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.

 

Filmy Ripples:Nadaswaram in old Tamil films

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Nadaswaram played significant roles in some limited Tamil Films.

The nadhaswaram legend T. N. Rajarathinam Pillai, a major icon of those times, played an interlude in the movie Rajamukthi (1948), (Hero MKT & Heroine N. Janaki, later MGR’s wife). MGR, then a small time actor himself, was in a support role in this film. The film, made after the prison term of MKT, was shot in Prabhat Studios, Pune as MKT wanted to be away from the film circuit of Madras, in the aftermath of his release from prison. As such most of the technicians were Maharashtrians for this film. However, Rajamukthi, which was come back attempt for his film career, terribly bombed, witnessing MKT’s slide. (By the by, this film was the debut movie for M.L.Vasanthakumari as a playback artiste.)

Talking of T.N.Rajarathinam Pillai, he himself acted as a Nadhaswaram player in a wedding sequence in the film Miss Malini (1936), paying Todi & rendering a song in Rithigaula. In “Kalamegham” (1940), written by Bharathi Dasan & directed by Ellis Dungan, he acted as a Nadhaswaram playing Hero, singing many songs.

Kala Megham

An ad of the film Kalamegham in Ananda Vikatan Deepavali Malar 1939 PC: From the archives of TCRC

Another leading Nadaswaram vidwan, Namagiripettai Krishnan played off screen, while the credit titles ran on the screen in the movie ‘Town Bus’ (1955) and not the usual film orchestra. It was in the beautiful Raga ‘Mohanam’.

Who can forget the iconic song, “Singara velane deva”, in the combo of S. Janaki’s voice & the Nadaswaram rendition of Karukurichi Arunachalam, another doyen of Nadaswaram world? It would be strange to learn that the full Nadaswaram tune, in AAbheri raga, by Karukuruchi Arunachalam was recorded at Madras for use in the film. On later thought the Director M.V.Raman decided to have also a song sequence using the already recorded Nadhaswaram tune. Then, the high-pitched S. Janaki was commissioned to sing by the Music Director S.M.Subbiah Naidu on the lyrics written to suit the tune. Janak’s vocals were recorded at Raman Studios, Bombay. In those days it was marvel that Sound Recordist Jeeva could manually inter-spread Janaki’s each line of singing to be succeeded by each line of the Nadhaswaram. Bravo on that!

Another song that copiously used Nadhaswaram in a film song was “ Vaaray en thozhi vaarayo” in the film “Pasamalar” by MSV-TKR, for a wedding sequence. It was an amazing blend of Nadaswaram with violins & mandolin in that number. Following this, wherever relevant the Music Directors have used Nadaswaram, such as ‘Oli mayamana ehtir kalam’ in ‘Pachai Vilakku’ (MSV-TKR) and ‘ Nadaswara osaiyile devan vandhu padugiran” in ‘Poovum Pottum’ (Govardhanam).

Pachai Vilakku(1).jpg

Song Book of the film Pachai Vilakku PC: From the archives of TCRC

However, when we talk of Nadaswaram with reference to Tamil films, perhaps, the immediate recall reference could be the iconic movie “Thillana Mohanambal”, a romantic story of a Nadaswaram Maestro Sikkil Shanmukhasundaram with a danseuse Mohana, written by Kothamangalam Subbu. The film is full of Nadaswaram music played off screen by the popular Nadaswaram duo M. P. N. Sethuraman and M. P. N. Ponnusamy from Madurai. In this film Sivaji Ganesan has no songs requiring play back support, as all his musical renderings were on the Nadaswaram, played by the duo.

Thillana Moganambal

The LP cover of Thillana Mohanambal PC: From the archives of TCRC

Director A.P.Nagarajan who had the opportunity of listening to MPN Bros, at a wedding in Karaikudi suggested them to Sivaji. Soon, the duo was in Chennai for their rehearsals at Music Director K.V.Mahadevan’s studio.

As per the MPN Bros, Sivaji Ganesan listened to them, as they rehearsed for the film, lying on Kannadasan’s lap and earned liberal appreciation from all before Director A.P.Nagarajan confirmed their selection for the film.

Asst.Music Director Pugazhenthi decorated the “Nagumomu” composition of Thyagaraja, a master piece in the film, with incredible sangathis. Impressed by their performance of Muthiah Bhagavathar composed English Notes at the 42nd birthday celebrations of Sivaji Ganesan, APN included that piece too in the film. The MPN Bros recalled that the scintillating ‘Nalandhana’ song took about nine takes.

The body language & acting of Sivaji Ganesan to the playing of Nadaswaram synced so well that nobody believed he was not playing it for real. In fact, when a Russian delegation met Sivaji Ganesan sequel to the film’s release, it was incredible for them to believe that he was only acting and not actually playing!

When the movie was released in 1968 in Madurai, the home town of MPN Bros, the brothers, the seventh generation players in their family, were literally lifted by the crowd for bringing immortal fame to the Temple City.

MPN Bros since played for major VIP functions & every invitation card used to specially feature their names as star attraction. Since Thillana Mohanambal the duo performed in only the film ‘Kovil Pura.’

