Recent Female Solos of Raja

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No music director has given so many superb female solos like Raja has. Yes, there have been great combinations like Madanmohan – Lata and Baburaj – S Janaki which gave us some everlasting melodies but no one was able to provide the width and depth that Raja provides in the female solos. From the sensuous to the sublime (are they really different?) Raja has covered the whole gamut of human emotions via the female solos. If you collate only the female solos given by Raja, that itself would be enough to establish Raja as the greatest music director Indian Film Music has ever seen. Such has been the scope of female solos in his oeuvre.

I will discuss some of the recent female solos that were given by Raja. All of them are very melodic. Many of them happen to be in Telugu and Malayalam. In recent movies that Raja has been involved in, the number of songs have been limited (maybe 2 songs in a movie) or no songs at all (like Onayum Aatukuttiyum, Kutrame Dhandanai). Even with the 2 song limitation or short song (to be played in the background) limitation, he has come up with some lovely melodies.

Let me start with this amazing melody in Bhavatharini’s voice. Even those who are not fans of Bhavatharini will like this melody. A touch of melancholy pervades this melody. The orchestration is top notch. ‘nannu neetho’ from ‘Gundello Godari’ will make your day. The WCM first interlude enhances the melancholy aspect and as with a lot of Raja orchestration, then are sudden shifts which surprise us and enhance the listening experience. The charanam too has his patented shifts and the way he joins back to pallavi is Rajaesuqe. I love the second interlude and the sense of calm it brings with it.

The next song has a philosophical tone. Nice words from Na.Muthukumar. The song is in montage and the small challenges of life. The tune and orchestration are such that they convey the overall picture and at the same times the tune digs deep into your heart affecting you deeply. Shreya does a great job with her melodious voice

‘kalaiyile malai vandhadhu’ is from ‘Chittiraiyil Nilachoru’ directed by R.Sundarrajan. Raja has always been partial to Sundarrajan and this film was no exception. This song is an experimental one with the main classical line being countered with synth beats and keyboard. There is also veena and nadaswaram which appear as guests. The interlude brilliantly marries classical music to pop sound. This is a very different Abheri. As usual, the bass does a fabulous job. Some may have wanted a more standard orchestration for this but if you know Raja’s way, this is very enjoyable.

We will now shift to Malayam and listen to a breezy song. I had written earlier about how Raja creates movement in his music. This song is about the breeze and here too Raja creates the movement of the breeze. There tune and orchestration are so constructed as to provide the required dynamism to the song. This is from the Malayalam film ‘Dafedar’ and sung by Alka Ajith, who became popular after having won the singing competition, ‘Super Singer’, on Vijay TV. Watch out for that lovely AnuPallavi. I have heard Malayalis call it ‘tundu pallavi’

I spoke about short songs being used a BGM. Here is one such song for ‘Amma Kanakku’. The tune and orch bring out the sensitivity of the situation. This is not a situation for experiementation. Raja keeps everything minimal and enhances the scenes.

We get back to Telugu again. From the movie, ‘Abbayitho Ammayi’. The start itself is terrific. The acoustic guitar strumming followed by the lead guitar which plays what sounds like a Middle Eastern sound. The bass does its superb job when accompanying the pallavi. The beat structure and the pallavi structure are unique. A song which could only have been constructed by Raja.  Or as we informally say, ‘Only Raja Possible’. Also notice how the orchestra interacts with the tune in the charanam.

He followed this up in Telugu with this superb beauty in the recent movie, ‘Kathalo Rajakumar’. ‘na kathalo yuvarani’. One more amazing melody against his name. This is trademark Raja of modern times. Merging the melody with newer sounds and being at peace with it.

Let us now move from these gay songs to a poignant one. ‘vaa vaa magale’ from ‘Enga Amma Rani’. Rajshri Pathak delivers the song. The prelude paints the mood of desperation and the tune latches to it to increase the sense of dread. Based on one of Raja’s favorite Raga, Mayamalavagowla, it is a master class on how to use a raga for your purpose. No one delivers this lecture better than Raja and that too when Mayamalavagowla is the example he is talking about

We will now move to a grand composition from ‘Rudrammadevi’,  ‘punnami poovai’. The orchestration is keeping in line with the magnum opus that Gunashekar tried to make. Observe the vocal harmony in the first interlude and the counterpoint of the vocal with the orchestration. Similarly in the charanam when the tune changes, observe the countermelody between the tune and the bass which plays. An outstanding construction which is grand and delicate at the same time.

