Renegades of Change: A sound vision for Tamil film music, AR Rahman, Ghibran


For decades AR Rahman has almost diligently sown the seeds of change in the musical landscape but he too was sucked into the state of the industry and its demands which seemingly slowed down the desired transformation.

With the visible overhaul in cinematic content at the moment, Tamil film music is set to experience an adventurous course led by a new breed of composers who have independently, and some inadvertently, set a movement in motion. The early days of these composers have spelled a degree of defiance in their approach of side-stepping the norm. But their biggest test yet, a challenge that pays high for compromise, will truly determine their resolve of being renegades of change.

Santhosh Narayanan has been particularly effective in rebranding the essence of a soundtrack in a manner that’s a feature of postmodern films which have inspired this movement of our own. With the new wave of Tamil cinema as his alibi, Santhosh has sounded a brazen musical edge with his vision of genre blending that's uber-hip. There’s certainly a method to his madness even as he leaves the mic open for Gana Bala to act freely damnable over a grimy jam in ‘Villa’.

Ghibran may not have the face that one would associate with a word like ‘renegade’ but he does make a geeky fit to the crew with his musical awkwardness. Restlessly deriving a desire to make his tunes sparkle in different colours, he painstakingly embellishes them with intricacies bearing a flair that’s scarce in the market.

‘Vidiyum Munn’ saw Girishh G assume the role as a songwriter, a trend that needs to be encouraged to further invest the composer in his creations. The same applies well for singers too – Dhanush and Gana Bala show good intent and wit with their efforts. Promoting the notion of singer-songwriters might even open doors for underground bands to write for movies. Maybe RS Prasanna would consider employing Skrat's services for his next film or perhaps K could fuel a Panatella reunion for a radical soundtrack?

However, the focus needn’t necessarily be about sampling obscure genres from around the world. Native and classical approaches would offer more hope to the purists while still treating the average listener with familiarity. Imman did that exceptionally well for ‘Rummy’ and Ghibran put up a fine show with his most exquisite composition till date ‘Kannukkul Pothivaippen’ that hits the sweet spot of crossover classical. Santhosh Narayan too has shown a taste for the local sensibilities that took him to the ghettos of gaana for ‘Attakathi’ and earlier associated him with projects such as the charming La Pongal.

In a strange way the chief architects of this sonic revolution, ARR and Yuvan, are now benefiting from this short yet sharp musical shift. Albums such as ‘Moondru Per Moondru Kaadhal’ and ‘Biriyani’, had Yuvan indulging himself and taking expansive chances. Rahman’s last two releases indicate his current phase to be resorting to a more stripped down sound with plenty of instrumental headway followed by reactive vocal performances that bare raw. But it would be hard to expect the same from his upcoming release for Shankar’s ‘Ai’, where the demand has always been for ‘big budget’ compositions.

By opting out of ‘Manjapai’ Ghibran has freed himself from vulnerabilities that had plagued some of his earlier albums. His true sense of occasion will be tested with Vishwaroopam-2, where a well earned career defining proposition awaits him.

Santhosh Narayanan, if he is indeed scoring for Karthi’s ‘Kaali’, could face his biggest challenge yet as the film may carry the baggage of a big ticket hero and its desired musical requirements. If Santhosh can dodge the bullet and continue to be daringly unpredictable then Karthi too could profit from an element of surprise with his soundtrack.

Cultivating an audience for new sounds has reached a stage where musical refinement and sophistication orders a dedicated approach. With a growing talent pool, that includes Rajesh Murgesan, Natarajan Sankaran, Arrora and Madley Blues, all who seem abrasive to the criterion, the task of growing sonic wealth through sound vision appears to be underway. Anirudh, who has had three blockbuster albums so far in his very short career, is naturally gifted with the strength and the platform to be a chief enabler of this change, but we will have to wait and see how the young director approaches his forthcoming commercial releases.

As far as producing today’s mainstream requirements is concerned, there are plenty to take care of that, and well too. But the quest for standardising spontaneity and flair will rest on these renegades of change.

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