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Velugu Needalu

Here is the the series that focuses on the many greats who lurk in the shadows behind the silver screen bringing out the best in them, to radiate and redirect their brilliance onto the silver medium. We hope that these articles would focus our attention and applause to these true "stars" to whom limelight and spot lights do not usually beckon upon.

Part 2

(continued from Part 1)
Brilliance is never an on/off phenomenon, showing its splendorous best at one instant and fading into obscurity the very next. There are 2 distinct phases that is usually associated with brilliance - 1. The formative years, when all the pieces haven't completely come together and crystallized yet and the final result still has a lot of rough edges to it 2. when everything has fallen in place and each piece seem to move as part of a well-oiled machine. Yugandhar came and went. The movie didn't go down as a memorable one and neither did the songs. The signs of welcome hadn't been put up to the fledgling music director in telugu yet, while the winds of change have started to gather full strength in the neighboring land. Once in a while a great tune came wafting down from the south of the border only to be conveniently and easily adapted "to suit the nativity" by the local talent. The movie - Bhadrakali. Before "vaTapatra Saayiki varahaala laali" crept into the lexicon of lullaby songs, before "lAlijO lAleejO oorukO paapaayi" climbed up the charts to take the seat right beside the former, there was this great melody by Yesudas and Suseela that had the wonderful effect of calming down the senses and taking the listener right to the door step of deep sleep - "chinni chinni kannayya, kannulalO neevayya, ninnu choosi murisaenu, naenu naenu marichaenu". It was quite unlike any other lullaby composed in telugu film music. Lullaby songs have a grammar completely of their own - thou shalt never have more than 5 words in each stanza, thou tune shalt never be complex, thou lyrics shalt have more of (in fact, entirely, if possible) "saraLaalu" and less of (read, none of) "parushaalu", "dwittwaaksharaalu" and "vattulu", thou shalt be in such a way that even a tone/tune deaf person should be able to connect with it instantly - "chandamAma rAvae jAbilli rAvae", "uDataa uDataa oosh, ekkaDikeltaavush", "edagaDaani kendukuraa tondaraa" to name a few.

And here was this entrant that broke every one of the aforementioned and still became immensely popular - "ettukuni muddaaDi vuyyaalaloogaenu, jOla paaTa paaDaenu, laali paaTa paaDaenu". While Bhadrakali had a couple more numbers ("aDigAvae akkaDa, iTu chooskO ikkaDa" etc) that suited the changing tastes of the audience, "chinni chinni kannayya" remains the perennial favorite of haunting melodies even to this day and age. That was around the same time that K.V.Mahadevan weaved his magic to come up with "Adavi Ramudu", which set the tone for future telugu songs to become more or less filler items between reams and reams of dialogues. Mahadevan adapted to the changing trend beautifully (as he did to a few more over the couple of decades), while the rest quickly adjusted their styles and faithfully followed. Amind the cacophony and furore, Bhadrakali went down as an "also ran". If the telugu filmdom hadn't yet warmed up to this new style, there was the tamil land, encouraging the new talent to come up with a gem of an album - Kizhakke pogum rayil (in telugu, toorpu veLLae railu). Helmed by the then new age director, Bharatiraja, it is about a young poet, living in a remote village, held back against his wishes, from making it to a place where his skill and talent are recognized and rewarded, as he pours his heart out in his poetry, all the time dreaming that his fortunes are somehow tied to the train track heading east, passing through his village. The prospect of a repressed poet raging with new and innovative ideas, able to see the world in a radically different way he choose fit, produced one of the rare albums, where every tune ascended to the level of greatness and immortality, that few are blessed with. Among the other great tunes, there is this one, which was later used in "kottha jeevitaalu" - "kavvinchae kaLLallO kaLaevO aevO kadalaaDae ee vaeLa".

It stands out for the unique usage of percussion (in this case, mRdangam), set against the deep bass vocal of Jayachandran (in tamil and Balu in telugu), in the way that the percussion does not faithfully join the vocal, as is the case with any regular tune, but instead stands aside and challenges the vocal to match its varying rhythm. And the fact that the rhythm matches the dance steps of the heroine makes the tune a sort of a way three-way duel. It is interesting in the way the ending of the "charaNams" of "kavvinchae kaLLallO" beautifully flows into "seetaakOka chiluka laetA raama chiluka" (Stuvartupuram Police station) as though the former was only half the composition, and was left unfinished, until it met its match in the latter. In the same year as "kizhakke..." came a bilingual directed by the veteran handler, Sridhar, that came as close to having the most well-rounded, complete, film ablum, as one could possibly imagine. It had everything - melody, folk, regular (routine), and even a bit of rock and roll, and in the way, each song went to become popular in its own right, this was the first and firm proclamation, that the one odd popular tunes here and there prior to this, were no mere flashes in the pan. The title "Vayasu Pilichindi" alone hurls the musical part of the mind into several different directions all at once. The "Dappu" beats feverishly and rhythmically, before settling down to form the base for the full throat rendition of the vocal "mutyamalle merisipOyae malle moggA, arae muTTukunTae muDuchukunTaav antaa siggaaa...". The "anupallavi" silently gives way to the guitar, which continue the rhythmic beat set by the "Dappu" earlier as the words "mabbae masakaesindilae poga manchae teragaa nilichindilae" ease into the "pallavi".

