Wednesday, May 15, 2013


In 1997, ad films director Bharat Bala and composer A.R.Rahman collaborated on an album that was quite different, considering the times that they were. Vandemataram proved to be a success, musically, because Rahman's new idioms were still sinking. The album also pushed the envelope, significantly, in terms of recording quality. Almost 16 years later, Bharat Bala and A.R.Rahman team up for the film Mariyan. The story seems to be quite different from the usual films we get to see these days. It is based on a guy who goes to Africa as an oil worker and gets kidnapped there by the militants and how he escapes from there. The film's premise provides ample scope for the music to be different from the usual crop.

The album has 7 tracks.

1. Nenje Ezhu: A.R.Rahman croons this track which sounds very anthemic in feel, something like "Aazaadi" from 'Bose', though this one does not feature any choral work. The pallavi of the song has a well-rounded structure with the way it goes "Nenje ezhu" at the right time. Yet, this song has a lot of deja vu feel, more because we have heard Rahman croon these kind of songs, mostly patriotic ones, in many films. Also, the song does not have any interludes. It has only 1 charanam, very brief that is, and it relies heavily on the pallavi portions, repeated over and over - which makes the song monotonous. 

2. Innum Konjam: In my opinion, this is the best composition in this album. Rahman, for once, avoids the attempts to give the song a 'global appeal' and gets the song stick to more rooted flavours, as evidenced by the way the singers (Vijay Prakash and Shweta) render the song or the minimal orchestration. The way the song begins, reminded me of "Ay Hairath-e-aashiqui" (blame it on accordian and that taala). The tune is very melodious, more like a romantic village ballad, which is exactly what Rahman needs to do more to let his work reach a better balance. Though this song has interludes, it is surprising to note the interludes are extremely short.

3. Naetru Aval: Sung by Vijay Prakash and Chinmayi, this soft/slow song almost reminded me of Moongil Thottam from Kadal, in terms of feel and the ambience built in it. The way the strings soar briefly at times in this song, makes me wonder why Rahman is shying away from improvising those pieces more into more rich ones. The strings have a beautiful sound and feel here... almost like a wave. Again, this song too has only 1 charanam and a lengthy pallavi portion repeated a lot. While I understand and appreciate that Rahman has carefully demolished the structure of an Indian song by choosing his own formats, I feel that repeating this template in more songs in each and every album is eroding the novelty of it. Ultimately as a listener, I want to listen to some songs which have elaborate interludes and well structured charanams - that reveal the composers' school of thought. While I do like this song, I tend to skip it after the pallavi portions play again. 

4. Yenga Ponna Raasa: This is probably Rahman's ode to Simon & Garfunkel. The song relies only on Shaktisree's vocals and guitar. This song too, has only 1 interlude (if we can call it so), which is a guitar version of the vocals sung by her. The song moves almost like a short poem and I really cannot assess it, for i still cannot place it as a song.

5. Kadal Raasa: Rahman ropes in Yuvan Shankar Raaja (after scrapping his version) for this song. Yuvan certainly sounds different from how he sounded in Ilaiyaraaja's "Neethane EnPonvasantham". The song has a lengthy pallavi portions laid out on heavy percussive elements and nagaswaram riffs (repeated throughout). Yuvan does bring in some energy for sure, but I felt that the percussions pop out a bit more into-the-face than the vocals and the momentum of the song. There is no actual interlude of the song again, with just guitar strumming bridging to charanam. The charanam's tune, somehow felt out of place for me. It starts on a totally different scale and mood also. The song too has only 1 charanam, which seems to be ending abruptly. 

6. I Love Africa: Rahman has this rap singer called Blaaze who sang this song. The song is typical rap running amock with all the African rhythms. Not my cup of tea.

7. Sonapareeya: Rahman, at times, has this weird tendency to come up with some out-of-sync songs that leaves the listener baffling if it is by rahman and more importantly puzzled about how it does fit into the overall schema of the album (and film). I remember Guru had a song called 'Baazi Lagaa', which left me totally puzzled. this Sonapareeya is another such song. utlimately it is just another fast paced number sung by Jaaved Ali and others. I found it quite pointless, musically. 

Overall, I feel it is an underwhelming album compared to Kadal. I liked Kadal, despite its simplistic melodies, while here, i see more of a Kadal hangover in slow-songs and in fast-paced ones, there are not many takeaways for me. 

Some thoughts about Rahman's recent output: I do not understand this experimentation where each and every song has just 1 interlude (or no interludes) and 1 charanam (that too a short one) but with somewhat lengthy pallavis. Having 1 or 2 songs in an album, in this format is good but working out every song within this kind of template is reducing the musicality of the album. I used to love the Rahman songs where I waited for those goose-bumpy interludes and varying embellishments in each charanam. Here, everything seems to be sacrificed. It can work (brilliantly) with certain songs like "Phir se Udd chala" (Rockstar) with the lyrics too setting the mood or in cases like Hawa Hawa (Rockstar again) where there are meaty instrumental portions that deliver the 'Aaha' moments, despite having 1 charanam only. In Kadal as well as in Mariyan, Rahman seems to have reduced the interlude portions and charanam portions drastically and relied more on overall genre to maintain the mood (soft songs = guitar strumming, with accordian; fast songs - rhythms). I'd prefer his scores to have elaborate pieces of both, interludes and charanams which lets the listeners soak in the completeness instead of having songs where listeners go through the ebb of the song when it ends suddenly. of course, not every one might feel the same, but I like to have more elements, more musical explorations, more improvisations, more stuff basically, in a song. At times, being too simple gets boring.

Summary: Mariyan, as per the film's story, has (i assume) lot of scope to deliver a very unusual score, free from the typical cliches. It is probably a film that needed a pathbreaking score - as pathbreaking as some of Rahman's earlier works such as Dil Se, Alai Payuthe etc. In Mariyan however, the only song that really made me sit up was "Innum Konjam" (which is different because it is different from what Rahman has been doing off-late), while the rest somehow play up to Rahman's current-day conventions. In that perspective, it certainly falls short, even compared to Kadal. A raw barometer for me is the no. of times I play/skip songs while listening to an album. In Kadal, Magudi was the only lemon for me. In Mariyan, Innum Kojam and Naetru aval seem to be the only ones that I am playing more no. of times. 2 songs out of 7, means a disappointing fare, for me.  

Bottomline: Not bad. But then, with Rahman there, 'not bad' means not good enough. 

Not to Miss: Innum Konjam and Naetru Aval (added later, because despite some misgivings that i have, the song still is a nice experience overall).

Looking forward to Rahman's next album Raanjhana though.