Thamizh Talkies: The undying song
The writer is a film producer and an art curator
If I were to name my favourite romantic song and pathos song in Tamil by KJ Yesudas (whose birthday it is today), it would be ‘En iniya ponnilaavey’ (Moodu Pani) and ‘Kanne kalaimaane’ (Moondram Pirai). Of course, there are plenty of great songs by the master singer, but these two songs somehow touch the pinnacle of his singing prowess. Though both are ‘singable’ for even an untrained voice, Yesudas’ trained voice lends the songs much ease. That both songs feature in films directed by Balu Mahendra with music by Ilaiyaraaja is a happy coincidence. Which brings us to the question of ‘pairs’ in Tamil cinema.
Perhaps the days of such successful pairing is long gone in cinema (and life?) of today? I’m talking of how a TM Soundararajan would always sing for Sivaji Ganesan and MGR, or an SP Balasubrahmanyam for later leading men. The same director would work with the same music director and singers who would create repeated magic with the same hero or heroine. Well, at least till the 90s, this was the trend. And then, we entered the millennium in which we are now spoilt for choice—be it in singing, acting, dancing or even directing, thanks to the reality shows on television that give rise to new talents season after season. Yet, there are some who remain connected across several films, like Maniratnam and AR Rahman, Gautham Menon and Harris Jeyaraj, Selvaraghavan and Yuvan Shankar Raja, Vetrimaaran and GV Prakash, Santhosh Narayanan and the Naalaya Iyakkunar team of directors, or more recently Anirudh and Vijay films, including Master.
On a closer look, it is clear that in any era, music has always been the first calling card for a film. The songs are the first aspect of a film that becomes a ‘hit’. A music director (much like the actors) becomes a ‘name’ that brings the audience to the theatres. Indian cinema, in that sense, has always been a platform in which Broadway and opera meet the talkie. While musicals are a separate genre in world cinema, it is THE genre for Indian cinema. Music, or let’s specifically say songs, are often the differentiating factor between art house films and mainstream cinema. But as Mani Ratnam mentioned in a film forum gathering, “Lip-sync songs are the toughest to shoot as one has to prepare a separate storyline for them”. This “songs are tough” message comes from a master of picturising songs, with each of his film situations and songs becoming a super hit for both the music and the visual. Along with song and direction, of course, comes the choreography, be it montage or the dancing variety. It’s a lot of talent held in one box if I may say so.
As Master opens this Pongal, what remains to be seen is how Vijay has outdone himself in his intro number, how much the music of Anirudh has embellished Lokesh’s story. But the bigger question, of course, is how many of us are going to watch Master in the theatre with all the COVID gear. I’m guessing all of us.