If ‘punnami poovai’ was grand, then this Shreya Ghoshal song from the yet to be released Malayalam film ‘Clint’ is very intimate. Melody is the key for this song and Shreya’s voice aids in this aspect. There is a joy which spreads when you hear this song

All the attributes that I mentioned above for the ‘Clint’ song are present in this superb melody from ‘Sneha Veedu’, ‘avani thumbi’. Once more it is Shreya. I love this song to bits right from the starting prelude.

I will end with the superbly innovative ‘chengkadhir kaiyum veesi’ from ‘Snehaveedu’. This song is set in Misra Chapu thalam, which is a 7 beat cycle. Raja brilliantly keeps shifting the ‘eduppu’, starting point, in the charanams thus giving the song a bit of asymmetry which makes it interesting for the listener and a challenge for the singer. Also, observe the hand beats in the second interlude. This is one ‘Raja Only Possible’ song. Chitra, as usual, does a wonderful job. She is anyway known for that.

Hope you loved listening to these songs.

 

 

Rajavin Ramanamalai

Recently, ‘Rajavin Ramanamalai’ was released. This title could cause some confusion as a title named ‘Ramanamalai’ with Raja’s tunes had been released earlier. As it stands, we have two Ramanamalais. I am going to write my opinion on the second Ramanamalai.

This album has a total of 10 songs, 8 of which are tuned by Raja and 2 of them tuned by a person called KVS and orchestrated by Raja. Let’s have a look at the songs.

Except for the Bombay Jayashree song, ‘arunagiri ramanan’, all songs start with a small speech of Raja, wherein he talks about Ramana Maharishi. I am including samples of some songs. You can buy the album here: http://bookstore.sriramanamaharshi.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=180&products_id=6679

thirunalum‘ – Sung by Raja. This is a wonderful tune. Very simple and touching. I am not sure which raga this is based on. Is it Pahadi? If you know, let me know. The song has a lovely bass line. The orchestration in all songs in kept simple. The chorus adds to the beauty of the song and keeps up the bhajan mood of the song.

arunagiri ramanan’ : Sung by Bombay Jayashree and chorus. This is the simplest song of the album. It is meant for group singing with very little in the way of twists and turns in the tune. That is compensated by the interlude. The first interlude is a gem.

annamalai saralile’ : Sung by Sriram Parthsarathy. Based on Saranga Tharangini ragam. It sounds very close to Hamsanadam. I was told it was not so I am writing Saranga Tharangini. If it sounds like Hamsanadam to you, you are in the same boat as me. A gentle melody with some nice interludes. The soft touch is maintained throughout and Sriram does a nice job.

idayathai eduthukkondan‘: Sung by Sriram Parthasarathy. This song will appeal to you almost instantly for it is based on ReethiGowla. Once again some lovely interludes and a charming charanam.

yaar arivar‘: Tune composed by KVS and sung by Shankaran Namboodhri. A light classic tune. Shankaran Nambhoodri sings it well.

edhai adaya‘: Another KVS composed tune sung by Shankaran Namboodhri. Based on Gowla. Once again a classical sounding composition.

vedhamum vilakkadha unnai’ : Sung by Bombay Jayashree. A lovely tune based on Shanmukhapriya. It becomes better in the charanam. Jayashree’s singing adds lustre though sometimes there is a bit of confusion between la and La. The way the tune reaches high in the charanam and then effortlessly joins the pallavi is typical Raja.

arputham arputham‘: Sung by Raja. What a charming melody. So delicate and delicious. Based on Sudha Dhanyasi.

ennaiyum thaan ennum‘: Sung by Sriram Parthaarathy. It is difficult to select one song as best but if I need to, then I will choose this melody. A complex melody with a superb rhythm structure. Sriram once again does a nice song. A lovely amalgamation of folk and classical without being obvious.

eesan enru sollavo‘: Sung by Rajashri Pathak. The most aggressive tune of the lot. Based on Mayamalavagowla. One more variation to Mayamalavagowla. Raja comes up with so many variations in this raga that it is mind boggling. The volume of this song is very low on my CD. No idea why.

