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Thread: Background Scores in Tamil movies - Pithamagan (Suresh)

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    Background Scores in Tamil movies - Pithamagan (Suresh)

    Background Scores in Tamil movies - Pithamagan

    - Suresh & RR

    “Illayaraja lost his touch” are the words of those who don’t follow his music seriously and intensely. Before saying this we need to think of a very important fact that no good movie had bad music or background score by Illayaraja. No Illayaraja movie would get a comment like “The movie is good, but the music is bad”. In fact, most of the time it was the opposite. If the movie is of high quality, so is Illayaraja’s background score for the movie. One such movie is “Pithamagan”. The first card to appear in the opening credits of Bala’s movies is “With the Grand Music of Maestro Illayaraja”. It is not shown just because of the respect or bakthi that Bala has for Illayaraja but his background score actually is Grand in Bala’s movies. I would rate the background score for Sethu and Pithamagan as IR’s best of the last decade. When talking about IR’s background scores we always go back to his 80’s and early 90’s movies to gives samples and examples of his brilliance but to me even now, i.e. even in not-so-good movies like “Vishwa Thulasi” and “Madhu”, IR spells magic with his background score.

    In Pithamagan, there is so much of this dark emotions between strange relationships. Though it is set in a village, the script has nothing to do with village like, for example in Bharathiraja’s movies, it is just a backdrop. The characters are different. The relationships, and their emotions are different. There is no place or period defined, or given prominence for the composer to stick to, for authenticity. There is no common line that a composer can follow to write a score except for emotions. They are there from the start till the end and our Maestro has caught these emotions as the common line to base his background score on. I think it is quite a difficult movie to write score for. Though for a composer of his experience and caliber it is quite easy (as he completed the background score in just 3 days for Pithamagan) I feel that IR would have thought about writing the score for this movie as a challenging work. Maestro Illayaraja have pulled it off well again and how. Read on.

    Sithan (Vikram) Theme: Have you ever thought of the similarity between the opening scenes of “Pithamagan”, (a helpless pregnant lady walking alone in the road) with that of Thalapathi for its similar visuals and black and white tone? It is not the similarity of the visuals that immediately strikes my mind, instead it is the similarity in the class of the music used in the scene. If “Chinna thayaval” from Thalapathi was a classic, this music too is. Similar to Chinna thayaval song, which IR used effectively throughout the movie, this music has also been used very effectively at right places throughout the movie. The haunting melody on flute is fresh in my mind even now when I type this. The movie opens with this sweet lullaby and a beautiful melody, which underscores the untold misery of the pregnant lady. It initially sounds like a lullaby that a mother sings for her going to be orphaned child. This music cue can be called the theme music of the movie and so is the theme of character Sithan. When I say this, it doesn’t mean that it is played whenever Sithan appears on screen. With Illayaraja, one can never expect that. It appears whenever Sithan realizes that someone embraces him with love and care. You can listen to it in lot of places when he establishes a bonding with other central characters in the movie. The music appears when Sithan follows Gomathi (Sangeetha) for food and shelter like a dog, after a kind of relationship is developed between them. More importantly it is used in the jail scene when Sakthi (Surya) who was beaten to death for helping Sithan, comes back to the cell. A melody sounding sweet and beautiful and actually filling emotions in listener’s heart are two different things. The melody in this theme speaks volumes of emotions of the characters and especially aids to gain the much-wanted pity of the audience for the main character Sithan. Listen

    Sithan in Hotel: Next in the line is a melody with a casual tune and a catchy slow beat that plays when Sithan enters a hotel in the village for food. In this scene, if you listen carefully, the music is used only when Sithan - showing no fear or emotion - picks and eats every food item in the hotel and it suddenly pauses when Sithan beats someone who stops him from having the food. This pausing in between is one of the most important techniques in background score to give the right impact. The impact of this scene with a funny tone is unthinkable without this background music. For sure there is some amount of mind and thought has gone into creating this music, which we all take for granted but without which the impact wouldn’t be as much as it is now. As he shoves the hotel person onto a glass shelf, the shelf breaks (so is the hotel guy's neck or something) and he will see some vadai's. He wil pick one (still without any emotion) and the music will continue. Listen

    Sithan fighting with Hotel Workers: When we talk about background score, we just cannot stop with talking about where the music is played. The silent moments are also equally important. There is no music played in the following fight scene in front of the hotel. It is just a street fight and audience is like someone passing by the street and watching it. Even the fighters don’t have anything personal against each other and so there is no emotional element attached to this fight sequence. Background score is to make a connection with the audience by exaggerating the emotions in the visuals and as there is no emotion involved with any of the character fighting, there is no need of music. You can see the difference when fight sequences towards the climax have grand orchestral outbursts in the background when there is so much of emotions involved.

