Renowned music composer Ilaiyaraaja has sent singer SP Balasubrahmanyam a legal notice for singing his compositions without permission during a concert tour in America. The copyright tussle marks a low in the mutually enriching relationship between the musician and the singer. Ilaiyaraaja has used several crooners for his film soundtracks, such as KJ Yesudas and Mano, but some of his best tunes have been rendered by Balasubrahmanyam, who varied his voice to suit the mood and situation.

Balasubrahmanyam has put on his dancing shoes for Ilaiyaraaja, sung lachrymose numbers, and lent his voice to various amorous heroes. Yenna Satham from K Balachander’s Punnagai Mannan is love song, lullaby and dirge rolled into one.

The 1986 production opens with a double suicide that is only halfway successful. Kamal Haasan and Rekha play star-crossed lovers who have decided to plunge to their deaths at a waterfall. Balasubrahmanyam’s voice, recorded in such a way that it appears to be echoing through the valley, follows images of nature and sounds of the couple’s playful voices, almost like an afterthought. What is this sound, is it of the cuckoo or the gushing stream or kissing parrots, wonders lyricist Vairamuthu in his final collaboration with Ilaiyaraaja.

The lovers come into view, enjoying their final moments together. They take a boat ride, gambol through the lushness with the innocence of children, and make love. Balachander frequently interrupts the song with the lovers’ thoughts. Are you scared, he asks her. You’re the one who is afraid, she replies after an unconvincing pause.

Balachander eschews lip-syncing, allowing Ilaiyaraaja’s simply arranged composition and Balasubrahmanyam’s haunting voice to waft over the imminent sadness. One of the composer’s greatest love songs is also one of his most tragic. Only one of the lovers dies, setting into motion a mourning process that ends only with the arrival of another romantic prospect.

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Yenna Satham from Punnagai Mannan (1986).