This album pack also has a DVD. In that you have the video of Raja singing two songs, Sriram Parthasarathy singing one song and Bombay Jayashree singing one song. You can buy the album for this video alone. In the video, there is a place where Bombay Jayashree finishes a line and then like a small kid asking if she has sung right, she smiles and looks up. Priceless. So are the parts where Raja is at the console and singing along with the singers.

Overall, a top class devotional album. Very simple and sweet. Gives a very peaceful feeling. Go buy it.

Despair of the dispossessed

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The most recent song from ‘Merku Thodarchi Malai’ had me thinking about some songs of Raja wherein Raja tunes to voices of the dispossessed. Some of these have a striking similarity in the way Raja approaches them.

In our film music, we generally hear sad songs sung by the dispossessed or we hear revolutionary songs of the people who are trampled underneath. In the case of some Raja songs, you hear the sadness of the person singing and also hear the anger inherent in the situation. The song, though sad, is supported by vigorous orchestration. They rhythm is a bit harsh for a sad song but that is what adds to the overall sadness of the situation.

Here is a song from ‘Koil Kalai’. ‘thaai undu thandhai undu’

Right from the beginning, the rhythm is strong. Very rarely will you hear such a rhythm played for a sad song but here it makes perfect sense. The strong rhythm also serves another purpose. It balances the song. In the sense that it ensures that the song doesn’t become maudlin. The extreme self-pity in the words, the grief inherent in the tune balanced by the drums, thus ensuring equilibrium. The strong drumming also ensures we understand the turmoil of the man singing the song.

Another song which shares similar characteristics with the Koil Kalai song is ‘kannil parvai’ from ‘Naan Kadavul’. The tune here is more melodic and is not as harsh as the previous one but this is also suffused with self-pity. Raja once again balances the sadness part with the vigorous drumming with seems initially at odds with the nature of the song but slowly you realise that the orchestration perfectly captures the turmoil of a blind beggar girl who has no possessions.

Some months back a song from ‘Marudhanayagam’ was released. It is a vigorous song, revolutionary in tone but if you hear the words they are suffused with sadness. It is the sadness of people who are victimised and have no hope of obtaining justice. All they know that it is their blood that will flow. Hidden in this sadness are the seeds of revolution. And the tune and orchestration imply the same.

That such sadness and injustice lead to revolt is spoken more explicitly in this song from  ‘Avatharam’. The song starts off as a sad one with the drumming foretelling a revolt. Slowly the song reaches a climax with the singer urging the hero to perform the ‘samharam’.

I spoke about the latest song from ‘Merku Thodarchi Malai’ in the beginning. This is another song in the same mould. The sadness of a displaced person. Once again, Raja uses excellent drumming to convey the internal turmoil. The tune also helps us in understand the helplessness of the singer. The song is a sad song but everything about the song is energetic. Raja shows us that sadness itself has many shades and how deep the despair of the dispossessed is. Listen to this very disturbing song.

In Indian film music, there have been many revolutionary songs and sad songs of the dispossessed but I have never heard music directors approach it the way Raja does. Raja’s combination of energy and sadness to represent the state of internal turmoil is unique in Indian film music.

 

 

Raja and Sivaranjani

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I just wrote a post on how well Sivaranjani ragam suits the need of film songs. I had also mentioned Shankar Jaikishen’s works which were pioneering in nature and expanded the scope of this raga vis-a-vis the film song.  You can read the post here. 

After Shankar Jaikishan it was Raja who took this raga to a different level in film music. Raja was able to conjure myriad moods using this raga innovatively. He gave a lot of songs in this raga and I don’t want to list them all here. Instead, I will focus on a few songs in order to highlight how he brings out various emotions in these songs.

Sivaranjani has a sadness associated with it and Raja uses this inherent sadness effectively in some of his compositions. Here is one from the Telugu movie ‘Geetanjali’, ‘o priya priya’. SPB and Chitra to the lyrics of Veturi.

The pathos in this song is more than the earlier one. ‘kathirundhu kathirundhu’ from ‘Vaidehi Kahirundhaal’. In the voice of Jeyachandran.

Here is a song wherein there is a certain sadness in the happy situation. Sivaranjani suits the situation perfectly

Raja gave some lovely duets with a tinge of sadness. He did that with Sivaranjani in songs like these.