    Sithan finally gets food: When Sithan eats food that is offered by Gomathi, soft strings strike happy notes playing a sweet melody. With the main rhythm loop of Illaganthu song in the background, it proceeds to the next scene in which Sithan follows Gomathi. Here the music does the job of Editing by establishing continuity between the scenes. Note the theme music at this place, indicating sithan develops a kind of affection towards Gomathi. Listen

    Manju (Laila) Theme: Manju character has got a peppy western tune as theme. Though it is a misfit for the place where the movie is set in, it matches with the liveliness and the bubbly charm of the character. Listen

    Deep into the Forest: The music played when Mahadevan (the Villain) goes into the forest. The tribal beats and some new bell sound set a perfect mood and ambience for the scene creating eagerness in audience’s mind about the mystery inside the forest. A beautiful flute piece underscores the visuals showing drug-making process. It has got a “Vayalum Vazhvum” sound to it, which perfectly is in synch with the way it is visualized. Listen: Deep forest, Drug making.

    Drug Smuggling Theme: Then there is this drug smuggling scene, which has got a perfect mix of tribal rhythms and symphonic swells in the background. I was bowled over by the beauty of the fusion of genres in this theme, which also has got a defined melody and catchy rhythm. It is one of those scenes where I was distracted by the music when I watched the movie for the first time. It is a great and grand music that is very much recommended to listen to, just as a stand-alone instrumental piece. Listen

    Eagle theme: Don’t you wonder where the eagle comes from in this movie? This is played in the first fight sequence after Sithan and Sakthi get into jail when Sithan beats the Jail wardens. This scene and its background music according to me are one of the most chilling moments in the history of Tamil cinema where one can understand the real meaning in using background music for movies. Illayaraja as usual avoids music for this fight sequence initially but only later that we understand that all those silence is a build up for this exhilarating moment where - while chasing a jail warden - Sithan suddenly flies in air and sits like an eagle on a broken wall and turns his head exactly like an eagle. The music with mild strings starts to play just few seconds before this actual moment creating a tense mood and suddenly the whole orchestra gathers for Sithan flying and at the most precise moment of his sitting, the music suddenly pauses which really gave goose bumps when I first watched the movie in the theatre. Most of you would have clapped for this scene. It is yet another moment where the impact of a brilliant visual is elevated to great heights by IR’s music. From here, till the end of the fight, the music and its rich orchestration build up the tense mood further until it finally breaks out to a theme played in strings which has got a divine undertone perfectly echoing the director’s intention to give a philosophical meaning to the actions of the Sithan character. It is in these moments one can understand the bliss of hearing live orchestrations instead of electronic music. Listen

    Yaaradhu? : The instant we listen to the song for the first time in the movie, it sticks to our heart and also one gets a feeling it was made instantaneously like a “Vai Pattu” which villagers use to sing instantly matching the situation. A pleasant melody and simple lines (I think it is written by IR himself) conveying what Sithan starts to feel makes it instantly catchy. Listen

    Mahadevan theme: The villain Mahadevan has got this two note theme that sounds like that of John Williams Jaws theme. However it fits for the character and the scenes involving him. The great thing about this theme is that it is not used until the first half of the movie. We don’t hear this music in introduction scene of Mahadevan, because when he is introduced he is just another character in the movie, we are not sure what role he has to play in the happenings. The music is used only after the character gains a purpose in the story. From the moment when Sakthi meets Mahadevan to make arrangements for Sithan’s bail, this music starts to play in the background in every single scene of Mahadevan. It is because only after this scene, Mahadevan turns villainous to the friendship of Sithan and Sakthi. Listen

    Sithan’s release from Jail: This scene comes at the interval block. The music starts on a happy note with strings and flute, indicating the happy mood of Sakthi and Sithan. Then it breaks and shifts to heavy percussions with the two note theme of Mahadevan in the fore when camera’s focus moves on Mahadevan - implying that all these happy moments and relationships are going to break one day by this character. The mastery of IR lies in linking all these kind of breaks, shifts and pauses in emotions and story of the movie with a seamless orchestration. Listen

    Sithan Laughing: When Sithan laughs for the first time, the happy music that is played in the background is the same as that used when Sithan gets released from the jail. A very pleasant melody it is. The flute version of this theme is even more haunting and beautiful. Listen

    Sithan feeding food to Sakthi: This is a scene where director openly reveals the kind of relationship between Sakthi and Sithan. IR surprises us by not using the Sithan’s theme in this scene. If Bala has conceived a poetic scene to convey their strange relationship, IR takes it further by his divine melody played on a solo violin in the background. When we audience see this scene at first, there are just few strains played on Guitar not revealing much of what is intended to convey in the scene. The main melody is played only when Gomathi turns and sees what we saw. We audience have understood their friendship but this music is to let us know that Gomathi has also understood it.

