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25th October 2006, 04:53 PM
Background Scores in Tamil Movies: Iruvar

- Suresh

Now after declaring Illayaraja as almost God in scoring background music for movies in my last article on “Pithamagan” background score, I know I am in a big trouble following it with analysis on A.R.Rahman’s background score abilities. To start with a cliché, A.R.Rahman was the one to revolutionize the sound of Indian film music, not just in songs but also in the background scores of the movies. Rahman treats the background scoring also like writing songs. Since he was a full time jingle writer before, his background pieces mostly sound like jingles with a definitive starting, a thematic melody, a wandering middle and a fine ending with each layer adding more catchy elements to the song. You cannot hear full a throttled live orchestra in his scores, even if it doesn’t enhance the visuals, it will sure sound good as a stand alone track. As you all know, most of the background score pieces in Roja later became songs.

Rahman’s music is not precise, it plays on the totality of the mood and emotion involved in the movie or in the scene, take for example the Bombay theme, except for very few seconds in the movie and the “Malarodu Malaraingu’ version of the theme, title and the end credits, nowhere the 4 minute theme is played in its entirety in the movie. But what an emotionally charged score he has written for peace as theme. It is the same with almost all his scores, you have beautiful pieces of music sprinkled throughout the movie but if you look for the music that is so close to the visuals and music without which the visual has no meaning, then the list is relatively short. For example, when Rishi and Roja are in a Van traveling in the deserted streets of Kashmir, Roja out of fear holds Rishi’s hands for the first time and this first sign of Roja’s love for Rishi and the instant intimacy they share is well reflected in a beautiful Piano piece, the terrifying music played when a steady cam traces the path into Terrorist’s hiding place, the scene from Gentleman, where Arjun robs a huge sum of money from chief minister himself in front of everyone and walks out of the auditorium, the heroic music that plays until he walks out of the auditorium enhanced the whole impact of the scene but moments like these are few in any Rahman movie.

Rahman mostly uses the tunes of the songs for his background score but I don’t complain if it aids the visual as it did in “Lagaan (according to me, Rahman’s best background score till date)” and in Tamil say “Alaipayuthey”. But Rahman has improved a lot these days; I was totally convinced with his skills when he used three unique sounds to three different characters in “Ayutha Ezuthu”. These days he shines more in Hindi movies than in Tamil. His background scores for “Swades”, “Rang De Basanti”, and “Legend of Bhaghad Singh” were better. Infact he released the original soundtrack of the movie “Bose: The forgotten Hero” with background score pieces included in it. I haven’t seen the “Warriors of Heaven and Earth” yet. Now let me stop my random ramblings and pick a movie to analyze Rahman’s score. The one which I enjoyed very much is for the Maniratnam movie Iruvar.

Iruvar is a quite a complicated movie in a sense that it is a sort of docu-drama on the life of two real life persons. When it comes to background score there should have been quite a lot of discussions on how it should sound, whether to go for a period sound with restrictions on usage of instruments and the type of music or to go for a more contemporary sound leaving behind the cinematic sounds of those period. But unlike the songs which had a perfect balance of period and Rahman sound in it, the background score is mostly contemporary. This score by far is one of the most innovative ones by A.R.Rahman with all contemporary elements in it and yet not sounding odd or distracting when seen and heard with the visuals set in different time periods. A.R.Rahman has considered the list of moods and emotions involved in various stages of life of the heroes and also the uniqueness of the characters that comes and goes into the life of these heroes, to create the main themes. And of course, A.R.Rahman cleverly identified the silent moments, where any little sound may distract the reality of the visuals. For say, the initial moments of the movie where there are random moments and shots showing how Aanandhan is trying hard to become a hero, the silence in these moments are very effective. And the first theme appears when

Aanandhan becomes a Hero – This is one of the defining moments of the movie which cleverly and beautifully hints what Aanandhan (Mohanlal) is going to be in future, the king of masses. As Aanandhan enters into the palace set, Rahman underscores the moment with a thematic piece played on some kind of horn or trumpet which has got the right sound of period in it and when he sits on the King’s chair, chords are introduced and slowly it gets Rahmanish with percussions and surprise twist of notes played on strings as Aanandhan plays with the big Sword. It is again played at the end when Aanandhan reads his pledge while taking the position of chief minister of Tamilnadu. The theme which sounds so heroic in this happiest moment of Aanandhan is used exactly (there is no cheap slowing down the tempo technique to make it sad) as it is, in another contrasting and tragic moment where Aanandhan’s first movie is dropped in the middle. The beauty is that it sounds very sad in this place; there is one change though in the form of a new sad solo violin piece layer added at the end. I don’t know whether they struggled to get a piece that is so heroic in one moment and sad at the another keeping these two scenes in mind or simply they got it right or whether am I interpreting the score far more than what is intended to convey. Anyway, it is one of a good and new technique that I noticed in background scoring only in this movie.

