Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 1

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

If you have found yourself listening to old Tamil film music and felt like you attain absolute ecstasy from the mosaic of sounds that the blend of various musical instruments produced, pleasing your eardrums, we know exactly how you felt!

From traditional Indian instruments to the exotic instruments from various parts of the globe, the music composers of Tamil screen composed their lilting music. In fact, by virtue of music composers like A. R. Rahman having become a global player, such globalization in music has brought some very exotic musical instruments such as Balalaika, Cajon, Harpejji etc to our door step.

The track record of Tamil film music goes much beyond the music directors & playback artistes who literally lived them. The immaculate talents of extremely talented musicians, who never were known to the listeners at large, deserved the credit of the lively compositions we cherish even to-date. The fruits of their creativity is an ever lasting a gift to the current & future generations of music-lovers.

In order that we appreciate those highly talented music makers of the Tamil screen, we must know about the various musical instruments they used in their breezy compositions, under the direction of music directors.

Here in this Article, we will have a ringside view of the various musical cine-orchestral music instruments along with links to videos and songs wherein these were used, particularly in Tamil films till the early seventies. However, we will eschew Accordion since we have already devoted a special Article on that.

Univox organ:

In old Tamil films the organs used to produce musical notes similar to the mighty church organs. Since then the organs have gone through a long history of evolving & development resulting in today’s one-man orchestra provided by the modern electronic keyboards.

Listen to ‘Ennai alum Mary matha’ by P.Leela from Missiyamma (1955), in the composition of veteran S. Rajeswara Rao, where the beginning music is of the organ.

 Bagpipes:

These are wind instruments using enclosed reeds, fed from a ‘bag’, which acts as the reservoir of air. The player keeps pumping air orally into the ‘bag’ as he plays. So, the difference between any wind instrument & bagpipe is that unlike the other wind instruments which are blown into with air directly from the player’s lungs, bagpipes receive air first into its bag from where it goes to the pipes. Though Bagpipe is predominantly seen as a Scottish instrument, bagpipes have been played for over a millennium throughout other large parts of the West.

I have not come across a bagpipe being used in any Tamil film songs. Though someone said, it has been used by K.V.Mahadevan in the song ‘Thottu vida thottuvida thodarum’, on a careful listening, I find, the bits resembling Bagpipes are in fact produced by the Organ of those times known as Univox.

As far as my information goes, Bagpipes were used only in the Raj Kapoor film Sangam (Music by Shankar Jaikishen) in the song ‘Bol Radha Bol Sangam’.

Banjo:

A plucked stringed instrument, which originated in Africa & got adopted in the country music of USA.  Banjo had not been very widely used in Tamil film music but there are specific songs where this has been used. For instance, MSV-TKR had used Banjo in few of their compositions & the one we have here for citing is ‘Ennathan nadakkum nadakkattume’, from ‘Pana Thottam’ (1963), where the string instrument you hear is a Banjo.

Ennathan nadakkum(Panathottam)

Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN NADAKKUM NADAKATTUME    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Bongos:

These are Afro-Cuban percussion instruments consisting of a pair of small, open bottomed drums of different sizes & played by fingers & palm.

Indian films till the sixties used this percussion instrument very frequently in the compositions. In fact instruments such as Accordion, Bongos & Mandolin ruled the roost In Tamil film compositions prior to seventies but became slowly extinct as there was a paradigm shift to the music genre & compositions. MSV-TKR had used Bongos in very many memorable songs. Ganesh (of Shankar-Ganesh Duo) who was a formidable member of MSV’s orchestra played Bongos.

Some of the songs using Bongos for percussion that deeply rooted in my mind include ‘Ullam enbathu aamai’, ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’, ‘Poga poga theriyum’ & ‘Silai eduthan oru sinna ponnukku’.

Here is ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’ from Deiva Thai, composed by MSV-TKR with the Bongo beats.

In ‘Silai eduthan oru china pennukku’ (Server Sundaram) too you get to hear percussion beats of Bongos.

Silai eduthan(Server Sundaram)

Song book of Server Sundaram with the page containing the song SILAI EDUTHAN ORU CHINNA PENNUKKU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Castanets:

 These are rhythmic percussion instrument comprising of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string, originating from Turkey. O.P.Nayyar had used it often in his compositions. It is a hand held instrument used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks.

Here is a Tamil composition by MSV-TKR in the song ‘Pillaikku thanthai oruvan’ from ‘ Parthal Pasi Theerum’ (1962)., where you can hear the rhythmic wooden clap sounds produced by Castanets.

You can spot castanets in few other Tamil songs too such as ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ (Pachai Vilakku), the music director being MSV-TKR.

Kelvi Piranthathu(Pachai Vilakku)

Song book of Pachai vilakku with the page containing the song KELVI PIRANTHATHU ANDRU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Cello:

It is a four stringed bass instrument originated from Italy in 17th century, looking like a giant violin (held while playing against the seated cellist and traditionally played with a horsehair bow), has been used routinely in many Tamil Film Songs. However, due to its ‘Bass’ tone structure it has a low tonal registry & may not be heard separately unless played singly in the songs.

