Sunday, January 29, 2017

Magic of the Montage: A piece on my favorite montage song sequences in thamizh cinema

In an interview with Bosskey, legendary director Mahendran made an interesting observation.  He mentioned his ambivalence towards songs in the movies.  While, as a music lover, he could rarely resist the temptation of including Ilayaraja’s scintillating songs in his movies, the thought of picturizing them made him extremely uncomfortable.  As a filmmaker who firmly believed in realism – quite often, the stark, brutal side of realism – songs were anathema to him because their inclusion in his movies meant that he was going against the grain of what he tried to achieve with his style of storytelling.  But as he started out as a director with Mullum Malarum (1978), he arrived at a compromise that was remarkable for how stunningly different it was from the status quo of the songs of that era.  And, that was the idea of the montage sequence for songs, sans formal dance choreography.  Of course, there is a lot of visceral thrill in witnessing an intricately choreographed dance sequence.  But for the purposes of this post, I have compiled 10 of my favorite montage sequences in thamizh cinema.  (These are just listed in chronological order.)  These are just some brilliant numbers; that is a given.  Instead, I’d like to focus a little more on the actual picturization.*

“Senorita” from Johnny (1980; Director: Mahendran) - One of the most joyous sequences committed to film, every element of this song  is perfectly coordinated.  The music that syncs with the clicking of the scissors (Rajnikanth plays a barber), SPB’s irresistibly enthusiastic rendition of the line, “Poomethai poduginra vaasa pushpangaL”, Rajni’s antics at the 1:58 min point, are just some of the things that make this song a delectable concoction. 

“Anthi mazhai” from Raja Paarvai (1981; Director: Singeetham Srinivasa Rao) – This was probably the song that made people christen Kamal Haasan, kadhal mannan!  This song sequence is perfectly symptomatic of what a sweet, aesthetically shot romance Raja Paarvai is.  The part from 2:55 – 3:10 is astounding, given the limited resources that must have been available back in 1981!  And, Kamal and Madhavi holding that transparent umbrella together– who came up with that idea?  So beautiful, so tasteful that the rain gods would have felt the need to work extra hours just for that device to be opened for this couple!  Barun Mukherjee’s cinematography (especially from 1:17-1:30) is as extraordinary as Ilayaraja’s tune is mesmerizing. 

 “Poongatru” from Moondram Pirai (1982; Director: Balu Mahendra) – The apotheosis of Balu Mahendra’s illustrious career as a cinematographer and director, Moondram Pirai is a fine example of what results when the actors, director and the music director are all simpatico.  The way the sequences are filmed and edited almost give the feeling that the director and the music director conceived this audio visual treat in one session, with one providing the music and the other coming up with the corresponding visuals!  The way the train track segment (starting at the 2:29 min point) is shot is a case in point.

“Sangeetha swarangaL” from Azhagan (1991; Director: K Balachander) – Director K Balachander was a master at coming up with novel situations for the songs in his movies.  This song does a marvelous job of capturing the closeness and the sensuality of a couple that is falling in love.  Though the whole sequence just involves the two of them on the phone, the way this song is shot is exquisite.  Mammooty and Banupriya are charming in an effortless manner.  And, I loved the way the song ends with the Doordarshan news tune!  Sometimes reality shakes people up from a dream in the most mundane manner possible! 

“Nivetha” from Nee Paathi Naan Pathi (1991; Director: Vasanth) – A song with no lyrics, “Nivetha” more than amply compensated for the lack of words with pictures that spoke a thousand of them in every frame.  The visuals are pleasing and the editing, seamless, and result in an experience that is sheer poetry in motion. 

“Vetri Nichayam” from Annamalai (1992; Director: Suresh Krissna) – Rags-to-riches-in-one-song is an oft-used, sometimes abused, trope in the world of masala movies.  But “Vetri Nichayam,” owing to the fact that it was one of the first of its kind, packs quite a punch.  Through a series of crisp vignettes, the song makes a powerful impact, carrying forward the momentum from some of the dramatic sequences prior.  And, a suave, casually understated Rajni doesn’t hurt either!

