Ilango Krishnan, the lyricist of ‘Ponniyin Selvan,’ on how ‘Aga Naga‘ took shape

Hear it from the lyricist of ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ I and II, on what ‘Aga Naga‘ means, and how his literary credentials earned him his first film outing

Updated - March 28, 2023 04:02 pm IST

Published - March 28, 2023 03:14 pm IST

A still from the lyric video of ‘Aga Naga’

A still from the lyric video of ‘Aga Naga’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Can you try using small words?” asked AR Rahman. The tune was ready; all that was needed were the words. Ilango Krishnan, the lyricist, took up the task. It was his moment; the one that he sought over a decade ago when he packed his bags and moved to Chennai from Coimbatore. He strung words such as ‘Aga naga, aga naga muga nagaye,’ together, and in two days, wrote a song about a princess who is in love with her land and a warrior in equal measure. And just like that, Ponniyin Selvan II’s ‘Aga Naga’ took shape. The song’s lyric video, released last week, has garnered over 10 million views so far. The film’s audio is set to be released on March 29 in Chennai.

Ilango Krishnan says he is “proud and happy” about the response to the song. “Mani Ratnam’s brief to me was to incorporate the princess’s feeling of possession over her people, her land, its mountains, trees, and flowers, as well as her attraction to Vanthiyathevan,” says Ilango. But theirs is a love that cannot be openly declared. “She is in a high position, whereas he is a war commander,” he adds.

For those of us who have been humming the song without understanding what it means, here is Ilango’s description: “Aga naga means ‘outwardly smile’,” he says. “She looks at a tree full of flowers that appears to be smiling, and likens it to herself and what she is feeling inside.” Ilango says that the song is written in the Andhadhi literary format in which the last word in a verse forms the first word of the next.

Ilango Krishnan

Ilango Krishnan | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Ilango, an editor with Dinakaran, got the opportunity to write the lyrics for the songs in Ponniyin SelvanI and II thanks to his strong literary credentials. He is a poet with four compilations to his credit, and has also written essays. “Writer Jeyamohan referred my name to Mani Ratnam,” says the 45-year-old, adding that the director read up on his work before reaching out.

The film marks the first time Mani Ratnam and Rahman chose to work with someone other than lyricist Vairamuthu, with whom the duo has churned out some of its best songs. Did Ilango see this as a responsibility that placed tremendous pressure on him? “I did feel the pressure,” he says. “But both Mani sir and Rahman sir handled it well. They gave me the space to write; made me feel comfortable,” he says.

A still from the lyric video

A still from the lyric video | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Ilango says that he did not allow himself to think that he was working in a big film. “All I thought about was the song, the tune, and my role as the lyricist,” he says, adding that the fact that he was familiar with Kalki’s story made him confident. “We have used various styles namely kaapiya, kaaviya, bakthi, and Manipravalam Tamil in the songs,” he explains. “I found it a challenge as to pick what for which song.” ‘Saaya sanchare’, employed in the background in Ponniyin Selvan I when Kundavai and Nandhini have a face-off, is written in Manipravalam, he points out. “This script is from the 18th and 19th Century and has a mix of Sanskrit as well.”

Ilango came to Chennai with dreams of becoming a scriptwriter in Tamil cinema. “I am currently working in a few films, and one of them is set to come out soon,” he says. He may have finally arrived in cinema, what with a whole of work coming his way, but Ilango identifies himself as a writer and a poet first. “I will work in cinema, but I will first strive to achieve as a writer,” he says, adding that he is right now working on a novel on the final years of the Cholas, for which he researched six years. What would he consider his greatest achievement? “I have four novels in mind,” he says. “To me, it will be an achievement to finish writing them.”

Ponniyin Selvan: II (PS2) is set to release on 28 April 2023

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