In ‘Silar sirippar silar azhuvar’ song from ‘Pava Mannippu’ (1960), composed ny MSV-TKR you can hear Cello.

In ‘Enge nimmadhi’ song  (‘Puthiya Paravai’ – 1963) too, one can distinctly hear Cello in the opening music just prior to the vocal of TMS.

Guitar:

A typically six stringed instrument with European roots with a multitude of incarnations from acoustic to electric, has featured commonly in many film songs.

Tamil Cinema has had amazing Guitarists such as Dhanraj Master, Philip, Ilayaraja, Chandrasekhar, Gangai Amaran & R.Visweswaran.  Of these, the last named late Visweswaran (husband of danseuse Chithra Visweswaran) was a close friend & college-mate of this writer. Visweswaran himself was an expert Guitarist who could play Flamenco genre music & had played for R.D.Burman.

Veteran Guitarist Philip debuted in the M.K.Radha starred Gemini produced film “Apoorva Sahodarargal’ (1949), introduced by the legendary Music Director S. Rajeswara Rao. Since that Philip had played for K.V. Mahadevan, Viswanathan – Ramamurthy, Sathyam and V. Kumar. Hindi music directors from Bombay such as Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan, Chitragupta and Ravi wanted Philips to migrate to Mumbai. Philip, an autodidact, now in his eighties, was considered a genius. His guitar pieces were predominant in many Tamil film hits including  ‘Aha mella nada mella nada (Pudiya paravai), ‘Vannakili sonna mozhi’ (Deiva Thai), ‘Malar enra mugam onru’ (Kathalikka neramillai),  “Aval paranthu ponale’ (Paar magale paar), ‘Avalukkenna Azhagiya mugam’ (Server Sundaram), ‘Anubhavam pudumai’ (Kathalikka neramillai), ‘Aada varalaam’’ (Karuppu Panam).

In an Article by V. Balasubramanian titled “Harmony with strings” in The Hindu dated 27.4.2014, the author wrote “MSV during his heydays was a hard taskmaster who would leave no stone unturned till he gets what he wanted. During a particular recording, that started at 7 a.m, the work went on till next day morning. Philips pleaded with MSV to let him go but in vain. Finally, when it was pack up, Philips had to rush directly from the recording studio to the church where his wedding was to take place.“ This writer has had the opportunity of meeting this genius along with R.Visweswaran in early sixties.

“Ilaiya nila pozhigirathu” (Payanangal Mudivathillai) composed by Ilayaraja & rendered by SPB has ample guitar bits, played by Guitarist Chandrasekhar. As per an Interview by SPB, Ilayaraja had well over twenty retakes to get the Guitarist play those difficult Flamenco Notes to his full satisfaction. The results were obvious in the song!

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

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Filmy Ripples : Rainy Movies

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Movies are all about dramatic interpretations of incidents of ordinary life; in projecting the life’s stories on this Earth on to silver screen, Cinema gets to be larger than life. In its course, Cinema brings to the viewers added excitement, dramatization, surrealism and what not. This is what is being cinematic! Rain in films is one such element that builds up the excitement, whether the movie is about romance, family subjects, horror, thriller, musical or comedy. So you see a pair holding hands & singing as the down pour is on them, a villain musters his might on the noble as he drenches himself in rain and so on & so forth!

Kovil Yanai.jpg

The lead pair from the film Kovil Yanai (1986) seen drenched in Rain. PC: From the Archives of TCRC

No matter what sequence, Movies always have had cloud burst on their characters! Here we are going to look at some of them, starting with a famous rain sequence from the celebrated Hollywood movie  ‘Jurassic Park’. In this tense sequence, Director Steven Spielberg had heightened both the excitement & fright about the Dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era by adding rain. However, the film was made on the onset of the Information Era when Technology had already benefited film- making.

But our own period films have used their extremely innovative ideas in the absence of advanced technology. The below clip from the film ‘Avvaiyar’ (1953), produced by S.S.Vasan of Gemini Studios, shows the sequence in which the new born, but abandoned, baby Avvaiyar is carried in a casket by the flash floods following incessant rains, with reasonably credible on-screen presentation!

There have been clever ‘rain’ scenes in some movies, without actually showing any rain at all, as was the case in the movie “Aada vantha deivam’ (1960). Here, in the song “Sottu sottunu peyyuthu paar inge”, the hero & heroine are enacting the effect of the rain inside their porous dwelling while the simulated rain pours outside! The actors were T.R.Mahalingam & E.V.Saroja and this super hit duet of its times was composed by K.V.Mahadevan on the lyrics of Maruthakasi.

In the same year as the above Tamil movie, the black & white Hindi film “Parakh” directed by Bimal Roy was released with its iconic song number, “Oh…Sajna Barkha Bahar Ayee”. Some song sequences become evergreen & this is one such, where Sadhana sedately strolls by the portico and retreats indoors as the rain pours down outside. Shots of rain dripped vegetation and puddles are interspersed with close-ups of Sadhana as she sings about her love. The sequence filmed by noted Cinematographer Kamal Bose simply became equivalent to poetry, due to Shailendra’s lyrics, the music composed in Raag Khamaj by Salil Chowdhary (also happens to be story-writer of the film)  & the vivid capture of the monsoon moods on camera.

