Music review: Mazhanritham

[This music review was first appeared in Soundbox music magazine in it’s April 2011 issue].

Album: Mazhanritham
Music: Pradip Somasundaran
Label: Tejas Music

Remember Pradip Somasundaran who won the Latha Mangeshkar national award for the best male singer in Meri Awaz Suno, the first reality music show in Indian Television? Pradip has turned out to be a composer with this music album in Malayalam. Director Sohan Lal (Orkkuka Vallappozhum fame) has penned the lyrics and actor Manoj K Jayan has sung a song in this album. The album’s center theme is rain and each of the nine songs depict the nava rasas of rain. Pradip proves himself to be a good composer himself and has produced some melodious numbers for this album.

Mazhayil Nin Mozhikal is the highlight of this album because it is the first complete song sung by cine actor Manoj K Jayan (son of veteran Karnatik musician Jayan who was a disciple of Chembai Bhagavathar). Manoj has done a good job on this beautiful song. Pichiyum Kudamullayum, sung by Gayatri, is a treat and the singer’s mellifluous voice has aptly supported the words.

Swayam Marannu Paadaam is sung by Pradip. The attention that this singer gives to every minute details of the pronunciation and feel of each song is commendable. What jars in this song though is the background vocals that come in between the verses which seems a bit overdone. Premamenna Kuyile is sung by Franco (chembakame fame) has a reggae-ish feel to it and Franco’s voice fits the song like a T. Aadyaanuraagam is a duet by Pradip and Gayatri. The beginning of the second stanza is so beautiful in this song.

Mizhi Poykayil sung by Shahbaz Aman is my personal favorite from this album. Shabaz’s delicate voice and soulful singing make this song the pick of the lot. Paadum Poovum is sung by Pradip and it’s composed in Mappila song style. The energy in Pradip’s voice has made this one a pleasure to listen to. Though it’s a bit odd to hear the word “Maula” in the background vocals because considering the lyrics of the song, it just doesn’t fit right. Iniyennu Kaanum is another soulful duet by Pradip and Bhavyalakshmi. Bhavya’s distinct voice is notable in this song. Mounam is the concluding track of the album sung by Pradip which is yet another soothingly beautiful song.

Music review – Payyans, Living Together

(This music review was first appeared in Sound Box – India’s Premier Music Trade Magazine. Do check out the magazine from the nearest news stand.)

Movie: Payyans
Music: Alphonse Joseph
Lyrics: Kaithapram, Anil Panachooraan
Rating: 3.5 stars

People outside Kerala would know Alphonse Joseph as the guy who sang the ballad “Aaromale” in Tamil movie Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya, composed by A R Rahman. Alphonse’s plus point, be it in singing or composing, is his strong influence of western music and his ability to sing high-octave songs. Payyans, the new filmy album from Alphonse is also a satisfying album in that genre. The album consists of four original songs, an unplugged version of the opening track and three karaoke tracks.

The first song “Thennal Chirakundo” is sung by Karthik and Jyotsna. The song starts off with a beautiful guitar riff and bass. The good thing about this song is that it does not over kill the vocals with orchestration and each compliments the other beautifully. One thing that does stand out though is Karthik’s Malayalam pronunciation at parts. Other than that both the vocalists have done a good job on this song. The unplugged version of this song is also included in the album.

The music arrangement at the beginning of the second song, “Route maari nadakkaam” would remind you of the song “Oru koodai sunlight” from the Rajnikanth movie Sivaji. This is a trendy song and the vocals of Benny Dayal and Reshmi is a perfect choice. What irritates us with this song is its lyrics. Many of our lyricists seem to think that just throwing in some words like style, blue tooth, pizza, facebook, chat etc would make a trendy, peppy song. But in fact it is the lyrics that puts us down. If not for the vocals of Benny and Reshmi, you would have skipped to the next number right away.

Katha Parayaan” is a beautiful melodious number sung by the veteran singer P Jayachandran. This song would steal your heart in the first listen.  “Doore vazhi” is sung by Alphonse Joseph himself. The song fits his voice and range like a T. It’s mid to high octave singing is a perfect fit for Alphonse. The orchestral arrangement is also very interesting with a mix of eastern and western style.

