Tuesday February 25, 2014

A nostalgic look at the music of Azhagan

Posted by Karthik

azhagan

After K.Balachander split from Ilayaraja, post Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal, he seemed to be in a state of flux for his next film’s music. The immediately next film was Oru Veedu Iru Vaasal, which, I honestly don’t recall having any songs, despite having violinists Ganesh and Kumaresh in the lead and having composer VS Narasimhan credited for music.

VS Narasimhan, incidentally, seems more like Balachander’s comfort-food equivalent composer. He was involved in pre-Raja Balachander films like Kalyana Agadhigal and the Kannada film, Mugila Malligey (though Balachander went with Vijaya Bhaskar too, in between for Ramesh Arvind’s acting debut in Sundara Swapnagalu).

I was a kid back then, but having read about Balachander and Raja’s split in Tamil weekly mags and being more inclined about music composers in films than any other part of the film, I was curious who Balachander would opt for, for this next big film.

That next big film was Azhagan.

I had no idea, back then, who Maragadhamani was. I saw the movie eventually in the same year it was released (1991) and despite the mixed reviews, I loved it. It was the quintessential KB film – a lot of KB touches, with a muddled ending, but overall thoroughly enjoyable.

The music was, of course, magical!

Incidentally, Azhagan was one of Maragadhamani’s (or Keeravani’s) very early films, coming just an year after his Telugu debut in 1990.

Azhagan’s music was almost like KB had found an apt replacement for the great Ilayaraja with whom he produced just 6 brilliant films. The sheer variety and quality of music in Azhagan was mind-boggling!

My personal favourites have always been Sangeetha swarangal, the all-nighter song and the much less heard and only-half picturized Mazhayum neeye. The former’s situation is wonderfully unique and I still wonder who added the nifty Doordarshan signature tune to the song’s end – was it KB’s idea or was it Maragadhamani’s? The tune is a knockout Karaharapriya base and with really lovely touches like that extended banter style, ‘Naanundhaan nenechen, nyaabagam varala…’ part that was the song’s beautiful hallmark.

The latter is a stunner too. For some odd reason, the film version has only one paragraph, but the audio version had two paragraphs. The one that goes, ‘Kalaiyellaam katrukkollum paruvam paruvam’ was in the film version, but the one that goes, ‘Idhu enna mannil kooda’ paragraph was cut out, for some reason. I recall being very upset with KB about this, back then since I used to adore this song. The visuals in the song tell a story by themselves, right from the beginning. The song opens with the situation that Mammooty and Bhanupriya are getting back after a tiff. She is in tears, but is relieved that the tiff is over and runs up to him, across the 1st floor, but stops just near him. Mammooty, in what was a lovely touch by KB, is silent for a second, but then pulls her close to him and they hug – this was the essential KB that we used to love in the 80s and early 90s!

The rest of the album was bloody vibrant too. Thudikkiradhey nenjam was unlike anything I had heard before in Tamil films, till then. The song picturization was a key too, for the song’s addictiveness – particularly the post-song step that Mammooty tries in private, in his room!

Thathithom was the kind of song that one could only expect from Raja in those days. An incredibly lovely rendering of Dharmavathi raaga, a raaga that Raja had already used wonderfully in Varusham 16’s ‘Ye aiyyaa swami’. Maragadhamani had an actual musical cue for the picturization of Thathithom and the flow in his tune was brilliant. Till the end, that is. The final Western bit that closes the song in a rather incongruent way was a downer, personally, because it used an world-famous (or, at least a globally famous) Michael Jackson song for inspiration. Yes, that final portion was very, very similar to Jackson’s Liberian Girl, that had released 4 years ago, in 1987. Was it symbolic of the city-bred Western outlook character of Madhubala? I don’t know!

Anyway, Saathi malli poocharame was perhaps the most crowd-friendly and also most played on TV song from the film, from what I remember. Bharathidasan’s lyrics were used brilliantly in the song and the shot of Mammooty with his wayfarer was iconic, back in the early 90s when the film released.

Nenjamadi nenjam was probably the most un-heard song from the film but Kozhi koovum neram aachu was something Maragadhamani came to be known for eventually. He has a series of songs like this one – Vaaname Ellai’s Kambangaadu and a lot of songs in the Kamal Hassan starring Telugu film by K Vishwanath, Subha Sankalpam. The kind of raw, folksy and rhythmic Telugu sound was very unique to him!

That leaves us with just one more song – the title song, that plays as the opening credits roll after KB had introduced Mammooty’s character. The song, Avan than azhagan, a lovely song in its own way, was sung by Minmini, who had just been introduced in Tamil by Ilayaraja in Meera’s Lovvuna lovvu, a blockbuster hit song in Tamil Nadu back in those days! She had also sung for Maragadhamani in Telugu (Aatmabandhanam) and that’s perhaps how she landed the title song in Azhagan. The very next year, she attained a very different state of fame with Chinna chinna aasai in Roja, Rahman’s debut, produced by K Balachander! (the song is thankfully available in this jukebox)

A special mention for SP Balasubramaniam who ruled all over this soundtrack like only he can. He was in top form here, along with Chithra, in 4 songs. Those were the days when one or two singers sang across the film, for sheer continuity’s sake!

Also, a special mention for Pulamaipithan’s uniformly amazing lyrics in this soundtrack (thanks to N.Chokkan for pointing this out in the comments). Considering Vairamuthu is the aasthaana (usual) lyricist for KB films till then (at least for the Ilayaraja composed ones), many people assume that he did Azhagan too, which wasn’t the case. It’s a different thing that many people think Raja composed Azhagan too 🙂

I recently heard Azhagan’s songs afresh, again, and felt so compelled to write this down – in hindsight, this is an easy 300 worder on Milliblog. But, given the personal nostalgia attached to this, I just happened to write free-flow, without caring for word count!

Maragadhamani collaborated with KB for two more films, before the director moved to Rahman (Duet), and to Deva (Kalki) and back to Rahman (Parthale Paravasam)… and finally to Vidyasagar for the first time, in Poi (KB’s last directorial venture).

The other 2 films they worked together had superb music too, by the way – Vaaname Ellai’s soundtrack was a class by itself and Jadhi Malli, the weakest of the three, but still, with gems like Kamban engu ponaan and Marakka mudiyavillai.

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