Ponniyin Selvan (PS) fever is back again with the release date of the second part just a couple of weeks away from now. As part of the now predictable sequence of the promotion routine for any big film, the teaser release was followed by the songs’ release and the big audio launch. After listening to all the songs of PS-2, it is clear that Rahman who has composed the music score has taken a detour in terms of style in PS-2 compared to PS-1 and I must say for the good.
I remember vividly when the first single of PS-1 – Ponni nadhi paakanumae was released, I had mixed thoughts in my mind. The song had a peppy tune, a good beat, a stylish chorus and a vibrant orchestration to go with it. In isolation the song was great and it would soon get into your bathroom playlist! At the same time, I suspected that the sounds in the song were too contemporary for the Chola era. When I watched the film later, my suspicion came true. Not just for this song but the other songs like Devaralan Attam, Ratchasa Maamaney and so on all sounded too modern and out of sync with the context. Not just me but there were many others who felt the same. Overall, the verdict for the PS-1 score was mixed, I would say.
During the music launch of PS-1, I remember Rahman mentioning that he and his team did a lot of hard work on the score. In fact, he mentioned initially he presented Mani Ratnam, the director of the film with very traditional-sounding tunes based on Carnatic ragas and so on, but Mani dismissed all of them outrightly. He then travelled to Bali, shut himself out, did a lot of research and then came up with sounds that are now part of PS-1, which got the approval of Mani. From that point of view, Mani has to share part of the blame for the music score of PS-1.
It can be clearly seen that the sounds for the Devaralan Attam song in PS-1 (Check here) are inspired by the Balinese traditional dance form called Kecak. In Bali, the Ramayana Dance-Drama performance in Kecak (See the clip here) is a huge tourist attraction. It seems that Rahman and Mani took creative liberty to portray the influence of the Kecak dance form in an event that happens in Kadambur in the Chola Kingdom which also at a point in time stretched up to Malaysia, Indonesia and Southern Thailand. This bit of context notwithstanding, the absence of sounds that we can relate to the region like Nadaswaram, Thavil etc… in PS-1 was quite glaring.
It appears that the mixed feedback on the musical score of PS-1 has hit home. The songs of PS-2 are out and in the first hear itself one can make out that Rahman has gone back to his original strategy of going conventional rather than being esoteric. Take the first single which I listened to – Veera Raja Veera. At home, whenever we hear a song or a musical bit for the first time, among me, wife and daughter, we have this bad habit of trying to recall if it resembles any other song by the same composer or any other director and try to guess the ragam etc… When we heard the Veera Raja Veera song, we couldn’t connect to any other Rahman’s song but we could feel certain strands from Ilaiyaraaja’s beautiful number Aagaaya Vennilave Tharai Meethu… in the film Arangetra Velai, a song set in classical Darbari Kanada raga. Darbari Kanada has been often used in Tamil film songs but usually in duets or devotional numbers but we thought Rahman has attempted a unique faster style in what seems like a victory celebration or a coronation sequence.
It was only later that I came to know that this song is actually based on a traditional Dhrupad tune in the Dagar Baani as Veejay Sai, the author of the Biography on Balamuralikrishna points out. Listen to a bit of this by the Gundecha brothers here. It is indeed creditable that Rahman and the producers have not missed giving credit by mentioning that the composition is based on the Dagar Vani Dhrupad in the Raga Adana which is similar to Darbari Kanada but with faster phrases.
Now we know that it is not new for Rahman to introduce non-conventional genres in conventional situations in Tamil films. Like how he used the Qawwali form in the song Varaha Nadhikarai oram…in Sangamam, a film that has a clash of traditional dance forms as its theme. That song was rendered by Shankar Mahadevan in its inimitable style and went on to become a chartbuster.
Back to Veera Raja Veera, for the Tamil version, Rahman summons the services of Shankar Mahadevan again whose voice we know is aptly suited for this type of high pitch song with yoyo phrases. And with his mastery over Hindustani and Carnatic styles, Shankar actually makes it sound very easy and simple. Of course, Chithra and Harini also give suitable company to elevate the song which is easily the best in the album.
When we heard the other melody number – Chinnanjiru Nilave, while I was racking my brain to recall the song it resembled, my wife was quick to point out that it is very similar to the Suttum Vizhi number composed by Rahman himself in Kandukondain Kandukondain! It is not just because of the tune but because of Ilango Krishnan’s lyrics also, I reckon. Here is an aside I must add that most of Rahman’s songs suffer from the irony of repetition. We don’t know if it is by design or by default but Rahman has a tendency to rehash his own tunes in one form or another. Even in his first film Roja, in the memorable Chinna Chinna Aasai song, check out the alaap in the 2nd interlude (starting at 3.12’ in this clip), it is very similar to the one Rahman had used in this commercial for Asian paints.
Once he discovers a new genre or sound, Rahman has the habit of using the same in a few of the films in succession. I noticed that the research he did for PS-1, has been used in the score of films like Venthu Thaninthathu Kaadu and Iravin Nizhal. Be that as it may, the Chinnanjiru nilave is a soothing melodic number that has a melancholic ring to it. The orchestration is a bit loud but yet does not seem to be out of place. Will be interesting to watch this on the big screen. The Aga Naga song is also nice but would have done with another voice I felt. The Shivoham piece is a typical Sanskrit shloka type and with a chorus of singers is put together nicely. I am not sure if the PS-2 anthem that has been released a few days ago is part of the film. I hope it is not, as its score is nowhere close to the era and suffers from the same PS-1 problem.
There is a feeling of late that Rahman is over his peak and nowhere close to his past glory. The tagline of Ponniyin Selvan – 2 is “The Cholas are back”. I am eager to see if Rahman is also back in PS-2.