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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sharath - The Musical Enigma - Part 4 (Final)

Idol 7 - Sharath - The Musical Enigma - Part 4

Impressions of an Amateur Musician
- Murali Venkatraman (

(The complete article can be downloaded here)

6. Classical

After all the talk about being the disciple of Shri. Balamuralikrishna where is the classical composition ? He has given us the song “praNathosmi” which is in the raga reethi gowLai. However, I do not attach much significance to the pallavi of that song because reethi gowLai is a ragam that has been used repetitively by Ilaiyaraja and others with all the pallavis sounding the same. And invariably the pallavis use the aarohanam of the ragam as it is.

Aarohanam : s g r g m n d m n n s

Songs which employ this aarohanam in their pallavis are :

  1. chinnak kaNNan azaikkiRaan
  2. raama kanavemira (raman kadhai kELungaL) by SPB from Swati mutyam or chippikkuL muththu
  3. praNAthosmi Guruvayupureesam
  4. maamava maadhava – from the movie five star hospital

In fact, the best reethi gowLai in my opinion also comes from IR – thalayaik kuniyum thaamaraiye and to a good extent azagaana raakshasiye from Rehman – both savored by SPB as he sang them.

Pranathosmi apart from the pallavi is a beautiful song rendered in the aged voice of Yesudas. I also found a version of Venugopal which I thought did more justice and have included for the readers here.

Listen to Pranathosmi here:

Pranathosmi - Yesudas Version

Pranathosmi - Venugopal Version

It is a popular practice in some of the semi-classical songs to include some established classical phrases in the middle. For example, Raveendran’s classic “Gopaangane” includes in an interlude the swarams of “Jagada nanda karaka” in the instrumental format. However, Sharath chooses to let K. J. Yesudas deliver the Karaharapriya swara phrases for the Kirtanam “Pakala” as an interlude for the uncharacteristically sweet melody – Shree Ragamo.

Listen to Shree Ragamo

In one of my conversations with rajaG, he remarked that composing a classical or a semi-classical number for film is easy. Once you choose the ragam, and play with it a bit you can come up with a pallavi and charanam. I strongly disagreed. In my opinion, coming up with a trite pallavi and a banal charanam is something anybody with some basic classical knowledge can do. However I believe, when we say composing we also innately imply impressing. If impressing is taken into account, Raveendran, Devarajan and Dhakshinamurthy swamigaL’s compositions stand out whereas many other lesser composers’ songs pale in comparison. Pramadhavanam and Gopaangane are severely semi-classical but compellingly expressive and deeply endearing. Apart from these stellar numbers, malayalam films are replete with namesake semi-classical numbers rendered by Yesudas and Chitra which hardly impress the listener. But when composers like Sharath attempt classicals or semi-classicals, they bring in an energy unseen.

7. To learn and not to learn

So what should an amateur musician like me look to learn from Sharath ? The first thing that Sharath’s songs tell me is to “think out of the box”. rajaG says:

“This kind of a rebellious attitude is the trademark of BMK. BMK got bored with what was present in carnatic system and came up with innovations himself and Sharath is doing that in film music. It is this out of the box approach that I really adore Sharath for”

I recall a discussion with Murali Rangarajan (an excellent singer and friend) who once quipped that BMK would stick to the grammar of ragas, but would explore those combinations which nobody has attempted before. That is, there are many ragams which have popular “prayogams” (phrases) and most of the carnatic singers resort to the “traditional” delivery (negatively speaking, this would be synonymous with unimaginative renditions) and BMK on the other hand would pretty much venture into that territory and come up unheard prayogams in the same ragams.

I agree with Murali and rajaG in that Sharath, in many songs, uses the same old canvass but employs a combination of colours which are unseen and hence unnerving to people who are used to a particular type of paintings. The result, as I emphasized before, is that it could be incomprehensible and sometimes deemed unpleasant too. For example, “niLaiyude maaRil” is the song I would least appreciate in the Chaithra GeethangaL album for the simple reason that its scale changes do not produce a focused output in my limited perception. SL once said in jest :

“If you meet Sharath, could you please request him not to change the Shadjam in every note ?”

I really wish I could meet Sharath someday which would certainly be a day to cherish for me. But I agree with SL that for a listener it does get difficult when the composer changes too many things too fast. The best parallel that I can think of is shooting with a camcorder. During a shoot, if one keeps moving the camcorder at a speed that is much higher than a “normal” eye can bear or discern, during playback on TV, the viewer ends up with a headache. However, if the motion is captured slowly at a lesser speed, people get the “full picture”. But too slow can be too dull. To me Sharath’s songs appear more like well-scripted action movies where things happen too fast for some people to understand the finer details.

