Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 3

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this third part on exotic music instruments used in film music in India, we would see few more instruments in this write up.

An unique instrument you used to hear in some songs was ‘Clip Clop’ which essentially had a pair of coconut shells, racing horse-shoe sound when used against a wooden block. In many songs this provided rhythm to the song mimicking the sound by a galloping horse. Listen to ‘Azhagukkum Malarukkum’ from Nenjam Marappathillai in the composition of MSV-TKR.

Then we have the African Drum known as Conga, a tall standing single-headed drum from Cuba, traditionally used in Afro-Cuban genres & Latin music. The film music has routinely used this percussion, to give examples “Vellai pura onru” (Pudhu Kavithai), & “Paadava unthan padalai” (Naan paadum padal), both by Ilayaraja.

Double Bass, an uprightly held huge instrument resembling a giant violin, is played either with a bow or just by plucking the strings. In old Tamil songs these were routinely deployed providing backdrop rhythms as you get to hear in songs such as ‘Envazhvil pudu pathai’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Kannale pesi pesi’ (Adutha veettu Penn), ‘Rock n Roll’ (Pathi Bakthi),  ‘Padatha pattellam’ (Veera Thirumagan). But you cant hear this instrument distinctly unless you have a quality speaker set to base amplification. However, Double Bass usage in Tamil film music became rare on the advent of the modern Base Guitar.

‘Ek Tara’ (literally meaning ‘Sole string’ is a rhythm instrument, that used to be carried by sadhus to accompany their renderings, but also used in film music. You can catch the plucking sounds of Ek Tara in ‘Pachai maram onru’ (Ramu), & ‘Kasikku pogum sanyasi’ (Chandrodayam), both by MSV-TKR.

Ramu

Song book of Ramu with the page containing the song PACHAI MARAM ONRU PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

Harmonica (mouth organ) used to be in some songs like ‘Kalangalil aval vasantham’ (Pava Mannippu) & ‘Pirakkum pothum azhuginraay’ (Kavalai illatha manithan), by MSV-TKR.

Their ensemble had Mr. Sadhan who used to play harmonica.

Harp is a stringed musical instrument that has a number of individual strings running at an angle to its soundboard & the strings are plucked with the fingers. The instrument had great popularity in Europe. In terms of size, while there are smaller harps which can be played on the lap, the larger harps are quite huge & heavy and rest on the floor. The usage of Harp is subtle & is not a main instrument in Tamil songs. You can get the sound bites of a Harp in the opening BGM of  ‘Kodi asainthathum’ (Parthal Pasi Theerum)  by MSV-TKR . Similarly in A.R.Rahman’s ‘Pudhu Vellai mazhai’

Paarthal Pasi Theerum

Song book of Parthal Pasi Theerum with the pages containing the song KODI ASAINTHATHUM PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

‘Gangai nadhi oram’ (Varaprasadam) is another example of Harp usage by Govardhanam.

The young Maegan Pandian is a classical Pedal Harp player & here is a video to get an idea of the instrument.

Kanjira is a hand held percussion instrument used in Carnatic Music & played with the palm and fingers of the right hand, while the left hand supports the drum. The fingertips of the left hand is used to bend the pitch by applying pressure near the outer rim.

There are very few film songs, which have used Kanjira. Two songs come to my mind when we talk of Kanjira. One is, ‘Madhar thammai’ (PeNN) in the voice of T.A.Mothi & music of R.Sudarshanam the other is ‘Jeevan ke har mod pe’ (Joota kahin ka) by R.D.Burman.

 

Morsing (aka Jaw Harp), used as a percussion in Carnatic besides in Rajasthani folk music, is also prevalent in many world cultures. It consists of a metal ring with two parallel forks which form the frame, and a metal tongue in the middle, between the forks, fixed to the ring at one end and free to vibrate at the other. It is held between teeth & played.

MSV had used in many of his compositions to name a few, ‘Ennai yaar enru’ (Palum Pazhamum), ‘Kadhal kadhal enru’ (Utharavinri Ulee Vaa).

Paalum Pazhamum

Song book of Palum Pazhamum with the page containing the song ENNAI YAAR ENRU PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

More in my next on Exotic music instruments used in Indian film music.

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Centenary Birthday of M.S.Subbulakshmi

On 16th September The Hindu Metro plus paid a tribute to M.S.Subbulakshmi , the actor to commemorate her centenary birthday. The article written by Srinivasa Ramanujam states : ‘ Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, or MS, as she is popularly known, was a musical genius. But there was another side to her; she was also an actor, having essayed fine performances in the films she was part of. Today, on her birth anniversary, we take a look at those projects… ‘

Have a look at the full article with the pictures here.

Meanwhile we have been busy at our archives and we found an advertisement of the film Savitri where MS played Naradar, A male character. The ad was found in the supplement of the Tamil Magazine Ananda Vikatan dated 12-10-41.

savitri

 

25 Greatest Acting Performances in Indian Cinema: The Forbes List!

The Forbes India magazine recently put out a list of the 25 greatest acting performances in Indian cinema, 8 of which are performances in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil films.  Now, here at TCRC, we are always a little wary of lists such as these, fully aware that it’s incredibly hard to pick just 8 or 10 performances from over thousands of films made in the southern part of the country across the span of almost a century. But since this list is a part of their ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema’ set of features, we felt compelled to share this. Given below is an excerpt from the piece (click here to check out the entire list):

JV Somayajulu 
in Sankarabharanam (The Ornament of Shankara), 1980 
JV Somayajulu, an IAS officer in his 50s, plays a Carnatic musician, misunderstood for supporting the daughter of a prostitute, ignored by a society where classical music is in decline, and is being overtaken by pop music. It was a surprise hit. It opened to empty seats, gathered speed and, today, enjoys a cult status. Somayajulu played his part with such dignity and intensity that you can’t listen to any of its hugely popular songs without imagining him performing them as his sadhana.

JV Somayajulu in "Sankarabharanam" (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.

JV Somayajulu in “Sankarabharanam” (Telugu, 1980). Photo Courtesy: Forbes India.

“Sankarabharanam” turned out to be a cult film as far as Telugu cinema was concerned, after getting off to a slow start in the box office. Directed by K Vishwanath, the film is remembered for its music, scored by KV Mahadevan. The film was shot by cinematographer-turned-director Balu Mahendra, who later made “Moondram Pirai” with Kamal Hassan and Sridevi (“Sadma” in Hindi). The director of “Sankarabharanam,” K Vishwanath, went on to narrate yet another story revolving around an art form (classical dance) in “Saagara Sangamam” (“Salangai Oli” in Tamil). The film featured Kamal Hassan and Jayaprada in career-defining roles and like “Sankarabharanam,” it is said to be a musical success, with tunes composed by Ilaiyaraaja.

“Thirumazhisai Aazhvaar”  |  Tamil  |  1948

The Hindu here in Chennai runs a column called ‘Blast From The Past’, where historian Randor Guy writes about one old Tamil film, every week.

This week, he wrote about “Thirumazhisai Aazhvaar”, a movie released in 1948 starring Carnatic musician Dhandapani Desikar (click on the picture to read the full story).

At TCRC, we have the song books of numerous films from the same era. Song books used to be released by film producers then, along with the records bearing the songs of the movie. These books are treasure troves for film aficionados and in some cases where the original film print has been destroyed, they serve as the only source of information about the film’s production process and the crew which worked on it. They typically contain lyrics of all the songs featured in the movie.