It is Puja and the work place has quite a few Bengali colleagues. Gleaned from a conversation was that Baul sangeet is an integral part of the pujo pandals. Bauls were mystics who roamed Bengal and their music forms a corpus of Bengali folk and colloquial music, which among other things, deeply influenced intellectual giants like Rabindranath Tagore and the imprint of the style of Bauls is there in his poetry and Rabindra Sangeet, the music form for his poetry, composed by him – he was a prolific composer – with influences from Carnatic (Dikshitar’s Meenakshi Me Mudam for instance was adapted as Bashonti Hey Bhubonmohini), Hindustani, Scottish and Irish music (Go Where Glory Awaits Thee inspiring Aha aji e Basanti for example). The music he composed and one which he has left us was but a reflection of the man’s famed and inclusive, borderless worldview.
Which took me to playing one song of Ilaiyaraaja’s – a very popular number at that – to the colleague. Engeyo Thikku Desa from Mahanadi. The prelude has a bit in Bengali, an invocation to Matangi, from the prostitutes of Sona Gachi after that incredibly moving sequence leading to ‘Krishna’ taking his daughter ‘Kaveri’ across the real ‘Ganga’. A story of rivers reaching a flashpoint on the river, taking the hero back to his days from Cauvery, being realized in this song is a testament to Kamal’s talent at writing screenplays of undeniable depth. However, as the oarsman sets the boat going along Ganga, he sings a song. The colleague had no hesitation in letting me know this is typical of Baul sangeet.
The song the oarsman hums is Ebar Tor Mora Gange. I did some searching. It is a Baul song from Tagore! This is the tune he has composed
I learn from another friend that the sub-genre of this song is the kind where boatmen invoke Ganga and offer her prayers before setting off (Jay Maa Bole – say Jai to Ganga) and that SD Burman handled this deftly, hailing as he does from the Tripura royal family and its geographical and cultural proximity to Ganga in a complete Bengal in pre-partitioned India from his formative years leading him to start his journey in Bengali films.
The wonder is how does a man from Pannaiapuram get the cultural essence of this sub-genre in Baul sangeet which is the driver in this Rabindra Sangeet song, deliver an authentic Bengali song in that sub-genre, switch gears effortlessly to Tamil folk, already imprinted through the film as its running theme with a bridge to change scales and also deeply impact the sequence and serve as a pivot for the film at that point. It is probably like how Salil Chowdhury *got* Malayalam folk and delivered stunners in Chemmeen and Nellu. And the writer in Kamal presents a worthy platform for this burst of art.
Oh and the other friend also had this tidbit. The voice of the oarsman is C Ashwath, a Kannadiga composer and singer, an expert in Jaanapada, a sub-genre of Kannada folk! The tune and its rendition is as authentic as one may like it and it is this precision from the detailing of the music form to the emotional impact that makes Raaja the monster he is. Kamal and Raaja here; proving what they are. மஹாகலைஞர்கள்.