I would go with 3.5 out of 5 for this album. This is certainly one good work from Alphonse Joseph, the music director.

Movie: Living Together
Music: M Jayachandran
Lyrics: Kaithapram
Rating: 3 stars

When it comes to M Jayachandran’s music, what you would primarily expect is some melodious numbers coupled with a semi-classical number. MJ does not disappoint his fans with this album. His choice of singers for this album is also notable. There are 8 tracks in this filmy album.

Paattinte Palkadavil is a melodious dance number sung by Shreya Ghoshal. Shreya has done an awesome job on the vocals of this song. It’s admirable to see this singer rendering her songs to perfection, no matter which language it is. There is a male version of this song, sung by Vijay Yesudas.

Raaga Chandranariyaathe is a beautiful duet by Karthik and Swetha. Karthik’s vocal in this song is quite good. Saamarasa Ranjani is a semi-classical number sung by M G Sreekumar. MGS has done this very well.

It looks like M Jayachandran cannot do an album without Yesudas. He has spared a beautiful melodious number called Mayangoo Nee Sakhi for Yesudas. Yesudas’ voice is straining with his age and it is obviously evident in the songs which he have been singing lately. But still it’s amazing to see this man singing quite well for his age.

Kuttikurumbaa Vaa is a fun song that opens with a children chorus. Anila has sung this song and she has put so much energy and fun into the song that it requires. Sudeep has sung the male version of this song which is also an energy-filled version. Ilaku Naage is sung by Sannidhaanandan and Janardhanan. Sannidhanandan is the perfect choice for this folk-ish song.

To sum it up, this album is a mixed bag of folk, dance, semi-classical, romantic melodies which you would definitely like if you have always liked M Jayachandran’s music, but do not expect any surprises here. I would go with 3 out of 5 stars for M Jayachandran’s music for Living Together.

(Images courtesy:,

Shankar’s “Enthiran”: You better watch “Matrix Reloaded”

This is what film makers who cast Rajni fail to understand. Rajni is a ‘son of the soil’ and he does his best in such roles (remember Padayappa or Muthu?). I loved Basha and it is after watching it that I made sure not to miss any Rajni movie. Sivaji was perhaps the maximum he could do but when you stretch him far you get “Enthiran“. A boring, exhaustive, three hours long film with graphics and songs fit in here and there. Luckily, I had the company of Hiran, or else I would have bored myself to death.

I’d say you should go watch “Matrix Reloaded” again than spending your time and money for Shankar’s “Enthiran“. It is not only because “Enthiran” copies some of the cloning ideas or the road chase scenes from Matrix, but the makers of Matrix made a convincing movie out of a very fictitious story. This is what Shankar & co has to understand. Paying up huge sums of money to some big-wig Hollywood animation studio can only get you some amazing graphics but never a convincing script. You need talent to do that.

Director Shankar has played a bit of Congress party in the Common Wealth Games for this film. Almost all the people you see in the movie are fair and beautiful except for some who faces a fire tragedy. The hospitals, research centers are all huge and beautiful buildings like you see in the Hollywood movies. Still you would know it happens in India. 😉

Rajni, the supernatural, is so boring in so many scenes. There is no punch line, not even his trademark gestures but some weird actions of the villain Rajni. I enjoyed the train fight scene though. About the director, I wonder how people call Shankar a perfectionist. The scenes where the animation is plugged into outdoor scenes are far less convincing because the animation bumps out from the scenes. Or look at the tiny things. Like the lab where it is written “Restricted Area”. A red tape kind of thing that you have seen in many old movies to read “ICU”, “No Entry” etc. It is so amateurish for an otherwise gaudy set. It is small things like this that make all the difference in “convinving” people.

The songs are boring but the visuals are stunning. The first song sequence in the desert is the most beautiful of it all. But when the songs keep coming in and out, you get bored. A R Rahman’s score is not captivating too.

