Mallela vaanala‘s plethora of likeable sounds prop the decent-enough tune, rendered well by Naresh Iyer. Snehithudo seems to be traversing between Gowrimanohari and Dharmavathi raagas, with Ghibran’s busy orchestration adding considerable charm. That layered orchestration saves the otherwise middling tune of Raaka raaka too – the sounds, including carnatic style guitaring and Yash Chopra-style mandolin, make for good listening. Dhillunna vade‘s pulsating Vakulabharanam-style tune goes well with Ghibran’s aggressive, edgy sound, while Dhandame ettukuntam, despite the lofty rhythm and captivating Shanmukapriya’ish interludes, has a relatively less interesting tune. The theme is noisily background’ish. Impressively mounted music, as usual, by Ghibran.

Keywords: Ghibran, Baabu Bangaaram, Babu Bangaaram, Babu Bangaram

Listen to the songs:

Sunday July 24, 2016

Hitman – July 23, 2016

Originally published in The Hindu.

Jaaneman aah – Dishoom (Hindi – Pritam)
Even though Jaaneman aah’s first claim to fame is Parineeti Chopra’s turn as one-song item-girl, there’s more to it, actually. It’s an intriguing Pancham-meets-Tamil-kuthu combination that gets its kick as much from the sudden, utterly uncomfortable shift in tune for the ‘Ishq mein saare’ line, as it does from the insanely catchy kuthu rhythm. And then there’s that Pancham-style ‘Jaaneman aah’ call-out. If you ignore the banal lyrics, this is good, raucous fun!

Dekha hazaron dafa – Rustom (Hindi – Jeet Gannguli)
If Pritam produces a masala kuthu in Dishoom, his ex partner, Jeet (of Jeet-Pritam fame, once upon a time) produces the extreme opposite in Rustom’s Dekha hazaron dafa! It’s a gentle, lilting, dulcet melody that gains tremendously from Arijit Singh and Palak Muchhal’s fantastic singing. Jeet layers the waltzy tune with a lovely flourish of strings and chorus.

Tu hai – Mohenjo Daro (Hindi – A R Rahman)
But for the fact that Hrithik Roshan, with a unicorn-style single horn in his turban, doesn’t sound anything like A R Rahman (who is singing this song), this is a lovely song. It has that typically Rahman flow that starts with an unusual opening, and goes on to be even more free-flowing. That means it demands your concentration to follow the melody particularly as it progresses to the antara, with marvellous singing by Sanah Moidutty. Perhaps anticipating this, Rahman adds two more variants of the same tune, in Sindhu Ma and The Shimmer of Sindhu!

Ee santosha – Adbutha (Kannada – Judah Sandhy)
There’s a beautiful and planned economy of sound in the orchestration of Ee santosha that is particularly alluring. Judah Sandhy, already in his second soundtrack after Badmaash, ropes in Tony and Lahari to sing this one, and the duo handle the lush melody pretty well, particularly latter, in the anupallavi. Judah keeps the backgrounds minimal with a nice combination of guitar and a dash of tabla, opting to layer the interludes with more.

Enakkenna aacho – Muthina Kathirika (Tamil – Siddharth Vipin)
Muthina Kathirika’s Malayalam original, Vellimoonga, did not have a duet where the leading lady is left wondering what the hell happened to her. In the Tamil version, Sundar C happens to her, if you still wish to know, besides ‘love’, of course. Even for this most mundane of scenario, it is good to note that composer Siddharth Vipin try something new in the form of the gentle rhythm that is instantly appealing and the ‘Parakkiren’ line that smoothly segues from the tune preceding it!

