Friday Review

And more on the Ilaiyaraaja connection

(This is the fourth part in a series of articles on Kamal Haasan’s tryst with the classical arts.)

Part 1: >His classical odyssey

Part 2: >'You can feel the fear in this song'

Part 3: >'He taught me to sing with abandon'

“After 1977 or so, I cannot recall going to another music director,” Kamal Haasan told me. The “I” threw me off, because he wasn’t exactly making movies then, merely acting in them – and the task of “going to a music director,” one assumes, falls on the person making the movie: the director. But Kamal was probably talking of a time when one could get as involved with the filmmaking process as one wished, when even an actor who’s only required to show up on the sets would show up at music sittings, with the director and the composer.

Kamal was present at a lot of music sittings with K. Balachander, in whose films he’d come to resemble a stock company actor. These sessions, Kamal said, helped him when he began directing films and began to tell the music director that this wasn’t quite what he was looking for, or that he wanted a tweak there. “My sessions with KB and Raja gave me that confidence.” So when he’s talking about not going to another music director after 1977 or so, he’s probably referring to ‘16 Vayadhinile’, which was the first film that had Kamal as the leading man and Ilaiyaraaja as the composer. It’s an association that lasted up to the mid-1990s, roughly, till which point the non-Ilaiyaraaja films were relatively rare. The high points are too numerous to recount. ‘Aattu Kutti Muttayittu’ in 1977, ‘Orey Naal Unai Naan’ in 1978, ‘Ninaithaal Inikkum’ in 1979, ‘Azhagu Aayiram’ in 1980, ‘Andhi Mazhai Pozhigiradhu’ in 1981...

Kamal Haasan spoke about the composing session for the latter, from ‘Rajapaarvai’, which he produced and which Singeetham Srinivasa Rao directed. “Singeetham kept asking Raja for more tunes. Those days, Raja would come up with many options. He made nine tunes, but I knew that the first one was the best and we eventually came back to it.”

Then he began talking about what seems to have become his favourite anecdote to illustrate his working relationship with Ilaiyaraaja. “The way the song ‘Inji Iduppazhaga’ came about is itself an exercise in knowing how an artist’s mind works,” he said. Ilaiyaraaja kept asking Kamal what he wanted... exactly. Kamal said he couldn’t say... exactly. “I said, ‘You have to be the paediatrician. The child does not know how to say what’s happening. You have to find out’.”

Kamal explained that it had to be a monotonous tune, a simple melody that kept looping back, like something that would air on Pappa Malar, the All India Radio show conducted by “Vanoli Anna” where children sang, often breathlessly. Ilaiyaraaja said, “That’s a good idea, but how do you make a populist song out of it? It will be a funny song, but how do you make a populist song?” And Kamal began to sing ‘Yeh Dil Deewana Hai’, the S.D. Burman number from ‘Ishq Par Zor Nahin.’

And, in front of me, Kamal Haasan launched into the Hindi song. This, I’m beginning to realise, was the best part of these interviews, his impromptu launches into song – and he sounds exactly like how he does in the recordings. After he finished, he said, “If it had been any other music director, Raja might not have listened. But he has a special respect for SD.” Ilaiyaraaja began to tap out a talam on the harmonium, and within 10 minutes, he had a variation on the S.D. Burman tune. The composing was done. Kamal Haasan told me, “It’s not like he was taking from the tune. He was taking from my need.”

For ‘Michael Madana Kamarajan’, Kamal wanted a song like ‘Margazhi Thingal’, a verse from Tirupaavai. “He came up with ‘Sundari Neeyum’. Again, it became his own composition because of the changes he made.” Yesudas was supposed to sing the song. Kamal used to “sing track” a lot those days, the equivalent of a temp track which would then be dubbed over by a Yesudas or an SPB. Because Kamal couldn’t always wait for their dates in order to have the finished song available during the shooting, he’d sing track and take the song along. Kamal told Ilaiyaraaja that he’d sing track for ‘Sundari Neeyum’, but Ilaiyaraaja insisted that he sing the final song.

Then, there was this time they were watching the Oscars, and a group (or maybe an individual; Kamal didn’t seem too sure about this) gave this performance where they beat their chests and sang. Kamal said he wanted something like that for ‘Aboorva Sagotharargal’. He got it. ‘Bababa... Bababari... Pudhu Mapillaikku...’ I asked him if he could single out a song he had to sing that was tough, more challenging than the others. But he refused to bite. He simply said, “The truth is that they all gave me easy songs. All my music directors have been kind to me. Raja especially saw to it that his songs were crafted around my capability.”

(To be continued)

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Printable version | Mar 12, 2022 10:39:18 am |