Ilayaraja is very much alive. His fans keep telling me that. They mean metaphorically, of course. “Just listen to FM in the night. All channels are playing his songs,” they tell me. And, it’s true. The maestro’s numbers do dominate the radio airwaves in the night. TV too does its part. Entire programmes feature only songs of the composer, who has scored the BGM and songs for over 1,000 movies.
We know of various film artistes, musicians and upcoming bands paying tribute to the Isaignani. One has only to go to YouTube to see bands come up with their own unique version of their favourite Ilayaraja song. We have seen the reverence with which Tamil film industry holds the composer. And his music goes beyond films. His achievements with solo albums and symphonies have added to his reputation. His songs have also been remixed for the yuppie crowd.
But do we understand why many filmmakers are parodying his songs in their movies? Is it because of Isaignani’s evergreen quality? Or is it because his songs signal humour in quick shorthand what the scene tries to convey?
‘Antha Vanatha Pola’ is a song of used by directors across the spectrum. In the new wave hit Subramaniyapuram, the song is used to provoke laughter. A local politician is comically conveyed to have the qualities that marked Vijayakanth’s character in his critically acclaimedChinna Gounder. The song has been used in more than one occasion in recent times.
(The poster of Subramaniyapuram)
Some see the evergreen qualities of Ilayaraja in this new trend. Moreover, the new generation with little exposure to the films of the eighties and nineties, quickly grasps the comic intent behind the songs, which are anyways quite familiar. The out-of-context quoting of his songs thus convey their comic potential.
The juxtaposing of the songs in a new milieu often takes place in the comedy track of a movie. Comedian-turned-hero Santhanam often uses the songs of Ilayaraja when he was all the rage. In a way, these songs are a reminder of the era gone by when Ilayaraja was the final word for film music in tinsel town.
Ilayaraja’s music for Tharai Thappattai, which Bala helmed, won the national award for best background score. It was the 1,000th film to have music by the Isaignani. It is a sharp reminder that the genius hasn’t abated in the composer. And it’s clear that the new generation is cheering from the side-lines.
The music of the master isn’t straight-jacketed and used for comedy scenes alone. Whenever a director wants a hero to be shown as a lover of music and romantic, it is Ilayaraja’s songs and BGM he turns to. Scores from films like Nayagan and Mudhal Mariyadai are often heard and this conveys a simplified emotion to the audience.
Some see a close connection between the trend and the way Hinduism is represented in Tamil cinema. As it is a permissive religion, innocent fun is often made of our gods, especially Naradar, who is a serious god in mythology. This is done in such a way that doesn’t desecrate the gods. The way we sanctify our gods is not harmed. Similarly, Raja’s music is also used for fun.
Comedian NS Krishnan, who was in the field 40-50 years ago, made fun of Carnatic keerthanas. In more recent times, actor Vivek has used songs and dialogues of vintage films to devastating comic effect.
For example, if the famous theme music from the blockbuster Karakattankaran is used, it is instantly recognised by the audience and shows the master at his best.
Ace director Venkat Prabhu had chosen Ilayaraja’s music in many of his films to illustrate comic situations. His films like 600028 andSaroja feature songs and scores from Ilayaraja’s films. Even Yuvan Shankar Raja, Illaiyaraaja’s son, is not averse to using his father’s songs for comic effect.
What we can understand is that Ilayaraja is just us loved now as he was during his years at the top. And making fun of his music is not an insult, but a compliment.