‘unnai thane’ from ‘Nallavanukku Nallavan’

‘manjal poosum’ from ‘Chakkara Devan’

Who can forget this song of Swarnalatha, ‘kuyil paatu’ from ‘En Rasavin Manasule’. Raja turns Sivaranjani into a ragam of joy.

You can hear the same joy in ‘adi aathadi’ from ‘Kadalora Kavidhaigal’. No one will believe that Sivaranjani is associated with sadness if they hear this song.

This song rivals ‘adi athadi’ in conveying joy. ‘valli valli ena vandhan’ from the movie ‘Deiva Vakku’

It takes a genius like Raja to use Sivaranjani in a high energy song like ‘ponnavani padam’ from ‘Rasathantram’

For Raja any raga can express any emotion he wants. So he takes up Sivaranjani for ‘matter’ songs as well. ‘abbanee theeyani dhebba’ from ‘Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari’. This film had superb songs but this was the biggest hit of them all.

It is well know that Anand Milind copied it to Hindi as ‘dhak dhak karne laga’ and it was a super hit in Hindi as well.

This song cannot be conceived by anyone other than Raja. Only he has the imagination to pick up Sivaranjani for such a situation. ‘ennena paadaa paduththaraan’ from ‘Aandan Adimai’

A typical midnight masala song superbly tuned in Sivaranjani. ‘yemma yemma thalli nillu’ from ‘Thodarum’

Observe how he conjures a Sivaranjani of a totally different color in ‘pon mane koba eno’ from ‘Oru Kaidhiyin Dairy’

We will close this post with ‘vaa vaa anbe anbe’ another wonerful Sivaranjani. From ‘Agni Natchathiram’

It is clear that no music director has explored this raga the way Raja does. So many more Raja gems exist in this raga. I am sure more will happen in the future as well.

Kutrame Dhandanai BGM and the critics

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There have been a lot of opinions about Kutrame Dhandanai BGM score from various people ranging all the way from ‘This is a worst score’, ‘Very overpowering’ all the way to ‘Too romantic’, ‘Spoils a great thriller’. (Of course, there are people who liked the score as well.) Manikandan’s ‘Kutrame Thandanai’ is a very well made movie which unfortunately is a bit confused in terms of the genre. This had led people to come to different conclusion about the music score. While I can understand that, I am more concerned about what some of the film critics say about the score. This is because established critics can sway the opinion of viewers. So we will try and see if what they say is indeed correct.

Baradwaj Rangan in his review of the movie, while praising the melodic portions of the score, went on to say that Raja was trying to squeeze out a thriller with his score. Aditya Srikrishna, who writes for Indian Express, went on to say that Raja’s score was ‘manipulative’. Another critic who goes by the twitter handle @HatefulJosh wrote that the film, which could have been an excellent thriller, was spoilt by the romantic score of Raja. (There are others like Haricharan who have template ‘everything was good in the movie except Raja’s BGM’. We can safely ignore such people’s views. They are not worth fighting with.)

So we have a situation here where one critic feels Raja was scoring for a thriller, another feels he was too romantic and one more feels he was manipulative. In short, critics themselves seemed to be confused.

Let’s take the thriller aspect which Baradwaj Rangan spoke first. Where does the thriller music happen? Is it inappropriate? I saw the movie twice and I noted that the ‘thriller’ kind of BGM happens only in those scenes which Manikandan sets up as a ‘thriller’ scene. There is a scene wherein Vidharth is in the car of Rahman. Rahman stops the car in an isolated place. Vidarth is scared if Rahman will assault him. He has his hand on the door handle so that he can open it immediately. Manikandan wants us to feel the anxiety of Vidharth. Raja’s music aids that. Same way when the policeman comes visiting Vidharth and sees the concentric circles on the wall, Vidharth’s anxiety and fear are high. Raja just accentuates the feeling with his music. Same is the case when the police are interrogating Rahman in his office and Vidarth is in the next room. The slow panning of the camera, the tension on Rahman’s face, everything is setup for ‘thriller’ kind of music. Similarly, such music happens when Vidarth sees the dead body along with Rahman. Overall such music happens at the appropriate time.

