Monday, June 19, 2006

Background Score

There is an interesting - but way too short - article [link courtesy Kaps] by Theodore Baskaran in Outlook, on the evolution of Tamil Film Music. It starts off interestingly enough with some facts about how things were at the beginning (interesting comment on how people treated movies like concerts!) But it gets frustratingly brief after that. There is little on MSV and the music of the MGR/Sivaji era.

The article does go on to mention Ilaiyaraja and Rehman, the 2 most influential Tamil cinema music directors in the last 40 years or so (the former a lot more than the latter ofcourse). It describes their contrasting styles rather nicely as it says…

“…Ilayaraja doesn't believe in creating film music as a mere aural experience, isolated from the images. For him, music is integral to the effect of the movie. It has to integrate with the narrative, not intrude upon it. It has to go with the images, has to be part of the viewing experience”

“Rahman's stress has been more on songs than on background score. Unlike Ilayaraja, he accentuates the independent aural character of film songs; they aren't necessarily linked to the onscreen images or the characters singing them.”

While I’ve been listening to Tamil film songs for as long as I remember, I barely took notice of the background score when watching a film. To me, the BGM played little role in a movie. But all that changed with Idhayathai Thirudaathey, the background score for which illustrates what Theodore Baskaran is talking about in the first paragraph above. Idhayathai Thirudaathey still holds the record for the film I’ve watched in the theater the most number of times and Ilaiyaraja’s BGM played as important a part as Girija’s cuteness, Manirathnam’s screenplay and P.C.Sriram’s cinematography, in pulling me back to the theater that many times. That was one movie where I came out of the movie hall humming pieces of the background score rather than the songs. And its one movie I could enjoy even with my eyes closed the entire time!

The magic begins right from the start with the soothing and soulful tune that plays during the titles. Almost every sequence after that has a great background score that fits the mood of the sequence perfectly and elevates it from being merely interesting to truly memorable. There’s the playfully fast music during the scenes where Nagarjun and Girija play tricks on each other. There’s the upbeat, cheerful music in the scene where Nagarjun realizes that life has to be enjoyed however short it may be. There’s the soothing music accompanying the fog seeping into Nagarjun’s house. There’s the thudding, powerful music that drives the climax in the railway station. And ofcourse, there’s the uplifting music as Nagarjun kisses Girija in the end. That last piece of music had the power to make us forget that they were 2 lovers who would die shortly and made us believe that they’d live happily ever after!

Since Idhayathai Thirudaathey, I’ve started noticing the BGM a lot more and have gone back and unearthed gems like Mouna Raagam, Johny, etc. Ilaiyaraja is truly king in this arena. I’m yet to enjoy Rahman’s BGM they way I have enjoyed Ilaiyaraja’s. The one BGM piece I do remember from Rahman’s work so far is the scintillating score that plays when Arvind Swamy douses the fire on the Indian flag in Roja. But technically, that was part of the Thamizhaa Thamizhaa… song and not a stand-alone BGM piece. Yuvan Shankar Raja does seem to have inherited the right BGM genes from his dad. He has made us sit up and take notice of his score in recent movies like Pattiyal and the instrumental pieces like Going Thro Emotions… in Pudhuppettai are phenomenal. But there is a sense of “showiness” in his music that sometimes threatens to override the visuals and so doesn’t allow it to perfectly complement the scenes the way his dad’s music did.


At 10:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my all-time favorites is the scene in "Bombay," when Manisha comes to Arvind Swamy's house in the guise of getting homework notes from his sister. After hearing his voice, she bends a little and then looks up and Arvind Swamy is looking down at her from upstairs. The camera twirls around beautifully from Manisha all the way to Arvind Swamy and there are two wonderous voices singing

Ri Saa ni Saa ni, Sa ni pa ma ga, ma ga ri sa ni
Ri Saa ni Saa ni, Sa ni pa ma ga, ma ga ri sa ni
and then the two voices intertwine each other nicely... and I ended up falling in love with Manisha & Arvind Swamy (after which, nothing could ever go wrong with the film or ARR! :-)..