When I was discussing this aggressive quality of Sharath in his compositions, Bhavadharini added:

“This is probably because of the ‘asura saadhakam’ (rigorous vocal practice) that he does everyday. He sleeps probably for 3 hours rest of the day / night it is all music for him – either practice or composing/arranging”.

8. Conclusion

A rigorous practitioner will certainly find new combinations. Add to the rigor, some exceptional talent, the practitioner ideally becomes the father of a range of musical forms that finally becomes christened as his school or style. Sharath is that extraordinary combination who is creating a school of his own. There are three things that I would like to learn from him :

  1. Think out of the box
  2. Use old elements to create new combinations
  3. Practice and work hard

Well, the last one is a common feature of all my idols. It is indeed the most important quality however, to discuss that would be to belabour over the adage : “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”. The first two are Sharath’s characteristics which I would certainly like to imbibe. When I composed, Barse Badariya, I certainly tried my hand to think out of the box by employing some raga changes. Many liked it but some did not, dismissing it as a gimmick. Fair enough I believe. In songs like these the composer needs the support of an excellent singer and Swati Kanitkar went beyond what I could conceive. Thank you Swati.

However, in terms of the progress of the melody I certainly have my reservations following Sharath. Quoting SL about his experience with some of Sharath’s songs:

“In 2 songs (Sudha Mantram and niLaiyude maaril) the 'Sa' shift happened too often that before the melody could be savoured, it assumed a different flavour altogether. Raavil veeNa naadham started off in Hamsanadham and kept taking a detour which was not at all aesthetically pleasing to my ears, it was almost at the expense of sounding discordant. Maybe he is trying to break the 'melody conditioning' a lot of us have. But I sincerely feel in these cases the tune has not been allowed to blossom fully...thinna pazham thanthu thinnAthE endru kayyai thatti vittu thittuvathu sariya thappA :)”

SL nailed it. Melody conditioning” – is the new phrase that I learnt from SL and probably the most perfect way to describe the incomprehensibility that we display while hearing a Sharath’s composition. Melody conditioning is the apparent disparity between how we expect a song to be and the way Sharath’s song is. In my opinion, we certainly need to improve in being able to understand difficult musical forms (See what MSV says about Sharath here ). MSV says:

“Songs like these were composed in olden days. These days, there are few compositions of such class. However such songs must be composed so that the younger generation gets to learn”

When it comes to film music, it would be foolish to sport an opinion different from MSV, but it is my request that Sharath must also keep in mind that he is composing for us – the audience – who sometimes are not expecting to be educated but only entertained. And with the magic wand of melody that he has, he can certainly do it like he did in Ende sindoora rekha or Shree Ragamo.

With that, I take bow before this great composer who has successfully jolted some of the neurons which are responsible for understanding, appreciating and creating music. Together with Ramesh Narayanan and M. Jayachandran, Sharath has changed the way Malayalees listen to film music.

On a final note as Bhavadhaarini puts it : “It is only by a stroke of luck that such a great composer has come to be with us and we need to learn as much as possible from him. A gem of a person he always says SanthOsham, Samaadhaanam and Sowkyam”.

Dear Sharath, I would say add your “Sangeetham” to it. Thanks - for making contemporary music, a twisted and intelligent transformation of the old.

9. Appendix A : Songs featured in this article

  1. Sudhamantram
  2. Diva swapnam
  3. Madhuram gayathi
  4. Bandhura vaasandhya
  5. Gopike nin maaril
  6. niLaiyude maaril
  7. ende sindoora rekha
  8. Yamuna nadhi
  9. Mazaiye Mazaiye
  10. Pranathosmi - K. J. Yesudas
  11. Pranathosmi - G. Venugopal
  12. Shree Ragamo

10. Appendix B : ShruthibhEdam and GruhaBhedam

An interesting point is the distinction between SruthiBhedam and GruhaBhedam in the words of Sindhuja :

“I had a discussion about this with Kumaresh (of Ganesh-Kumaresh) about a month back. From him I learnt that what I had been referring to as shruthibhedam was actually 'gruhabhedam'. The latter is a more accurate term he said. All these days I thought the two terms meant the same and could be used interchangeably, but apparently there is a subtle difference. Shruthibhedam is just change (bhedam) of shruthi (for eg- u are not able to reach the highs in a shruthi, u lower it for convenience- that is an instance of shruthibhedam) But the shift of Sa (called 'gruham' as it 'houses' the rest of the swaras) is actually primarily a gruhabhedam, a by-product of which is shruthibhedam since when u shift the gruham, the the shruthi changes automatically. At a glance the distinction may seem redundant but if you think about it there is a subtle difference.”

So while Gruhabhedam implies ShruthibhEdam, the reverse is not true and semantically, they are different.


Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

Part 4 :