Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 5 (Final)

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this concluding part on Exotic Instruments in Film Music I wish to share some of my thoughts on our classic numbers in Tamil Film Music from the bygone era, listening to which we get transported back to relive the past!

They make us visualize the mammoth orchestra that went with the recording of many of the classic songs. This in turn trigger our thoughts on those times when these melodies were made. By any count, people mostly agree that these oldies from the world of Indian Film music are indeed a treasure.  The melodies of these songs are as fresh as the morning breeze to us forever. Added to them, the fine lyrics & clear diction of the singers make them so memorable.

This writer has had, during his prime days, the opportunity of witnessing few song recordings, thanks to a peer with connections! Those days were prior to the advent of stereo. The musicians were so cramped in a small recording room. Often the instruments they played on, per se, were hugely cumbersome, whether it is Univox, Double Base, Vibraphone, Piano, Cello, Kettle Drum or Harp. The air-conditioning was mostly absent as they wanted to be free from the noise of room air-conditioners & the central cooling system was not in vogue then. Imagine these very classic melodies, that were made in such less friendly environs, are being crooned out over stereophonic mikes with mixing facilities by today’s participants of TV Reality & stage shows, in the air-conditioned comfort. Whereas those men who played this music in perfect harmony, recorded them so truly sweating them out.

Those were the days, not blessed with digital sound technology. Nor were sound files & bytes known. The recordings were done the hard way. Thanks to the non-advent of track recording, the singers were in full human form & feeling the real music emanating from physically played instruments by a swarm of musicians. This meant a lot of understanding, respect & harmony between the singers & the players. The real human side of the collective music, if you like.

The music so generated also had passion in its roots having been delivered by talented musicians in real time recording situations. These unplugged sounds of the music were pure & original from each instrument, whether wind, brass, string or percussion. These great melodies were captured by “shure” mikes of mono format & made captive in vinyl record discs of those times, in the avatar of LPs & EPs. There were no computer generated beats, no octopus pads & no synthesizers, which today form, at best, poor imitations of the reverberations of the original instruments.

Some of the legends of sixties in the Tamil film music world included doyens like Sabesan (pianist), Raju (mandolin), Henry Daniel (trumpetist), Sudarsanam (flute), Philip (guitarist), Mangalamurthy (accordian), Hanumanthayya (tabla), who were all over the immortal compositions of the duo Viswanathan – Ramamoorthy. These guys were behind each of the old time melodies & many of them have left this world since leaving a huge vacuum!

With limited medium of entertainment (TVs, other recorded devices made advent much later) all ears were glued to those radio sets listening to Radio Ceylon and these musicians lived up to the responsibility of delivering the sole audio entertainment of those days. And they did it with aplomb, in unmatched quality!

Listening to these old melodies bring you nostalgia, laced with a tint of sadness of having lost those days forever in one’s life! A sadness of a like which is as soothing as weeping!!

But, it is unfortunate that these classic film musicians did not directly see themselves in limelight & withered away unacknowledged largely, though Groups like MSV Times bring honor to some of them either live or posthumously.

Now on to discuss the individual musical instruments that played in well known songs.

Dholak is a double sided folk drum, usually played with both hands while positioned on the player’s lap while an iron thumb ring is used to produce a distinctive rim sound as rhythm.

In many old Tamil songs, one used to hear Dholak beats and here is ‘Ullathile uram vendumada’ rendered by A.M.Raja from Vijayapuri Veeran, composed by T.R.Paappa, for your listening pleasure. (1960)

The beautiful duet, ‘Anbu manam kanindha pinne’ (Aalukkoru veedu -1960 Film) too has Dholak percussion through the song.

‘Dafli’, as it is called in Hindi, is a Tambourine, denoting an instrument with a large circular drumhead, on which skin membrane is stretched over the playing area. In Tamil, it is colloquially known as ‘Tape’. In Hindi a full film called ‘Sargam’ was dedicated to it, with Rishi Kapoor as a Dafli player. Here is a popular Tamil song, ‘Ellorum kondaduvom’ by TMS from ‘Pava Mannippu’, composed by MSV-TKR.

