Raagamalikaas are an essential part of Carnatic Music. A Raagamalika is- we could say- a song with each stanza put forth in a different raga. Together- it is just one composition. But it comprises not just of one raga but many. A carnatic concert would give the performing artiste a chance to explore the various highs and lows of a song. But in film music- the song has to live up to the situation it is being used in. Tamil Film Music, those days- were only carnatic music that was not performed in front of Live audience. Yet, the film music those days were full of heavy carnatic music. The concept of "film music" or which is called the "light music" only came in later. And so, until then- it was the carnatic system that dominated the film industry for a very long time!
As we now know, that Ragamalikas are just one song- with different ragas forming a part of it, is a difficult form of the authentic carnatic music to be fit into a movie! For a movie demands songs for a situation- which are usually romance or sadness or loss etc. So how did the musicians of those days- fit in a Ragamalika into a Film song?
Ragas usually have a characteristic. Ragas that can begin your day- or sing you into a peaceful slumber. Ragas that can seduce, or ragas that can melt even the hardest of rocks! I do not know about the melting the rock ragas or ragas that can light a lamp. I have not tested their unusual powers. But the Film Makers and the musicians surely appear to have tested the characteristics of different ragas. Film music makers in those days, instead of creating a Ragamalika for the sake of having it in the movie- usually had a situation in the movie where their Ragamalika could fit in. For instance, we spoke about the ragas and the characteristics. In the movie 'Sampoorna Ramayanam', there is a situation where a musician performs at the court of the great king Raavana. But he makes a mistake. Being an expert musician and a scholar himself- upon his ministers' and sons' request, Raavana performs. The interesting thing about this song is that- his courtiers ask him questions like- "what's the raga to be sung in the morning"? In reply, Raavana plays and sings the Boopalam and says the name of the Raaga as well! Any connoisseur of Carnatic music would not fail to note how the special identity of each Raaga has been brought out within such a short space! I felt it was a brilliant way in which Carnatic music could reach common man- for the music and the movie was a huge hit!
'Sampoorna Ramayanam' is filled in with excellent songs and beautiful raaga handling, especially the Thilang of the song- 'Indru poi naalai vaa'. It was easier with mythological movies for the situations were all usually ready. There is again a contest kind of a situation between Raavanaa and the sage Agasthiyar in movie 'Agasthiyar'. The lyrics has in it the names of the raagas being sung.
Musicians/Lyricists usually put in the raaga names into the songs in case of Raagamaalikaas in most cases. The best of such a Raagamaalika should be a 1947 Sivakavi. Papanasam Sivan's wonder music, another crown jewel to the reighning Super Star of the 40s- M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar.
Mythology, as we discussed proved to be a best platform for exploring Raagamaalikas. Musicians gave some of their best creations in this area- that not only proved to be a hit but the tunes stayed on to become a regular Carnatic concert piece! The best known examples are from our very own Bharathiyar song collections like- 'Sindhu Nadhiyin' or 'Senthamizh naadenum'. The 'Vedaala Ulagam' was a T.R. Magalingam classic, not only a great musical hit- but had in it the one song that most people would keep listening to for years in Carnatic musical concerts. The song was a D.K. Pattammaal classic number- 'Theeraatha vilayaattu pillai', a Bharathiyaar song. The song is placed in a situation where the court artists perform in front of the Emperor- the tale of naughty Krishna as told by the Gopikas. It sure remains a concert favourite even now. Another such classic number is from a social drama, penned by Kalaingar Karunanithi, a 1957 classic- "Manamagal", "Cinnanjiru kiliye"- another Bharathiyar song with music by C.R. Subburaaman. A stuation is where a music teacher, in love with one of his puplis, teaches the Bharathiyaar song to them. This song- touched a new dimension of Raagamaalikaas in film music. It was actually exploring the emotions portrayed by Bharathi in the song- with a mild Kaapi evolving into a seducing and romantic Maandu when line reads "oodi varugayile, kannamma ullam kuliruthadi" and then moving on to a strange painful forbidden emotion that is actually a pleasure when felt- a Vasantha, when the line reads- "uchchi thanna ugarnthaal garvam ongi valaruthadi". It slips into this dazed and dreamy Thilang when Bharathi is absolutely smitten by Kannamma and writes- "Kannaththil muththammittaal, kannamma, kal veri kolluthadi"! And ends with a grief beyond expression- a Sivaranjani- when Bharathi feels totally helpless when Kannamma feels sad- he writes, "un kannil neer vazhindaal en nenjil uthiram kottuthadi"! This is by far the best Raagamaalika in Film music that I have come across, that totally does justice the beutiful lyrics by Bhaarathiyaar!
The film, though a social drama, has another beautiful Raagamalika in it- an absolute wonder- a masterpice by the MLV-P. Leela pair who have rendered many beautiful numbers together. The song here, is 'Ellaam Inbamayam' starting off with an elegant Simmendra madhyamam proceeds on to explore tunes and swaras never handled before and after!
In the 60s, once again Mythology took over the responsibility of Raagamaalikaas with Thiruvilayadal, a K.V. Mahadevan musical. The song 'Oru naal pothumaa' is not only famous for the KVM/A.P.Nagarajan/Bala MuraliKrishna names involved but also for the brilliant histrionics displayed by a great actor of those days- T.S. Balaiyya!
Romance, though seldom formed a situation for Raagamaalikaas- still we have managed to have a few great numbers in that area. 'Uththama Puthran' a G.Ramanathan musical had one such beautiful number 'Kaaththiruppaan kamala Kannan'. But my all time favourite would still be the 1957 superhit Tri-lingual that was called 'Manaalane Mangayin Bhaagyam'. the music by Aadi Narayana Rao- this song, even now remains to be a Contest-Favourite! If a contestant could sing this- and sing this as it is- then they can always sit back and relax for they are a sure winner! Not to forget names like Shreya Ghoshal and Chinmayee have been such contestants- it reigns even now as one of the toughest songs ever to be sung. The tamil and telugu versions of the song were sung by Ghantasala and P. Leela. I have here the Hindi version by Rafi and Lata- 'Kuhu Kuhu bole koyaliya'.
Raagamaalikaas might have taken a back seat these days. But they remain to be one of the most explored areas of film music of yester years- giving us some of the songs that would be carried forward- into the future!