It is not just the appropriateness of the music but the duration which is important. The whole of ‘thriller’ kind of BGM happens to be around 5 mins or less in a movie which is 1hr 30min long. Whereas the rest of the BGM revolves around love theme. So why did Baradwaj Rangan make such a big deal about this music? My feeling is that he probably went to  the theater convinced that Raja cannot score appropriately for a movie by Manikandan. And he heard whatever he wanted to hear. I can’t think of any other reason why he spoke more about music which occurred for a short time at appropriate places.

I feel @HatefulJosh probably understood the BGM better but he wanted the movie to be a thriller. There is truth in what @HatefulJosh says about the score being romantic since the duration of the romantic score is definitely more in the movie. This has also been the criticism of few more folks who claim that Raja spoilt a thriller. The truth is that Manikandan was not making a thriller. He probably wanted to make a movie about crime and how it affects a person’s conscience. Unfortunately, that did not come out clearly. What came out was a romantic movie in the end. Check out the ending. While Manikandan does have Nasser’s voiceover as sort of conscience and Vidarth’s crying, the final scenes betray what Manikandan feels about the protagonist. He is now a happily settled person, he has married the girl who has lost the job because of him, she is pregnant, she in love with him and she takes care of him. There is peace all around. Manikandan is telling us that for the crime he committed, the loss of sight is the punishment. Once the punishment is meted out, the protagonist is at peace with himself. That is what I claim that the end is a very romantic one. Raja scores exactly for this ending. For this is the vision of Manikandan. Raja just helps him realize that vision. We can argue if that should have been the ending but that is what it is. Raja uses the love theme at many places, initially when Vidarth is helping others and finally when tables are turned and he needs others help. I can understand that if people thought this was a thriller they could be upset with Raja’s score. This is not a thriller. It could have gone the thriller way, it could have gone the crime and redemption way but Manikandan chose the romantic way out. He wanted you to come out of the theater with a happy feeling and Raja supported him in his endeavor as a music director should.

(Another common complaint is that the sound was overpowering. From what I know the music director is not involved in the final sound mix. I think the director and sound engineer decide the sound volume. So if you felt the volume level of BGM was high, then we may have to ask the director or sound engineer why it was high. Not the music director.)

Regarding Aditya Srikrishna’s criticism that Raja’s music was manipulative, I honestly don’t understand how it was manipulative. So I cannot say anything about it.

What I have noticed is that many a critic thinks that Raja cannot score for modern directors and doesn’t understand their sensibilities. Manikandan says that after Raja saw the movie, he told Manikandan, “You have made a film which is abstract. Which is not in the regular path. Do you want me to score abstract music or you want the regular music”. If you hear the score, you will see that Raja has not taken the regular path. Most of the score is guitar and piano based. There are some lovely flute pieces towards the end. Raja uses brass superbly at the scenes where the police discover the dead body. He uses the strings only when required, especially to play the variations on a theme. The music is outstandingly original and very modern. Yet, critics keep saying Raja doesn’t understand the new sensibilities. This has a lot to do with the prejudice and short-sightedness of critics than of Raja’s music. They have consigned Raja to the past and can still not believe that this man from ‘Pannaipuram’ is capable of understanding modern cinema. Raja does understand all forms of cinema and he understands the director’s vision far better than the critics. That is the reason why directors with vision like Bala, Myskin and Manikandan keep coming to him.

If you are just interested in music, here is the complete score of ‘Kutrame Dhandanai’. It has some superb passages in it.

 

 

 

Kutrame Thandanai – The brilliant title score

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SPOILER ALERT : I am going to talk in detail about the movie, so if you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read this. If you haven’t seen the movie you will anyway not get what I am saying 🙂

‘Kutrame Thandanai’ is the second movie of Manikandan, who made the critically acclaimed ‘Kaaka Muttai’. As the title suggests, this movie is about ‘Crime and Punishment’. Could have been one of the great movies of Tamil cinema if not for Manikandan getting confused towards the end.

As you would no doubt realize, my aim is not to critique the movie here. My aim is to highlight the superb title score that Raja gave and how it fits into the whole scheme of the movie.

When I firest heard the title score I was stuck by its musical brilliance. My friend Ravi Natarajan also had similar feelings and wrote about why this is a superb score from a musical point of view. You can read his views here.