The Western Drum Set has also been often used in Indian film music. Here is an instance of its deployment in ‘Kannirendum minna minna’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’, rendered by P.B.Srinivas & L.R.Easwari. The composers MSV-TKR have used it along with Piano Chords through the song. Mr. Noel Grant was the ace drummer who worked in the orchestra of MSV-TKR.

Snare Drum, which is part of the main Drum Set, is played by striking it with either a drum stick or any other form of beater, including brushes which produce a softer-sounding vibration from the snare wires. Our composers have used Snare Drums in many songs. Here we can hear it in the song ‘Sugam…sugam’ from the film ‘Thangai’  (1967) composed by MSV.

Ghatam is an instrument used in carnatic stream of music & is one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India. It is a clay pot with a narrow mouth. From where, it slants outwards to form a ridge. Made mainly in Manamadurai (Tamil Nadu) & Devanahalli (Karnataka), of clay with with brass or copper filings along with a small amount of iron filings, it’s a fixed pitched instrument.  It has been made international by the Ghatam Wizard ‘Vikku’ Vinayakaram, who holds even a Grammy Award.

‘Azhagana Ratchasiye’ composed by A.R.Rahmam for the film ‘Muthalvan’ has ample usage of Ghatam. Dr.Karthick has played ghatam for A.R.Rahman in some of his compositions.

Veena is an instrument that relates to historical past, which is used in Carnatic stream. However, artistes like Chittibabu, Parthasarathi & Rajesh Vaidya have done some excellent work, playing for various composers in Tamil films.

We cite here two Tamil film melodies featuring Veena, ‘Sonna sollai nee’ by M.S. Rajeswari, from ‘PeNN’ composed by Sudarsanam & ‘Deviyar iruvar’ from ‘Kalai Koil’ composed by MSV-TKR. The latter film featured copious Veena notes in its songs as well as BGM, as the Hero was shown as a Veena artiste. These were played by the late Veteran Chittibabu, whose disciple is Rajesh Vaidya.

Kalai Koil

Song book of Kalai Koil with the page containing the song DEVIYAR IRUVAR PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

 

Gottu Vadhyam aka Chithra Veena is another traditional string instrument of great antiquity, popular with Carnatic music. This stringed instrument which resembles a Veena, is played by a slide just like a Hawaiian Guitar. Dr. Ravikiran is a well known exponent of the same. There have been few songs using this instrument. The Malayalam song ‘Senthar mizhi’ from ‘Perumazhakalam’, composed by M.Jayachandran features Gottu Vadhyam strains along with Ghatam beats, very creatively.

Piano too has been abundantly used in our films, particularly in South by MSV-TKR. MSV himself was very good at playing Piano. ‘Brindavanamum Nandakumaranum’ (Missiyamma), ‘Pattunro kaetten’ (Pasamalar), ‘Paaduvor padinaal’ (Kannan en kadhalan), Unnai onru ketpen, (Puthiya Paravai) Kannirendum minna minna (Andavan Kattalai), Ellorum nalam vazha (Enga Mama), Enna enna varthaigalo (Vennira Aadai) , Manithan enbavan (Sumai Thangi) , Kannenna Kannenna kalanguthu (Periya idathu peNN).

Vennira adai

Song book of Vennira Aadai with the page containing the song ENNA ENNA VARTHAIGALO  PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Glockenspiel’ aka ‘bells, as is commonly referred to, is an instrument of German origin, having metal plates or tubes as ‘keys’ and are played by striking upon with hard tippled mallets, thus making it a metallophone. Our South Indian Composers have often used it in their songs, especially MSV-TKR duo. Listen to ‘Muthukkalo kangal’ (Nenjirukkumvarai) or ‘Thookkam kangalai’ (Alayamani) where this instrument makes very delectable notes.

Here is Harry Potter theme played on a Glockenspiel.