The movie is not without it’s positives. It starts well and you would blindly believe the robot story in the beginning before it started falling off. The animations are perfect and though it copies many Hollywood movies that we are familiar with, it also has some nice animation towards the climax scene (the snake, the giant robot – all made up of robots etc). The climax scene of the robot dismantling himself was good. The editing of the song sequences is good. Aishwarya Rai does her job well too – of looking beautiful. The most believable character of the movie is neither the hero Rajni, nor the villain Rajni. It is Dr. Bora, played by Danny Denzongpa. He was amazing and we realize how artificial and made-up the other characters are when he comes on screen.

To conclude, I want Rajni of Baasha back. Or Rajni of Padayappa. These folks have now made him a robot that  painfully tries to move us but terribly fails at it.

Review: Elsamma Enna Aankutty

I thought I should spare this for the last line, but I gotta tell you this now. Lal Jose does a Sathyan Anthikkad with his latest movie “Elsamma Enna Aankutty”. You have seen the story of this movie in many Sathyan Anthikkad movies where Sathyan Anthikkad would usually jam so many issues into one pack and gives it to audience. You have seen it all before. The eldest child taking care of the entire family by even giving up on her own studies (in which she had been doing well), the lone parents with children living abroad, the city folks coming to the village and taking advantage of the young girls there, environmental issues, anti-liquor campaign and so on.

Elsamma is supposed to be, as the title says, “Elsamma, the boy”. But it is not Elsamma who makes her seem being stubborn, but the characters around her. Ann Augustine (who played the title role) has to thank her experienced co-actors for that. And I think it is not her problem that she couldn’t fully convince us of Elsamma’s character. For a first timer, she did really well (she has the most beautiful smile I have seen in Malayalam cinema recently as well). So I think it is upon the director who chose to cast a new comer for such a big role.

Almost all the actors have done their job well in this movie. Kunchako Boban as Unni and Indrajith as Eby have done total justice to their roles. One good thing I felt about the movie is that Jagathy Sreekumar seems to have come back to his old spirits. He did the humor exceptionally well and with much ease like in the old days. And another thing that you have to thank for is that Suraj Venjaramoodu is not puke-prompting as he is in other movies of the recent times.

There is one song that has the signature Lal Jose touches to the song sequence, but even there there was a terrible tribal costume with lousy make up which would make you puke right up there in the theater. The cinematography is good and it captures the beauty of a hill side village. What lacks in this movie however is a good script. One of the box office bombs of Lal Jose happened when he teamed up with Sindhuraj (for Mulla) and here you have it again. Not that this one is a boxoffice bomb, but it packs the popular elements of the successful movies and feeds us again. But you will keep seated to the end because of the scenic beauty of the village and the wonderful performances of this movie’s supporting stars.

Review: Sound Box magazine

Sound Box magazine

Though touted as a music trade magazine, I think Sound Box will be interesting to all kinds of people who love music. Their initial package looks very promising. They had a buzz section that covered latest Indie, digital, TV, radio, gadget news. The main feature was about the amendments to the copyright act and the responses of various personalities to the issue. It has an interesting interview with singer Sonu Nigam on the issue. The guide section gives it a more elaborate look on the music charts, local events calendar (which will need to expanded to southern Indian cities like Bangalore, Chennai etc).

One hopeful thing though is a section called “Watchtower” where they have featured a state and this time a north-eastern state – Mizoram. Sound Box has given an overview of the state’s music scene, covering everything about it – music culture, music channels, popular local talents, venues, music labels, studios etc. It also has an interview with Boomerang – the Junk Rock band from Mizoram. I hope this would eventually lead the mag to cover or explore all regional music scenes, including the southern states. Another interesting story from the inaugural issue is about a Tamil rap band from Dharavi.

I see a couple of drawbacks to the mag though. The price being the first one. Though the good people at Sound Box sent me a free copy, the magazine is priced at Rs. 150. I think that price is a bit high for an ordinary music lover. I don’t think I will spend anything more than Rs. 50 on a magazine and that could be achieved by making the poster sized pages thinner and by reducing the huge size of the mag. Size is the second thing – I wish they had a lesser size for the mag so that it would be easy to carry it along on journeys and would make a comfortable reading in public places.

Other than these two, I totally loved the mag and wouldn’t mind subscribing to it.

You are covered!

