How much do present-day composers impress with their work?


“If a song wants to impress me, it has to be something I never knew or something that takes me to a state of admiration. But no song of present-day is like that for me,” were the words of legendary maestro Ilayaraja, when he was addressing a section of his fans recently.

Apparently, Raja has been famous for the same for over four decades in over a thousand movies as his songs are always referred to as, ‘drugs’ for those who are in any state-of-mind – happy, sad, depressed, angry or even alcoholic.

When such a comment comes from a musician of his calibre, it puts forth a question, too, about the abilities and musicality of the composers of this age.

In this era, when a song needs just a 10×20 feet room with a synthesiser, a high-end computer and a sound-proof recording cabin, for its making, it surely would be outlandish for a yesteryear veteran like Raja who needs a recording studio the size of church hall to have at least 150 musicians for one song.

For instance, when Anirudh made his debut in ‘3‘, the major comment about his work that his songs sounded completely digital. “There is nothing wrong when you digitise a system that eases the work and reduces the cost,” says Jai, a former production manager of a famous producer.

“Digitising music actually brings down the cost and you can hear the same sound that comes out of a musical instrument,” Jai added.

However, Jagan Jayakumaran, an upcoming music director, said, “It is totally right that digital music makes everything simple. But, I doubt, whether we can call it music at all. Music is a combination of disciplined and regular vibrations that is brought up through an instrument. That is not the case with a computer-made song. In simple words, music has to be created and evolved, not manufactured or fabricated.”

As a matter of fact, Ilaiyaraja was the first music director to introduce digitisation of music in Tamil cinema through his film ‘Punnagai Mannan‘.

A R Rahman

Looking at some of the popular composers in Tamil film industry, music lovers have a range of opinion that fit Ilayaraja’s comments.

“When you take Raja’s immediate successor, A R Rahman, he has been involving very limited use of musical instruments. That’s why he could survive for at least 25 years as a genius. Even Rahman is losing not making an impact with the past few albums like Sarkar and 2.0. It is because one’s talent meets a saturation point when they make use of it in a way that it is not meant to be,” commented S Muthukumarasamy, a music enthusiast from the city.

He also asked, “Can you name one AR Rahman musical movie that a person can rightly say that all songs in the album were a hit in recent times? I can see only Kaaviya Thalaivan in the last 10 years.”

Extending the idea, he said, “When you are with an instrument you have n number of ways to generate music. When you sit in front of it, you have the only option to engineer that. So, you ultimately meet a saturation point.”

Yuvan Shankar Raja

So was the case of Ilayaraja’s son, according to Muthukumar. “Once Yuvan used to be a composer with mass appeal and huge fan base. He retains it even now. But, the problem is that he cannot satisfy all his fans with one song, in which he a was master at earlier. That is why music lovers go crazy when he comes out with an album like Taramani or Peranbu, where he creates a true chartbuster,” Muthukumar added.

Similarly, music directors like Sean Roldan, Santhosh Narayanan and D Imman too face the same kinds of criticisms. “We can see albums like Joker, Pa Pandi, Pariyerum Perumal, Vada Chennai, Kumki and Mynaa from them. At the same time, they are the ones who worked in movies like VIP-2, Bairavaa and Seema Raja. The thing is that it depends on the script and its depth. The directors today are not clear about what they want and their stories lack space and depth for music. That’s why an intense plot like Vada Chennai or Kumki ignites the composer¬ís mind,” said Akshay Sundaresan, lead singer of a music band.

Also, Akshay added, “We should accept that Ilayaraja did not have the same problem. I can list out at least 200 movies he had composed for. These 200 movies would not have a proper story, narration or they would also have been a box-office flop. At the same time, the work of Ilayaraja in them would be magnificent. So, skill, too, takes a big prominence here.”

Akshay also pointed to another aspect where musicians struggle. “When you see some albums of Harris Jayaraj, Santhosh Narayanan or Imman, they either follow the same pattern or template. This causes frequent repetition of tunes. Also, Imman and Harris have one more problem that they behave like a replica of Ilayaraja and A R Rahman respectively. No wonder, Ilayaraja could not hear anything new in today’s musicians.”

Santhosh Mathevan