“Mettu Podu” from Duet (1994; Director: K Balachander) – Another one from the rich collection of KB’s songs, “Mettu Podu” is sheer sensory magic.  My favorite part of the song is when Prabhu and his family gather in their living room to watch their own song on TV (starting at the 4:26 min point below).  Just the way the family members' reactions are showcased, goes to show that with some thoughtfulness, it is possible to paint an evocative sketch that complements the audio portions of a song.

“Pachai kiLigaL” from Indian (1996; Director: Shankar) – A director that’s known to stretch the limits of grandeur (though not always in an aesthetic manner, in my opinion), Shankar created a tremendous impact in the flashback sequence in Indian by just sticking to good storytelling.  “Pachai kiLigaL” is a fabulously shot song on a small family that live in the idyll of a village and enjoy simple pleasures.  Kasthuri is especially moving in the engagement scene (starting at the 3:32 min point).  As an aside,  I just wish that Shankar had reined his urges to indulge in unnecessary graphics  - the ‘flying’ pen is an example of the more is less in Shankar’s cinema!  The actors were doing just fine in this song until Shankar’s graphics department took over!  Nevertheless, the song is indeed special in a whole host of other ways.  

“ILangaathu veesuthey...” from Pithamagan (2003; Director: Bala) – The king of gore, violence and tragedy, director Bala, has the knack of surprising his audiences with sprinkles of sweetness, warmth and gentle humor.  He extends it to song sequences like “Maalai En Vethanai” (Sethu), “Munpaniya” (Nanda) and this one, from Pithamagan.  The impact of Ilayaraja’s glorious composition is enhanced by the visuals of Bala and his cinematographer, Balasubramaniem. 

“KangaL irandaal” from Subramaniapuram (2008; Director: M. Sasikumar) – James Vasanthan shot to fame with his mellifluous number, only to flatter to deceive, with none of his subsequent works (barring maybe the “Oru Vetkam” song from Pasanga) even in the ballpark of this stunning creation.  We get some lovely visuals that fit the tune like a glove, especially the portion where Samudrakani approaches Jai and Swathi during their surreptitious meeting at the temple (starting at 3:29 below).  The first time I watched this, my heart was in my mouth.  Kudos to Sasikumar for injecting a bit of suspense into a melody, of all things!  And, that head bob of Jai’s – please don’t start wondering how that became so popular.  It just was popular, that’s it!


* PS: Since it is impossible for me to figure out the relative contributions of the director and the choreographer, I have given credit for the picturizations to the director with the belief that it is, after all, their vision that is being brought to life by the crew.  


ravishanker sunderam said...

Ram Murali : Your choice of topics within the cinema space is astounding to say the least.
I never understood what a 'montage" is (and still dont !) as in "the sequence was cut to almost a montage" but after reading this article the meaning is sufficiently clear in context.

Raja parvai and Moondram Pirai are brilliant examples.

Would "Nee Oru kadhal sangeetham" (Nayakan) also qualify as a montage sequence ? Wanted to be sure before I go spouting off my new found knowledge to someone.

This has a to be one of the best serious film blogs

Kudos !

Ram Murali said...

Thanks a lot, Ravishanker! Yes, Nee Oru Kadhal... is a montage sequence indeed.

I also am a huge fan of two other Vasanth songs - Nadhiye Nadhiye (Rhythm) and Nee Paathi... (from Keladi Kanmani).

Uday Senan said...

Ram. I just can't believe it. I love these songs too. Especially mettu podu, elngaatu veesudhe, pachai kiligal and senorita.
Great blog, as always. And full on respect for
"Since it is impossible for me to figure out the relative contributions of the director and the choreographer, I have given credit for the picturizations to the director with the belief that it is, after all, their vision that is being brought to life by the crew. "

Ram Murali said...

Thank you, Uday! I am so glad that you enjoyed this post.

Rahini David said...

