Before I get into this article let me confess that I was one of the active anti-Illayaraja Rahman fan, when the whizkid made waves with Roja & Gentleman. I used to call ARR as "Isaipuyal" AR Rahman, little did I realise that storm will subside after a point leaving everything in shambles, while the breeze even though slow will be soothing ever. The transition is like new neighbour's beautiful wife getting more attention, after sometime when you look at your wife you realise her worth and love her still more. Today I proudly say that Illayaraja is my demi-God in music and I had got a chance to live through his creations. Infact I love and value his songs even more than when he was at his prime. This article is purely my viewpoint on how I became his ardent fan and on what I am hearing now.
It had Chinna Gounder, Aranmanai Kili, Karagattakkaran, Pagal Nilavu and Enga Ooru Paattukaaran. I think that day is a turning point in my hobby. I rediscovered the maestro. I cursed myself for not following his releases for a long. I started building a collection of super hits. I started holding a high respect for Illayaraja. Once I came to Abu Dhabi I got a terrifc set of friends who happened to be an ardent fan of him. When I went to India on vacation, I tried to collect as many Illayaraja's songs as possible in all permutations and combinations.
All Illayaraja's songs have a distinct stamp of his. If you follow from Annakili, you can travel with that journey of style evolution. His songs of "Annakili" and that time were typically rustic.
After sometime came "Priya" which saw Illayaraja's venturing into the western domain. His "Johnny" was a result of his new knowledge on western instruments like piano and Church choir type of compositions. Notice that "Oru Iniya Manathu" and "Deiveega Raagam", you'll understand what I mean.
His "Alaigal Oyvathillai" is still a delight to hear and my personal favourite are "Kaadhal Oviyum" and unpicturised "Puttham Puthu Kaalai".
His "Thenmozhi" song from movie "Solla Thudikkuthu manasu" had showed us a preview that he is going to compose symphony after years. It is a uninhibited fusion of string instruments (That string of violins is his stamp) that challenges the composers of any time. Among all his songs I like his early style setting period songs mentioned previously.
His "Mella Mella Ennai thottu (Vazhkai)" and "Engengo Sellum (Patta Katthi Bhairavan)" were the illustrations of his western orchestrations.
I would rate his "Edho moham song" as the most erotic number I have ever heard. Illayaraja manages to stimulate your instincts through his violin strings. It sounds and stays in memory like first of earthy pleasures like first chat, first flirt, first kiss, first sex etc., that'll be special no matter how many years it is old.
Then came the period of wide usage of synthesizers and electronic instruments. "Poonthalir Aada (Panneer Pushpangal)" and "Sangeetha Megham (Udhaya Geetham) are evidence for his penchant for extensive orchestration. I am amazed by the beauty of his string instrument filled interludes while the percussion instruments beautifully complementing his lead vices.
"Punnagai Mannan" marked a start that was followed as a trend by his erstwhile assistant Dileep turned AR Rahman. If you hear those songs along with his earlier songs you'll notice that western sophistication, especially in "Vaan megham", "Kavidhai Kelungal" and evergreen "Theme music". This was continued in "Anjali" and "Agni Nakshatram", especially the latter has a remarkable reputation of absence of any Indian instruments.
Meanwhile he had successfully ventured into hardcore carnatic with "Sindhu Bhairavi", "Shankarabharanam" and "Saagara Sangamam" with his first ever Carnatic song being "Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan" and semi classical "Thendral Vanthu Ennai thodu...", but Illayaraja's forte continued to be his crisp orchestrations. He has some talented instrumentalists like L.S.Narasimhan for Violin and Arun Mozhi for Flute, whose contributions are very much conspiscous.
Had you noticed that brilliant transition between Carnatic to Hardcore Western in the song "Oh! Vasantha Raja..", the first pallavi goes like this "Ven panchu meghangal..." is in traditrional mode while the second pallavi "Aaradhanai Raagam..." (my personal fave point)is in western? This is one song that doesn't clay no matter you hear it for million times.
His "Vizhiyile..." from "Nooravathu naal" is one of my most heard songs this season. This song has vocal interludes which I thought that AR Rahman was the first one to use it, but Illayaraja had done it much earlier. The lines "Kaadhal devan undhan kaigal meetum nagavari, intha suga vari anbin mugavari, konjam dinasari ennai anubhavi, Mazhalai ennum maathiri, madiyil thoongum kaadhali, vidiya vidiya en perai ucchari..." turn me on to hear this song again and again. It is not just about words, but the perfect combination of its rendering and orchestration.
Another favourite song of this period is "Isai medaiyil inba velaiyil..." from "Ilamai Kaalangal". The pallavi that starts like "Muttham tharum eeram...." and "kannimagal koonthal kalainthirukka, vanthu thodum un kaigal vaghidedukka...", notice that beautiful smearing of music at those points.
Then comes his prime period which showed a maturity and distinct sound patterns in his orchestration. This notable numbers of this phase included "Guruvayurappa.." from "Puthu Puthu Arthangal..", "Enthan Nenjil..." from Kalaignan".
My most favourite pick of this season is "Kaadhal Raagamum..." from a dubbed movie "Indran Chandran", to which I am hooked on right now. I wonder how a Telugu movie has such classical song. The vast use of violins and Saxaphones, combined with vocal sounds of Mano & Chitra makes this number a delight to hear.
Other songs of this period which are my hot favourite is "Sattham varaamal muttham..." from the movie "My Dear Marthandan" and "Innum Ennai enna seyya..." from "Singaravelan".
Among the village subjects that turned evergreen were "Muthu mani maalai (Chinna Gounder)", "Raasave unnai (Aranmanai Kili)", "Povomaa Oorgolam (Chinnathambi)", "Inji Iduppazhagi (Devar Magan)" and "Oru Naalum unai maravaatha (Ejamaan)".
Arrival of AR Rahman & Deva coincided with Illayaraja's departure from regular Tamil films and his efforts towards composing Symphony, thus marking a slide in his popularity. Many of the nice songs of this period like "Malare thendral... (Veettile Viseshanga)", "Paadha Kolusmani (Thirumathi Pazhanisamy)", "Ippodhu enna thevai (Makkalatchi)" and "Oru Kolakili sonnathe...(Pon Vilangu)" went unnoticed in the first release.
Illayaraja had reduced the number of films leaving way to the youngsters. Yet he was accepting special movies like "Sethu", "Marupadiyum", "Pithamagan" and "Azhagi". This period saw the directors taking Illayaraja for only special subjects like Priyadarshan's "Kaalapani" which needed an emphasis on rich & sensitive background score.
Among his other language songs I love his "Nahutha nayana..." from Maniratnam's debut movie in Kannada - Pallavi Anu Pallavi. Especially that haunting opening humming by S.Janaki and ably supported by SP Bala Subramanium. In Telugu I hear his "Eenade edho..." from "Prema", a Venkatesh - Revathy starrer. Now I am hooked to his "Shwasathin Thaalam..." from Malayalam movie "Achuvinte Amma".
Now also he is doing movies selectively like "Adhu Oru Kanaa kaalam", but concentrating more on non film ventures like "Nothing but wind", "How to name it", "India 24 hrs", "Musical Journey" and "Thiruvasagam in Symphony".
With AR Rahman's quality also on a landslide, I almost stopped listening to new songs except few composers like Vidyasagar. All I hear is the noises in the name of songs, which doesn't have even a decent shelf life. The element called "Quality" is totally absent in Tamil movie music right now.