Vibraphone is a larger version of a ‘bells’ and has deep resonance of the notes produced which have a tremolo effect. The following video gives an idea of this instruments & its way of playing.

There are plenty of Tamil film songs where they have used this instrument. Here is an instance where Vibraphone has been used, the song being ‘Varathiruppano’ (Pachai Vilakku), rendered by P.Suseela in the composition of MSV-TKR.

 

Pachai Vilakku

Song book of Pachai Vilakku with the page containing the song VARATHIRUPPANO PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

 

 

 

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Filmy Ripples – Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 2

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this second part on ‘Exotic Instruments’ that have been used in our film music, we would cover some more instruments.

Mandolin, a 17th century evolved Italian instrument, with traditionally four courses of double strings, had featured prominently in almost all film music compositions till late sixties.

Among the multitude of songs using Mandolin here is the popular song ‘Neela vanna kannane’ from the film Mallika (1957), in the music of T.R.Paapa.

Mandolin used to be in most of MSV-TKR compositions, having been played by the Legend M.S.Raju. M.S.Raju was a dominant & very senior member of MSV’s orchestra as the man of many parts as he played Mandolin & Santoor besides whistling & doing konnakol.

Listen to ‘Thangathile oru kurai irunthalum’ (Bagapirivinai – 1959) in the beautiful mukhda of the song, in M.S.Raju’s Mandolin.

Bagapirivinai

Song book of Bagapirivinai with the page containing the song THANGATHILE ORU KURAI    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Santoor: is a Kashmiri instrument with seventy two strings and M.S.Raju as well as R.Visweswaran used to play Santoor for MSV.

It was Music Director Naushad, who made people to sit back & take note of this scintillating instrument in the song ‘Mere mehboob thuje’ from the film ‘Mere Mehboob’ (1963), when this instrument attracted attention of many.

The beautiful, reflective santoor used to be common in the BGM of many films, often as a gentle romantic hint in the score during the maiden romantic encounter.

Here is Santoor played by M.S.Raju in the song ‘Aaru maname aaru’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’ (1964), in MSV-TKR composition.

You can also catch Santoor notes even in Ilayaraja’s ‘Chinna kannan azhaikkiran’ (Kavi Kuyil) in the opening BGM.

Sarangi, a bowed short-neck stringed instrument famed for its close imitation of the human voice, was rarely used in Tamil film songs. But wherever exceptionally used, they lent brilliant emotive grains to the song, as in ‘Ullathil nalla ullam’ from ‘Karnan’ (1964) in the composition of MSV-TKR. For this film MSV had brought musicians from the North.

There is an Instrument called Dilruba/Esraj, from Punjab, which sounds similar to the melancholic strains of Sarangi. The most famous exponent on Dilrupa in Tamil film industry was Dilruba Shanmugham who has played in-numerous scores for legends like MSV and Ilayaraja.

The lilting song, ‘Chinna thai aval’ from Thalapathi by Ilayaraja had Dilruba bits in it.

Sarod, a lute-like instrument from Afghanistan that rose to prominence in the Mughal courts too have featured in films, but exceptionally in Tamil films. The Sarod is highly versatile–when played quickly it can denote excitement and movement, and when plucked slowly it can touch your heart.

Here is a Tamil film song ‘Devan kovil maniyosai’ from the film ‘Mani osai’ (1963) in the music of MSV-TKR where Sarod appears twice in the song, post anthra, just after the flute.

The mesmerizing jugal bandhi between Sitar, Jaltarang and Sarod could be heard in the last portions “Madhuban Mein Radhika” (Kohinoor- 1960), composed by the legend Naushad.

Sitar, a multi-string plucked instrument that influenced the Western pop world in the 1960s (thanks to Pandit Ravi Shankar), when The Beatles and Rolling Stones adopted it. Tamil film music too has used it in songs & BGM.

Mr. Janardhan is a well known Sitar player who had played for film music too.

