Cinema

Rewind to the Sangam era

Celebrating Literature: Vairamuthu  

The tinkle from the ace verse writer is a surprise! It is the first time that Vairamuthu has called me up. And when he says the purpose is Kochadaiyaan, or rather a particular lyric he has penned for the film, my ears perk up. It should be redundant to mention that Kochadaiyaan, touted as ‘India’s first performance capture photo realistic film,’ will mark the coming together of Rajinikanth and A.R. Rahman yet again after Endhiran. Together with Vairamuthu, they make an impressive trio.

Over the years Vairamuthu has ingeniously woven several rare phrases, similes, metaphors and aphorisms into his song stanzas — efforts that have garnered honour for him at many a podium. So his sudden enthusiasm about a recent lyric beats me! “Not a puzzle at all,” he laughs. “In the past 32 years I’ve written lines for several songs using various lingos. But this is different.” I understand. Not all films offer scope for ardent lovers of Tamil literature to showcase linguistic greatness. “I’m glad that Kochadaiyaan has allowed me to use the chaste dialect of the Sangam age, replete with its vivid images and unique epithets. The film has given me an opportunity to revive typical Tamil usages of the 2nd Century. A lyricist can bring out the beauty and profundity of our literature only in historical contexts. Listening to 2,100-year old Tamil usages in all their purity, garbed in digitised finery and Dolby sound is bliss,” Vairamuthu goes into a reverie.

But even earlier he has experimented with the literary magnificence of Tamil. The ‘Narumugaiyae’ number in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, in high-flown language, caught every connoisseur’s attention. “I merely touched upon the periphery then. And I wasn’t too sure of the response. Here I’ve adopted the very thought processes you find in Sangam literature. When I say, ‘Like a crimson ball of fire that has fallen on a red, golden rock, like the egg of a peahen thrown down on it by a monkey, My heart turns and tosses, and rolls out of my body,’ the agony of estranged lovers expressed in the lines is the same as has been described in the Sangam poetry of yore. It is similar in diction, style and sentiment.”

The passion in Vairamuthu’s voice says enough about the impact of his own lyric on him. Incidentally, these lines are a translation of the pallavi of the Kochadaiyaan piece which goes, ‘Senthee Vizhundha Sempor Paaraiyil …’ Vairamuthu doesn’t believe in transliteration. “It could spoil the effect. A translation works better,” he suggests. (See box.)

What inspired him to traverse literary lanes for the song? “The situation, as described to me by directors Soundarya and K.S. Ravikumar. The army general, a lover, is imprisoned, and the pining pair (Deepika Padukone and Rajini) finds the separation unbearable. “We need a song to bring out his anguish and her angst,’ they told me. I felt that no modern words would project the emotion as well as those of the Sangam period. And it took me 90 minutes to complete the song,” says Vairamuthu.

So was the lyric set to music after it was written? “Rahman first gave me the tune for the pallavi alone. When he knew I had done the charanam, he came over at once. And he was elated. Rajini and the directors also complimented me for it.”

Vairamuthu adds: “The lyrical style is very new, and I’m disclosing it now only because it cannot be photocopied by any aspirant and passed off as his own. I wish to use centuries-old words in my lyrics and thereby rekindle interest in our literature. This song is a significant step towards it.” Vairamuthu has written five of the six numbers of Kochadaiyaan. “But this is my favourite,” he says.

As part of another song, which again promises freshness, Rajini has recited the lyric to the accompaniment of music and song. “More on that later,” Vairamuthu smiles. “I’m confident people will receive ‘Senthee …’ well and the song will fly high, as it travels on two powerful wings — Rajini and Rahman.” If they are the wings, what is he? “I am the bird,” he guffaws. I like the metaphor.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 10:22:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/rewind-to-the-sangam-era/article4252621.ece

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