Sushin Shyam—of The Down Troddence fame and background music for films like Sapthamashree Thaskaraha and Lord Livingstone 7000 Kandi—composes his first song in Kisapaathiyil. He opens it to the serene sounds of rain, takes on Charukesi raaga for the oh-so-beautiful melody and ends it on a lingering serene note too. Sachin Balu’s vocals are pitch-perfect and so is the sufi-tinged chorus. Shamej Sreedhar’s Chilathunaam is wonderfully harmonious and evokes a beautiful sufi/qawali feel too, at times invoking Rahman’s Ishq bina (Taal). Madhushree holds this one together with her impeccable singing. The rest of the soundtrack is by Sumesh Parameswar. His Nilamanal tharikalil has a lovely Hindi song lilt, with Harishankar and Sreya handling the joyous tune admirably. Sreya is fantastic in the short Loneliness too. Sumesh ropes in Kabeer Nallalam to headline a simple, rhythmic recreation of the doyen of Mappila Pattu, Moyinkutty Vaidyar’s Aane madanapoo. Vinnu churanna, the gorgeous lullaby plays out so well in Neesa M.P’s vocals amidst veena interludes. Sumesh closes the soundtrack with Kismath theme, a conventionally exotic Middle Eastern tune. Looks like the Rajeev Ravi connection (part of Collective Phase One) has helped debutant Shanavas K Baavakutty get the best out of his 3 composers!

Keywords: Kismath, Sumesh Parameswar, Sushin Shyam, Shamej Sreedhar, 200, #200

Listen to the songs on Saavn.

Thursday July 21, 2016

11 years of Milliblog!

I was at the neighborhood barber shop two weeks ago. For some historical reason that I’m not aware of, every single barber shop in Bangalore is run by people who speak Telugu. So, as usual, the shop was filled with glorious 80s and 90s Telugu film songs. I usually Shazam/SoundHound everything I hear and the highlight of that day was Iddaru Dongalu’s Amma na pando!

Then, I was in Uber cabs multiple times last week. Most of my Uber cab drivers—just my luck—play Kannada songs and, if I’m really lucky, I get to hear some great songs. Last week, in one such trip, it was early 90s songs from Chaitrada Premanjali and Belli Kalungara, both with Hamsalekha’s music.

If you have been to any part of Tamil Nadu, you would have encountered blaring film music from every nook and corner. Most of them, particularly, outside Chennai, may still be playing Ilayaraja’s music from the 80s and 90s.

And here’s an opinion piece on the impact of 90s Bollywood music, even though the writer unfortunately spins a class divide over them.

The thing is, I believe Indian film music is usually taken for granted. It’s always there in the background, cuts across a wide spectrum of people, but is still seen as low-brow in comparison to other forms of music, probably because it is in abundance, I assume.

And another thing that gets missed in the equation is about languages – people somehow seem scared to listen to something in a language they don’t know. As if they’re committing a grave sin by listening to something they don’t understand, or worse, assuming it to be a waste of their time. Composers like A R Rahman demolished that notion to a large extent, and it has manifested right up to Sairat being enjoyed by Tamilians without understanding a word of Marathi, though I know precisely why they connect with it, given its strong Ilayaraja influence.

Interestingly, Ilayaraja himself was incredibly prolific across the 4 Southern languages in his heydays, but his music did not transcend boundaries and have people of one language listen to another language’s film songs. It was a lot more pronounced during Rahman’s time when a lot more Tamil songs were consumed by ‘North Indians’, thanks also to opening up of TV channels.

So there! It’s been 11 years with me trying to cut the language barrier, listening to almost every single soundtrack that released in a few Indian languages, and putting forward my view on them.

For a completely untrained person like me—untrained in any form of music or instrument—that IS a long time to be doing what I do, that too, as a hobby. I’m aware that my views on music are merely based on how I react to it, and with mildly above-average vocabulary. And not on any kind of musical training or formal music appreciation study.

It’s all quite instinctive – I like some, I don’t like, I love etc. Nothing more. Oddly enough, I believe a vast majority of people react to music that way and that the more evolved kind, who are musically trained or musically aware are a serious minority. The point is, I really don’t care who, in specific, (or which composer’s fans) reads my reviews or who is affected by it, in what way. This is what I meant by not writing ‘for an audience’ that got misunderstood (though, to be fair, as per communications 101, I should have been clearer in my articulation – so, I apologize.) and sly-tweeted recently.