Title: You’re Hired! How to get that job and keep it too!
Author: Nasha Fitter
Publisher: Penguin
Price: 199

To begin with, my English is self-taught. I learned how to read, write and speak English through various media. TV, books, blogs (when it became popular), and movies to start with. I owe so much of it to movies, sub-titled DVDs in particular, for helping me get used to some phrases, different dialects and a bit of a pop-culture from the West. I had my dictionary (and later Internet) in hand to learn more. But I always lacked an authentic book or person to refer to whenever I had doubts about the language or it’s usage. Many people whom I thought would be helpful were not so. Main reason is the basic human ego. Not everyone knows everything but people most of the times are not ready to admit their mistakes. And worse, they would pass on their mistakes to others pretending that they were right even when they were unsure. So it was high time that I found one useful reference.

Then came Pai, my ex-colleague and friend. He knew where I came from because we had some parallels between us. One fine day, Pai told me about a book he had read. He said it would help even people who thought they spoke/wrote good English. Written by Nasha Fitter, the book is titled “You’re Hired! How to get that job and keep it too” and I must say for a guy like me, it was the most useful book I read in the recent times.

The book in one word is – amazing! It is specifically written for people of India, particularly for youngsters who are looking for jobs (I would say the target includes people who are already working their jobs) in the IT and ITES field who make a lot of common (in India) errors when they speak or write English. Nasha Fitter’s several years of experience in training people in India lead to this book. It has several excercises at the end of every chapter (with an answer key section) which makes it fun to learn. And thankfully, the grammar is explained very simply and there is no shakespear quotes. Examples included only the daily conversations. I wish our school textbooks on English had the same simple format; it would have made grammar lessons look less scary.

I have to shamefully admit that before I read this book, I thought the plural of mouse is “mouses” instead of mice. I never understood why there are two words like “foot” and “feet”, or “tooth” and “teeth”. I never knew “do the needful”, “concerned person”, “will intimate you” are all wrong usages and “living” and “staying” have different meaning. The book even has a chapter that explains “Indianisms” which includes common errors we make. It also has tips to help you prepare for interviews.

I found this book extremely useful and I’m sure everybody like me would feel the same when they read this book. I’m going to re-read this in regular intervals to keep me learning. Priced at Rs. 199, this is a perfect buy.  The target audience of this book  is not people who don’t speak/write English but people who think they know enough English to speak or write and that includes me. 🙂

An Unknown Turf

The first thing I do after buying a book is smelling it. Every single book has a different smell. Some reminds me of the textbooks from school, some of the old notebooks or newspapers. The journalist blogger Annie Zaidi‘s book titled “Known Turf” smelled good too, except that afterward it was a tough journey to an unknown turf. As I skipped through the first chapter, I initially found it dragging and was beginning to wonder how writers like Sainath recommended this book as “a beautifully written book“. I was quite bored of her continued references to the Bollywood movie “Dushman” and her story of Tea. But it could be me and little did I know that I was in for surprises.

The first chapter has the title “Please do not carry loaded guns in the bus” and I was surprised to read that it was not a sign in the United States, but in Madhya Pradesh (in India where we blame Americans for their gun culture). I did not know that the people who have a BPL card are entitled to a health card that assures free medical treatment upto Rs. 20000 and just like me, most of the villagers who have a BPL card haven’t heard of this facility.  At every single instance, we are ashamed and angry about people who portray India as a poor country but I read stories of famine in this book with not so much shock. I read that in Madhya Pradesh, 72% of children of Sahariya tribe under six are malnourished and within the first year of birth all that those babies are eating is dry roti. Even before they have grown teeth to chew.

I read stories of pregnant women chew bits of gum plucked off gum trees trying to kill hunger pangs. In Annie’s own words, “about women who have not eaten for three days giving birth alone in dark hovels, knowing their breasts are dry. About the dismissive assistant in the nutritional rehabilitation center who said that Sahariya women hardly deserve the state’s help because they smoke beedis.” Then the cover-ups of hunger index.