Only after I saw the movie and heard the title score again did I realize how perfectly Raja has understood the movie and has designed the title score. Let us look at the movie holistically. The movie is made out of cycles. The same process repeats again and again with a difference that each cycle leads the protagonist towards committing a more serious crime. The cycle is one of threat, negotiation, hope, and despair. In the first cycle, (and we don’t know the final reveal), the crime is relatively trivial. The protagonist just needs to be silent. No wrong person will be convicted while no justice will be done either. In the next cycle, the protagonist has to deliberately lie to in order to save a person while in the next he has to deliberately lie in order to save a person while sending a wrong person to the jail.

While the movie does comment on the modern  society and police disinterest, its main concern is the spiraling descent of the protagonist into his own immoral hell. And it is this spiral that Raja perfectly captures in the title score.

Listen to the title score here: Kutrame Thandanai Title Score 

Raja sets forth the theme on the piano. The background music to this theme has a bit of dread associated with it but it is the foreground piano melody which is pronounced. Only towards the end of this cycle (around 50 sec mark) does the feeling of dread get pronounced. The strings pick up the next cycle. They play the same melody as the piano but the darkness increases. The cellos give it the gravitas and the accompanying strings provide the required darkness. When this cycle ends, we get a small piece of music, which is akin to the denouement in the movie: dreadful with a hint of sadness.

Raja captures the spirit of a one and half hour movie is this 2 min title score. No wonder Manikandan said  that Raja’s involvement right from the music for the title card was 100%. It once again shows that when Raja scores music it is never for his personal glory. He is always subservient to the movie’s cause. It also showcases how well Raja understands cinema, a key consideration for scoring great background music.

It is not that title scores have not reflected the tone of the movie but Kutrame Thandanai will stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. And not just in Indian cinema.

Here is a link of Manikandan talking about Raja’s music 

Raja 40: Why is this man still relevant?

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A week back it  40yrs since Raja’s  first movie as music director was released. You would have read articles about Raja’s music, his influence on the 80s, how his melodies still act as a balm for many souls etc. My aim is not to try and trace his path but ask a question which many ask silently, “Why is this man still relevant?”

When the music of the movie ‘Azhagar Malai’ was released, Ananda Vikatan wrote a negative review of the music and concluded by saying, “It is time for Raja to become that elder statesman who blesses the younger generation”. A blogger critic while reviewing a Raja album said that the album hastens Raja’s irrelevance. ‘Azhagar Malai’ came in 2009. The blogger/critic review was 5 yrs back. During those times, various MDs were held up as the future of music: Mickey Mayer, Mithoon, GVP and so on. All of them have now become irrelevant. Raja is still relevant. But why?

For many people, Raja’s continued relevance is puzzling and to some a big irritation. Looking at it from various angles, he being relevant doesn’t make sense. We all know how Rahman’s entry in 1992 changed the complete musical landscape. The recording techniques changed, use of loops and samples came into play, newer voices with their own ‘I don’t care a damn for Tamil’ accent started enjoying great success. The new music did have an impact on the commercial viability of Raja. After 1996, the number of films he did started decreasing, the hits started decreasing (the decrease was first in the urban center, then slowly it happened in the smaller towns as well). By end 90s he was not a music director whom producers could rely on to give hits. In the initial years of the 2000s, the number of movies he got to do declined drastically. His sound, even his fans felt, was not modern and did not compete with the likes of Rahman, Harris and his own son, Yuvan. Retirement looked imminent. But that didn’t happen.

According to even some of his ardent fans, the second aspect that was against Raja was Raja himself. He had no one to manage the media; when he spoke he lacked diplomacy and he never went out of his way to connect with fans. Rahman and his brilliant PR team had shown the world how to build a brand by being humble, exclusive and seemingly approachable. Raja had no one to handle PR for him and even if he had someone that person would have suffered from ulcers and resigned. This contrast with Rahman was held up to say that Raja was an arrogant person and made enemies and no one would even talk to him. But that didn’t happen.

