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Saturday, March 05, 2005

Raveendran - the legend

Raveendran – a tribute

Today is a sad day in Malayalam film music. Legendary composer Raveendran breathed his last. With him an era of golden compositions comes to an end. Dhool pays tribute to this great composer who before breathing his last, had breathed his soul in the songs that he had composed.

Malayalam film music has witnessed a few geniuses when it comes to music. If the colossus of the old era was G.Devarajan, the medieval era through the 90s was dominated by Raveendran. His contribution to MFM is immeasurable. His classical songs were rigorous, melodies were mellifluous and orchestration was ecstatic. He trained the mallu audience who were always receptive to classical/semi-classical stuff to appreciate a fusion of good orchestration and pristine classical content. He made songs which truly needed geniuses (e.g. SPB for darshan) or infinitely trained voices – KJY and Chitra of course being his most potent weapons in the arsenal. Unlike Sharath, the maverick composer and a sishya of BalamuraliKrishna, Raveendran ensured that the complexity of the song did not deter the lay from listening to it. Rather he used powerful tunes to make the lay appreciate the complexity and beauty by making them fall for the melody. Today he has left us with a repertoire of around 400 films and countless number of songs which have mesmerized MFM and to an extent TFM fans alike. Be it Pramadhavanam to touch your soul in the subtlest way, or Ramakatha gaanalayam torching the soul in with the scorching pace, or devasabathalam where Hindustani meets Carnatic, or Gopika Vasantham where shaNmukapriya interlaces KJY and Chitra to emote love through Gowthami and Mohanlal, or the lilting Edho nidrathan” to lull you into a soothing sleep or numerous other compositions which are difficult to list – He has stamped his class all over. A true creator.

The earlier part of Raveendran’s life was not very rosy. He tried his hand, much like MSV in singing only to find his voice unacceptable for films (you may hear his voice in the song – Shruthi amma layam achchan). He wanted to try his hand in composing and he was somehow making his ends meet. KJY, who happened to be his very good friend, helped him get a few chances and then the phenomenon Raveendran happened. The association has lasted for good number of years and KJY has sung some of the greatest hits of MFM for Raveendran. Some of the early hits include: Nakashtra deepangaL (chiriyo chiri), Raajeevam vidarum nin mizigaL, Samaya RathangaLil (chirioyo chiri), PonpularoLi poovithariya (iththiri poove chuvanna poove) and Kudajaadriyil. The last number, as the anecdote has it, was originally composed for a female voice. KJY heard the tune and insisted that he be given a chance to sing it which finally found place in the movie. It is a melting number in ragam rEvathi. Raveendran always fondly remembers the fact that he owes his career to the great gesture of KJY.

Nineties saw resurgence of MFM with the ground breaking movie His highness Abdullah. The movie not only was a chartbuster, but the song pramadhavanam rocked every corner of Kerala. M.G.Sreekumar delivered Naadha roopiNi, a tongue twister in swaras that fetched him his first national award. Devasabaathalam which spanned over 8 minutes did not prove slack in any of the notes he had come up with. Raveendran’s classical purity was counterbalanced by Bombay Ravi’s melodic clarity. Both were going great guns at the same time with people being lost at one point of time as they were inundated with too many good albums to lose. Bharatham followed His highness Abdullah which only dwarfed the success its predecessor had. Though “raamakatha gaanalayam”” and “gopaanganE” were the most popular of the songs, “raajamaathangi” featured a duet between BMK and KJY – a rare combo which revisited after gaanam and sopaanam. PraNavam arts – Mohanlal’s home productions made Raveendran its mainstay. Sooryagayathri and Kamaladhalam were two other movies produced by the same banner for which Raveendran had used hi magical wand. Kamaladhalam had an average run in the market but the songs were once again a huge hit. Rajashilpi showcased Bhanupriya’s thundering voluptuousness ably propped by meticulously composed songs like arivin nilaavE.

With the surge of new music directors like Suresh Peters, changing trends and failing health, the assignments that Raveendran took towards the end of his career were minimal. He struck gold with “aalila thaaliyumaay” where a rejuvenated Jeyachandran sang a wonderfully light shudhdha saavEri showcased on the lotus-eyed Kavya Madhavan. Nandanam – a movie which shot Navya Nair to fame with a theme based on a wonderful fantasy, featured “Mouliyil mayil peeli chaarththi” – a song set in mohanam delivered by the inimitable Chitra. The song once again established the class of raveendran.

He has done some private albums too off which “vasantha geethangaL” is exemplary. “Maamaangam” is one of the best songs that you can hear in abhogi in the voice of KJY.

In tamil, two of his songs are remembered the most: “paadi azaiththEn” and “ezisai geethame” – both having been adapted from MFM. The former was “thEnum vayambum” and the latter was “Ezu swarangaLum”. Such melodies are hard to find in these days of gibberish lyrics and cacophonous rhythms.

Writing about Ravindran’s songs is an exercise in itself and I am not sure if it would be easy and comprehensive. There are a thousand nuances in each song and discussing them is eternal joy. On Dec 11th, greater Atlanta Malayali association, hosted a function for which the local band Thendral played. We delivered Nakshatra deepangaL and Devasabaathalam – and it took quite some days to get the songs right. We realized the immensity and complexity of the compositions when we attempted them. The master composer though has left his body, has preserved his soul intact in the gems that he had come up with.

Let his soul rest in peace. Dhool presents “gopaanganE” – a song based on naattai as a tribute to Raveendran.