Sridhar’s ‘Nenjil oar Aalayam’ (1961) featured Sitar in its songs, in the composition of MSV-TKR.

Other notable songs in Tamil with Sitar notes included ‘Kettadhum koduppavane Krishna’ from Deiva Magan (1969) composed by MSV & ‘ennathan ragasiyamo’ from Idhaya Kamalam (1965) composed by K.V.Mahadevan.

Idhaya Kamalam

Song book of Idhaya Kamalam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN RAGASIYAMO PC: From the archives of TCRC

In Hindi, there are many songs featuring Sitar, one of which is the beautiful composition of Salil Chowdhri ‘Oh Sajna’ from the film Parakh.

Another classical based film song in Hindi featuring Sitar was ‘Tere bina zindagi main’ from Andhi composed by R.D.Burman.

Violin, a highly popular bowed four stringed Italian instrument with roots in 16th century Italy, has had global impact, including in orchestral performances of Indian film music, in a big way.

Violins are an integral part of film music orchestration. I’ve listed several songs that highlight its use as a solo instrument, or more commonly as part of a large orchestra seen in numerous Indian film songs.

In each cinema orchestra there will be a ‘First Violinist’ who leads the song along with the vocalist, without over powering the singer. Henry Daniels & V.S.Narasimhan were with MSV-TKR & Ilayaraja, respectively as First Violinists.

Then, of course, the cine orchestra would have a big collection of violinists.

Here are samples of how collective violin players contribute to the compositions. Here is ‘Poga poga theriyum’ from Server Sundaram where violin score has been very briskly & beautifully contrived by the music arrangers.

Shehnai, a double reeded wind instrument made out of wood with wooden flared bell at the other end, has been commonly used in Indian film music.

MSV-TKR had in their orchestra, Satyam whose delectable Shehnai notes could be heard in some of their compositions such as ‘Malai pozhuthin mayakkathile’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Avalukkum Thamizh enru paer’ (Panchavarnakili), “Alaya maniyin osaiyai naan’, ‘Ennai yar enru’ (Palum Pazhamum) ‘Kuthu vilakkeriya’ (Pachai Vilakku) & ‘Oru naal iravu’ (Kaviya Thalaivi).

Satyam was an asset to MSV-TKR. There was an episode when recording for Kaviya Thalaivi since MSV could not get what he wanted out of Satyam, resulting in multi takes, Satyam when he retired home after the work denied food from his wife & MSV had to call him up and cajole him!

Oboe, a double reed wood instrument like clarinet, but of treble range of musical notes, has also been used on & off in Tamil Film music.

A classic example is ‘Kanna karumai nira kanna’ from Naanum Oru Penn, in the composition of Sudarsanam in which oboe features.

Flute, an ancient instrument comes in different octaves as well as different pipe construction such as bamboo, metal etc. The traditional bamboo flutes of different sruthis (tonal variations) along with Piccolo Flutes (used in Symphonies) & Shakuhachi (Japanese Flutes) have been associated with pastoral compositions in Indian films.

MSV-TKR had an important orchestra member in Nanjundappa, the flautist. Listen to one of his chirpy works in the very beautifully composed melody ‘Indha manrathil oadi varum’ (Policekaran Magal).

In ‘Chingari Koi Bhadke’ – Amar Prem, composed by R.D.Burman, one can hear the rich & moving notes of a Bansuri flute of bamboo make usually used to signify a tragic or devotional flavours, transporting the listener to a different world.

Who can forget the beautiful flute piece in ‘Chinna kannan azhaikkiran’ (Kavi Kuyil) composed by Ilayaraja, as it seamlessly takes over from the Santoor bit & vioilin serande in the song.

‘Naan manthoppil’ by L.R.Easwari in the film ‘Enga veettu pillai’ (1965) features the shrill Picollo flute which has very high registry.

There are innumerable Tamil film songs embodying delectable flute notes, which are very pleasurable to listen but it would be impractical to mention all of them.

We will continue discussing more of the exotic musical instruments used in our films in our next posting too.