The folk tune set in the low notes of the "Dappu" and the high pitch of the vocals ("paiTalaaga nannu neevu kappukOvae, gunDelOna guvvalaaga unDipOvE") heralded a new era of contrasting orchestral arrangements. (Compare it to the arrangement in "vinara vinarA daeSam manadaerA" from Roja, when the brass at the end of the interludes reach the crescendo, their highest point, as the vocal starts at the lowest possible level in the next note). If the song set a new trend in folk music, the music takes a complete detour to land in a place and melody and melody alone rules. And to start the proceedings, the delightful lilt of the flute takes the stage and rest of instruments follow its cue - "ilaagae ilaagae sarAgamADitae, vayyAram ee yavvanam ooyaloogunae". The song epitomizes the vintage era of the 70s, when music directors were freshly discovering their Eastern idioms and ideologies in Western instruments. Guitars, Drums, Trumpets, whose scales and styles usually stuit the less complex Western structure, started to find place in the (South)Indian classical sounds and if songs like "hello my Rita, aemaindi nee maaTa, paaDaevu sarikotta paaTa maarindi nee baaTa" were composed keeping in mind the reverborating scale in the scream of the trumpet, the organiv beat in the thump of the drums, the resulting fusion contained the best of both the worlds. Though the expression was Western, the essence remained strictly Eastern. "vayasu pilichindi" caused the audience to sit up and take notice of the great setups, both the vocal and the instrumental, of each of the songs (including the routine, yet, very foot-tapping "nuvvanDigindi aenaaDainaa laedannaanaa"). The true fusion that started in "hello my Rita, aemaindi nee maaTa" was taken one step further in "Tik Tik Tik" with "O naTana mayuri vayyaari", when the traditional "taaLam" of the Bharatanaatyam was pitted against the groove of regular rock and roll. However, the experiments and the fusions fell on the wayside and it wasn't until another teaming up with Bharatiraja, that the sway of this new sound took firm hold.

seetakOka chiluka - nothing would better describe, in terms of the blossoming of the sound from a raw and rustic form, cocooned in a chrysalis, to finally emerge out in what can only be a combination of beauty and brilliance personified. The "peLLi aaSeervachanam" starts - "SatamAnam bhavati Sataayuh purusha Sataendriya aayushshaevindriye pratidishTati", as the christian choir joins the cheer, handing it over to the Veena, which completes the rest of the unsaid, wishing hundreds of years of togetherness and bliss, as the words starts to pour over - "maaTae mantramu manasae bandhamu, nee manasae nee mamatae mangaLa vaadyamu". The song entirely belongs to one instrument - Veena - the one instrument that can convey the feelings of devotion and deep passion at the same time. The strings continue to taunt and torment in the interludes goading on the words to say more, something more - "neevae naalO spandinchina, ee priya layalO Sruti kalisae praaNamidae". Satisfied, it eases on the plucking, to let - "naenae neevugaa, poovu taavigaa, samyOgAla sangeetAlu virisae vaeLalO", to come back full fore to merge back into the pallavi.

If strings form the foundation of the emotion in "maaTae mantramu", conveying the tenderness in heart tugging expression, on the other end of the spectrum is resonance of the heart beats in the continuous thumps of the percussion (mRdangam again), forming "sAgara sangamamae, praNaya sAgara sangamamae". It is not the tunes or the orchestrationthat is paramount here. It is the choice of the instruments. Particularly when the songs have to mean something (like in situational songs), the choice of the lead instrument decides the understanding of the music director of not just the sounds coming out of his instruments, but also the meanings buried deep in those sounds. The turmoil raging inside the protagnoist, unable to come to terms with the religious differences that keeps his love at bay, and unable to convince her about his true intentions, rises like the tides that keep crashing against the unmoved (heartless) rocks on the shore. What better way to interpret the thudding of the waves, the thumping of his heart, than in the continuous percussion on the mRdangam. "seetakOka chiluka" displayed the entire range of the new sound - right from the delicate, down to the devastating. The movie marked the formal arrival of the music director, not just his music, but his person, achieving the rare artistic success that is usually reserved to the traditionalists and the conformists. The formative years of the brilliance was thus characterized by the early flashes of great promise before settling down into what came to be known as Ilayaraja's music. After showing his mettle on the artistic side, the sound started its battle on the commercial side of telugu film music. That too, with a war cry - "Eurekaaaa...". The year was 1983.

Continued in the part 3

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Also read Velugu Needalu of
K Balachandar
SP Bala Subramanyam
K Viswanath
Bapu Ramana

More series of articles by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Some Ramblings on recently released films
Aani Muthyalu - Good films, but box office failures

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