I also read the inside story of Punjab, which we thought of as the most prosperous states in India. Where the minimum wage is Rs. 96 per day. Where most people get between Rs. 40 and 80. I was thinking about all those urban friends of mine who blame Kerala for the state which we are in. Those friends of mine who sweats out themselves in Bangalore IT sector and always put blame on the state. Here, the minimum wage that a mason gets, compared to the minimum wage of the state of Punjab which is celebrated as a prosperous state in India, is Rs. 300-350 per day. And they call us an undeveloped, Communist state. I read stories of how Punjab’s Dalits are tortured. Of the Zamindars who formed a committee and announced a boycott of all laborers who wanted higher wages. How the Zamindari and Dalit politics constructs Punjab’s social fabric. I realized that Punjab ain’t those beautiful wheat fields that some Hindi movies show case.

Annie also writes about Sufism and her affinity to it. But from what I read about the Sufi practices I don’t understand how it is different from the core principles of other religions or religious sects because Sufism also promotes the Master-Slave concept. Why the heck is God always seen as a Master and never a friend?? She puts one thing right here though – that “whenever there’s a wider economic crunch, or when there’s personal frustration and insecurity, either there’s revolution or people turn to spiritualism.”

Annie’s book gives an in-depth analysis and real life stories of power, crime, poverty, caste-politics, corrupt bureaucracy, religion, labor bondage and feminism – be it the stories of dacoits from Chambal or the poor weavers of Uttar Pradesh. These are not the kind of stories you would find in your daily newspapers. These are the stories which would shake you for good and make you think about all the shining glory that we boast upon about India and some of it’s states. It give you a pointer to the unknown turf that lie buried in India’s underbelly.

If you care about it, I would recommend you read this book.

Title: Known Turf
Annie Zaidi
Price: Rs. 250

Review: Ovi Music Unlimited (Nokia Music)

Ovi Music UnlimitedI had an opportunity recently to check out the Ovi Music Unlimited service which comes bundled with the Nokia phones such as X6, 5235 and 5130. I tried the service on a 5235.

One of the best features about the Nokia-Ovi service is that you get to download as many music tracks as you want from a collection of upto 4 million songs that Ovi has to offer you. And that is for 12 months. You do not have to pay anything, you just need a code (that would be SMSed to you when you activate your newly purchased Nokia Ovi device) that would activate your account. You can keep all the tracks you download, even after your subscription period of 1 year ends. There are certain digitial restrictions though – you can download or play the songs only in your Nokia-Ovi device and your PC that is registered with the service.

The best part is that you get all your music at one place and it is:

  • Free, legal and easy to use.
  • Your download history is saved, so you can recover anything from your new music library for up to three years after your subscription ends.
  • And because Ovi Music Unlimited is legal, you know that the artists you love are making money for the music they make.

The installation process was easy. I just had to install the software that came bundled with the Nokia 5235 (and I updated it online to the latest version). With a one-click account activation process in the software, I could begin downloading the tracks. The Ovi Player has a simple interface that makes it easier to navigate through, as easy as browsing a website. Their categorization of the tracks are also easy to navigate through. I have read in other reviews that the software takes a lot of resources compared to iTunes. Even though I would agree to the comparison with iTunes in system resource utilization, I must say it is still better than Microsoft’s Zune software. You can do pretty much everything in Ovi Player that you do with the softwares like iTunes or Zune (importing existing songs from your machine to Ovi player, creating playlists, audio equalizer etc). Except that you don’t have to pay a penny to download a music track from their collection.

They have a wide variety of categories and songs – from Western to Indian Classical, Pop to Rock, Filmy to Album songs etc. And they have many latest albums in each genre to download. The Top 20 charts helps you give a headstart to the latest hit numbers and the charts listed as Bollywood Top 20, International Top 20, South Top 20 and Non-film Top 20. The playlists include special packages like Micheal Jackson special, Lucky Ali special, S P Balasubramanyam special etc. Another unique feature about their listing is “Audio Films“, which is an audio narrative of popular films with original sound bits from the movie. So in 30 minutes you get to enjoy the audio version of a movie. But the problem is, you have only Hindi films listed there.

The tracks are properly tagged, comes in WMA format and in 192 KBPS which provides a good audo quality.