Some articles on Ravindran:

(1) Life and times of a music director

THERE IS an exciting story behind every creation, be it a song or a poem. `Harimuraleeravam', a television serial on Raveendran, narrates the interesting incidents behind the composition of many soulful melodies by the noted music director. The camera pans the life and times of Raveendran, who started his career as a playback singer in the 70's and evolved as one of the foremost music directors in the South, composing about 1,500 songs in 450 films, in addition to a number of light music and devotional albums.

A tribute to `Raveendra sangeetham', as it were, `Harimuraleeravam' opens with a visualisation of the song, `Thaarake mizhiyithalil...'', which Raveendran composed for the film `Choola' in 1979. Much earlier, Kulathupuzha Ravi, as he was known then, had earned a name all over Kerala as a singer through the ganamela troupe, `Thunder Birds'. With a Degree from the Swathi Tirunal Music Academy and a burning ambition in his heart to make it big in cinema, Raveendran moved to Chennai. After a prolonged hunt, none other a person than Sathyan helped him to meet Baburaj, who gave him a chance to sing in `Velliyazhcha'.

Again, it was an uncertain wait for another break, which never came and Raveendran became a dubbing artiste. His sonorous voice soon made him popular and he dubbed for all the films of Ravikumar, who was the hero in the 70's.

K.J. Jesudas then altered the course of his life by persuading him to compose songs. After that, there was no looking back and the singer-turned-music director went on to script a success story which was repeated in the successive films, including `Thenum Vayambum' and `Chiriyo chiri.'

The majority of Raveendran's songs were sung by Jesudas and the music director in turn exploited the depth of the singer's voice in full. Unlike other such biographical features replete with film clippings, as many as 52 songs have been selected to be included in the serial. A detailed exposition of the song and ragas of classical numbers like `Ezhu swarangalum...' would also be included in the feature, which is anchored by playback singer Gayathri.

Raveendran's camaraderie with Jesudas, his association with various lyricists and the stories and situations which prompted the creation of hit songs, interviews and live renditions will also form part of the feature, says the producer-director, Jesudas William.

By Nair N.J.

(2) A stickler for classicism

``Good music exalts and purges the mind and intellect. Children should be trained to listen to chaste classical music, which would enlighten them. Music is now being reduced to mere cacophony and one has to be really selective,'' says the noted music director, Ravindran.

After staying in Chennai for 36 years when Ravindran shifted to the capital, he learnt to his dismay the warmth of relations and the camaraderie were all missing.

"I am confused whether I should continue to stay in Thiruvananthapuram. In Chennai, there were no caste, religious or linguistic differences. People of diverse languages and culture live in harmony. Here everyone is preoccupied with caste and religious considerations. It is a smothering milieu. I feel like getting away now,'' he says.

Anyway Ravindran is happy that the songs of `Ente Hrudyathinte Udama' and `Nandanam' were a rage among the virtuosos of melody. He is being flooded with calls from Malayalis in the Gulf and other States. These songs have set the trend for melody and have evoked the nostalgia, which was fading into oblivion.

A stickler for classicism, Ravindran belongs to the old school of music directors. After M.S. Baburaj, Ravindran was one among the few composers who attempted unique styles in percussion. "It is the outcome of my hard work. I strain myself to make each song a distinctive experience. A song set to `adi thala' will have different takes and that makes all the difference,'' he smiles.

Does he have an affinity for Kanada?

``While composing a song, my sole priority is the mood of the song and the sequences in the film. The raga evolves naturally. There are many songs in Kanada, Abheri, Arabhi, Mohanam and Hamsadhwani to my credit. Yet all of them have something different,'' he says.

He is very selective in listening to music. For, he is keen on maintaining his own style and does not want to be influenced by others. There are many who try to ape the reigning trends in Hindi and Tamil, but Ravindran consciously tries to insulate himself from such influences, which he fears will rob off his creativity.

Ravindran is perhaps the one of the few music directors who insists on hearing the story of the film. He visualizes the situations and the background scores are made to suit the situations. He even narrates an embellished version of the original story to the playback singers too so that they could also make significant contributions.

He does not use any instrument to compose a song. "I use the harmonium just for the `shruthi' and a tabla for the rhythm. I sing the tunes and polish them to perfection. Harmonium can produce only flat notes. By singing a tune it would be easy to convey the nuances to the singers. They will easily get a true feeling of the mood and `gamakas' of the song,'' says Ravindran.

Ravindran has his own concept about a male voice. It should be deep and melodious. A singer should be able to render the bass and treble tones with effortless ease. K.J. Jesudas is the only singer who could do it to his satisfaction, he says.

Ravindran could effectively exploit the range of Jesudas. Right from the song `Tharake...' in his first film, `Choola,' to `Harimuraleeravam...' in `Aaram Thampuran,' the songs sung by Jesudas were proof of Ravindran's skill in putting to good use the talent of the singer.

Ravindran waxes eloquent on mentioning the name of Jesudas. "Dasettan can easily understand the moods and even the minute details of my scores. He insists that I should sing the track. We sync perfectly and that is the success of our teamwork,'' he explains.

Jesudas had said this more than once in public. For, during one of his Gulf tours, Jesudas had to render a light song composed by Ravindran and Sreekumaran Thampi thrice in one venue.

Jesudas himself had reasoned that this was the success of their mutual understanding. Till date, Ravindran had maintained the confidence Jesudas had bestowed on him.

Ravindran who started his career as a singer and rose as a music director of repute scoring music for hundreds of songs says: "The Almighty has given me the talent in abundance and my sole aim is to nurture it so that I can continue to make music which is appealing to the masses.''

By Nair N. J.