I have an amateur obsession in trying to find the Raagas of film songs. I am no expert and this is a fun hobby as far as I am concerned. This interest has however led to trying to find the roots for the names of Raagas, or rather, their etymologies. Many of them are queer and interesting and it is good fun to discuss a few with examples from films.
A very interesting name is Kharaharapriya. It is supposed to be Lord Rama’s favorite. Ramayanam tells us that Rama killed two Asuras, Khara and Dhooshana, who happened to be cousin brothers of Raavana. This makes him the person who defeated Khara (Khara hara since it rhymes and not Dhooshana hara) and this rAgam being his favorite, becomes Kharaharapriya. Tamil film music has been centered over the last 5 decades around MSV, Ilayaraaja and Rahman. All 3 have had some beautiful compositions in this rAgam. Maharaajan Ulagai AaLuvAn is a song from Karnan, composed by MSV and TK Ramamurthy, which is set to this Raagam. Raaja has been the one composer though, who has handled this Raagam in the most western fashion to surprisingly fabulous returns in Maapilaikku Maman Manasu and Poo Malarndhida (okay I must gush about the flute in the first interlude. *gush*). Rahman has a beautiful Jiyajale/Nenjinile in Kharaharapriya too.
There are a few Raagas that get their names because of a particular region. Kamboji/Kambodhi could have got its name from the Kamboja region beyond Hindu Kush Mountains that Kalidasa mentions in his Raghuvamsam, Gowla could have got its name from Gowda region (Govinda Bhagavathpadar aka Gowdapaadar, Adi Sankara’s Guru, hailing from the same place which is present day Bengal), Kedaram coming from Himalayas (Kedarnath) and so on. But these are essentially Carnatic Raagas. So it is quite possible that the individuals who made these popular here hailed from these respective places. KV Mahadevan has a lovely Kamboji in Arupadai Veedu Konda from Kandan Karunai (just the first stanza here with the composer moving on a different rAgam for each stanza). Rahman has a fine Ennavale that is loosely based on Kedaram. Raaja has a lovely Kedaram too, still not 100%, in Sundari Neeyum.
I would like end with a rant on my favorite rAgam, Kalyani. Like wise men have said, it is a mangaLagaramAna, i.e. an auspicious rAgam giving it its name. It is possibly the most widely used rAgam in Indian film music. But I feel no one has handled it with the depth and versatility that Raaja has. I would like to not bring a song, for there are countless Raaja himself has composed, but background sequences where he has used the rAgam to ethereal effect.
The film is Mannan and the theme between Rajni and Pandari Bai is the Amma EndrazhaikAdha song, which is based on, no prizes for guessing, Kalyani. This theme comes thrice. First, when Rajni brings Pandari Bai her wheelchair. Here, a shehnai plays a western classical Kalyani and it leads to the original song itself from the interlude, bringing the essence of the mother-son relationship. The second time, he brings it when Kushboo visits Rajni. He begins it with silence and slowly, a veena plays a gorgeous Kalyani and the theme pops up when Kushboo learns it is Rajni who takes care of his mother. The same theme expressing the mother-son love from a third person’s perspective still sounds otherworldly. It goes on for Kushboo and Pandari Bai to converse and stops as Pandari Bai is speaking and leaves the sequence to complete in silence as he had started it. A simple, clichéd scene is beautifully elevated by the background score. The third time, it is very brief, lasting 15 seconds, and is more about Rajni’s disappointment. He does not finish it fully, for the hero feels incomplete too.
However, the piece de resistance is delivered before the climax. All the major characters are here with Kalyani. As Manorama speaks about Rajni, a flute comes in to emphasize the epitome of goodness that the hero is as the violin plays a counterpoint in the background. As Vijayasanthi accuses him, cellos with tremolos start their extension of the rAgam to signify the tension that is building up with the violins taking on the hero’s case, delightfully continuing the counterpoint. As the hero makes his point, an oboe comes in with the violin as Pandari Bai is getting cured. As Pandari Bai is cured, a veena comes in bringing a flurry of notes (a mild violin elevating it) indicating the relief and completeness she experiences over her worthy son and as she calls out Krishna, a shehnai joins in and you stand hopelessly manipulated by the music and are caught by your balls to the edge of your seat and left powerless. I don’t think any background score in Indian cinema can come close to this sequence in signifying the mother-son affection. As Pandari Bai asks for forgiveness, a quick piano traverses through the shehnai, now static on a single swaram to say that her life has been completed and a slow veena with the violin plays with cellos rising in the background to indicate an impending danger (every single, minutest emotion is conveyed and how!) and as the mother falls at her son’s feet and dies, everything stops. There is silence to let the sorrow sink in for a few seconds and he starts the charanam of Amma Endrazhaikadha and the rest of the scene is carried by the song. The lyrics and lead performances play a worthy role here. But the backbone is the music and it makes a clichéd scene a memorable, heartwarming one.
Kalyani just thanked Raaja there for elevating her.
PS: I digress here. I came across this piece by director Suka on Ilayaraaja’s music recently and his final paragraph on a personal memory touched a chord. The song is Azhagiya Kanne. The emotion it carries across is the sentiment between a mother and her children. The year was 2006. My mother had to undergo two surgeries on her abdomen. At one point, the doctor told it was a 50-50 chance of survival. I and my sister visiting her in the ICU is one unforgettable image. She is healthy today. But this song, repeated as the mother passes away, with her children beside her, transports me to my personal space 6 years back and it invariably chokes me. I’m sure I’m not alone here. I am a guy who grew up with Rahman in the 90s, who adores both him and his music. But there is no denying that Raaja, with his music, has been able to intrude the corners of my personal space, as is true with almost all Tamils. In many ways, he has become a part of our lives.
We too owe a thank you to Raaja.