One issue that I have noticed in the whole package is their regional coverage. The South Top 20 chart totally ignores Malayalam language. And the Malayalam language section doesn’t have the latest up-to-date releases whereas Hindi has the most up-to-date versions compared to the regional languages.

For the music enthusiasts who use mobile phones to have music-on-the-go (or just your PC to play music at work or home), I would suggest you go for an Ovi Music supported device, the prime reason being that you get to download a vast collection of music tracks for an entire year. But if you already own an iPod or Zune, have experienced the audio quality of those two devices and carry them for music-on-the-go, you may want to think twice. I heard the songs with the ear plugs of Nokia 5235, but regardless of the presets and custom settings of equalizer, there is excessive bass in the audio. And I really hate the ear plugs as it leaves my ears with pain. So the listening experience of Ovi Music tracks with a Nokia device is not any closer compared to the devices like iPod or Zune (I like my Zune better than my iPod, and it’s audio quality with their earphones is amazing). Plus, you cannot use the tracks you download from Ovi Player with any other devices. But still, it is better compared to other popular music phones in the market. And like I said, this is a perfect solution for those who are addicted to listening to music on their mobile phones.

The Incredible Dork-ness

Dork - Sidin Vadukut

Dork – The Incredible Adventures of Robin Einstein Varghese
By Sidin Vadukut
Published by Penguin
239 pages | Rs. 199

Though I have become skeptical of reading the debut books by bloggers, I couldn’t skip this one as it was ordered already. I haven’t read such a hilarious book which all of you who have worked in an IT or consulting business could relate to. Oh and many things personally too. 🙂 Like the immediate passing out after the first couple of pegs and not remembering anything the next day, for example. 😉 The story has everything that a classic comedy movie needs. If Steve Martin read it, he would make this to a movie and play the lead role himself.

And those who aren’t working in  multi-nationals would still be able to enjoy this book. The book is a page-turner, brilliantly put together in the form of diary notes with absolute suspense moments that would make you turn the pages faster (you know that thirst we all have for gossip and to get a peek into others lives). There is never a boring line, except for the TV interview script towards the end. It was becoming “err…” with the excessive amount of Dork-ness in that portion, but then the story ended there, so you’re saved (and I did skip those couple of pages for the overdo of the author).

But buy it, read it, except for that TV show transcript and boys, you might find a bit of your own dork-ness in Robin Varghese and girls, there you have an adorable silly young man. What you won’t stop doing through out the read is smiling. A great start for blogger Sidin Vadukut with a debut novel.

Listen: Yanni – Voices

Yannis VoicesYanni – Voices

Disney Pearl Series
Published by Universal Music
2 Discs | Rs. 395

In my childhood, I used to believe that vocal music is supreme to the instrumentals and the instrumental music is there to provide a kind of background support for the vocals. As I grew up, I understood and felt that a voice, in the world of music, is just another instrument. There is nothing supreme to it, perhaps except one thing – that the instrument performs itself and the human touch to it (the voice) can evoke a lot of emotions. Perhaps that way the vocals stand out, but still a comparison is impossible as you can get elevated to a different plane when you listen to a musician playing a single key on a Piano at a certain note or a bow touches one particular base note on a Cello. One such moment of music can move you to tears or certain kind of joy that nothing else in this world can bring. That out of the world experience is what music can bring to you.

So why do I crib so much about it now? Because I recently bought and heard this new album from Yanni – Yanni – Voices. A musical album with some wonderful power-packed voices blending in with Yanni’s music. What more could you ask for? Yanni has worked with four young and new vocalists and made this album happen. The four vocalists are absolutely fantastic and you would enjoy each and every track. But for hardcore Yanni fans though, you would find the vocals to be distracting when you hear the familiar and popular Yanni tunes with the vocals. For example, when I heard the track “Mi Todo Eres Tu (Until the Last Moment)”, I wished of the vocals just faded away and the music alone remained. Other than that, it is a wonderful work and you have a bonus DVD along with footage of the singers performing with Yanni. There are 17 tracks totally in the audio CD featuring four singers – Nathan Pacheco, Leslie Mills, Chloe and Ender Thomas – and some singles from Yanni. Go and grab it now.