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The first images that come to mind when I think of Iruvar are Mani Ratnam, Santosh Sivan, Mohanlal and Prakash Raj. The film is a magnificent epic, possibly the ballsiest tribute to cinema and politics in Tamil Nadu. However, the soundtrack for the film was a complete win. AR Rahman has an absolute ball composing the songs, which are a thrilling joy ride and tribute to Tamil cinema’s music. Nevertheless, what is striking is the breadth of genres he has integrated in one album, from Carnatic and light music to jazz. You cannot separate the film from the music and this is more so the case with the monologs, Udal Mannukku, UnnOdu naan irundha (the tambura in the background from 1:48 almost suggesting to us that the love making is sacred) and en arun thOzhanE, which are inseparable from the background score, the language and music haunting us long after we are done watching the film. The re-recording for the film is a huge triumph in itself, adding a lot of sheen to it. The songs nonetheless, as I said, are a class apart and this has to rank among Rahman’s underrated efforts, considering the acclaim his works get across the globe.
The film starts with Narumugaiye, a fascinating peek into the Carnatic by lanes and Rahman’s brain. The hero, a mystic warrior from the old world, starts the song in NAttai. His lady, on cue, begins her part in Gambeera NAttai, possibly goading her man who is a majestic warrior (?) Genius touch! There are strains of Maand and the song, like an illicit lover, does not remain faithful to one raga. This however adds to the romance in the song, which is ethereal.
Hello Mr. Edhirkatchi is a lovely jazz picturized on the archetypical vamp. It is an ode to the typically delightful Viswanathan-Ramamurthy jazzThe piano in the prelude is inspired from Memphis Stomp but the tune is pleasingly ARR. Harini’s vocals glide along the instrumentation seamlessly. And what is it about an entire interlude as a slow rap (?) in chaste Tamil? Madness at midnight in Panchathan Record Inn and Rahman at his wacky best.
Pookodiyin Punnagai is a beautiful tribute to the old world charm in Tamil music. Rendered by Sandhya, P Suseela’s niece, whose voice is a spitting copy of PS, this song assures me that Rahman would have held his own irrespective of the era and that class is not defined by the period but just by class. Minimal yet gorgeous orchestration and emphasis on the lilting tune and lyrics c ould make anyone listening to it for the first time to mistake it for a re-mastered old song.
TMS was famous for imitating the voice of the heroes for whom he sung. Rahman makes Mano admirably imitate TMS imitating MGR in Aayirathil Naan Oruvan, a song inspired in picturization by this absolutely cracking song tuned by MSV. Yes, ARR would have been at home with MGR too! Both songs inspire pure optimism and Aayirathil Naan Oruvan is one of those songs whose appeal is multiplied by fantastic pizturization. Showmanship from Rahman, Mani, Lal and Sivan at its zenith.
Vennila Vennila is another ode to the characteristically seductive and quirky songs of LR Easwari. The extensive use of trumpets adds to the intoxication, which is the word that comes closest to describing the song. The voice of Asha Bhosle adds to the mood, her middling way of pronouncing Tamil being a sore point, which also adds to the enigma in a way.
Kannai Katti KoLLAdhE is my personal favorite. This song is the definition of goosebumps for me, every time I see it. A clear reference to a popular MGR movie, the song signifies revolution, experimentation and brings forth an exhilarating end product. A brilliant jazz as an allusion to the old cinema inspirational songs could not have been thought about by any other composer. What do I praise here? Hariharan’s podi sangathis at Chittu KuruvigaL en Pakkam, or the electric guitar from the second interlude onwards into the charanam which is electrifying? And may I make another mention about the genius of Mani, Sivan and Lal in this song? I must. Thank you. The lyrics fit in with MGR’s image while the tune ironically breaks every rule about a hero-image-Tamil-song and rebels like the Hero typically does. And when Rahman sings Viduthalai along with the chorus, it is freedom from stereotypes, clichés and a clarion call into the world of Rahman.
Rahman in Iruvar reminds me of the two extremes of romanticism and classicism. It is a marvel he finds a mid-path between the twain and makes them meet. Take a bow Rahman!