Everyone loves rain. The fondness for getting wet in the rain is ingrained in all from our childhood  & the film makers have always utilized such universal love for rain in making scenes of rain in movies where the characters in the film are made to soak themselves, drenching to their skins in the studio rain. Often they burst into songs as a pair under the downpour.  Here is a famous rain song sequence filmed on Sivaji Ganesan & Malini, amidst thunderous rains, in ‘Sabash Meena’ (1958), in the voices of T.A.Mothi & P.Suseela (1958), the music score being by T.G.Lingappa. Here goes the very song ‘Kaana inbam kaninthatheno’.

As for the lovers encountering the downpour, here is another instance from the film ‘Thazhampoo”(1965) starring MGR & K.R.Vijaya.

Director Prakash Mehra included the famous rain song sequence, ‘aaj lapat jaiye toh’ in the Amitabh starred hit movie ‘Namak Halal’ (1982), purely as a matter of ‘attraction’ where the pair was through the song wet in the ‘rains’! Smita Patil, featured in the scene along with Amitabh, was an actress par excellent, graduated from FTII. She belonged to a genre of actors such as Shabana Azmi & belonged to he parallel cinema of seventies. Her stellar roles with leading directors such as Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihlani, Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen & G.Aravindan cannot be forgotten.The commercial cinema Moghul, Prakash Mehra has used such an acting material for a pedestrian item in this song!

Sometimes, a lovelorn Nayika is seen dreamingly solo-drenching in the rain as Saroja Devi does it in this sequence from the film “Kudumba Thalaivan’ (1962).

The Directors add rain to a scene to make it more dramatic. And it was not always ‘boy meets the girl under the down pour’ sequence. Here is an inspirational message through a song from the MGR starred film ’Chandrodayam’ (1966) which has been shot in rain.  T.M.Soundararajan rendered it in the music of MSV.

From Sridhar’s “Nenjil oar aalayam” (1962), shot in a matter of less than four weeks, the song “Engirunthalum vazhga” rendered by A.L.Raghavan in the music composition of MSV-TKR was a super hit. This sequence of pathos genre was shot in the ambience of a dark rainy night. Whereas the team of Director Sridhar and Cinematographer A. Vincent have taken indoor shots of the hero singing while showing in between the nightly rain outside, to bring in that touch, complete with frogs croaking from the rain puddles. The orchestration in the song suggest sound of tip-tap rain drops falling with the Hawaiian Guitar Notes & Bongo beats that sustain through the song.

Whenever the Director wanted to add that ‘extra’ to an already tense situation, nobody helps him like rain. There have been many such instances in movies. Here is one such song sequence (Voice: SPB, Music: Ilayaraja) filmed on Mohan in ‘Payanangal Mudivathillai’ (1982) where the hero is drenched to the skin in the rendering of this popular song.

The Award winning, intense Malayalam Feature Film, “Perumazhakalam” (2004) (meaning season of heavy rains) exploited the heavy monsoon of Kerala throughout the film, in narrating the heart wrenching emotional story of a young girl whose spouse is given death punishment in Saudi. Needless to say, the rains soaked movie had its dramatic effects heightened by the real rains.

Are our Indian films alone when it comes to singing in the rain? Nay, look at this song from the MGM produced Hollywood musical ‘Singing In the Rain” (1952), where Gene Kelly tap dances in the rain.

The song ‘ Evano Oruvan Vaasikiraan’ in the mystic voice of Swarnalatha in ‘Alai Payuthe’ vividly demonstrated Director Mani Ratnam’s perennial obsession with rains, in the combo of lyrics and music, to magically contrive emotions. Beautifully cinematographed by PC Sriram, the song emphatically conveyed the binding passion between the hero & heroine.

As we said above, not merely song sequences attracted rains, but even fierce fight scenes were composed in rains, as in Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi, where Rajanikant encounters with goons, shows.

In our movies, special effects people use hoses, pipes and sprinklers to create rain effect. They can be freestanding for close ups shots or mounted on a crane for larger wider shots. They also hose down the water in the backdrop to make it look dark, wet and drippy. Most film production units use a device called rain curtains along with fans and low lighting to create the illusion that it is raining.

If we closely observe films featuring day time rains, mostly the shots are from above with tight close ups on the characters so the audience won’t notice the fact that it’s not raining more than a few yards away. Whereas shooting nightly rain is said to be easier as the depth of field is shortened by the low light conditions, making it, anyway, difficult to see much beyond the characters being filmed.

 Well, the mythical Lord Varuna, thus, had been donning a role in our cinemas past & present. And today we have 7-D theatres where the moviegoer even gets wet in a rain sequence.  Not withstanding such surge in technology, there are, today, even specialist companies, that create digital special effects to simulate rain, as GenArts, in Hollywood.

So, keep watching for more rains in your neighborhood cinemas!