Bala’s Naan Kadavul Music review

Naan Kadavul

Released January 1 and inexplicably available for free download immediately all over the net,the soundtrack of  Bala’s long awaited film Naan Kadavul (whose title translates to the upanishadic “Aham Brahmasmi…. I am the transcendent god-ness”)  has six songs from the semi retired Illayaraja ( in the vanaprastham stage of his creative life) .


Illayaraja’s life work which has been prolific and then sparse, is a whole musical universe, as are the work of most south Indian film composers (A R Rahman, M S Vishvanathan, G K Venkatesh, S M  Subbiah Naidu, Ghantasala)  .

After redefining orchestration into a simpler, less assaulting version of the cello and base heavy tradition  of the dominant south indian music of the day, in the seventies  (Ilayaraja used more violins, base flutes and the voice , and his music sounded less classical fret-ty, and more pop voic-y) , Illayaraja dominated the south indian music scene for more than twenty years with his prolific (he produced more than a hundred film scores a year with an average of six songs per film, very few sounding like one another) . He seemed to work from a classical tradition of indian(the pre venkatamakin reforms schools of carnatic scales) and western music (baroque classical and pop orchestration) that was amenable to easy listening and complex imagining , simultaneously. Many of ilayaraja’s best songs were the most complex hummable songs one has ever heard.

As he grew older Ilayaraja’s children took to composing and singing. Yuvan, Kartik and (daughter) Bavatharini are all personalities in their own right and ilayaraja has produced few and far between classics (such as the Bharati soundtrack, the Moghamul soundtrack and Bala’s Pitamaghan soundtrack) full of complete melodies that remind one of the experimenter with tradition and original creator that Ilayaraja has been in the last thirty years.

The man is not without his flaws. he has been accused of singing flat and not thinking through his musical thoughts(which sometimes feel amateurish and a watered down patronizing when he’s really going for a pop sound. Much music produced by Raja has a maddenning lack of focus and directionlessness as if he’s making music during a creative block. Like any original creator(which he no doubt is,) Ilayaraja’s ennui(when it is ennui that drives his work) shows through in his creations. He also makes unplanned assaults on genres that sometimes can make his songs feel like simplistic re rendering of compositions from other genres, instead of engaging fusions of musical thoughts across sound arrangements in many traditions.

Still, a man that attracts so much passion about his music, like it or not, deserves the monolithic icon status Ilayaraja enjoys among his fans(numbering many englands big)  that have been nourished, grown old, romanced and had babies on his accessible, memorable melodies. He has not have changed the world for the disempowered or replaced god with music ….or  created an Illayaraja revolution in world music (he’s still young at 65)  but it is the highest compliment to his creative idealism that you even want to want him to be all that in this jaded  cynical world of Art. and Cinema.

Naan Kadavul(aham brahmasmi)

The soundtrack starts with a remix of the early ilayaraja s Janaki  melody from acchani “matha un kovilil” .A rivetting focussed draft of elixir from Janaki’s first song efforts that established firmly raja’s genius and Janaki’s place as a replacement of Susheela as Southindia’s voice. as if to reiterate the fact that this is bala’s hommage to the maestro , there is also a madhumita cover of the older song. This  Sadhana sargam version (amma un pillai naan) is a slightly sleepy one with a “live program” orchestration that doesn’t stand up well to the original.

Kannil Paarvai is sung by shreyas ghosal it’s a complex creation based on a south Indian classical tradition called sruthi bedam which involves shifting the base scale of the theme to different points in a natural scale. (while this , in the pop/ western classical tradition keeps the melodic theme intact, while letting the audience recognize a change of scales, in the indian classical tradition can be chaotic to the basic melody unless the resulting change in raga is handled carefully) . I counted two changes in scale, which puts this song in a certifiable genius category because it takes the bedam back to the period when the unsimplified raga schemes allowed carnatic musicians to do the pralayam, which involved starting at a sa and doing bedams  back to a sa, if they had it in their creative ability to do the full chakram , going raga to raga and setting the vaadi samvaadis on the way. this is not something new to ilayaraja’s compositions.  His particular brand of sruthi bedam involves changing the sruthi (ie changing the base Sa) and jumping ragas while not playing the “new notes ” in the changed raga until the accent(vaadi samvadi) of the new raga are established, and then adding the emphasis to the new raga by singing the complete refrain in the new raga. This song seems to be a showcase model, because he does an arohana, an avarohana <=> srutibedam<=> arohana, avarohana <=>srutibedam <arohana avarohana> original sa.  the effect is a dazzling piece of gimmick which retains its melodic content and is quite un- hummable in its entirity, even though it gives the illusion that you can sing the song with practically any kattai sruthi you want to start in. Bravo maestro!

The showpiece of the soundtrack is Har har mahadeo(Om Siva om) sung by Vijay prakash. It is a bhajan set in hamsanandi (which always gets the religious front benchers going- merese merupulu murise nakanula sirisirinavvulu kaavolu…etc) to the sound of chanting of rudram( the chanting says” rudram ” a lot,), which is always a goose pimples experience. it also has a quiet chanda and cymbals, which in a shaivite musical context is the bringing out of the big guns for the tandava dance  of mahasiva(made famous by the familiar dancing nataraja statues). It inexplicably has a closed mouthed tabla accompaniment to its damaru and cymbals, as if its not shiva dancing, but rather a well set bhajan set to imitate the divine kailash experience.It is thus, a composition of devotion, not of divinity.

Picchai paathiram is a punagavarali (raga) piece reflects ilayaraja’s nightime melodies from the nineties and late eighties. It also reminds you of the quiet (hindu) philosophy songs of Bharati(the movie). The album rounds off with Ilayaraja singing  Oru kattil alayum siragu which is ilayaraja ‘s song of quiet despair,the now familiar language that is part lullaby and part dirge made more poignant from illayaraja’s slightly flat faux amateur tenor.

