The names get more and more ridiculous, like Kollywood, where our musical train is now stopped, but the music just gets more and more interesting the further we venture from lanes and sound stages of Bollywood.
Kollywood, like Tollywood of most recent posting, does not exactly roll off the tongue. Neither does it bring a gasp of recognition to the hearer. So let’s start by defining the term. The Tamil film industry throbs its lively heart from Chennai, a colonial city built around a fishing village on the southeastern coast of India. But Chennai is a big metropolis and the studios are mostly found in the areas of Kodambakkam. Therefore, the powers that be in this industry have chosen Kollywood as the obligatory ‘wood’ pet name.
Take it or leave it. I personally find all these ‘woods’ to be a bit tiresome.
Not that the music that comes out of Chennai can be characterised in the same way. Chennai’s music industry has served as the infrastructure hub for much of south India’s other regional cinemas, including Tollywood and the films of Kerala and Karnataka. And for years in the 50s, 60s and 70s, Hindi film producers looked to the studios of Kollywood for high quality but less expensive production work.
Tamil cinema has, as I mentioned in the post on Tollywood, been a pioneer in many ways. Though it got off to a rather late start by some standards, not producing a Tamil film until 1918, the idea of a superstar of the screen entering politics (and being successful) came from the example of MGR (above) and his actress wife, Jayalalitha. Like NTR, MGR was a GIANT of the screen and was fanatically supported by millions of voters when he stepped into the anti-Congress regional political game in the mid 1970s. Jayalalitha, though falling foul of her husband and political mentor, as he lay ill in the late 1980s, has twice served as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and was elected for a third term in 2011.
Kollywood, as I’ve already mentioned has long been a collaborator with Mumbai and supplied actors, musicians and directors to the Hindi ‘national’ cinema of India. Sri Devi (a baby-faced dancer), Kamal Hasan (handsome comedic actor) and Rekha (sex goddess) all came forth to conquer north Indian audiences from Kodambakkam.
And for many years the most exciting, challenging, innovative and free flowing film music has come from the music directors, composers and musicians of Tamil Nadu.
Here are two examples for your listening pleasure.
The first, is a record from a couple of years ago, that sneaks a peek into the weird but inquisitive mind of some of Kollywood’s most interesting music directors (composers/arrangers/samplers) including the iconic Ilaiyraja, Raaja and Ganesh. Put together to demonstrate just how willing these guys are to willing to travel to find interesting sounds to keep their films successful, you’ll hear echoes of Krautrock, reggae, Osmond era pop and video-boxed disco. Sounds like a dog’s breakfast? Could be, but its not. Rather this a hilariously delightful rasam of sounds, tunes from anywhere without discrimination all made to sound not just unique but somehow natural and completely Indian.
The second selection is a re-post of one of my favourite records of all time. No. I’m not resorting to hubris. I’ll take this one with me everywhere. It is a collection of A.R. Rahman’s pre-Slumdog Millionaire Tamil hits. The music is complex, orchestral, majestic and fantastically danceable. This guy is a genius pure and simple. While his work continues to set the bar for everyone in Bollywood, his work for Tamil films, is in my opinion the best of his very impressive creativity.
I won’t even ask you to enjoy this stuff. You tell me if you don’t.
Play That Beat Mr. Raja (Selected Oddities From The Tamil Film Industry 1984-1991)
01 Japanil Kalyanaraman – Title Music (1985)
02 Vikram – Vikram Vikram (1987)
03 Mangamma Sabatham – Cola Cola Coca Cola (1985)
04 My Dear Kuttichathan – Passing Out Parade Part1 (1984)
05 Nattukku Ori Nallavan – Nallavan Nallavan (1991)
06 Angi Natchathram – Raaja Rajathi (1988)
07 Punnagai Mannan – Love Theme (1986)
08 Vetri Vizha – Thakkum Thalaangu Thatthom (1989)
09 Aboorva Sakthi 369 – Puthiyaulagille (1991)
10 Chinna Veedu – Chittu Kuruvi (1985)
The Best of A.R. Rahman
01 Baba Theme Music
02 Mustafa Mustafa
03 Shakalaka Baby
05 Lucky Lucky
06 Sakhti Kodu
07 Velli Malare
08 Santosha Kanneere
09 Kaiyil Mithakkum
11 Kaadhal Vettukili