Movie Soundtracks

Audio master: The Ilaiyaraaja-Mani Ratnam combination in ‘Agni Natchathiram’ set the charts on fire

The 1988 production represented Ilaiyaraaja’s second wave of innovation, when he combined funk and pop with classical Carnatic.

Several film directors in Tamil and Malayalam cinema in the 1980s possessed a unique quality: a keen sense of tone. There was Balu Mahendra, who ensured that the poetry of his breathtaking visuals was combined with equally stunning background music. The elements blended seamlessly in such movies as Moondram Pirai and Veedu, elevating human emotions to a transcendental level.

Mani Ratnam falls in the category of filmmakers who use good music to lift the cinematic experience. Some of Ratnam’s films, including Dil Se, Raavanan and Kadal, may have tanked at the box office, but they are still remembered for their soul-stirring soundtracks. Ratnam has an eagerness to embrace the modern. His penchant for innovation gives music composers the freedom to let go. In the process, every album becomes a classic.

And nobody innovated as much as music composer Ilaiyaraaja in the ’80s.

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Roja Poo Adivanthathu from Agni Natchathiram (1988).

Ratnam’s career has two distinct two phases: the pre-1992 portion, when he was exclusively associated with Ilaiyaraaja, and the subsequent years, when he picked AR Rahman as the composer of his film soundtracks. The high point of Ratnam’s association with Ilaiyaraaja was the back-to-back hits Nayakan (1987) and Agni Natchathiram (1988). In Nayakan, Ilaiyaraaja stuck to his time-tested technique of fusing Carnatic, folk and heavy Western orchestration. Agni Natchathriam turned out to be a trendsetter for initiating Tamil music listener into the sounds of electronic funk and synthetic pop.

The script lent itself to such music. Agni Natchathiram is the story of two young angry men – brothers born to the same father and different mothers. Prabhu is the disciplined Balaram to Karthik’s mischievous Krishna. One is a status quoist, the other an anarchist. Despite their differences, they represent the adventurism of the new generation.

Agni Natchathiram’s songs captured the story’s essence. In Raja Rajadhi Rajan Indha Raja, Ilaiyaraaja brings an American electro sting to the beats, reminiscent of bands such as Newcleus that were storming the charts in the ’80s. An almost school-boyish Prabhu Deva is seen dancing in the group behind Karthik in the song.

Ilaiyaraaja was also a master of the scat singing technique. In Raja Rajadhi, the jazz innovation finds place in the second interlude with the chorus using wordless vocables in a fluctuating melody. The transition from shades of electro funk to jazz is a scintillating lesson in fusion. Ilaiyaraaja’s voice adds an unconventional twist to the number.

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Raja Rajadhi from Agni Natchathiram (1988).

Ilaiyaraaja’s songs are known for their Carnatic base. In fact, the credit of taking Carnatic music to the masses should entirely go to this music composer. When he started off with Annakili in 1976, Ilaiyaraaja combined Tamil folk sounds with traditional Carnatic notes. But as he evolved as a composer, he took to fusing Carnatic with modern western genres.

There is no dearth of Carnatic elements in Agni Natchathiram. Any student of this classical form would know the importance of varnams, which trains the musician in the intricacies of a raag and prepares the learner to handle complex krithis at a later point. Ilaiyaraaja chose perhaps the most popular of the varnams, the Ninnukori set in Mohana (Bhoop in Hindustani) as the foundation for this song.

In the movie, the track introduces the character of Anjali. Played by Amala, Anjali is an independent soul who falls in love with the uptight police officer played by Prabhu.

In Ninnukori Varanam, Ilaiyaraaja essays a splendid Mohana raag with a synthesiser. The first interlude is ultra-modern by 1988 standards, but retains its Carnatic core. The tune is lifted by Chitra’s flawless, high-pitch singing.

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Ninnukori Varanam from Agni Natchathiram (1988).

At a later point in the plot, after Prabhu and Amala have expressed their love for each other, Ilaiyaraaja uses the raag Amritha Varshini with its sensual notes to produce Thoongatha Vizhigal Rendu, a composition carried by the mesmerising voice of KJ Yesudas.

The song is an expression of longing. It depicts the yearning of a couple who spend sleepless nights thinking of each other. Lyricist Vaali had the skill of making his words complementary to the notes of the raag. Nothing exemplifies this more than the landing note of the starting phrase –Vizhigal Rendu.

In the second stanza, Vaali innovates on Kalidasa’s famous metaphor of the lotus and dew, used many times in classics such as Raghuvamsa and Kumarasambhava to describe sensuality.

“Mamara Ilai Mela
Margazhi Pani Pole
Poomagal Madi Meethu
Naan Thoongavo?”

(Should I lie on the lap of the damsel like the Margazhi dew on a mango leaf?)

The tiny aalap accompanying first phrase Maamara Ilai Mela in the second stanza is as authentic as Amritha Varshini could get. Add to this the innovative lighting in PC Sreeram’s cinematography and the song remains all-round delight.

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Thoongatha Vizhigal from Agni Natchathiram (1988).

The Mani Ratnam-Ilaiyaraaja combination, which produced such timeless classics like Mouna Ragam and Thalapathy, was cut short at its peak due to differences between the composer and the producers of Roja (1992). By the time Ratnam and Ilaiyaraaja had split, they had sealed their legacy. The works they produced remain the yardstick for Tamil film music.

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Oru Poonga Vanam from Agni Natchathiram (1988).
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Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.