En route to work on a bone-crunchingly cold morning, I wanted a jolt on top of what my chai would give me. So, I turned the volume up to a level just below one that would attract nasty glances from fellow drivers. Also, I wanted my eardrums to be functional enough to accommodate hi-hats and drums. As I flipped through my collection, I had a very, very serious choice to make. Was it going to be the Mozart of Madras or the King of Pannaipuram? (Please don’t get all serious on me and tell me helpfully that this little panchayat town in Theni never had a royal family.) I decided to have the aroma of my chai blend in with a whiff of nostalgia. I chose to go with the King. And before I could think too much, I came up with a list of percussion-heavy numbers where the king made his loyal vassals tap their feet even if they had three left-feet!
Here is a list of 10 of my picks in no particular order. I will keep my descriptions to a minimum since words aren’t the point of this piece!
Kombula Poova Suthi from Virumandi
One of the liveliest songs in a Jallikattu setting, this fast-paced number has some scintillating beats. Kamal’s spirited rendition is the moar molaga on the koozhu! (Icing on the cake just felt wrong, sorry!)
Aiyya Oodu from Kaathaluku Mariyadhai
Manivannan was such a popular artiste in 1997 that he got an ‘introduction song’ in a film where the hero didn’t have one! Ilayaraja’s joyous singing leavens some of the heavy-duty philosophical lines. (“Kannukettum thooram thooram…manusanathan kaanum kaanum” is my favorite of Pazhani Bharathi’s lines.)
The title song of Vikram
The film released 34 years ago when computers and synthesizers in Tamil film music were as rare as realistic make-up. The typewriter keys clacking and seguing seamlessly into the beats is an absolutely magical start to this irresistibly catchy number.
Podhuvaga En Manasu from Murattu KaaLai
It is widely agreed that Murattu KaaLai was the film that heralded superstardom for Rajnikanth even though he had been christened “Super Star” two years before this movie (in “Bairavi”). This song, rendered with incredible vitality by Malaysia Vasudevan, is a fitting anthem signaling the birth of the super star.
Ooru vittu ooru vandhu… from Karagattakaran
Comedian Coundamani and company have a ball, thanks to Ilayaraja! It is rather amusing to see the comedians dance while the hero – that master thespian and costume connoisseur Ramarajan – walks beside them!
Raja Rajathi Rajan Indha Raja… from Agni Natchathiram
Need I add anything to the first words of this song!
Das Das Chinapadas… from Kadalora KavithaigaL
The Ilayaraja – Bharathiraja combination resulted in many unforgettable chartbusters. This film was the last of their collaborations before their split. (They would reunite 4 years later for En uyir thozhan.) This song, set in a seaside milieu, features some rather modern beats that somehow don’t feel out of place.
Poo malarndhida… from Tik Tik Tik
The mirudangam is one of my favorite percussion instruments. My bias comes from the fact that I tried my hand at it for several years. It took me a decade to realize two things – 1. music was the only part of my life where I was a good listener. (I actually feel bad for my family and friends, truly, deeply, sincerely!) 2. The sounds of mirudangam that I heard when others played seemed like noise when I did. And when I listen to this marvelous fusion piece, I realize that I am better off listening a little more…at least in but not restricted to music!
Nenachu Nenachu… from Sethu
This is not a full-fledged song. But this minute-long snippet is a mesmerizing expression of ecstasy. (The visceral impact of the violent act at the end of this song has the same gut-wrenching impact now as it had on me 20 years ago when the film was released.)
Stereophonic Sannata… from Shamitabh
Aasaiya kaathula... from 1980 getting a facelift in a Hindi film in 2015 where Amitabh Bachchan was the ‘voice’ of Dhanush. Can improbability be taken to a higher level? Yes. The song turned out to be a terrific, foot-tapping number!