The half-yearly playlist: Music that rocked Tamil cinema in the first half of 2019
In this half-yearly report on this year’s film music, we talk about the focus on melodies, the loss in pace, and a shift in how songs are shot
The beginning of July signals half-time and it’s a good time to look back on the year and pick favourites. 2019 has been a particularly rewarding year for the Tamil musicophile. So, sit back, relax and sing along, as we take stock of some lilting tunes, this year, that won’t be leaving our playlists anytime soon.
Melodies are back and how! Not that they ever went out of trend, but 2019 so far has so much to offer for the old souls who seek musical allies to burn the midnight oil with. There is no better place to start than Yuvan Shankar Raja’s Peranbu, an album that is an unconventional marriage of hope and despair. ‘Sethu Pochu Manasu’, for example, haunts us with its melancholy but ends on a surprisingly hopeful note. The wholesome soundscape, resplendent in minimalistic glory, sends waves of emotion crashing into your soul. Another melody, KS Sundaramurthy’s Meghadhootham from Airaa, is cut from similar fabric and screams despair too. There is more embellishment here in this track in which Padmapriya’s voice takes centre stage and tugs at your heartstrings.
Love is in the air
It isn’t just the wistful tunes that have captured our imagination. Love, as always, has found its way into the 2019 playlist, and this time, brimming with old-school charm. I am yet to stop listening to Justin Prabhakaran’s Anthi Maalai from Monster. It isn’t just the pleasantly simple tunes of the composer, but also the vignettes painted by lyricist Karthik Netha in this song. “Anthimaalai neram, aathankarai oram, nila vandhade, en nila vandhadhe” is a simple but evocative reminder to times when our rivers still gushed with water, fuelling life and love by its shores.
Karthik Netha struck gold with one more, Pularaadha, from Dear Comrade (also composed by Justin). Often, songs from dubbed films sound strange with the original tune not always successfully wrapping itself around the new words. There are few exceptions to this problem, like Pularaadha. In an era of momentary gratification, this song speaks a language that lingers, like love, even in its most fleeting form, sometimes does. Another song that passed with flying colours is Engleesu Lovesu from Pakkiri, the Tamil version of The Extraordinary Journey of Fakir. Remember what I said about old-school charm? This one has truckloads of it. While Dhanush’s forced accent doesn’t sit easily on this lilting tune, it still instantly manages to bring a smile. Music never has language barriers, but songs? 2019 has blurred those lines a bit more.
While on old-school melodies, one can’t miss Inaye, a lovely number from Thadam, composed by Arun Raj. Many melodies enchant you quickly, but fade as fast. This is a constant accusation placed on contemporary composers. It has been a few months, and Inaye seems like an exception. And an addictive one at that.
The beats that got us
There have been quite a few options for those after rhythms. Even here, rather curiously, the tempo seems to have been relaxed. There’s the groovy Sarvam Thala Mayam from Rajiv Menon’s eponymous film. On the other hand, you have the languidly peppy Chinna Machan from Charlie Chaplin 2. The album that takes the cake in terms of percussion usage is Anirudh Ravichandran's Petta. It took its time to grow on me, but the variety is quite impressive. Unlike say Aaha Kalyanam and Marana Mass, where the mood is of complete celebration, Ullalaa is laidback and attractive. A Superstar blend?
Moving towards montages
When talking about film music, the effectiveness of how a song is picturised often decides the extent of the track’s success. We are, after all, in the midst of a debate on how far songs hamper our narratives. Filmmakers seem to be responding to this by increasingly moving away from dance sequences. Almost all of the songs I have referenced in this piece, with the exception of some songs in Petta and Pularaadha, have been featured with montage videos. It’s a welcome trend, I would say. Songs, after all, are musical poetry and what better way to depict emotion than through such poetry? Such usage helps make songs less generic, and ensures that the film’s narrative doesn’t meander. Will it become a full-fledged trend? We will take stock of that by the end of the year, shall we?