Tuesday, 22 May, 2007

Saccharin Substitute

Music Review - Cheeni Kum

I still have mixed feelings about this album. Were it not for the fact that I have heard and thoroughly lost myself in delight in the 'original' tracks in Tamil years ago (heck, I was brought up on this stuff!), I wonder if my reaction to the Hindi versions would have been much more positive. It is taking me a huge effort to not make the inevitable comparisons - due to which, at first, I literally shied away at these re-made (I don't want to use the term 'remixed' because of the connotation I normally associate with it - one of mild distaste at a pathetic attempt at commercialization and de-intellectualization) tracks. But I've kept going back since. Check out the tracks here.

The reason, for me, is simple - Shreya Ghoshal. In my mind, she is undoubtedly the most talented voice among women in the Indian film industry today. Her voice quality is crystal clear, her diction is excellent, and her control on the smallest microtones is simply phenomenal - all of which technically adds up to a very emotive appeal even when she sings supposedly light songs, as in this soundtrack. Ilaiyaraaja (IR) has her among his favourites (her Tamil pronunciation is engiyo-level!), and she has sung in his films ("Onna Vida" in Virumaandi for instance) and in the odd concert covering some of his earlier compositions.

Baradwaj has done an excellent review of this soundtrack here, and there is little I'd like to add specifically on each track. He recommends "Baatein Hawa" as the pick of the lot (it has the best 'complete' feel about it, interludes et al), and I would agree. "Jaane Do Na" comes a close second - the basic melody itself is out-of-this-world. "Cheeni Kum" works because of the slightly peppier pace than the original (or at least the percussion tracks are laid out to give that impression), and also because of Shreya - check out the way she 'puts feel' in the word "problem"! That's the reason I love this girl's voice - she can go from light, to husky, to melancholic, to whatever, with utmost finesse! I'm a fan!

As for the tracks themselves - I get the feeling IR was simply tooling around with a synthesizer and a computer, and the score sheets of a few of his hundreds of hits, and put this soundtrack together. I doubt he rolled up his sleeves and did what he does best - write and score some amazing music! Clearly the melodies themselves are re-hashed, which, honestly I don't have a problem with. It's a great way for some of his very best tunes to find a larger non-Tamil non-South-Indian and younger audience. Plus, he's 'lift'-ing his own stuff, and I'm sure, with the full knowledge of the producers. But it's the rest of the stuff - the definitive intros, the involved interludes, the myriad little whispered instrumental conversations at the back or the end of the main melody, the sudden change of 'colour' through a cleverly used chord sequence, the mind-bending detours in rhythm and timing - that are such a trademark of his brilliance and which are marked by their absence (or are used with measured restraint), that slightly disappoint a die-hard old-time IR fan like me.

I think IR has gone for 'sound', maybe with the view that today's audience is wired up for stuff like that, and I believe the gamble might pay off with the same audience, but does not quite cut it for someone like me. An A R Rahman or a Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are 'killers' in the use of 'sound', with some amazing sound engineering, sampling and careful 'layering', but I'm afraid IR does not measure up. The synth 'sounds' synthetic and artificial, the percussion sound quality is quite ordinary, there's just a lot of reverb and echo effects. I mean, even the bass sounds like it was played off a fairly cheap keyboard! Sacrilege! IR's previous attempts at using synth sounds have not been that successful through the nineties, but he backed that up with solid compositional genius (Case in point - the brilliant but unfortunately little-known "Meetaadha Oru Veenai" from Poonthottam). And since he's clearly under-played his song-writing (just the odd m9-th floating around, all that) in this soundtrack, the overall effect lacks a certain something.

As Baradwaj says "...this album is undeniably a lesser work from one of our bona fide musical geniuses". Raaja's music normally makes me totally lose myself in it, and I am absorbed in the tracks to the exclusion of anything around me at the time, but these tracks are merely a very pleasant diversion. Sweet, but like saccharin.

Post Script

For the record, here are the originals mapped to the songs in Cheeni Kum -

  • "Baatein Hawa" - "Kuzhaloodhum Kannanukku" from Mella Thirandhadhu Kadhavu
  • "Cheeni Kum" / "Sooni Sooni" - "Manram Vandha Thenralukku" from Mouna Raagam
  • "Jaane Do Naa" - "Vizhiyile mani Vizhiyile" from Nooravadhu Naal; also "Jotheyali jothe Jotheyali" from the Kannada movie Geetha (the latter is still regarded a Raaja classic and is played by FM stations in Bangalore even today)


Crazy Spelunker said...

Dude, thatz one awesome review. Long time that I read a review that actually reviews instead of just commenting off the sleeves. Great going..

Neelakantan said...

Talent here! Baradwaj has competition. Well written review...