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.

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)

The Evergreen voice of Tamil Cinema, T M Soundarajan is no more.

T M Soundarajan has been the voice of many great legends like M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan. He passed away on 25th May 2013 at the age of 90 in Chennai.

You can read more about him here