We now wait for Bala to wake the dead , or at least meditate on them in the  burning ghats on the ganges.


About rameshram

Name : Ramesh Ram... Email Address : (don't even ask) Blog: (never updated) Height/ Weight: 6'1 175 (varies between 160 and 185) Color of hair/ eyes black/ brown Bald? Nope (not yet, but give me 20 years.) Interests: Film (Bollywood/international indie), Travel (Germany/Japan/Central America/Sout/east/west Asia/ Northern Africa), Gizmo geek, Clubbing... What do I like in a good movie?: Women, Music, Auters, Special effects, Style. What do I like in a bad movie?: Women, Music, Auters, Special effects, Style. Favorite Critic: International: Bazin Domestic: J Hobermann Indian : me. (noone else comes close ...India or here..) Best quality: Humility. Outspokenness. Warmth Worst quality: Intolerence Favorite color : Yellow Black Blue Favorite Perfume : men: Grey Flannel(Geoffery Beene) Women: Celine dion: Obsession Boxers / briefs : Boxers Did I inhale: And how! Author: Marquiz, Rushdie, Murakami, Jong Last Book: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt Music : Patricia Kass, Alejandro Sanz,Nina Simone, Amir Diab Sports person: What am I usually in : White briefs and tees. Chianti or Burgandy: Chianti Food: French Japanese(street/fast food). Saw and liked: No Country for old men, Lust Caution Saw and disliked: Nishabd Didnt see: Aaja Nach le. Call me: Write me first.
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16 Responses to Bala’s Naan Kadavul Music review

  1. suresh says:

    Great review for a great soundtrack,.

  2. rameshram says:

    A comment posted by an anonymous poster from chennai was deleted.

    people that merely want to vent should get their own show.

  3. Pingback: Rameshram’s Music Review of NAAN KADAVUL (Tamil; 2008) : NAACHGAANA

  4. Qalandar says:

    Superb review. I posted it here with the following comment:

    Haven’t heard the album yet, but this piece really engages with the music. By contrast, I found his review of the music of Slumdog Millionaire ( and a bit too breezily dismissive.

  5. rameshram says:


    what can I say….thanks but slumdog is really a lightweight AR Rahman score.

  6. Qalandar says:

    Disagree on that one (check out my blog for my review), but to each his/her own. Back to the main topic, this Naan Kadavul review is the sort of thing that is all too often lacking in mainstream media reviews: i.e. an engagement with the music, such that questions of “agreement” or “disagreement” seem banal, and one is provoked to think about the music at hand.

    Case in point: “It inexplicably has a closed mouthed tabla accompaniment to its damaru and cymbals, as if its not shiva dancing, but rather a well set bhajan set to imitate the divine kailash experience.It is thus, a composition of devotion, not of divinity.”

  7. rameshram says:

    Hey, thanks for the kind thoughts about the review.

    yes, I think mainstream media are often cheerleeders, and cheerleeders dont need to be thought provoking. they just have to make a lot of noise and look attractive.

    I will read your review of slumdog’s music, but this is a comment before I do..Slumdog (or AR’s music in it) need not have to be their career bestr for them to win everything in sight. (critcs choice golden globe oscar…) they just have to have the buzz that they are better than the current yar’ offerring.

    and AR hardly needs my stamp of approval. heck I’m not even an AMPAS voter….

  8. GoJoe says:

    Being a fan of PITHAMAGAN, I want to see this.

  9. duraibalaji says:

    Excellent review for maestro’s composing.
    He is legend in Indian cinema industry.
    He is a composer who can bring all reactions (from anger to moody or sadness what ever it is) in a human being with his music.
    salutes to ilayaraja (Pannaipuram raja) for another heart feeling music.


  10. Hey, I was going through the review — found it very interesting. I am huge Raaja fan myself…and I loved this album. Thanks!

    However, may I suggest that the Om Siva Om song is not set in Hamsanandi… It is set in a panthuvarali… Hamsanandi doesnt use Panchamam, and the dha used in Hamsanandi is Dha2 as compared to Dha 1 used in Panthuvarali… the song clearly uses Pa.

    Another admired panthuvarali by IR is:

    Hope I am not talking out of my turn!


  11. rameshram says:

    Ilayaraja is famous for blurring ragas,

    IMO its hamsanandi

    om shivoham

    raaga deepam

    are both hamsanandi

    the orchestra supported bits in this are panthuvarali (the slow bit is purvikalyani)

    a carnatic panthuvarali

    vs a carnatic hamsanandi below

    pamchamam and the dha 2 be damned, the lakshanam(usage) is like hamsanandi…maybe there’s a comment in there from illayaraja…


    to me , it sounds like Ilayaraja’s favorite ragam vasanta..lalitha…thing…. in its flourishes too

  12. raj says:

    Rameshram, fine review. Neraiya vishayangal muzhusa purinjidhu – have been having half-formed thoughts on these lines but couldnt connect the dots- adhiayellam nalla fuse panna mudinjidhu.
    With this, I apologise unreservedly for my earlier comment on the Baradwaj Rangan post. Surrender!

  13. Qalandar says:

    Apologies raj (I don’t speak Tamil, but love to watch Tamil films with subtitles), could you/someone else translate?

  14. athreya says:

    Isn’t this Raaga Puriya Dhanashri, ?

  15. savitha says:

    hmm.. i really don’t know any thing about music in detail but your review was very informative. i must say i was kind of in aw. i love the song. the tune is just so amazing! one goes into a trance. loved it.

  16. siva says:

    hi . songs are very nice. i need full chanting of rudram same beat . how can i get it. anyone knows send link to

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