But yes, I do want people to read my views – the more, the merrier, since I’m learning along with them, on what people seem to like and what they don’t. Who wouldn’t want an audience, after all, to bounce off views? Only thing, I believe that it does not affect the way I write… else, I’d have turned into a rabid fan of Himesh Reshammiya by now.

Writing for Milliblog and interacting with people over a decade, I have seen people invariably reacting in a few predictable ways.

1. ‘You did not like that soundtrack. So, you must hate that composer’.
My standard response to that is the first statement is true, but you need more than one album’s review to prove the second statement. People generally do not realize that.

2. ‘You are not liking something that millions of others like’.
Why is that a problem, I have never been able to fathom. That opinions are different and individualistic isn’t something many people are willing to buy, as logic.

3. ‘You have the responsibility to not sway people (in the wrong direction; against ‘good’ music)’
This is the most interesting standard feedback. Honestly, I don’t think that many people read Milliblog for it to be of any significance, but let’s just assume many do, for a minute. In what direction am I not supposed to sway them? Should I,
a. Say something completely neutral about a soundtrack I did not like? So they go, ‘did he like it or not?’
b. Use mild words to showcase me not liking a soundtrack so that people think I’m somehow ‘balanced’?

I have no idea.

4. ‘Your view of that soundtrack hurt me, because I’m a big fan of that composer/actor/singer’
This confounds me everytime. The fact that ‘they’ got hurt by my writing is something they need to introspect.

But what I have learnt is that I need to stick to only one rule – to write what I feel, without caring about how anyone would react to it. And this is something I write very often in the comments to fans of Rahman, Pritam, Himesh or Ilayaraja when they have a debate on my supposed abuse of responsibility to my readers. This, despite explaining the stand on opinions so many times.

It is an amusing side-project—to help people understand that opinions are highly subjective and individual, and that you cannot ever argue over them as if they were facts.

The main project, of course, has always been writing whatever I feel about the music I listen to. And as long as I don’t get paid for managing this blog (I do make some money off Adsense that helps in paying for the education of at least one child via World Vision), as long as I consciously avoid interacting and getting close to music industry folks (I try my best to stay actively away; even when they interact occasionally, many of them drop off after my last not-so-positive review), that main project will be alive.

The big life lesson I have learnt because of Milliblog is to not undermine someone else’s choice of music (or choice of anything in life, for that matter). We all are an amalgamation of what we choose, like, love, enjoy and hate. And these combinations are unique for everyone. So, when I write down a new Rahman soundtrack, it doesn’t not mean I’m making fun of people who like it. It simply means, I, an individual, did not like that soundtrack. There is a big difference between the two.

I’m human too, and sometimes I do forget to stay off making fun off, mildly or blatantly, someone else’s choice while commenting on a composer’s latest work. But I do try to consciously stay on this side of the line – to merely comment on the musical work and not make a statement about the audience that may be construed as an opinion about the audience.

If you think I’m influencing many others to follow my lead in not liking that soundtrack, then I honestly think you’re undermining people’s individuality a LOT. I’d personally give people a lot more credit for being individualistic and having an opinion on their own.

Thank you for reading Milliblog!

