The New Year is just around the corner and though we're well into the new millennium, fans of Ilaiyaraja will celebrate it with a song that's over three decades old: the "Hiii everybody, wish you ay happy new yearrrr!" hit number from Kamal Haasan's "Sakalakala Vallavan".
The 1982 film, directed by SP Muthuraman, is astonishingly regressive when we view it today. It's about a young, rustic man (Kamal) who seeks revenge for his sister's rape by fooling the rich rapist's sister (Ambika) and marrying her. This particular song is part of the young man's (overnight) transformation into a sophisticated, urban youth who captures the rich rapist's sister's heart. Yes, really.
But keeping all that's terribly wrong with this script aside, you can't but tap your foot to this trippy "disco" song which has Kamal making a dashing entry on a bike, clad in a leather suit. The lyrics go "Ilamai idho, idho" (meaning "Here's youth!") and has the actor singing about his attractiveness to women. Much of its flavour will be lost in translation but in Tamil, the lines veering from narcissism to mischief bring a smile to your face.
The decor for the song was typical in Tamil cinema of those days to indicate "high" living. Shiny, glitzy and full of scantily clad (for those times anyway) women dancing around as people chugged their alcohol. Tamil Nadu does not have clubs and pubs like these even now, forget the 80s, but these "bar" scenes and songs were quite famous back then. These were the fantasy lands of immorality, the dens of vice where good brothers and sisters of the hero went to get "spoilt". You don't get to see them anymore, unfortunately.
Kamal truly is a master of all arts - watch him dance on skates (wearing a shiny crop top, no less), swing on ropes and perform moves that would give contemporary dancers a run for their money. Ilaiyaraja is mostly known for his incomparable melodies but he also created songs like these which were heady, addictive and have enormous recall value.
If you're in any doubt about how to welcome the New Year this time, forget the Honey Singhs of the world and turn to vintage Raaja.