Iruvar Theme – Suiting the characters of Aanandhan and Tamizh Selvan (Prakash Raj), each has got a theme reflecting their nature. A beautiful soft guitar piece that is played, when Aanandhan cries for doing small police constable roles could be termed as the Aanandhan’s theme. It matches well with persona of his character and also some of the tragic moments in his life. It is used mostly when Aanandhan is in despair, dejected and sad. There is version with cello and strings playing the theme and it sound equally beautiful. On the contrary, for Tamizh Selvan, a revolutionist he is has got no melody but a rhythm pattern on traditional drums that sound like turbulence or agitation inside fire (also the new party symbol is a torch). The piece is the most used one through out the movie which appears first when Aanandhan asks Tamizh Selvan about what he would do to the country and people if he comes to the throne. It is also used in a much lesser tempo almost suppressing the whirl in the theme like how slowly Aanandhan suppresses Tamizh Selvan’s ego in a scene after the death of Ayya where Aanandhan asks the ministers to submit the details of their assets to the public to prove their purity. Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Theme%20Music.mp3)

Aanandhan - Pushpa marriage theme is a very pleasant melody that has got a celebrative mood and also the Malayalam flavour in it. Both the flute and strings version sounds perfect for the marriage sequence and the scene of Aanandhan’s entry to the village for marriage. The marriage of Aanandhan and Tamizh Selvan and Aanandhan is shown with intermittently cut shots and the contrast is well conceived in the background without using any music for Tamizh Selvan’s marriage whereas there is a pleasant melody flowing in the background for Aanandhan’s marriage. Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Marriage%20is%20not%20a%20joke.mp3) (version 1), Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Marriage%20is%20not%20a%20joke%202.mp3) (version 2)

Ramani’s (Gowthami) Late Visit – This is the only piece in the entire soundtrack where Rahman uses the tune of the song for the background score. But not it not used exactly as it is. It starts with a cello and a sad solo violin piece which slowly transforms to the melody of “Poongodiyin Punnagai” song. It is a beautifully orchestrated piece and gels well with the scene where Ramani asks for shelter. Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Gowthiamma%20visits.mp3)

Kalpana Theme is rock stuff with notes on electric guitar sounding very mischievous, playful, modern and vibrant like the character of Kalpana. This piece is used right at introduction scene of Kalpana and more effective in the scene where Kalpana draws a mole on her hand like Pushpa.

Aanandhan – Kalpana Love theme – A.R.Rahman often surprises with cute little songs especially in Maniratnam films as a part of the background score and in this film it is this song which is very jazzy and sexy to listen to. Harini’s husky voice sounds like the longing inner passion of the lovers. It appears when Aanandhan first falls for her beauty on the top of a hill while talking about the difference between Kalpana and Pushpa and when she asks, “Athey kannu, athey mooku, athey Kaadhal varala?” and is more effective at the scene after Kalpana falls from the jeep, when Aanandhan and Kalpana are alone in a forest unable to control their feelings for each other. Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Kalpanas_theme.mp3)

Death Theme - The other major theme of the movie is this death theme. It is kind of semi classical alaap (I think it is Sriram’s voice) which is a very emotional when used at right moments in the movie. Ironically, this going to be a sad theme is first used for a totally different situation in the movie. It is when Tamizh Selvan makes Aanandhan to realize his power and control over the masses while he takes him to the crowd waiting outside just to have a glimpse of his face. When camera slowly moves along with Aanandhan from the top revealing the massive crowd, this alaap slowly appears and it is a scene to know what getting goose-bumps means. The alaap slowly transforms to the Aanandhan theme, the rhythmic drums sounding the unison of the Iruvar with their hands rising together. It is also used for Velu Thambi Ayya’s (Naaser) death. The same theme is played on strings effectively for the hospital scenes after Aanandhan is shot with a gun and also in Aanandhan’s final procession. Ayya death (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Ayyas_Death.mp3), Anandan shot (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Anandan%20been%20shot.mp3), Anandan death (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Anandans_death.mp3)

Growing Animosity – This is a piece involving strings playing four repetitive notes in high tempo sounding the drift between Iruvar. This appears whenever their animosity is revealed directly to the audience, in the scene when Aanandhan asks Tamizh Selvan to give him Health Minister Seat, in the scene when Thamarai (Tabu) argues with Tamizh Selvan about his jealousy and fear and in almost every scene where the battle thickens between the Iruvar in the final act of the movie. Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Friend%20becomes%20Enemy.mp3)

An Ode to an Old friend – The final poetry of Tamizh Selvan for Aanandhan must be the most difficult part to write the score. Because, the emotions of Tamizh Selvan slowly builds and reaches a crescendo and so is the music. Though it is not brilliant, it is good and Rahman has pulled it off quite efficiently by joining the bits and pieces from various other themes and making it like a one piece of garland for Aanandhan’s final death procession. It starts with a mild humming by female chorus, (this bit is actually used initially when Aanandhan effectively delivers a lengthy emotional dialogue for his first movie shooting), then it moves to a synth bass piece giving a tensed sound (that was used when injured Aanandhan was carried fast into a hospital in a stretcher) and then finally the strings take over to play the death theme along with the vocals singing the alaap. Listen (http://tfmmagazine.mayyam.com/nov06/iruvar-bgms/Meeting%20an%20old%20friend.mp3)

There is some more music cues which I felt wasn’t good enough. In the attempt of trying something very different Rahman falters at some places. The bit with percussion beats when Aanandhan first sees Kalpana closely and forgets his dialogues in a shoot. It is kind of weird and the sound doesn’t match with Aanandhan’s emotion. Also the private moments of Tamizh Selvan with his wives don’t sound to give any meaning to the visuals or even as a stand alone track. It has got some mild female humming like an opera singer singing with less wavering in her voice. The female humming when Aanandhan yells to see the face of Pushpa in front of her grave is not so effective. These pieces sound like the scenes will work even without it.

When the Iruvar Maniratnam and Rahman join hands, not only the songs but also the background score is special and this movie is a sample of that and I hope everyone will agree.[tscii:f238eb2bf6][/tscii:f238eb2bf6]

Acknowledgements: Thanks to net sources for the BGM's.

7th November 2006, 08:30 PM
Thanks Suresh & RR. Thats a great writeup. Wish we could have respective videos uploaded in future to have a brief explanation for the above reviews. Shall check if I happen to watch Iruvar again anytime!

Courtesy : AJ for BGM's (ARR-YG) rite?