Kadhalan: An Ode to Musical Romance

(A guest post by Venkateswaran Ganesan)

I was born in the late 80s and brought up for a little more than 2 decades in Madras and Chennai. This makes me automatically qualified to represent the generation of kids to talk about the Rahman-of-the-90s, if not analyze his music in depth. Rahman in Madras in the 90s was the in-thing. Nothing symbolized it better than his albums in the early 90s. One of the sparkling representatives of that period of music was Kadhalan. Though not a technical masterpiece by any stretch of imagination, it is still a widely cherished album, like almost all of Rahman’s early 90s Tamil efforts. As would every other Madras kid from the 90s love, I too would like to share my thoughts on the music of Kadhalan here.

I immensely enjoy watching the film. Without going into the depths of re-recording, it would suffice to say I greatly relish the score in the film. An apt illustration would be the sequence before intermission. Nagma is escorted away by her dad’s guards and a desperate Prabhu Deva is rushing to see her. It starts with heavy strokes on the cello, to signify the tension, followed on its wake by a flute that tunes Kollaiyile, the score a counterpoint now, to signify the hero’s love for the heroine. There are also vocals in between to underline the heroine’s longing to be with her man when she is being unexpectedly taken away. The counterpoint is a trademark of Ilayaraaja in re-recording, whose influence is all pervasive in Tamil film music. But Rahman handles it in his own style with his brand of music and the result is distinctly Rahman, or magic. This brush of beauty continues as Nagma looks for Prabhu Deva and violins take over from the cellos and the moment Prabhu Deva jumps over (the Hero arrives!), we hear a part of the charanam of Ennavale hummed. A change in tune but the mood and tension remains as the hero takes a hit for the heroine and we hear violins in the background with the hum continuing, another counterpoint. The most clichéd of sequences is elevated simply by the ethereal music. I could keep going on, but for the sake of brevity, I shall cut to chase.


The songs are very popular even today and it is easy to see why. The album begins with Urvasi, a youth anthem back then for its lyrics, insanely epic rhythm and pep, not to forget Prabhu Deva’s dance. Rahman starts with a hum and a violin sarangi (Thanks @musicaloud) which gives the music a distinctly mid-west feel and as he begins the song, we hear a Jalra with the drums, a crazy combination for a crazy song. As Suresh Peters and Shahul Hameed join, the song revs up even more and we get a tune that is on steroids. The vocals, synth and rhythm in the interludes are worth a mention too.

Petta Rap is folklore today for its extensive contribution to pop culture with Tamil people. Beginning with a sly tribute to Bob Clearmountain in a kuthu song (!) to Theni Kunjaramma singing (!!), who’d have thunk about a rap here! Wacky genius! Oh and before I forget, the lyrics by Shankar deserves a separate bow.

Kadhalikkum Pennin Kaigal is the most peculiar song of the album to me. A tune full of beans from Rahman with SPB and Prabhu Deva dancing on screen makes for a geyser of joy, which it is. Udit’s Tamil, the 2 words forming an ideal oxymoron if ever there was one, spoils the party but SPB’s vocals carry it through with Rahman’s orchestration and the picturization. This makes it hard for me to place the song on a pedestal though it deserves one.

Muqaala Muqabula was the biggest hit of the album internationally. Part of the credit goes to Prabhu Deva for dancing out of his skins. But it is Rahman’s tune that carries it through from the spaghetti western flavored start to Mano trying a peculiar voice and Swarnalatha and him freaking out to Vaali’s smirk-worthy lyrics. The changeover to Mano’s natural voice (I know you thought SPB here) in Vaadi en vannakili is what is an actual changeover ought to be like. The final rhythm and synth working magic (with the dance elevating it on screen) is the stuff legend, sorry Rahman, is made of.


Gopala Gopala is the obligatory mass song Shankar is famous for before the climax. The old pair of SPB and S Janaki gets together for a Rahman kuthu song and deliver. The smattering of Telugu is wacky and I always feel satisfied listening to this when I want to listen to a kuthu song. That is because this song underlines the necessity of a tune with a soul, however wild, for any song by actually delivering one.

This album is made entirely complete and satisfying by the thukudas it has. Kollaiyile Thennai is a very simple tune with only a guitar strumming a basic rhythm. Jayachandran is effective and the lyric gives an otherworldly feel, or rather, a yearning for a world we wish we could create. Well done!

Kaatru Kudhiraiyile is a gem. A very soulful tune is taken to a different plane by Sujatha. We hear a basic tune twice. The first time, it ends on a low note. The next time, we hear it in chords, one Sujatha registering the same low note and another Sujatha touching the high octaves as if to signify the depths of sorrow and the heights of pain the lead pair experience. Otherworldly!

Saving the best for the last, I arrive at Ennavale. The song, having strains of raga Kedaram, drew heavy flak from the critic Subbudu, who exclaimed Kedarathukku Sedaaram (grievous injury has been sustained by
Kedaram here). Leaving that aside, film music is purely about conveying an emotion or a message across, the former being effectively done here. The second interlude where the flute brings out notes resembling a shy lover running away and the usage of mridangam elevates the already beautiful song to a different level. Not to forget, this song (with Uyirum Neeye from Pavithra) got Unni Krishnan a National Award.

A gorgeous extension of the song is Indhiraiyo. Everything about this song stands out. Less than a minute long, the lyrics are by Thirikooda Rasappa Kaviraayar, an 18th century poet and this is from Thirukutraala Kuravanji, an 18th century dance drama. Quite a source! Minimini and Sunandha’s vocals deserve a mention as does Rahman’s genius of bringing another song’s tune into the lovely verse and creating a motif to signify the exultation in the lead pair. This song is also close to yours truly, for I was involved in translating the poem sometime back.

Kadhalan is one of those albums where Rahman wants us to fall in love with the music and plays the romantic and you hopelessly fall for his music. May the tribe of such musicians increase and may such quality soundtracks keep coming.



2 thoughts on “Kadhalan: An Ode to Musical Romance

  1. narvind0110

    Great write-up and agree with pretty much everything. One additional feeling I always get on watching this movie is "what a colossal waste of a soundtrack for this load of crap of a movie"


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