No album of Raja in recent memory has divided his fans down the middle as Shamitabh has. On one hand we have people going, “O my God Ganesha. Is this Raja?” and on the other side of the divide people are going, “O my God Ganesha, THIS is Raja”. To all fans this Raja is new but if you had followed him closely you would have known that what is revealed in Shamitabh was already revealed and that many did not open their eyes to see it.
To understand Shamitabh you need to understand two aspects of Raja: his musical view on modernity and ‘trendiness’ and his sense of humor. Raja response to ‘modern’ music starting from Rahman has been fairly consistent I would say. His usage of the synthesizer has always been very different from how Rahman and the later day music directors used it. Raja’s synth has always been ‘packed’ I would say compared to the more ‘freer’ and ‘minimalist’ usage by Rahman and his followers. The recording quality also plays a role in Raja’s synthesizer music not sounding as ‘hep’ as Rahman, Harris or Yuvan but beyond the recording quality, Raja’s philosophy when it comes to synth usage is quite different from that of other music directors.
Being different has not always led to being successful. Infact we all know the success Rahman and later Harris, Yuvan and others achieved with their synthesizer and loops usage. Raja though has been consistently holding to his style and that is evident in many songs. Unfortunately not many of those songs became famous and hence not many know of them.
Let me give some examples: ‘ilavayadhu’ (Madhiya Chennai), ‘vaanampadigal’ (Kanukkule),’patuketka suththudu bhoomi (Kannukulle),’ilamai kanavugal’ (Dhanam) ‘nilavu varum neram’ (Jaganmohini), ‘hey mamu machi’ (Kangalum Kavi Padudhey), ‘istakarikku’ (Sooriyan – Malayalam), ‘thennipayum’(Vinodayatra – Malayalam), ‘naan ondhu gombe’ (Hare Rama Hare Krishna – Kannada), ‘hodadhavane’ (Premkahani – Kannada), ‘Jillumandhi’ (‘Gundello Godavari – Telugu). I am sure many haven’t heard these songs or would have skipped them after hearing the first time. (Atleast most of them. Some like ‘hodadavane’ did achieve some popularity). If you listen to these songs carefully you will see that very similar elements appear in Shamitabh but Raja takes them to a different level.
The second aspect I was speaking about his Raja’s sense of humor. This has been evident throughout his career. Whenever he gets a chance to display his naughtiness, Raja doesn’t let it go. Listen to ‘Jakkamma’ (Sollamarandha Kadhai), ‘anne anne’ (the unreleased Kadhal Jadhi), ‘achchadicha kasa’ (Valmiki), ‘pattellam’ (Sooriyan – Malayalam) or ‘swalpa sound’ (Sooryakanthi – Kannada). Raja’s sense of humor is in full flow in these songs. Whenever there were ‘funny’ songs earlier, they depended upon words or on some cranky instrumentation. In Raja’s case the flow of the tune itself makes you smile. In certain cases the orchestration makes you smile. Like in ‘Kalvane Kalvane’ (Megha), the sax in ‘Katrai Konjam’ (NEPV) or the guitar which enters briefly in ‘nilavu varum neram’ (Jaganmohini). I can confidently say that there has been no music director in Indian Film Music who sense of humor could match Raja’s. That is why when people say that Karthik Raja would have done some work on this album, I reject it. He has not displayed this level of sense of humor in any of his songs that I have heard.
The reason why many fans are rejecting this album is that they have no ‘Raja’ to clutch here. Generally even in an album where Raja’s synth dominated, there used to be a couple of melodies or an emotional number which would satiate a Raja fan. Unfortunately there is not such crutch here. Raja breaks everything you hold dear about him in this album and leaves the fan utterly confused. The anarchist is given full reign here and he demolishes all the temples we built for him. He is utterly ruthless and doesn’t seem to care a damn about the sentiment of his fans. What else can you expect from a man who has always held that his music, however great it may be, was subservient to the cause of the film? Balki gives him no emotional scene but gives him a stage to have fun and Raja has fun. The expectation was another Paa or Cheeni Kum but the album is 180 degree away from that expectation. (In one sense though the fan should be happy. The album is indeed ‘Cheeni Kum’ )
The prelude of the first song, ‘Ishq-e-fillum’ gives us no idea about what is to follow. The prelude is one of the few places in the album where you will find ‘your’ Raja. The piano run is lovely. The tune though takes off different and Suraj Jagan delivers superbly. The imperceptible rhythmic pauses in the pallavi adds to the energy. The prelude start is again like Raja but he destroys it immediately. The charanam keeps up the energy level and the end of charanam with other voices joining in is very natural. The second interlude has again the typical Raja experiment with the beat. A lovely song to start the album.