I would say some of IR's gems definitely include Mouna Raagam (everything from the titles till the very end!), Agni Nakshatram (the scenes where Prabhu & Karthik are at loggerheads; everytime that Nirosha says "I love you" to Karthik) EVERGREEN! ;-) I really don't think there will another musician like IR who understands the beauty of background scores and keeping in sync with the moods of the film (mischief, comedy, sad, happy, violent.. whatever the scene maybe!)

At 10:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to write a piece of background music and I'm glad u beat me to the post...loved reading this write-up of yours though I wish u'd rambled a bit more...esp. abt some more powerful background scores than just that of I.T.

here're my favorites:

Thillu Mullu (among comedies, this is my fav. in terms of bgm...MSV kalakkirundhaaru)

Indian (the bgm adds a lot of thrill to the investigation portions)

Housefull (Raja created the tension that Parthiban couldnt, in many a sequence)

Mouna Raagam (enaththa solla...endha scene-a nu solla...!)

Nayagan (this film has to be on any list of mine thaz related to thamizh cinema!)

Muthal Mariyaadhai (the scene where the two of them catch fish has a lovely b g score)

Bharathi (the scene where Devyani is forced to eat at a Christian's house n she refuses...notice the way Raja has a tune to convey "discomfort")

Sethu (my all-time fav...just listen to the bgm that resembles a bird chirping...mesmerizing...also the instant when the Saamiyar does something that makes Vikram think of Abitha...MAGICAL...Raja RAJA thaan!)

At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, i meant "piece ON"

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Kaps said...

I thought ARR background score in Jeans and Harris score in Majnu were pretty good. Majnu didn't become a hit and the BG score went unnoticed.

At 1:08 AM, Blogger Rajesh Thiagarajan said...

I enjoyed BGM from 7G Rainbow Colony. This is something I felt even from the trailers. Excellent BGM's.
Iruvar also had great BGM's.
I also enjoyed the Bombay sequence that Sandhya mentioned. I guess one of the singers was ARR.

At 1:10 AM, Blogger Rajesh Thiagarajan said...

Aboorva Sahodhrargal has terrific BGM - during the title credits - the BGM when Sri Vidhya is on a small boat is a true master piece in my opinion.

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

rajesh, i agree with u abt iruvar's an extent. coz some scenes had scintillating music in the background but at times it drowned the dialogues. of course, on occasions it was used to make up for censored lines of dialogue as well.

At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ARR's Bombay theme surly is one of the best BGMs ever? I have heard this in so many random places eg Tv shows, movies etc here in UK

Also he did some excellent BGMs for Bose and that Chinese movie Warriors of Heaven and Earth.

I never really liked or got into Yuvan BGMs. His songs are good provided he does not sing them ;)

At 4:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As ram said "Indian" is one of ARR's best BGMs. So is "Dil-se". You kind of have to listen to them closely.'s a thing that I have noticed: rahman links 2-lined songs + awesome bgm (these are not always released on tapes/cds) whereas Ilayaraja's music speaks for themselves. example: Dil-se: scene where manisha leaves shahrukh after a night at the mountains. Indian-flashback of kamal is inter-woven with lines/hums from "kappal yeri poyachu" but in a melancholy tone.
Ilayaraja uses violins a lot..a lot. Rahman uses piano a lot I guess.

At 6:16 AM, Blogger Raju said...

the first time I took note of the bgm was in Nayagan... great one.. I also agree with ram and Arun.. 'Indian' and 'Gentleman' had some memorable bgm unique to them... There are many scenes in these movies where there is no conversation.. shankar likes to have his heroes not talk in some scenes of the movie.. probably bcos the hero has to make a long conversation/monologue at some point in the movie.. So, in those silent moments, he has handed over the responsibility to ARR and the latter comes up with some great piece..

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IR is the clear winner. He has composed beautiful BGMs.

I remember a scene in Salanagi Oli where Old JayaPrada keeps switching on and off the light and there is one of the best tunes at the background when her flashback unfolds.
Mouna ragam is unbeatable - who can forget the BGM for playful karthik??
Rehman is good at songs but BGM I cant recall a single movie.

But good BGM is synonymous with Ilayaraja.

At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting topic Balaji!
I know this doesnt sound very convincing, but ...I loved the music in Michael Madana Kamaraj. If you notice, every time they show Kameshwaran riding his scooter, there is this Carnatic piece in Kedaram thats played in the background with Veena and Sax. One starts laughing even before the dialogues start, the BGM serving as the cue. Similarly IR plays a very western melody for Madan's entry and a completely jolly kinda track everytime a fire engine is shown. Though Crazy Mohan is the life of this film, music contributes enormously to show the change from scene to scene...

