Thamizh Talkies: The eternal question
The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related to entertainment
A recent story discussion I was part of, led to the eternal debate on music directors in Tamil cinema. Now, when I use the words ‘debate’ and ‘music directors’ in the same sentence, you can easily guess the two names in the debate, can’t you? Two defining eras, two defining sounds and two path-breaking names: Ilaiyaraaja and AR Rahman. “Why only two names? Why not add MS Vishwanathan to this debate; why not KV Mahadevan?” you may ask. But since the debate was between two people from two contemporary eras (the one I belong to, and the generation after mine), the names that came up were of the Maestro and Mozart (of India). Whose music is better? Is that an easy question to answer?
It’s a matter of one’s personal music taste, isn’t it — irrespective of which generation one may come from. My 80-year-old father is a Rahman fan. My 24-year-old nephew swears by Ilaiyaraaja. But both of them agree on songs composed by Ilaiyaraaja and Rahman. Which song pleases whom is also a matter of ‘when’ they hear that song. Our own ‘mood for music’ sort of sets a pre-conditional platform for which kind of song impresses us the most. When it comes to composing for movies, what matters is also the background score for the scenes. I can see all Raja sir fans widen their eyes in glee at the above sentence. Yes, he is the master of BGM but can you discount the tracks you have heard in Iruvar, when each historical moment unfolds (for instance, when Tamizhselvan takes Anandan’s hand and makes him wave at the huge crowd which comes to see him at the hospital)? Or say, when there is an emotional connect between Anandan and Thamizhselvan and their women? Or a distinct hark back to the past when Anandan meets Kalpana as she bears a striking resemblance to his dead wife. Much akin to the sound of the train whistle, which makes the estranged mother and son turn back to a memory which unites them, in Thalapathi.
What truly matters is quality and not quantity when it comes to creativity. It’s not about a mere number of movies each music director has scored for or the super-hit combinations they have featured in. What matters is the brilliance in creation: Be it in one film or many, be it with only one director or many. What I most admire in Rahman is his ability to keep himself updated and in tune with a generation after him. The soundtrack of Kadal which features the trance song, Magudi, is an example of how he is still giving Anirudh a run for his money. Of late, Rahman’s music seems to be tipping its hat to an era before Ilaiyaraaja.
Sample these lines: “Chittukuruvi ondru snegapaarvaikondu: Vattapaaraiyin mael yennai; Va va endradhu” from the song Mazhai Kuruvi in Chekka Chivandha Vaanam. It’s almost MSV in its melody, and a song sung with lilting ease by Rahman. Ilaiyaraaja did an MSV hat-tip way early in his career, for the 1978 film Ilamai Oonjalaadugiradhu — where if you heard the songs without knowing the music director’s name, you would think it was MSV with his trademark bongos, drums (Yennadi Meenakshi), or SPB and Vani Jayaram’s voices in tact (Orey Naal Unnai Naan).
So, this debate of who is better has been going on for days between a fellow writer and me, and there is no proper conclusion. He says Ilaiyaraaja and I say Rahman, and sometimes when discussing each song and each film’s background score, we have ended up mutually admiring their individual repertoire and musical genius. It’s a wonder that both of them are actively giving us music to relish, savour and go back home to on a rainy day (rain, Raja sir song and molaga bajji is a staple, isn’t it?). We can enjoy their music as live performances as well, as Ilaiyaraaja and Rahman make it a point to be on stage often, recreating and creating their musical magic for us. In the end, what should ideally matter is this: Indian/Tamil cinema has them both.