    Sakthi’s killing: As usual no music is used for this fight sequence initially and all the silence is broken by a single big stroke when camera lights up the face of Mahadevan sitting in the jeep revealing the seriousness of the scene. From now on, a grand orchestral piece strikes notes of fear, danger and terror and ends with a bang and pause when the scene shifts to Gomathi’s house. Back in the house, when Manju is staggering to speak out, some dark notes played on two bass flutes is one of the spine chilling moments of the movie which takes audience to a totally different and intense dark emotion. Listeb

    Sakthi’s Corpse: An eerie music played with strings perfectly sounds the disgusting feel one gets while seeing the corpse of Sakthi. The music that follows in the background for all those crying in the fore is so loud and in synch with loud emotions. Audience would have felt such music very noisy and unbearable if the scene and its impact weren’t as heavy as in this movie. But we didn’t even realize that there is so much music being played at that the moment of watching the scene. This is one perfect example of how a director and composer work can complement each other. No doubt, the emotions in the scene are elevated by this loud music piece, which also has got a definitive theme in it. Bala makes a brilliant decision to end this scene by muting all other sounds (even the ambient sounds) and leaving with just banging percussions scored by IR to reveal the shock of Gomathi and in turn the audience by seeing Sithan’s plain reaction to the death of Sakthi. Listen

    Sithan Finally Crying: This scene has got one of the most haunting and sad solo violin piece, just by listening to this piece one would start crying and think of the effect when it is played for this scene where Sithan finally cries for Sakthi’s death. There is yet another brilliant usage of strings, as Sithan watch Sakthi’s corpse burning before him. Initially the first violins start to play disturbing notes indicating something has started to change or happen inside Sithan, slowly the second violins and Cello join the ensemble perfectly sounding like how Sithan’s emotions are slowly gathering from inside and finally pouring out. Listen

    Sithan’s Revenge: From the moment Sithan is found sitting by the side of the refrigerator waiting for Mahadevan to kill him, the scene compositions, editing, performances and the background score by Illayaraja all being at their best leaves a much desired impact on the audience’s mind. One of the most innovative pieces in the background is played when the villain is shocked to see Sithan sitting in his house waiting to kill him. In this scene, when the camera moves slowly up from the legs of Sithan to reveal his face, background score involving an entire orchestra playing a complex phrase of western notes and breaking out to a beat of Urumi Melam (a traditional Tamil instrument) is simply great. All through this fight sequence Urumi Melam has been put to brilliant usage along with a huge orchestra, to evoke shocks and surprises involved in it. The most poignant moment in the movie and also in the background scene comes amidst this fight sequence. When Sithan drags and drops the body of Mahadevan in front of Manju, all those roaring orchestral music comes to a sudden pause with a flute playing a haunting melody precisely conveying the emotions involved in the scene which will melt even hardest of the hearts. Almost everyone in the theatre clapped for this scene. Finally, the movie ends with the same Sithan theme with which it started. It indeed is the most appropriate music piece to end with indicating he is leaving exactly how he entered the world, with no one whom he thinks would care for him. Listen

    Next time when you happen to watch this movie, don’t just watch it, feel it through the background score.

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    Senior Member Veteran Hubber Anoushka's Avatar
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    Beautiful work! I would love to watch this movie (I haven't watched it yet), the only thing that will put me off is the voilence I think... you guys have done a great job of giving the best bits of music here
    The moment will arrive when you are comfortable with who you are, and what you are--when you don't feel the need to apologize for anything or to deny anything. To be comfortable in your own skin is the beginning of strength.

  4. #3
    Amazing analysis..I want to watch this movie again...

  5. #4
    Oh, what a classic , bit by bit elaborated background music explanation. No one in bollywood ever did give this kind of worthful, music review.

    This is simply great and enthusiatc. You are welcome. My sincere thanks for the efforts you have taken to make us listen to those music via mp3 format files.

    It adds strength to your words. This is a special kind of review which I read so far.

    Million thanks to u.


  6. #5
    Senior Member Seasoned Hubber
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    I too saw this movie once & concluded that the music is one among the best, but not analysed this deeper

  7. #6
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    Better Late Than Never

    Anoushka, GG, Sidhum and Raja_rasigan

    Thanks to all for dropping your comments here and that for sure what keeps us going. I was literally bowled over by the background score in this movie, it is my all time favourite. I don't what all we would get if we dig IR's every movie score like this. Let me see how much we can do.


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    Sureshkumar met with an accident

    Hope he will get well soon and will back

  9. #8
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    Superb analysis ! Hats off.

    Indeed I was one of those IR worshippers who really thought that his halcyon days are over but this movie and bgm especially was really awesome and lifted our spirit !

  10. #9
    Senior Member Veteran Hubber Hulkster's Avatar
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    Sureshkumar come back soon..we need your analysis man..

    Nakeeran common mistake..we always think IR is only stuck with TFM and so we think he is not that good but what we fail to realise is that he has achieved everything in TFM and when that slump period came he was basically into non-filmi projects

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