost like the beating of a heart full of longing — joins in. Almost immediately, the guitars combine for percussion duties too, and vie for control.
The vocals, especially in Yean and Vasantha Kaalangal, are the musical equivalent of a soul yearning for (lost?) love. The mood is quietly set up for a full minute in the latter song before Chinmayi steps in to convey what seems to me to be melancholic longing. How fitting then that it is reminiscent of the work of Radiohead, which is well-known for exploring themes like isolation. The haunting Thaabangale feels like the half-brother of Radiohead’s Street Spirit. There’s a hint of sadness, but there’s plenty of beauty.
Voices often turn instruments, and instruments almost become voices in this delightful album. In Iravingu Theevai, for instance, as Chinmayi and Pradeep’s vocals dance about in love, so does the piano. They may be the main singers of this album, but composer Govind has many others at his disposal — wildlife sounds, for instance. The chirping of birds is heard in more than one song. In Anthathi, a voice-over by Nasser becomes a song in its own way. He speaks wistfully about love, with a sigh here and a chuckle there. “Oru velai kaadhal dhoorathil thayangi nindhaal, adhai nesiyungal, anbudan pesungal,” he says. The monologue is poetry in dialogue, and speaks about the importance of remaining open to the possibility of love. The rise and fall of Nasser’s deep voice is a professional singer’s lilt in its own way. You can see why his name is credited as a singer for this track.
Echoes are a striking feature of this album too. The sounds and the voices reverberate, their effects fading reluctantly. You are left wondering if this deliberate design is a reflection of the echoes of romance the characters feel well into their adulthood. In the larger scheme of things, I hope that the echoes of 96’s album are felt in Tamil cinema. It’s not every day that the songs of a film reach as far into you, and make you reach far into your own past.