Related reads: Milliblog completes 5 years | Milliblog turns 10

PS: Completely self-indulgent (sorry!) numbers – so far, on Milliblog:
Hindi music reviews – 721
Tamil music reviews – 708
Telugu music reviews – 261
Malayalam music reviews – 114
Kannada music reviews – 117
Bengali music reviews – 5
Marathi music reviews – 5
Non-film music reviews – 175
Film reviews – 77
Lists – 186 (including monthly top listens; Hitman, than I started to write for The Hindu; and annual/year-end music lists that I started writing since 2006)

Chotisi jindagi is a straight-forward Thaman style techno song with its rhythm-quotient aimed at being foot-tapping. Dhum dhum is no different, with its energetic sound and punchy vocals by Sri Krishna. Rabba rabba is fantastic – its minimal rhythm builds into a heady sound after the first minute, while Thaman layers it with an absorbing background sound akin to abrupt keyboard plays. Pee pee dum dum, the wedding song, gracefully downplays the orchestration to let the lovely tune bubble up. The title song is the only one that evokes way too much ennui. Typically catchy and fun soundtrack by Thaman.

Keywords: Chuttalabbayi, Thaman S, SS Thaman

Listen to the songs:

Sunday July 17, 2016

Hitman – July 16, 2016

Originally published in The Hindu.

Maya nadhi – Kabali (Tamil – Santhosh Narayanan)
Quick – what’s that song where Rajini is as old as a 60 year old and sings a song that signifies his age? Chances are, you’d say, Chittukku sella chittukku (Nallavanukku Nallavan). Or, if you are a true-blue fan, ‘Annan enna’ from Dharmadurai. Now, there’s a strong new contender, and this time, the mood is happier and romantic, unlike the desolate mood of those songs! ‘Thooya narayilum, kaadhal malarudhe’ goes Maya Nadhi, from Kabali, in Santhosh Narayanan’s trademark tune and sound, particularly that violin phrase! It’s good to see the man acknowledge his age oh-so-subtly, without letting go of his image!

Saaluthillave – Kottigobba 2 (Kannada – D.Imman)
Tamil composer D.Imman first made his Kannada debut in 2013 since his songs from Manam Kothi Paravai were used as-is without his knowledge in the film’s Kannada remake, Anjada Gandu (not to be confused with the 1988 Thambikku Endha Ooru Kannada remake of the same name). He fought for credit and got it. Then, some of his Tamil songs from Pandiyanaadu were used with his permission in the Kannada remake, Rudrathandava. Imman finally makes his legitimate Kannada debut with Kottigobba 2 and the soundtrack’s highlight is the lilting and gorgeous melody Saaluthillave. It’s the typical melody Imman reserves for Shreya Ghoshal and she does complete justice to it!

Raaluraga poolamala – Pelli Choopulu (Telugu – Vivek Sagar)
Vivek Sagar made his film composing debut with his band-mate (Hyderabad-based band called Catharsis) Sanjay, in the 2013 film, Race. But his solo outing as composer, Pelli Choopulu, demonstrates adequate promise, despite niggling issues like poorly chosen singers and the odd choice of sounds. Raaluraga poolamala is a case in point for the promise. It’s a captivating mix, layering funky techno sounds over a retro tune sung by Wilson Herald. It’s instantly catchy and head-turning!

Tu jo paas mere – Krsna Solo (Hindi – Indipop)
Hindi composer Krsna has produced some fantastic music in the few films he has been associated with, like Tanu Weds Manu (both parts) and the nobody-knows-what-happened-to-film Cute Kameena. Given his severely sporadic discography, it is interesting to see him steadily producing new music through his own private label, Panoctave India and share them on YouTube. Tu jo paas mere, that has been—in T.Rajendar style—written, sung, composed and video-directed by Krsna Solo (how he credits himself) is the kind of mellow and engaging melody he produces for films too – easy on the ears, and repeat-worthy!

Tumhari berukhi se – Yauwan (Hindi – Sonik-Omi)
Back when celebrated names like Madan Mohan and SD Burman were ruling the Hindi film music scene in the 1960s, an Uncle-nephew combo tried their hand in composing music! The uncle was Master Sonik, and the nephew, Omi (Om Prakash Sonik), who passed away last week. Master Sonik was visually challenged, and the duo had to struggle in abject penury for many years, holding on to their passion for music. They did find their feet in Bollywood, thanks to their stupendous perseverance, and composed for over 125 films! A fairly rare Kishore Kumar song from the 1973 film Yauwan, Tumhari berukhi se, is perhaps a good show of the duo’s potential!