I loved Mouna Ragam and Nayagan. Thats the beauty of can remember and hum background scores for certain films of his as tho they were independent songs. No oth music director has ever made us do that. Like Balaji mentions, Roja comes the closest but even that is mostly Thamizha thamizha's tune, or maybe the theme song that he composes for a film.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger tt_giant said...

Jhonny's BGM was pretty good. In fact, "aanpaavam's" bgm was top notch too!

At 2:47 AM, Blogger Maverick said...

Raja is truly the king of BGMs. I haven't heard BGMs like he did for Johnny, Mouna Ragam, Punnagai Mannan and many more movies.

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

prasanna, yeah i can remember atleast one piece of BGM from each of those movies u mentioned!

sandya, u're right... 'agni nakshathiram' had mindblowing BGM though it was the high-energy bits that really stood out. every prabhu-karthik meeting bristled with energy cos of the music, the camera angles, etc.

ram, IT is just the film whose BGM i remember the most. didn't wanna write about stuff i dont remember too well and so stopped with that :)

and i could say the exact thing u've said about 'nayagan' :)

kaps, amazing that u even noticed the BG score in 'majnu'. considering the score in movies like 'anniyan' and 'ghajini' i don't have high respect for HJ in the BGM arena. but will check out 'majnu's score if i get the chance :)

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tt_giant, yeah, Aann Paavam had a nice background score...remember the one that keeps playing during the Pandiyan-Seetha romance portions...

BB, yeah, agree with you...Harris Jeyaraj overdoes the instrumentation in a lot of his movies...his best score so far has been for kaaka kaaka. that was Awesome...romance, thrills, subtle comedy...his bgm complemented all the scenes well...

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

siva, i can defly remember 'punnagai mannan's bgm among the films u've listed :)

rajesh, yes 7G RC did have grt bgm. but like many others, yuvan shines only in a few places. he still has to master providing bgm for the romantic and slow scenes...

anon, yeah 'bombay' is one of rahman's better bgms. and ur comment about yuvan is one i stress in every one of my audio reviews of his albums :)

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Arvind Srinivasan said...

i guess the train has left the station already w.r.t focus on this post...but nonetheless....

IR no doubt is the pioneer of tfm bgms. as an aside, check out the "inspiration" of Mouna Ragam theme -

Now, having said that - we are in changing times - the focus and expectancy of the role of MD has changed very much.

It is no different that an actor in 50s/60s was expected to sing and act - now, you are expected to dishum - thats all :)

Simiarly - a MD was supposed to do so many more things - but ARR's arrival changed that a lot. He brought the presales hype to the audio market. He brought the "big-banner" hype to music industry through the country. And yes, he has traditionally focussed less on bgm - but as other posters have already pointed out - some of his recent films have really good bgms.

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, the moral of the story here is, a BGM should add effect to the mood and feel of a scene without ever calling too much attention to itself. In my not-so-humble opinion, I feel that the quality of a great bgm (Sethu being the best e.g.) is that the first time you see a movie, when you're done watching it, you should say to yourself, "angenge andha BGM romba super ile" and then the second time you watch the movie, it should actually make you listen more keenly to the score and then at the end of the second viewing, you should say to yourself, "Andha mayiliragu scene-la Raja ena bgm da..."

BB, here's what I tell my friends abt Sethu that bala should've put a title card which reads, "Dialogues: Bala and Ilayaraja" :)

At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ilayaraja is the best , be it the songs or bgm, rahman is but a drop when compared to ilaiyaraja the ocean
ilaiyaraja was,is and will remain the greatest music director that this world has seen.

At 4:05 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

film "Guna" has stunning BGM from Maestro! My favourites are 1) Bath in Stream, 2) Change of place

visit to download BGM's
Raja has scored beautiful BGM's for some malayalam films too.. for ex: Atharvam (BGM 9 and BGM 10 are my alltime favourites!!!)
such a soothing melody!

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

also can anyone help me with notes for BGM9 in below link (from malayalam film Atharvam)

i try hard to figure out myself but not getting it perfect


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