The second song start too misleads us. The sax (synth?) sound makes it sound like a grand song is to follow but Raja immediately breaks and starts the synthesized beat with some lovely synth bass following. Raja has come up with songs of similar genre in Telugu recently. One was ‘masakenuka matlab’ (Gayam 2) and Jillumandi (Gundello Godari). He builds up the melody wonderfully in the pallavi line and when the singer ends, ‘asmaan’ the piano that accompanies the singer’s hum is outstanding and this phrase is musically the best place in the whole album. The first interlude is freaky with a voice (and synthesizer?) freaking out. The chorus like portions in charanams and again the ending with the piano chords is amazing. The second interlude starts grandly only for the synth beat to take over but not before some lovely sax passages are played. Caralisa Monteiro’s voice is very melodious.
Once I asked my staffing manager as to why we were not filling up client positions. He replied, “The client wants mutton biryani and we are giving him ‘ven’ pongal”. ‘Piddly’ is that ven pongal in this crazy album. The nerdish brother who sits in the front bench in a family full of carefree brothers. This is the song which has the obvious and well known Raja signatures and hence is easy to relate for many fans. It is easily one of the best songs Amitabh has ever sung and he does a decent job. You do hear him straining though. This is the most melodic song of the album and by all looks of it is bound to be a hit.
‘Sannata’ brings together the anarchist and the person with the sense of humor. Raja has used ‘asaiya kaththula’ many times just like ‘thumbi vaa’. He did that recently in ‘Gundello Godari’ though that was a very close approximation of the original with new lyrics. He used that beat in songs from ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and ‘Ponmudipuzhayorathu’. In this version though he completely destroys the song which he had painstaking constructed and asks us to laugh with him when he performs this act. Some are outraged and some like me cannot stop laughing. For this sheer anarchy. Destroying your own image, your own temple and proving that even your own creation need not be sacrosanct. The end result is exhilarating to say the least. Starting from using one set of voice to recreate the rhythm, another set to provide a sort of harmony and adding a layer of crazy synth sound. Shruthi with her attitude is the best choice for this song. The first interlude is freaky with crazy rhythms, vocal rhythm and synth. The lyrics are crazy as well and go well with the overall attitude of the song. It gets even weirder in the second interlude. The synth and voices are used to great effect as well as the guitar which appears briefly. What attitude from a 70+ years old man !!
The next song is pure attitude. In music, lyrics and singing it reeks attitude. Right from its rap like start it has the ‘I don’t care a damn’ attitude. The singers do a terrific job. The first interlude is simple keeping with the spirit of the song. The charanam build up superbly for the climax before joining the pallavi. It is the second interlude that takes our breath away though. The initial violin run is followed screaming guitar. This is probably the most uncharacteristic Raja for many fans but if you hear this carefully you can see how tight a grip Raja has on this song and doesn’t let it sag even for a minute. Don’t fail to notice a female voice in high pitch after the pallavi.
The attitude continues with ‘Lifebouy’ I keep laughing out loud whenever I hear this song. This is the pinnacle of Raja’s sense of humor. Not only the words but the tune is amazingly funny. Whoever could have thought that a music director revered all over can bring himself to do this? He does do it and does it in style.
Overall this is an album of crazy fun with loads and loads of attitude. It shows its middle finger to you and you have a choice to admire the attitude or outrage against it. I guess Raja will accept both responses. I state this again: This is an album which can only be done by a person with an amazing sense of humor. This album can only be done by a person who understands how to get attitude into music. This can only be done by a person humble enough to believe that being true to his art is more important that his own fame or image. This can only be done by an iconoclast and an anarchist. We are lucky that Raja is all this and more.