Indian film music touches the masses in huge magnitude; this is done by making the music accessible to the un-trained ear. The way the resourceful music directors of South and North India did this was to `dilute' the Classical strains of Carnatic and Hindustani music and make it appealing to people, with inventive orchestration and use of Raga and Rhythm. Over the years, they chose to take the Ragas/Scales, of which there is, an infinite choice and made melodies out of them, which rarely resemble the classical forms.
From the Tamil movies, there is no doubt that that man who not just knew Carnatic music inside out and utilised it in the most dynamic fashion but the one who took Western Classical music also, and created an amazing fusion is Maestro Ilayaraja. Originally a band guitarist, he has blended Mozart and Bach, with the trinity of Carnatic music, Thyagaraja, Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri to make a sound which had enlightened and delighted people all over the world. Jumping from Ilayaraja, AR Rahman is the next genius to arise from Tamil Nadu, a pianist trained in Western Classical music and having learnt Carnatic music, AR Rahman is doing a splendid job brining Occidental music to the mainstream. These two Tamil legends have created a new sound of music which is highly revered all over India, AR Rahman being the one who crossed over to the highly critical North Indians as well, he is now in the mainstream, having brought Bombay Dreams to the masses of UK and going to New York. He is also working on the Lord of the Rings musical, with Finnish folk group, Varttina.
So, what are examples of these fabulous fusion pieces, one may ask. Let's start with Ilayaraja's first film album, Annakili. He created a huge hit, a piece called `Annakili Unnai Theduthe', using the Ragam Sindhubairavhi. He successfully touched the hearts of listeners by fusing the styles of South Indian folk music with a Carnatic Raga, delighting the ear of so many. Thus, the phenomenon of Ilayaraja imbibed the masses. Ilayaraja went on to use the Raga Sindhubairavhi in many songs, such as `Maniye Manikuyile' from Nadodi Thendral and `Enna Sattham Intha Neram', from Punnagai Mannan as it is the more `film friendly' Raga, in comparison to its close counterpart Melakartha Thodi. Ilayaraja did a very classical piece in the Raga Thodi, which was a massive hit, from the 80's classic movie, Varusham Padhinaaru, the song being `Gangai Karai Mannanadi'. I can't say that any other music directors have made attempts with Thodi Ragam since then.
AR Rahman has given the Raga Sindhubairavhi a wonderfully refreshing, modern appeal. He used the Hindustani Raag Bhairavhi (it is a close form of Carnatic Sindhubairavhi) for the song `Taal Se Taal' from the Subashi Ghai film, Taal. This song and it's remix uniquely emphasise the vocal rhythm Thaanam syllables by Sukwinder Singh, which are otherwise known as Konnakol, done in Hindustani fashion. This added an interesting element to it. ARR added a masterpiece to the film Sangamam (rumoured to have done the music for this movie for free, helping out his Brother in Law, also named Rahman, the hero of the film). This was the song `Margazi Thingal Allava'. It is a truly spectacular number, which evokes feelings of sadness and joy alike; following the Classical patterns of the Sindhubairavhi Raga. S.Janaki sings the female part, which starts with a Hindu Thiruppaavai sung by teenager, Madhumitha, which then reaches a Climax of vocal Jathi. Carnatic singer, Unni Krishnan then starts the male part, with a fantastic hook, blending the true nuances (Gamakas and Brikas) of this rather spectacular Raga! ARR also blended Sindhubairavhi for a pathos piece, from the movie Kandukondain Kandukondain, the song, `Enge Enadhu Kavithai' which has a Pallavi in Sindhubairavhi, then transcends into the Raga Lataangi, ending in a peak of the Swaras of Keeravani Raga. This is another stunning piece, which encompasses a variety of instruments and harmonies.
There is so much more to this wonderful Raga - listen and you will be amazed....
This was an article I had written for Veena Magazine - a wonderful Asian Arts publication, Winter 2003.
Visit them at: