Review: Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

There was a time when Mani Ratnam was a master of his art. He took the best out of every actor; even actors about whom we thought were average have performed beyond our expectations in Mani Ratnam films. When melodrama was the signature characteristic of Tamil cinema or Indian cinema in general, Mani Ratnam’s characters did it subtly, spoke not just with their words, and they went straight to our hearts. Well, that’s a thing of past now.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

In “Chekka Chivantha Vaanam”, you see the director struggling to keep the audience consistently engaged with the characters. Even the characters are emotionally disconnected with each other (and I’m not talking about the plot’s context). There is a scene when Jyothika’s character is dying and Aravind Swami is confessing something to her. This supposedly is a very emotional scene, yet it is one among the many cold scenes in the movie.

The first half of the movie was totally racy though. So much so that you wouldn’t realise how that one hour went. Mainly thanks to the towering performance of Prakash Raj (that actor is a gem!). But once the initial plot for each character is set, the director is clueless about how to take this forward on the shoulders of the three leading actors. Though at the end he gains some hold on the craft.

Jyothika is the only consistent performer in the movie, other than Prakash Raj and Jaya Sudha. Vijay Sethupathi does justice to his role, but it is not convincing enough that all his subtlety throughout the film was for the climax. Aravind Swami’s performance is not what I would except in the company of Mani Ratnam but maybe that is expecting too much.

Rahman’s background score is gripping at times but falls to melodramatic lows at times. And please don’t sing anymore, Rahman! You startled me with your voice during that funeral scene of Ethi’s wife.

Mani Ratnam does a Ram Gopal Varma with “Chekka Chivantha Vaanam” and that is not what his fans go to theatres for. I hope he doesn’t forget that even if the movie does well in the box office.

Rahman @ 50

As A R Rahman turns 50, I think there are two things unique about his contributions in the field of Indian film music. One – he used human voice as just another instrument. He brought in the singers, had them record and used their voices as he pleased. Two – he started crediting musicians on the album labels. Musicians like flautist Naveen and drummer Sivamani had become household names.

First was his biggest and most disruptive contribution though. Human voice was considered to be pristine and divine in the film music until Rahman came in. One could not imagine playing around the vocals with the electronics. You could do that to guitar or violin, but not to the vocals. The singers could make sounds that are funny and weird which was considered to be a talent but no one was allowed to touch their voice and mix it electronically. Rahman broke those rules slowly and steadily. The monopoly of the singers were about to be crunched (and when I say vocals as an instrument, I’m not talking about harmonies or a’capella or western choir settings in the music; Ilaiyaraja had already done that).

Many credit Rahman for bringing in the elements of western music to the Indian film music, but he wasn’t the first do that. Again, there was Ilaiyaraja with whatever little exposure he had to the different kinds of music available back at a time when the world wasn’t this open. Maybe Rahman experiemented a bit too much with instruments and different styles of music that the musical identity that he consiously created was soon lost to others who followed this ‘technique’. As a result, in the initial days of Harris Jeyaraj, one could not tell apart the difference between Jeyaraj and Rahman. The arrangement and approach were just about the same. Which makes one wonder whether Rahman was more of a musical arranger than a composer, though the difference between the two is a fine thin line. There is no ‘Rahman sound’ in the film music, just as there is no Harris Jeyaraj sound or Yuvan Shankar Raja sound. They all seem to follow the same pattern and technique, and are failing to make a mark of their own (and I’m not talking about popularity here).

Post-Oscars, Rahman seems to be in a quest to find his own identity in his music. Off late, his music seems to be veering away from the populist lines, but it doesn’t look like he has found it yet. Maybe, the influence of sufism is the kind of identity that he should further explore, like Folk is to Ilaiyaraja, but he is not yet ready to take that up.

That said, I end this note with one of his songs, one in many years that is still ringing in my ears.

The Revenant

“The Revenant” takes us back to the ‘olden’ days of Hollywood film making and tells us that movies can still be made outside the green screen studios. And that definitely is a plus, for a generation of computer-savvy movie goers aren’t much thrilled or convinced of stories told by the ‘gruesome’ visual effects these days. Lubezki’s camera would captivate you so much because it reminds you of the wide angles or close-ups that you have seen in movies about the wild west or native Americans (I also hear that he has used the natural lights, so that makes the cinematography here a lot interesting). Some of the shots are so Terrence Malick-ish and I’m talking about Malick movies before Lubezki started associating with him. At times, the movie has it loose on the conviction part – particularly on the scene where Glass could not move a finger when his son was being killed yet manages to drag himself out of his grave thereafter. The film in spirit too is a mixture of ‘Dances with Wolves’ meets ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ in a Terrence Malick movie scripted by Quentin Tarantino.

But that is not to discourage you from watching the movie. In fact, it is a must-watch and you should go to a theater where the widest screen and good sound are available to watch this movie (people of Trivandrum, do not miss this in Audi 1 of Ariesplex Cinemas). Because even with the advanced visual and sound technologies available these days, movies of this genre and visual quality are seldom made. DiCaprio’s performance does not come close to what he did with Wolf of Wall Street but is sure to gain the Academy members’ attention (who doesn’t like tragedy on-screen?). And I’m sure Lubezki would walk away with a golden man in his hand. I read that the crew had to go through a lot of pain while shooting and you can see that on screen.

Malayalam Film Songs 2015

Advise to Vidyasagar – stop imitating Ilaiyaraja even if it is on Sathyan Anthikkad’s request (reference to movie “Ennum Eppozhum”). We look forward to your signature music. Not just some skeleton of another music director.

2015 has seen many ‘casual’ songs being hit – like ‘Enne thallendammaava”, or “Kaikottum kandittilla” (both from Oru Vadakkan Selfie), and “Kaalam kettu poy”, or “Scene Contra” or many other such songs from the film “Premam”. For one thing, Rajesh Murugesan and Shaan Rahmaan – these won’t go past another set of such casual songs from yet another movie. You got to remember that. “Malare” however stayed and you got to thank Sai Pallavi for the song to have stayed, not so much for the quality of musical chords (why did you have to put that heavy set of strings to overshadow the vocals?!). If that is how you want to be remembered, okay, fine. “ithu puthen lokam” from ‘Premam’ however was nice, both lyrically and music wise.

“I Remember You”, the English number from the movie “Nee-Na” was a class apart. Good job on the male version, Nikhil Menon. Also on the track “Where Gravity Fails”. You have brought back the good old soft rock back to filmy music. Also your song “Then Nila” sung by Sachin Warrier was so nice to hear. Good job on the track of “Nee-Na”. Bijibal has kept it nicely with the tracks “Ee Mizikalil” from Lukka Chuppi (love those guitar riffs) and “Ente Janalarikil” from Sudhi Vaathmeekam. And Gopi Sunder has put the curtain to 2015 with the song “Puthu mazhayaay” from Charlie.

That sums up the otherwise mediocre musical year of 2015.

Music Review: Zikr Tera

“Zikr Tera”, the latest offering from Roop Kumar Rathod and Sunali Rathod, has a few things special about it. The album celebrates 25 years of togetherness of Roop and Sunali Rathod, the artists call it a tribute to the late ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, and this is the first album that the duo is releasing digitally. But more than any of these features, what makes it stand out in our times is that it brings back a music genre that is long forgotten in the mainstream music.

The Rathods bring back the flavours of ghazal that you loved, the one genre that Pankaj Udas, Jagjit Singh and Rathods themselves have reigned in once upon a time. The sound that was so common in the eighties’ and nineties’ mainstream music scene. This album gives a chance to listeners to enjoy the music that is easy on your ears and what better voice than Rathod himself to indulge in!

The album has eight songs, of which two are solos by Sunali Rathod, five solos by Roop Kumar and one song by the duo together. To be honest, I think the least interesting tracks of this album are Sunali’s solos. The singer seems to have lost the charm of her voice and seems uninterested. My favorite song from the album is “Haathon Mein Haath”, the duet which stands our primarily for the soulful rendition of Roop Kumar. “Meri Chaadar Tha” and “Sawaal Sabne Kiya” are other two favorites, again for the mellifluous voice of Roop Kumar Rathod. When you hear these songs, you realize how much you missed the man and his voice.

I hope this album brings back the old days of easy music listening where the composition talks straight to your heart with a beautiful voice. And that many more artists break free of the clutches of the record labels, now that a whole wide world of internet possibilities are open before them.

