When I published the Part - 2 of this series, my friend and humorist K. Balakumar (@kbalakumar) asked me as to what happened to the ragamalika, 'Oru Naal Padhumaa'? I am sure many would ask that question as it is one of the very famous ragamalikas in Tamil Film Music history. The simple reason as to why that song didn't appear till now is because I have kept it for the third part of this series. In this I will deal with ragamalikas which are sung in some sort of competition and with ragamalikas used in dance sequences.
Not only is 'Oru Naal Podhuma?' famous as a song but that whole segment in the movie 'Tiruvilayadal' culminating in 'Paatum Naane' via 'Isai Thamizh Nee Seidha Arum Sadhanai' is cult and has many followers. There are multiple reasons why 'Oru Naal Podhuma?' is remembered to this day: Mahadevan's superb tuning, Kannadasan's clever lyrics, Balamurali's effortless singing and above all Balaiah's outstanding portrayal of the arrogant singer, 'Baan Bathirar'. All these ensured that this song remains a benchmark for all the subsequent 'competition' type of songs and this benchmark has not been equaled yet, let alone anyone going beyond it. Kannadasan's lyrics are perfect fit for the arrogance and Balamurali casually gets the arrogance of the singer, who has nothing but disdain for others.
In Malayalam if we have to choose an equivalent cult 'competition' song the choice is fairly obvious. That honor undoubtedly goes to 'Devasabhathalam' from 'His Highess Abudulla'. This song is a real 'competition' song with two singers facing off. It is structured as a duel between Carnatic music and Hindustani music. The excellent choice of ragas, singing. Mohanlal's charisma and the picturization have ensured that this entered the heart of all Malayalis (and others who saw / heard the song) and stayed anchored there. (That the charming Gauthami appears in the frame also helps.) One of Raveendran master's immortal tunes.
In Telugu, I give you a song which is definitely inspired by both HHAbudulla and Tiruvilayadal. Nagesh does the role of the arrogant singer, a la Balaiah, but his portrayal is very crude, which is natural when you keep in mind that this was a Raghavendra Rao movie. This is not the ragamalikas in the same sense as the other two songs. Here the shruthi bedham aspect is used by the music director. The five ragas - Hindolam, Mohanam, Madhyamavathi, Suddha Dhanyasi and Suddha Saveri - are derivable from one another through the concept of sruthi bedham. (It would take a complete post to explain this concept.) In this song, towards the end, the hero derives the other four ragas from Hindolam. The ragamalika part is very brief here.
As you can see, in such competitive atmosphere, ragamalikas provide the music director and the film directors with a good tool which enables them to both show the skill of the hero / heroine as well as keep the interest going with sudden changes in the ragas.
Keeping the interest going in classical dance scenes is not easy when they happen in films. If the dance sequence is fully classical there is a good chance that the audience would get tired of it soon. That's where ragamalikas come into play and they ensure that the director can 'cut' to different locations and change costumes as the raga changes !! There are quite a few songs in films in which ragamalikas are used in classical dance sequences. I will list a few
Only those who were in Hyderabad or Andhra (maybe even Chennai) during its release would understand what a mega hit the movie 'Sankarabaranam' was. The first week we went there was hardly any crowd, Afterall the movie had two unknown protagonists. We were so impressed with the film that we went again next week. This time the crowds started coming in and a week later it was impossible to get tickets. Even those who never saw a movie in their life stepped out to see this movie. It was equally a big hit in Chennai and I heard it did well in Maharastra as well !!
All the songs from 'Sankarabaranam' were massive hits, fetching national awards to KVM, SPB and Vanijayaram. The ragamalika song in this film was 'Ragam Thanam Pallavi'. You can see what I said about ragamalikas helping the film director is true here. Veturi Sundararamamoorthy cleverly weaves in the raga names into the K V Mahadevan's tune which is wonderfully rendered by SPB.
You can always depend on the mythologies to give you dance sequences. The virata parvatham of Mahabaratha which was the basis of 'Narthanasala'. Here we have NTR portraying Arjuna in 'angathavasam'. Gantasala sings it with the technical perfection that we always associate with him. S.Janaki matches him. A great combination of jathis and ragas make this Susarla Dakshinamoorthy song very interesting. (NTR's dance is unintended comedy and that adds to the interest.) I particular love the part where Punnagavarali appears.
It is very difficult to do a ragamalika post without involving a song of V.Dakshinamurthy Swami. He has done so many ragamalikas. I heard this song first on a singing show in Asianet channel. I could make out that this was a humorous ragamalikas by whatever I understood of the words. Looks like it indeed is a humorous ragamalika with dance as the added attraction. 'Kanaka simhasanaththil' from the movie 'Ara Kallan Muxhu Kallan'. The song has excellent start based on Kambhoji which draws you in immediately. Jesudas as usual in such circumstances is in full form. Very clever lyrics by P.Bhaskaran
BTW, this was the performance which sent me on the original hunt:
We were seeing females doing the dance in the previous videos. For a change here is a man (Mohanlal) who is doing the dancing. Raveendran Master's tune from the movie 'Kamaladalam'. (The song goes beyond traditional dance.)
Malayalam films seem to give better scope for ragamalikas while they were slowly disappearing from Tamil and Telugu films. Luckily a few years back we had the movie 'Uliyin Osai' which had lot of dance in it and gave scope to Illayaraja to try out ragamalikas. Raja being Raja doesn't go the standard way but in his own inimitable style glides from one raga to another. The dancer unfortunately is not too great but you must listen to this song for the intelligent way that Raja tunes it. His mind works in mysterious ways. (There is another nice ragamalika song, which is part of a dance competition, sung by Sudha Raghunathan and Bombay Jayasree, who video unfortunately I am unable to find on youtube)
Since I spoke about Illayaraja here, let me end with one more song of his. I personally wouldn't include it as a ragamalika since one two ragas are involved but I am sure no one will object we including this here for this is one of the best picturized songs in terms of aesthetics. The whole setup reeks of beauty, beauty and beauty. The location is beautiful, the dance choreography graceful, the cinematography perfect, Kamalahasan looks as if he is the reincarnation of Manmadha himself and no Aishwarya Rai or any Miss World can hold a candle to the beauty of Jayapradha in this film. A song which you would have watched a thousand times and still watch without batting your eyelid when it appears on screen now. There are few films which captured beauty as well we 'Sagarasangamam'. Along with everything I had mentioned earlier we have K.Vishwanath's impeccable taste and Veturi's glorious lyrics. And Raja magical tuning adds the final immortal touch. 'Nada Vinodhamu'. The perfect symbiosis of vak, artham, natyam and geyam.