What do composers do when they have a tune? Do they write it down? Do they remember it? Do they play, record it in a safe place, out of the reaches of everyone and use it when they feel it right? Or do they just use it for the film at hand instantaneously? What if a tune comes out of nowhere in the bathroom? Half the musicians anyway come from reality shows and bathrooms. There was a famous caricature in Kumudham in the early 80s where Gangai Amaran, no offence meant, was shown stealing Raaja’s tunes inside a notebook as Raaja was furiously writing them down (suggesting that Gangai Amaran’s tunes were in fact Ilayaraja’s). So what do composers do? This is one question that has always intrigued the layman in me.
What Raaja does, I would love to know. A peek into how his brain works when he gets a tune out of thin air is in my bucketlist. What Rahman does, I think I know part of the answer. He uses (or at least did use) a few of them in his background scores and later reuses them for his songs. Roja is a universal favorite of all Rahman-tards. The soundtrack is widely acclaimed and rightly so. The rerecording is brilliant and backgroundscore does a fine job of articulating a part of the film’s score here, alongside Rahman’s other BGMs. Do read.
There is however a scene that mightily interests me. I did not discover it the first time I was watching the film. However, in the scene where Arvind Swamy comes to the village with his mother to see his would be bride (English doesn’t have a proper translation for ponnu paakaradhu!), Telephone Mani Pol plays in the background. This portion to be precise. He also repeats the same tune here as Madhoobala goes to the temple, a little slower in the tempo now, extra sangathis in the flute to give a semi-classical flavor; a mild tambura to signify sanctity, for the heroine is now in conversation with God. So this is it? The most beautiful portion in Telephone mani pol was once a part of a background score upon which he embellished orchestration and composed a song? Roja released in 1992 and Indian in 1995. So was the composer trying out a few of his songs as background scores in his first few films? Intersting!
Another film, another score. Puthiya Mugam, Rahman’s third film, had another heartwarming album. Looking for the final song, Idhu dhaan vazhkai enbatha, I discovered another minor facet to the film’s score. In the scene before the climax where Suresh Menon leaves Revathi, the background score starts with a piano playing along with a violin behind it. You get the feel of Netru Illadha Matram because of the violin and sit back to see Rahman pulling out Azhagu Nilave! I felt a rabbit was pulled out of the hat. The score extends up to Menon entering Vinith’s room and going out. The warmth in the nuclear family of husband-wife-son is beautifully conveyed through the score. The score is repeated again, after Menon’s death when Vinith goes to the room to be with Revathi, coming alongside, yes (!!) Netru Illadha Matram! Puthiya Mugam was released in 1993 and Pavithra in 1994. So this does appear to be an interesting method he followed in the early part of his career.
I don’t know if Rahman tried this out after Puthiya Mugam and Pavithra but was the composer playing with an earlier background score and converting it into a song (which is fascinating) or trying out the tunes as background scores first and embellishing them inside songs later on, I will never know. However, it does offer a peak into a part of his brain and I am grateful for that.