Ilaiyaraja and the Curse of the Visual – Part 2


There lies more than one potential and potent sociology (or even neuro-science) research problem in the contrast of tastes supposedly exhibited by the Tamil speaking populace.

Regardless of their education and social stature, they display humongous tolerance short of apathy and even relishing proclivity short of crassness to gaudy and illogical visuals called movies. Coexisting on the other hand is their nuanced, connoisseurship musical taste irrespective of, again, their education and social stature or even extent of musical knowledge.

Art is subjective and art-forms doesn’t perhaps require logic or method for its appreciation. But it beats my common sense to pulp the artsy subjectivity of the common Tamilian that righteously celebrates the Carnatic Music Trinities or their follow-up acts culminating in modern musical giants like G. Ramanathan, K. V. Mahadevan, M. S. Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraja, is the same subjective source that ‘appreciates’ the homogeneously simpleton Tamil movies. Exceptions exist in exceptional movies but their contribution to Tamil visual art-form is perhaps outrageously meager when compared to the contribution of the associated musical scores to modern Tamil music.

The musical genius of Ilaiyaraja is often mired by the associated movie visuals. Purist fan of his replace often with usually in the previous sentence, while ‘fanatics’ like me would replace often with always.

Scores of such bad examples exist but I pick two or three, as they are (un)fortunately available on the YouTube.

The first one is from the early period of Ilaiyaraja’s movie-music career. Let me first give the audio of the song alone. The PG certified Tamil lyrics doesn’t matter. Listening to the first few seconds until the pallavi would be enough.

aagaya_gangai – Audio


For those of us who are already aware of this song, by now the associated visuals of it would work overtime to highlight the richness of the music. The rest of the fortunate who haven’t heard or seen this song can now listen to that song with associated visuals below.

First few seconds (until pallavi) of watching should be enough to agree on the existence of the sociology/neuroscience problem I mentioned earlier.

Here is another early example from his compositions, the structure of which we already discussed in part – 1.

Barring the sheer presence of the yesteryear Tamil movie beauty and present day super star as the sufficiency of visual art form expression in Tamil movies, there is an interesting reason for the possibly bland visuals in the above song. Sridevi had hurt her (right?) leg it seems, while shooting for another movie in the days that preceded the shooting of this song. Her call-sheet being a premium, the director of this movie (dharma yudham) had no option it seems but to come up with that catchy choreography with Sridevi doing all her dance steps with her face while Rajini as usual manages to do it with his ‘style’ (observe in particular what he does at the beginning of the first interlude with his specs ‘in sync’ with the music).

That for a happy, throbbing, gushing, lilting, invigorating spree of a music score that sways every listening time, even my two left legs into a trot.

The reverse visual curse is also possible, which is displayed in my second example. Here, the intended dance and fantastic visual sequences for the interlude provide the necessary visual vomit to asphyxiate the lively music.

Do watch the visuals until the end – the song could help you do that. I think if I am to do such things that happen in the interludes of the above song, that too, in the name of love, my girlfriend would have me skinned alive. And that would be a mild punishment, as it is only for unleashing all that clothed depravity and sexploitation. For doing it with such a music in the background, I am reserved a seat in each of the tiers of Dante’s Inferno, to reap my comeuppance.

Suffice these two examples. Here I find the appropriate meaning for a phrase I heard twenty years back in chaste Tamil in a discourse by Embar Vijayaragavachariar on Tyagaraja and originally coined it seems by Kalidasa in one of his literary masterpieces: Casting pearls in front of swines.

mahabarat_rajajiWhen C. Rajagopalachari was given the Tamil print edition of his Mahabharatha called Vyasar Virundhu, it seems he took strong exception to the wrapper that contained painted images of Lord Krishna and Draupadi. Rajaji lamented why the imagination of one person (painter) on the looks and features of such superhuman characters of an epic be thrust on the public, each of whom have a right to imagine the characters with distinction.

The mesmeric tunes of Ilaiyaraja resonating the ears of the common man often chastise him of his dichotomous senses if he listens sincerely, for the irony of the stupid visuals he bears to watch along with, befuddling the resplendent imagination possible in the music. The music is ample to imagine all the visuals; to each listener distinct yet every time different; a kaleidoscope shaken by her capacity for imagination. Why arrest it with a homogenized visual interpretation from the often unimaginative choreographer or the deaf-eared movie director.

There are exceptions in this, which we discuss in the next section. Meanwhile, one best way to enjoy the music of Ilaiyaraja (or any other movie music composer who preceded him) is to listen to the song without knowing anything about the associated movie. When we like the music from the audio release, we should resist all the urge to watch the movie. Else, walk out for a snack or smoke during the song sequences, hoping the director is not intelligent enough to move the story (if there was one) along with the song.

Relish the music of him we must, in our chosen confines; wallow in the helpless spree of our unbridled imagination, the associated intelligence and emotion of the music, the complexity of the musical layers that demands our uplift, the easy gait of it that assures such uplift is possible even for us, and the sheer joy that engulfs us every time, immersed in such musical realization.

And let us not try to convey it to others. Let it be.

That is one way to express our sincere thanks to the music composer who raised our layman body and soul to appreciate the magnificence in us.

[Ilaiyaraja and the Curse of the Visual – Part 3]

[ Ilaiyaraja and the Curse of the Visual – Part 1 ]



[*] Ilaiyaraja has composed music for more than a thousand movies. It is impossible to write a single article that does justice to the entire musical phenomenon, introducing and saluting his music while also satisfying the expectations of his fans. Hopefully this essay series serves as an introduction to those who are yet to explore his music.

A much more elaborate attempt was already made by my Srirangam friend Lakshminarayanan a decade back in the internet. Titled Classical Ilaiyaraja, the fifteen part essay among other places is also preserved at the unofficial Ilaiyaraja home-site.

[**] Vyasar Virundhu image credit –

[***] The songs and music used here are only for illustration purpose. There is no download link provided.

[***] Thanks to Sudarshan for citing the kajurAhO song.