(A post by Venkateswaran Ganesan aka @_DrunkenMunk. And coincidentally, it was on May 28th 1993 that the movie Pudhiya Mugham released. A good 20 years back. –Viju)
In any sphere of life, be it sports, cinema or career in general, the biggest challenge is to give a second success which makes the flash in the flame, if there’s one, evidently not one in the pan. That way, looking at Rahman’s early career now in hindsight, Pudhiya Mugam is an interesting album to look at, coming on the back of the monstrous success called Roja (he did compose Yodha in Malayalam but I shall stick to Tamil). Though it did not quite scale the heights that Roja did, commercially or otherwise, the album taken separately works big time.
Rahman’s music almost avoids evoking Raaja’s music. This, in my opinion, is understandable for Raaja strode the Tamil film music scene of the 80s like a colossus pretty much trampling the Tamil and, to a good extent, the Telugu film industry with his virtuosity. For a young composer in the early 90s to evoke Raaja would have been redundant and pointless, especially when the ears were pretty awash with Raaja’s music and style. It is no surprise then that we see MSV’s music being evoked pretty much right through the 90s in Rahman’s music. MSV is pretty much an oeuvre to even Raaja. His early music too evoked MSV, quite naturally as a tribute. If we are to hear Sugamo Aayiram, from Thunai Irupaal Meenakshi, unless someone told us this was a song by Raaja, we wouldn’t hesitate to think it is an MSV song. Same with a few more of his early songs like Naan Pesa Vandhen. This is an interesting trend in the late 70s. Raaja pretty much unleashed his genius in the 80s but what he tried in the late 70s fascinates me. To evoke another composer beautifully without imitating him takes some doing. This we see with Rahman also in the 90s. He conjures MSV without imitating the latter. When Rahman did evolve into his own in the 2000s (Paarthale Paravasam a good place to start maybe), there arose new composers who evoked him far less subtly than he did from MSV but that is for another day. I will pretty much stop this thread of thought with the opinion that if Rahman did not evolve in the 2000s, he, in my mind, would currently sound redundant.
Pudhiya Mugam in this context offers quite a good palate of songs. Sambo Sambo is a favorite of mine. The prelude itself sounds like a composer running away from clichés. The tune is a joy with the Goan/Lankan beats and feel but what is again fascinating is the lingering thought that Rahman might be bringing a bit of MSV into this. The final lines of the charanam of Angam Pudhu Vidham, by MSV, might offer food for thought. That was the time when MSV’s music was submerged in the craze for Hindi music. In my humblest opinion though, MSV’s music in the 70s and almost till 80-81, was very good. Rahman brings his sound and creates what is supposed to be a naughty song in quite an unorthodox way. Do listen to the Hindi version of the song from Vishwa Vidhaatha, where he improvises a little more from the Tamil version. Quite interesting!
July Matham takes a detour. The guitar that starts off gives a salsa touch to the Pallavi which flows quite beautifully into the charanam through the interlude with the finger claps forming a lovely mediator for the dialog between guitar and piano. SPB is charming as always and the instrumentation is quirky, for the want of a better word. The synth which is tuned in a low octave goes well with the tabla forming an pretty interesting pair.
Kannuku Mai Azhagu is one of those things described by John Keats as a joy forever. I prefer the P Suseela version, for I am a sucker for her voice, over the Unni Menon song. Both songs have the same tune but deserve to be treated as different songs. Be it the sangathis P Suseela gives at avaraikku poovazhagu or the way she carries the entire song, this woman is something else only. Wasn’t she “supposed to be” past her prime when she sang this? Quite rightly described by Rahman as having the best voice ever among Indian singers, she easily makes Lata Mangeshkar North India’s P Suseela in my opinion. Unni Menon is quite good too. The instrumentation is kept simple. The song loosely flows in HarikambOji and the world would be a finer place if the Vairamuthu who wrote this song writes more such songs.
Idhu Dhaan Kadhal Enbadha defines this album for me. Right from the prelude, everything about this song still sounds fresh. Sujatha is wonderful. So is Vairamuthu, especially with Gangai nadhiyin suvai, kadalil serum varai. The flute in the second interlude again takes me back to MSV who said that in every great melody is a lurking melancholy. The flute here is tempered by a joyful hum but taken separately; the song is full of moments like these which quite easily bracket it all the way on top of the best melodies composed by Rahman.
The sad version comes after the protagonist dies leaving a grieving family behind. The background score that precedes it is very interesting. When the protagonist leaves his wife, the background score starts with a piano and a violin. You get the feel of Netru Illadha Matram because of the violin and sit back to see Rahman pull out Azhagu Nilave. You also feel a rabbit being pulled out of the hat. The score extends up to the lead entering his son’s room and going out. The warmth in the nuclear family of husband-wife-son is beautifully conveyed through the score. The score is repeated again, after the protagonist’s death when the son goes to the room to be with his mother, coming alongside, yes, Idhu Dhaan Vazhkai Enbadha which wafts about wonderfully to conclude the film.
This Rahman was indeed a flame and not a flash.