In an interesting move, T-series has credited the originator of Sau tarah ke‘s hook line – Ashish Pandit, besides actual lyricist Kumaar! That’s pretty much the highlight of this overstuffed item number. Toh dishoom is no different – there is some energy in the rap-layered number featuring Raftaar and Shahid Mallya, but it really doesn’t come together all that well. Ishqa is standard-issue Arabic tune – catchy while it lasts. The soundtrack’s highlight is the Pancham-meets-Tamil-kuthu Jaaneman aah! Aman Trikha and Nakash Aziz perform very well in both versions, while Antara Mitra leads in both. Limited punch in this Dishoom.

Keywords: Dishoom, Pritam

Listen to the songs:

Arko’s Tere sang is gentle, and easily likeable. Plus, there’s Atif Aslam’s vocals too! The reprise, sung by Arko, pales in comparison. Raghav Sachar’s Rustom vahi (with 3 variants) sounds like poor-man’s Pancham. Ankit Tiwari goes through the motions in the mostly predictable Tay hai, but his other, Jab tum hote ho is a lovely mellow ghazal-style combo of Shreya’s superb vocals and Manoj Muntashir’s evocative lines. Jeet Gannguli ends the soundtrack with two sweeping melodies, Dekha hazaron dafaa and Dhal jaun main – both are immersive, with the former also layered with dreamy orchestration. Four melodies lift Rustom’s soundtrack.

Keywords: Rustom, Arko Pravo Mukherjee, Jeey Gannguli, Jeet Ganguly, Ankit Tiwari, Raghav Sachar

Listen to the songs:

The title song is almost a Yuvan Shankar Raja song, with its pulsating rhythm and Middle Eastern sounds evoking Saroja’s Kodana Kodi. Saaluthillave is Imman continuing his time-honored tradition of offering one fantastic melody to Shreya Ghoshal – it works yet again, as always! Jithinraj leads the catchy Hunna hunna that comes alive with some entertaining orchestration. Shankar Mahadevan handles the sweeping, pensive pathos of Parapancha neene effortlessly. Neeti Mohan is fantastic in Hello Mister, a captivating rock and roll number that closes the soundtrack in style. D.Imman’s Kannada debut, after other indirect* Kannada entries, is a competent commercial affair.

Keywords: Kotigobba-2, D.Imman

*Tamil composer D.Imman first made his Kannada debut in 2013 since his songs from Manam Kothi Paravai were used as-is without his knowledge in the film’s Kannada remake, Anjada Gandu (not to be confused with the 1988 Thambikku Endha Ooru Kannada remake of the same name, starring Ravichandran and Khushbu). He fought for credit and got it. Then, some of his Tamil songs from Pandiyanaadu were used with his permission in the Kannada remake, Rudrathandava.

Listen to the songs:

Ee babu gariki comes alive with its spritely country music sound and Suraj Santhosh’s spirited vocals. Chinuku taake is gorgeous, as a melody, but Amritavarshini’s singing pulls it down a notch. Raalu raaga poolamala is an interesting concoction – a cool techno layer over Wilson Herald’s retro tune. Merise merise‘s easy-on-the-ear tune is marred by a questionably shrill wind instrument. Ranjani Sivakumar’s short classical piece Aanandamayenu is significantly accentuated by the opening string instrument and eventually, Tejas Mallela’s violin. Spitfire Friends closes things on a funky note, with its catchy rap. Catharsis front-man Vivek Sagar’s solo debut shows ample promise!

Keywords: Vivek Sagar, Catharsis, Pelli Choopulu

PS: Vivek Sagar’s debut was Race (2013), which he composed along with his Catharsis band mate Sanjay Das.

Listen to the songs:

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