After that M.P.N. Sethuraman passed away & in a gory accident. M.P.N.Ponnuswamy lost his jaw, besides his wife’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filmy Ripples: Train spotting in cinema (Part 1)

By: P.V Gopalakrishnan

The enduring allure of Trains is obvious to all, both young and old, as one can hear them much before actually seeing them. The romance and glamour of railways fascinate train enthusiasts everywhere. And when it is a steam engine, all the more its great hum pierces the stillness of the serene landscape, wheels screeching under the load of the grand locomotive.

The film makers always loved to use the drama associated with a train’s motion & sound, to express various emotions in film sequences, right from the silent film era. It is said that a train’s idea of an extremely compact space has appealed to filmmakers in generating dramatic tension, particularly when it is in motion.

A French short documentary film of silent film era, “L’ Arrivee d’un train a la Ciotat” (1895) (the title translates as ‘Arrival of a train at Ciotat’) is arguably the first movie to feature a train in a film, though for less than a minute duration. From that moment to date, as of writing this, even the latest released movies such as “Lion” & “Rangoon” have scenes involving trains!

Coming to Indian cinema’s connect with Railways, it has been very formidable from the age of steam locomotive to the era of electric hauled trains.

In some of the old movies, they also erected dummy bogies in the studio sets where the characters swayed deliberately to mimic the motion of the train. Sometimes, the studio hands back-projected the images of telephone poles and trees moving in the reverse direction to give that extra make belief effect. They even shook the dummy compartment rhythmically so that you & me would believe it is a real bogey. But often, they went for the big real trains or engines, paying enormous fee to Railways.

Trains have been romantic in movies. They have facilitated boy meeting the girl, helped them to trigger a love story. You may recall David Lean’s great classic, ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945) where a pair fall in love in a train station, with the story unfolding in the backdrop of the whistle of the engines and the clanging sound of the bogies till the affair disappears in the smoke of the locomotives.

In earlier Black & White Tamil films, when a character moved to another town, they invariably included a stock shot of a speeding train, as a symbolic communication. Or whenever they wanted to convey that the story was happening in Madras City, they would simply include a stock shot of the majestic Madras Central building.

When Rajesh Khanna rode a jeep, lip syncing ‘Mere sapnon ki Rani kab ayegi thu’ with his eyeballs set on a petite Sharmila Tagore on a hill train, ‘the film Aradhana’ created flutter in Indian Cinemas. The rest was history!

As kids, we have all played a train, tailing behind one another in a single file, mimicking a moving train, in the sheer fascination of rail. Particularly those burly, black, boisterous steam engines have always kindled our amusement, curiosity & fear as well, as they puffed along, emitting black clouds of smoke! Here is an old song, which used to be played often on Radio Ceylon during my child hood, featuring a song on a train game! The song was from ‘Vallyin Selvan’ (1955). The lyrics were by Kothamangalam Subbu & the music was by P.S.Anantharaman.

In a similar sequence in the film ‘Ashirwad’, Dada Muni Ashok Kumar lent his voice & acted too in the famous song ‘rail gaadi’. In fact this very song was interpreted in a creative way in a promo for Indian Railways.

The old black & white movie ‘Porter Kandhan’ (1955) showed many scenes intimately connected with railways. In the wholesome comedy ‘Missiyamma’ the comedy of errors begin with both Savitri & Gemini alighting from their train. The soul stirring number ‘Annai enbaval neethaana’ from the AVM film ‘Annai’ (1962) was shot in a sequence involving a moving train that added dramatics.

The whole story line of ‘Pachai Vilakku’ (1964) was interwoven, through the film, with the life of Hero, Sivaji Ganesan, playing a loco driver of a Steam Engine. The song ‘OLi mayamana edhirkalam’, involving shots of these artistes were filmed inside a moving ‘black beauty’ WP Canadian Engine. The shoot for the film was all over the yards of Basin Bridge Junction, with tight close ups, Pan shots, trolley shots and what not, involving Sivaji & Nagesh. Who can forget the song ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ shot outdoors, showcasing the various railway facilities?

In Anbu Karangal Sivaji Ganesan also donned the role of a benevolent Railway Station Master with Nagesh as a Station hand.

anbu-karangal

The song book cover of “Anbu Karangal’. PC: From the archives of TCRC

‘Onna irukka kathukkanum’ number rendered by TMS was filmed on Sivaji on a railway platform, with a vintage rolling stock waiting to leave the station. It was fascinating to view at the type of antique railway rakes with their wide, open windows, in this sequence.

All train travellers encounter people who seek alms in exchange of a song. While some of them could be physically challenged, some just take up this practice out of sheer poverty. But a study had revealed that many of these beggars are also musically trained or belong to families that have been practicing music for generations together. The Hindi song from the film ‘Dus Lakh’ (1966), “Garibon ki suni who thumari sunega’  was a favorite song by people begging on trains. Here is a Train singer seeking alms from the Movie ‘Vaazhvu en pakkam’ in the voice of Music Director M.S.Viswanathan. The song “Tirupathi malaiyil eruginraay” is set to the chugging rhythm of a steam train.

                                                                                                                                                         (to be continued)