Sangeetha Swarangal actually montage song-a? It is a particular night of talking and talking illa? Montages usually span a lot of days, no? I mean that is what I usually see montage songs as. However I do think Valaiyosai in Satya is a montage song though it seems to span only one day of fun.
When I think montage songs, I think Balu Mahendra. (1) Moodu Pani, (2) Rettai vaal kuruvi, (3) Sathi leelavathy (4) Vanna vanna pookal etc were terrific IMO.
Other terrific songs
5) The Vikram and Trisha song "Ithu thaana" in Saami.
6) Thai pongalum ponguthu, Sriranga - Mahanadhi
7) Chinna chinna aasai - Roja
8) Kannin maniyea kannin maniyea - Manathil uruthi vendum
9) Keladi kanmani - Pudhu pudhu arthangal
10) Nee pathi naan pathi - Keladi Kanmani

Well loads of KB songs to be truthful.

ravishanker sunderam said...

Good ones Rahini

Ram Murali said...

Rahini - interesting point there about Sangeetha SwarangaL. I think it is a type of montage sequence that showcases two people over the course of 7-8 hours and their moods (I especially like the moment at 1:18 when Bhanupriya slides down, listening intently to something and reacting in a way that makes us think that she heard something poignant). Sure, they are both in their respective rooms but it feels like a montage sequence just owing to the sheer variety in the shots, lighting and expressions. But I'll wait to see if Rangan responds to your question (which I asked him).

Yes, as Ravishanker said, very nice list. I love #10. And yes, Balu Mahendra's montage sequences were delightful. "Maharajanodu" in Sathi leelavathi is beautifully picturized...

Anusha said...

Nice list.
I was wondering if you deliberately left out the more recent movies. Off the top of my mind, I can think of Iragai Pole from Naan Mahaan Alla now. :)

Ram Murali said...

Anusha - Iragai Pole.. was a lovely number. It was not a conscious decision to leave out recent movies. It's just that the likes of Balachander, Mahendra and Balu Mahendra left a lasting impression in my mind. In recent years, no montage sequence stunned me the way KangaL irandaal did so, I just chose that as my tenth one.

Ram Murali said...

Rahini - I reached out to Rangan and here's what he wrote on "Sangeetha SwarangaL" fitting the definition of a montage sequence:

"Yes, it does. It compresses time and details the evolution of a relationship. So even though the shots look the same, the basic definition of montage is followed."

Venkatesh said...

Ram, not to take anything away from Mahendran but the credit should really go to Balu Mahendra. Here's a link to his now defunct blog, which explains how "Senthazham Poovil" was actually intended to be shot as a montage song:

Although some might find "En Iniya Ponnilavae" to be a great one, I'm inclined towards "Senorita"; it's a fabulous song in terms of almost every aspect. My favourite montage song of BM has to be "Maharajanodu Rani" from Sathi Leelavathi.

All that said, "Vetri Nichayam" is the one that strictly obeys all requirements of a montage song. It inspired quite a number of songs later - "Singam Ondru Purapattathey", "Natchathira Jannalil" to name a few. :)

Ram Murali said...

Venkatesh - thank you for your thoughtful comment. That blog link was PRICELESS; thank you!
Yes, Mahendran and Balu Mahendra thought alike for they were indeed great minds. I also liked Ashok Kumar's work for Mahendran's films. It's a pity that he went on to make sleazy stuff as a director.

Yes, Senorita was a fabulous song. I will be writing about it in my next write-up, which is dedicated to SPB-Raja collaborations. (I felt the need to pick some songs in the wake of their recent tussle over royalty.) That write-up should be up in a day.

Yes, Vetri Nichayam was well-done. I esp. liked the graphics with the swanky car! Not bad at all for a film that was released 25 years ago!

"Natchathira Jannalil" -- LOL! I still get nightmares thinking of Devyani as a collector. Amusing how Vikraman made her wear a pair of over sized glasses to convince us that she had the aptitude to be a district collector :) Oh, the vikraman films- oru montage song-la kozhandha porakum, bus company perugum, pondaati collector aavanga...feel good films illa avardhu...feel super good (nandri, chowdry aiyya) films :)

ravishanker sunderam said...

I cant wait !!

Venkatesh S said...
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Venkatesh S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Venkatesh said...

Mahendran about the DOP-director transition:

AK made a film in Telugu called Abhinandana, starring Karthik. I've not seen the film but it was highly acclaimed.

Ram Murali said...

Venkatesh - thank you for sharing; yes, I remember reading this. I am sure that Mahendran was a lot more disappointed with AK's transition than what he mentioned in this tribute.