Monday, 24 September 2018

Vada Chennai album has more than just music and lyrics

Vetri Maaran, undoubtedly, is one of the very ardent filmmakers and writers who look for perfection and nativity in all his scripts and directorial ventures. The way he does research and understands the geography of the plot and characters is what film critics usually expect from every other creator in the industry.

This filmmaker, known for documenting a lifestyle within the universe of his story narrated through a layered screenplay, has already grabbed the attention of film buffs by announcing his Vada Chennai trilogy that came in over a year ago. The movie, as the title suggests, is set in the neighbourhoods of north Chennai, had all its songs released yesterday and became an instant sensation.

It is also the 25th musical campaign of Santhosh Narayanan (SaNa), and his first association with Vetri Maaran, whose regular is G V Prakash. As we all have experienced earlier, several times, this geography ain’t new for the composer, who has worked in Pa Ranjith’s Madras and Rathna Kumar’s Meyaadha Maan. Even for Vetri Maaran, who made his debut flick Polladhavan, that deals with the bike theft and drug dealing happening in and around Pudupettai, it is not a big deal making a movie in the same north ‘Madras’.

So, when both these geniuses meet up for a project like Vada Chennai, it should be creating magic, and it obviously has.

Speaking demography specific, the movie has two marana gaana numbers, that are probably placed in two different time periods in the movie franchise that tells a three-decade story.

First, it is 'Alangaara Pandhalile' which is a raw marana gaana usually sung during the last rites of a person in the region. Surprisingly, SaNa has enhanced the levels of originality he could create in a song in this specific genre. The last time we heard him making, 'Irandhidava Nee Pirandhaai' in Madras. This one is a level up in terms of the sounds he has created to replicate like a proper-proper marana gaana. An added fact is that the lyrics of 'Alangara Pandhalile' hints at the death of someone named ‘Anbu’, which, according to the character introduction video, is none other than Dhanush.

The next marana gaana in the movie is 'Eppadiyamma Marakka Mudiyum', which gives a retro feel, and so should be placed in the ’80s or early ‘90s portion of the movie. It gives an inkling of the death of a big shot through the line, 'Maaveeran Marainthu Ponathe'. We can assume it could be the death of Rajan, played by Ameer in the movie. To strengthen our hunch, it has another line that says the dead person is married to someone, and we also have seen stills of Rajan’s wedding with Chandra essayed by Andrea.

Apart from marana gaana, the movie has two other folkish songs, that aren’t like the gaana songs we have heard before in movies. Both these, 'Goindhammala' and 'Maadila Nikkura Maankutty' are romantic numbers. Beyond nativity, we can see Vetri Maaran’s touch in both the songs.

'Goindhammala', rendered by Dhanush, is similar to the situation of 'Yaathe Yaathe' from the director’s previous critically-acclaimed flick, Aadukalam. The lyrics convey what kind of changes Anbu goes through on seeing his love interest Padma for the first time or why not, maybe after a long time.

Also, it has SaNa style vocal music created with a quirky chorus. We presume it should be happening when Anbu is a teenager as we hear cycle bell sounds often in the interludes.

The other love number, 'Maadila Nikkura Maankutty' starts off like a one-side lover’s stalking song and ends a duet. The experimentation of SaNa is blending the voices of the rugged and rough Gana Bala and the mild Dhee. The song is set in such a way that the guy is explaining about his love life to his friends as he stalks her – remember Polladhavan? There is a carrom board reference in this sing - 'white colour striker la karuppa pocketu potaa da'  and a type-writer reference as well, 'ASDFGF'. Maybe, this carrom player Anbu stalks at Padma who attending a type-writing class.

There are two other gaana songs, of which, 'Mathiya Seriyilae' is full of pathos. It documents every aspect of a prisoner’s life – mosquito bite, kali, cramped space of living, among the many. Unlike other gaanas in the album, this one happens in a place where no instruments could be used. So, all the sounds we hear in this number are similar to banging and knocking of jail plates, cups and bars. That is brilliant but is also similar to a song of the same kind in Shankar's Boys. There is a line, 'takkaru naanunga inga number thaanunga', that says, I was like a don outside, but have become just a number inside, which reminds us that, this is a gangster movie.

The last gaana of the album, 'Sandhanatha' happens in a puberty function. The song is a mix of digital percussion and thappu sound. The digital percussion is for, nothing but recreating a band that is usually seen in the ceremonies of north Chennai. With lyrics that tell about a separated family coming together, kozhi kari virundhu and naattu sarakku, this song is an amalgamation of native instruments dominated by a trumpet. With the reference of naattu sarakku, we can derive a hypothesis that it is happening sometime back in 80's when there was no ban on the domestic liquor.

There are two non-gaana songs in the movie as well – Ennadi Maayavi Nee and Kaarkuzhal Kadavaiye. Both are romantic numbers with lyrics that are not Chennai slang. But, in Ennadi Maayavi Nee, this line, 'pattakaththi thooki ipo mittai narukkuren' is literally about a gangster who has fallen in love. It is in this particular song, we could feel the signature 'scale-change' of SaNa, right after the first interlude when Sid Sriram sustains the word 'Paravaiyae'.

While the lines of Kaarkuzhal Kadavaiye is something out-of-the-box in the whole album – in classical Tamil with high literary quotient. Usage of words like kaarkuzhal kadavaiye (admiring a woman’s black hair waving in the wind), kaalaga vazhi (dense and dark way – could be a forest), illaal (housewife), and kondrai (a flower). According to my theory, this is happening in the movie when a couple elopes - could be Anbu and Padma, precisely. The entire song is loaded with metaphors - Vivek takes the lead here. My personal favourites are, 'kannadi koppai aazhiyil naan kai meeri serntha theyilai' and 'uliye un urasal erkirrien unakaai en kuraigal thorkiren'. And again, instrumentally, there is a medley of tabla and digital percussion, on a perfect blend.

Finally, the two themes of the album, which set the mood for the trilogy. Of the two, we were already introduced to 'How Howwa' theme during character introduction and teaser. The other one is 'King of the sea' the literal Tamil translation of which would be 'Kadal Raja' or even 'Kadal Raasa' - not sure was that intentional.

Listening to the themes, we can perceive a huge density of music made with vast orchestration. Both themes are trumpet dominated, assisted with sounds of an array of violins and cello. An experiment here by the composer is making a musical concoction - a melody that evolves right in the middle of 'How Howwa' which is a surprise when hearing it first. In this melody part alone, the piano takes over trumpet to bring down the mood. Above all, the humming on a conjurous texture is simply an audio-illusion.

On the other hand, this 'Kadal Raasa' theme is again with a retro flavour and a vocal BGM. We can feel the usage and sounds of true instruments instead of synthesised ones. No wonder, as SaNa is an expert in that.

More than just music and lyrics Vada Chennai album has documented a whole period of time, geography and its lifestyle. Maybe I am wrong or less with my assumptions and theories. But, I definitely can say, this trilogy is going to be the most contented franchise ever made in Tamil cinema. It's been a long time since I prepared myself with a lot of expectations before the release of a movie. Now its time for one.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, September 24, 2018.

A part or complete version of this article by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in This note is completely based on the perceptions of Santhosh Mathevan alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only.