Click here to listen to the songs of Zikr Tera at

To DMCA and the music industry biggies

More than two years back, I received an email notification from 4shared customer support that one of the songs I posted there (a cover version of the Malayalam sing “Anthiveyil Ponnuthirum”) violated the original copyright and had been taken down. Then just about six months back another one on a Hindi cover version of the song “Main Agar Kahoon” was reported and taken down with a warning that a third instance would end up with my account being banned. Then I learn from Rahul Soman that the website Muziboo has been shutdown permanently due to such copyright infringement claims. All these removals and warnings involved DMCA (The Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which is a US copyright law that is supposed to protect the intellectual property.

I had sent an email to 4shared contesting the copyright infringement claim but I did not receive any reply but further warnings without addressing the real issue here. Make no mistake, I respect intellectual property rights. But here I was, or many people like me who makes the majority of users at Muziboo, posting the karaoke/cover versions of the original songs with leaving original credits with their owners. Obviously, we do not make any money out of it. And these cover versions help audience remember the originals and appreciate it once again. At times, we also get applauded for our own efforts too, sometimes people commenting that our amateur, home-recorded versions were better than the originals.

If DMCA continues to make such claims of copyright over these harmless cover versions, how is it going to end? Is this restricted to the karaoke/cover songs uploaded over internet? Or does this extend to the music troupes who make a living out of singing the cover versions? Or the large number of celebrities and YouTube stars who made big with their versions? Can we not even sing at home, tuned to the karaoke tracks? Why are these big shots afraid of the music lovers like us, who aren’t in this for money but just the love of music?

I was thinking that if this was going on earlier, I would never have met M G Radhakrishnan and sang for him. I know many people in the industry who has made it big or is starting to make it big have started with singing the cover versions. I hope they will do something about it. To bring it to the attention of the biggies in the industry and get them to do something about it. On a large scale in the future, this move will put a cap on many amateur talents.

Million Dollar Baby

Life at times is like Clint Eastwood, the composer. Out of the blue, it brings out strangers on your way, walking beside you and in the very next moment they’re gone. You don’t want to know where they came from or where they’ve gone or who they are. You’re left untouched. Like those guitar riffs in Million Dollar Baby.

The Wolf of Wall Street

I didn’t even notice how many times the word ‘fuck’ appeared in the movie (of which I watched a YouTube video that took count before I watched the movie) because the movie, even in it’s entire three long hours, didn’t distract me to those unimportant details.

I was of the opinion that Leonardo DiCaprio, no matter what roles he played, I always saw the ‘actor DiCaprio’ a lot more than the characters he played. This was not to undermine his abilities as an actor. He does the ‘acting’ well, but he always was ‘DiCaprio playing the character’ for me. I have noticed the same thing in the case of Tom Cruise. No matter what role Tom plays, he remains ‘The Tom Cruise’ always (not comparing him with DiCaprio; DiCaprio is definitely in a different league as far as acting is considered). Don’t take me wrong, I don’t have anything against the handsome/good-looking actors because I don’t see the same thing happening with Matt Damon. Even when I look at Gatsby to Jordan boy here, they are just roles that DiCaprio plays (and there isn’t too many differences between both portrayals but that’s for another note). That said, the only reason that you would sit through these long three hours is, DiCaprio. And if there is a best of his so far in his career, this is it.

One thing is sure though. You’ve got to watch the movie to see what happens when you go off the track in your life – you know, with alcohol abuse, drugs abuse, sex abuse, career abuse or money abuse. There is a message for the guys of those sort or to the guys who may be headed on that track (even though the scale may vary).


Guitar doesn’t weep gently; Cello does. And when it does, it feels like a lump in the throat. You hear the hoarseness in the voice, unlike the Violin. It’s hoarse, but it’s not loud. When Cello weeps, it’s all by itself, inside the closed doors. Not like Violin that cries out on someone else’s shoulders.

Nagavalli by The Down Troddence

This is one gem of a work. I’ve never been a fan of Thrash Metal and don’t know much about the genre either but these guys made me listen. The way they infused the story of Nagavalli, a fictional character from the popular Malayalam movie “Manichithrathazhu” that made Shobhana a national award winner, and put it in to the contemporary context is a great work. Add to that the pinch of folk and finally the perfect blending into the original score. Perfect example of how you can use the popular art psyche to introduce or popularize the little known art forms/music genres. Contrary to the new-age indie bands who poor lyrical quality, these guys beat it on that front too. Well done THE DOWN TRODDENCE! (And whoever done the video deserves an applause too).