Article - Rakkamma Kayya Thattu - Thalapathi

The biggest success of Ilaiyaraaja as a composer I would say is that, his songs are so appealing to a lay man captivating him so much yet being musically so rich and challenging. As a music director of a film, he has a commitment to the director and the producer to make their movie a big hit, yet at the same time in his own words Music is not my Occupation; but my breath. So he quenches out his musical thirst through the songs that he composes for them. What results are dazzling tunes that captivate the common audience and at the same time can be given as a ' Study for Violin' to the students of Trinity college of Music for their graduation.

"Rakkama Kaiya thattu" is one such song! The song thou' is composed for a situation which is not challenging at all for a man of Raaja's caliber. The hero of the movie (Rajnikanth) is the Indian version of the God-father. If I remember correctly, this song comes soon after the movie begins, apparently for no reason where the hero chills out along with the crowd celebrating his success of beating a local gangster (Ramana) to death...

But one good indication that would have given by the director of the movie (ManiRatnam) to Raaja is that, "I want this song to be the 'Magnum opus' for the movie".. Raaja surpassed director's expectations in giving grandeur feel to the song.... There are some songs of Raaja in which its not the melody, its not the rhythm, its not the singer who stands out in that song.. It's the instruments or in other words the Orchestration, which leaves a punch. As I said even a common man can feel the grandness and vast depth that the collective group of instruments brings in to the song.. Listen to this song and you don't need to take a second opinion.

The scale selection of the song is very tricky... I'll later explain why... Still you can say its composed in Am; Choosing the scale in such a way so that the singers can reach the 'Mel sthaai' (High pitches) passages easily to give a victorious appeal to the song. The prelude of the song says it all.... The exhilaration of the composition can be just felt in the prelude. A duo violin just starts like a spark, which soon spreads to a forest fire as the mind-boggling string ensemble backings unwinds...

From a catchy start the song soon gets to a crescendo and finishes in a real grand note... Thou' the song starts in A major, the strings section soon elevate the prelude to the equivalent minor.... But the surprise is still to come when SP Bala starts singing.. Its neither the major or the minor of A.... There is a sudden tonal shift by 2 notes and SPB starts Rakkama in G major!!! Still it doesn't sound out of scale.. Why and how?????? I'll explain it later in the article..

As the song progresses, The gap between two lines of the melody are bridged by the Duo-violin in a very novel way.. Alternatively Raaja uses choir instead of violin, a trick that he seem to cherishing in many songs of his. The pallavi (Or the main melody) ends in a foot-tapping 'Changu chakku chachakku chakku' chorus... The interludes of songs are benchmarks for orchestration.. In fact the prelude and the interludes of this song can not be categorized as Indian Light-music for their disciplined orchestration. Both the interludes are of fast movements.

Especially the backings of tremolo strings in the first interlude and a brief passage by a set of clarinets in the second. The usage of Cello, double bass and Tympanum to get a combined orch-hit effect is simply astounding. However the stanzas of the song can be called Light music for their Indianized rhythm (May be Raaja's formula to make it appeal to the lay man??) As the song symbolizes hero's success, you may notice that in both the stanzas, the passages where the tune reaches its top note echoing his victory is sung by SPB. Thus I must say SP gains a edge over Swarnalatha as the vocalist but primarily because he sings for the hero. Nonetheless Swarnalatha has done her job flawless.

The climax of the song is the highlight of the composition. There is a small situation change occurs now.. While the mass celebrates the success, there is another kind of festival going on in the neighborhood celebrated by a group of conservative, pious, household dames led by the heroine of the movie.. It's the 'Festival of lights'.. They sing a passage from the good old Tamil literature hymn of 'Thevaram'. The focus gradually switches there.

The hero catches the first glimpse of the heroine amidst the lights and falls for her. Later the song would come to a soft end as the hero's first love bug sublimes him over his victorious mood. So the song should effortlessly transform from a mass crowd of rejoicing people to another quite crowd celebrating a religious function. Simultaneously both the situations has to merge. Raaja achieves this in his own style.. It can be explained by the parallel approach that he chooses now...

The Eastern and western classical outlook

The first perspective is from the western classical outlook.. Being a great follower of the Baroque maestro JS Bach, Raaja chooses a phenomenon in which Bach is known to be a master... The song undergoes a Fugue transformation to create the above effect. Fugue is the style where the song suddenly goes to a different melody, which is totally different from its original track. The song can further switch to many melodies but finally all of them come together to generate a totally different movement.

In Rakkama, from the mainstream song, the sung comes to a stop when a godly hymn is sung in the eastern style, giving the second movement.. After that thou' the focus gradually switches back to the hero, still the chorus by the heroine & co is sung in the back ground.. Thus a mix of the first and the second parts to give a third part.. I wonder can any one handle the Fugue more subtly in Film music. Raaja has been fascinated by Fugue so much that two of his compositions from the Music album How to name it are best of his Fugue.. (Watch out the track 'Mad mood mad Fugue' where different melodies of Raaga Mayamalava Gowlai flows in 3 parts of violin to produce a Fugue effect..)

The second perspective is from the Eastern classical outlook. He uses Shrutibedham(Tonal shift) to switch his compositions to different raagas which can be derived from a same set of notes by shifting the base tonal note... Initially I remarked thou' predominantly the song is in Am, the pallavi starts in G major.. But still they perfectly look in place.. And I raised two questions.. Why and how??

Here is the 'why' part.. Aminor scale is ' NataBhairavi' in carnatic classical form while G scale is 'HariKambodhi'. Making the 'Ni' of NataBhairavi as 'Sa' and singing it from 'Ni' to 'Ni' yields Harikambodhi.. Natabhairavi is famously known for serious and sad occasions and definitely not good for a rejoicing victorious melody in the start of the song.. That's why he deflates it by 2 notes and makes it Haricambodhi, only in the pallavi..

Now as the song goes into the Godly hymn, Raaja carefully chooses the raaga. He settles for 'Beamphlas' here(or also called as 'Karnataka Deva kanthari' or 'Abheri', I'm not sure). Beemplas is a janya Raaga of ' KaraharaPriya', still a Aminor scale with a augmented 'Dha' in Natabhairavi, so as to give a more pleasant feel. Intro of Heroine You see... Actually 'Natabhairavi' and 'KaraharaPriya' are Cousin sisters.. Janya raagas 20 and 22 respecitvely... Literally onnu vitta akka thangachis - in Tamil ;-) So the Natabhairavi so far used is converted to Karaharapriya (or more precisely its child 'Beamphlas').

The hymn 'Kunitha Puruvamum' from Devaram is now sung in pure Beamphlas!! But remember the scale is still Aminor.. Only 'Dha' is elevated (or F is augmented to F#) When 'Rakkama' returns again (in G major) the hymn still remains in A minor in the back ground.. But it sounds prefectly in tune as if both are in the same scale.. But the raaga 'Beamphlas' has already influenced the song so much, that you don't see Rakamma as Haricambodhi in G major.. But accept it as Karaharapriya sung from 'Ni' to 'Ni' (or as A minor scale sung from G to G).

You don't hear ' Rakkama Kaiya Thattu' as 'S a ri ga ma ri ga ri sa' in Harikambodhi.. But hear it as 'Ni sa ri ga sa ri sa ni' in Beamphlas... Thus even thou' there is a tonal shift, the song still stays within Aminor answering the How part of the question raised earlier...

Hope you enjoyed reading this article...

Articles List

IR-Vaali Articles

Music is my breath.

Maestro Ilaiyaraaja