(Raja with the Hungarian Jazz drummer, Ferenc Nemeth, who played drums for NEPV)
‘Sruthi Mata, Layam Pitha’ is the saying. Sruthi being the mother and layam being the father. In Indian film music, as in music of many parts of the world, rhythm plays an important part. At the same time, in our film music, rhythm has mainly been used mostly to keep the interest intact. Rhythm is probably the easiest way to capture a layman’s attention and various rhythmic patterns get used to ensure the listener is immediately hooked to the tune. Some music directors also experiment with the thalam, using different rhythmic cycles in their songs. Yet, I would say not many have really explored the possibility of rhythm being part of the emotion. Raja explored this the most. His philosophy seems to be that in certain cases, rhythm carries as much emotion as the melody does. The rhythm instruments are used to convey as much emotion as the strings, wood and brass instruments.
Let me first start with the way Raja uses rhythm to convey passion. Ofcourse there have lot of songs of passion in Indian film music. ‘roop tera mastana’, ‘masaka masaka cheekatilo’ and so on. When it concerns passion, Raja ensures there is no steady rhythm. This is to reflect the turmoil in the heart. Passion makes people lose their equanimity and this is reflected in the rhythm. Additionally Raja also chooses an asynchronous ‘nadai’ for these songs, like the kanda nadai, where the beat is broken not into a steady rhythm of 4 syllables but as 2+3 syllables.
Here are a few examples. The first one, ‘ponmeni urugudhey’ from ‘Moonram Pirai’
Not only the rhythm very unsteady, you have the rhythm being shared by two different instruments, adding to the unsteadiness. The whole rhythm pattern is like the heart beat of the woman who is singing.
You can hear a similar pattern in a later day song. ‘vennilavu kodhipadhenna’ from ‘Chinna Mapillai’
The tune pe se flows smoothly but the rhythm is like the palpitations of a passionate heart, totally unexpected and unsteady.
You can go on giving more such examples for this. the famous one everyone would talk about would be ‘om namaha’ from ‘Geetanjali’ (Telugu)
Compared to other songs, this was probably a more obvious one but Raja give such a wonderful tune along with outstanding orchestration that the song doesn’t become gimmicky but becomes a classic.
At the same time, observe how Raja induces a sense of fun/comedy is this faux passion song. ‘sivarathiri’ from ‘Michael Madana Kamarajan’.
The tune per se, conveys passion but the rhythm here doesn’t become unsteady. Rather the way it is played, you know that something funny is going on. A lot of the fun aspect of this song comes from the rhythm.
Next we will look at how Raja deals with unrequited passion. ‘azhagu malar aada’ from ‘Vaidhehi Kaathirundal’
While the choice of ragam and Janaki’s superb singing give you the pathos needed for the situation, it is Raja’s choice of the kanda nadai which enables to complete the emotion. The sadness of the tune is married to the passion of the rhythm and that ensures the emotion of the situation is perfectly conveyed to us.
At the other end of the spectrum, here is Raja using rhythm to convey tender love. ‘kalvane kalvane’ from ‘Megha’
In this song the rhythm talks to us almost in a whisper, as if it is the ‘kalvan’ (thief) mentioned in the song. Along with the other instruments, rhythm also conveys the delicate nature of early love.
Not only love, Raja generates a sense of anticipation and suspense using rhythm. ‘yarugaagi aata’ from ‘Barjari Bete’
Once again, not the ‘unsteadiness’ in the beat, generating the required tension in this song. The whole asynch between the tune and beat is what makes this song.
Raja is a master at conveying more than one emotion in a song. Here is a situation where two friends are separated due to a misunderstanding. The song needs to convey both the sadness and anger simultaneously. Raja does this brilliantly by employing a strong rhythm. This ensure we feel the intensity of the situation perfectly. The anger in the rhythm and the sadness in the tune.
Raja is a master of conveying more than one emotion in a song, a point I made in my earlier posts of this series. I had already written about this aspect earlier.You can check my post here, Parallel Processing of Raja
Raja not only uses rhythm to enhance emotions but also to balance emotions. In this ‘Virumandi’ song, ‘madavilakke’, the tune is highly charged and emotional. In order to ensure the overall effect is not too sloppy, Raja has a very strong rhythm which counterbalances the tune. And is also in keeping with the character of the hero.
Virumandi is a rhythmic delight. We can write one post for each song. There is so much in rhythm in this movie.
Not only sadness, Raja doesn’t want to overpower you with melody. So he counters it with a strong rhythm. In ‘alli ilam poove’ from ‘Mangalum Nerunnu’. No one would think of using a harsh instrument for a lullaby. Except Raja that is.
The rhythm instruments include mridangam and a bit of chapu. Not the ideal sound to accompany a lullaby but it works wonderfully here to counterbalance the sweetness of the tune.
On the other hand, it is rhythm again that conveys an overflowing joy. ‘devaram’ from ‘Rasathantram’
You don’t even have to hear the tune. The starting rhythm itself tells you that whoever is singing is bubbling with joy. The rhythm throughout this song conveys so much joy.
When joy can be conveyed, can’t rhythms convey anger? Ofcourse they can. Here is the title song from the unreleased ‘Marudhanayam’.
Anger and sadness combine in this song and the rhythm adds so much emotion to the song.
You can understand the joy of Raja when he is asked to convey valor through rhythm. ‘aala madanga’ from ‘Pazhassiraja’
Even for standard love songs, Raja comes up with some superb rhythmic arrangements which adds to the emotion of the song. ‘poongkatru’ from ‘Vetri VIzha’. The rhythm of the song takes the joy to a different level.
Let me close with this simple rhythm which comes slowly and contributes its mite to this delicate sad song. ‘nal veenai nadham’ from ‘Bharathan’
The rhythm usage in Raja songs is a PhD thesis. In fact someone can do a thesis only on Raja’s strategy of using rhythms to enhance memory. For the effort Raja has put in the rhythm section, he deserves such a thesis.