Another important aspect was the number of powerful enemies that Raja made. There were tiffs with many a lyricist, producer, and director. A lot of them left him. Raja broke up with Vairamuthu. His antagonizing Balachander and later Maniratnam’s brother, GV, was what led Maniratnam to seek out Rahman for Roja, a movie that was produced by Balachander. Raja had problems with AVM from what I heard. Bharatiraja too left him and went to Rahman. The older generation directors like Mahendran, Sridhar etc were not making movies anymore. His staunch supporter Balu Mahendra was making very few movies. The newer generation directors like Shankar did not approach him. Rajnikanth left him for Rahman. Kamal stood with him till Mumbai Express after which he too had to move away. (Now he is back). The newer heroes like Vijay and Ajit didn’t seem too keen on Raja’s music. So the main producers, directors, and actors did not want Raja. So his irrelevance was just a matter of time. But it didn’t happen.

All factors were against Raja except for one called music. That is exactly the reason that he is still relevant. He is relevant because he still gives outstanding music. He gives music which no other music director can. Yes, they may not be major hits like his songs were in 80s but musically they are no less. The keen rasika knows this. The directors for whom Raja gives music know this and it is this knowledge that makes many come to him even now.

As usual, he covers a gamut of emotions and a range of movies. On one hand he gives intimate music for small films like ‘Dhoni’, ‘Un Samayal Araiyil’, ‘Azhagarsamiyin Kudhirai’. One the other hand he gives  rousing scores for grandiose cinema like ‘Virumandi’, ‘Pazhassiraja’ and ‘Rudramadevi’. Each of these directors knows that no one other than Raja could have done justice to their movies. Take the case of a movie like ‘Kaviya Thalaivan’. It was a musical given on a platter to Rahman and he made a mess of it. The music was clueless and it flopped. Compare this with the music of ‘Tara Tappatai’. The music of this film was very rooted and was in perfect sync with the director’s vision.

It is not just music which keeps Raja relevant. It is music coupled with his understanding of cinema which keeps pulling many an important director towards him. Some of the best creators of modern Tamil cinema have come to him for music because they know that only he can realize their vision through music. Bala, Myshkin, Suseendran, Prakash Raj, Gautam Menon and Balki (for Hindi), all came to Raja when it concerned their dream film. Raja did justice to each one of them. Even now we have Ashwini Iyer Tiwari wanting Raja to score for the Tamil version of her film, ‘Nil Batey Sannata’. (Even though Raja told her that her film was good and didn’t need his score.) Kamal has joined hands again with Raja. In each of these cases, the directors have a vision about the sort of film they want to make and they know that in the film industry it is only Raja who can understand their vision and support them in their endeavor to make meaningful cinema. This cannot be just encapsulated in ‘Raja does good BGM’. It goes far beyond that.As Raja himself claims, the music must become a part of the screenplay.

( Contrast this to how quickly and suddenly Rahman has become irrelevant to Tamil cinema. His inability to understand the spirit of a film, his inability to go beyond a few genres and his rootlessness have made him redundant in Tamil films. Added to it has been the succession of flops like ‘I’, ‘Linga’, ‘Kaviyatalaivan’ and now ’24’. The more serious directors are not enamored by him. They either have their own favorite small time music director or they go to Raja. I don’t see Rahman becoming relevant in Tamil films in near future.)

Another reason why Raja is relevant and needs to be relevant is because he is one of the trenchant music critics and the film music world needs that criticism. Raja has criticized the current trends by words and deeds. He keeps churning out highly original music and keeps asking the newer music directors, “Where is your originality?”. In a recent interview , he stated that his grandsons played him some music they had composed with loops. He asked them what was their contribution. This is what he has been asking all music directors from Rahman onwards. “What did you do originally?” That is a very uneasy question given that even in the most recent ’24’ one theme piece was ‘derived’ from the theme piece of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. He is continuously asking musical questions to all the younger composers. “What is your philosophy of music?”, “Where is your originality?”, “Does your music map to the movie?”, “Are you thinking or are you letting the machine think?”. This emphasis on originality and creativity is what will keep an art fresh. Otherwise, we will become pale imitators of western trends.

After 40 yrs of entering the field, Raja still remains relevant because his music is original and it touches your heart. Because his music is intelligent and it wakes up your brain cells. Because his music perfectly complements the director’s vision. Because his music keeps on questioning the less talented. Raja will not go away from the music scene anytime soon.

He is at his peak of creativity. He may never achieve the commercial success of the 80s but the music he is producing today will be kept on par with his music of 80s in the future, if not at a higher plane.