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Velugu Needalu

Here is the the series that focuses on the many greats who lurk in the shadows behind the silver screen bringing out the best in them, to radiate and redirect their brilliance onto the silver medium. We hope that these articles would focus our attention and applause to these true "stars" to whom limelight and spot lights do not usually beckon upon.

Part 1

Mathematics is usually defined as the language of the universe helping understand the vagaries and wonders of the world by means of a number based system. Though this notational system is totally relative, it makes quite an appreciable effort in dealing with the "why"s and the "how"s in a logical way. Now that is as far matters of the mind are concerned. Move a few inches down and try coming up with a system to satisfy the heart in the same way. A good piece of writing leaves a lasting impressions long after he had read the piece. Same goes with a great painting or an enthralling sculpture, an invigorating dance recital. Most of these art forms move in well-defined paths, clearly demarcating their boundaries of good taste (like, what is good penmanship and what is not, what extra ingredient does a great paint possess that an ordinary one lacks, why are sculptures carved on the walls of the caves of Ajanta and Ellora still considered the seminal pieces of the erstwhile civilization and the like) and engage their audience on a more cerebral level. Music is different beast altogether. It is an abstract art form that defies the norms of tradionality and structure. Like everything it starts off having an accepted and a standardized syllabus - 7 notes of interleaving frequencies, with each note in some sort of geometric progressional factor with the one before and after it; some notes can only go upto a certain level and some are forbidden to come any lower; certain notes can only appear after certain others; thre should a quorum of notes to make up a swaram (even this rule is toyed with nowadays). Well, all that is for people on one side of the line.

For the rest who see no difference between a note and a notation, swaram and a raagam, swarajati or a raaga prasthaaram, music is just a repition of sound; music is just a pattern; music is all about pattern repeating itself over and over. Same notes repeating themselves again and again in a given period of time to create an effect that just cannot be ignored. In the end music is that incredible science, that indelible art, that is solely aimed at moving the heart. The sense of music is something that is inherent and integral to the human being, immaterial of whether he formalizes the process through education and education. Even an untrained ear could be able to pick between a series of notes that would create a plesant feeling from among other that create disturbance, without knowing or understanding fully well the reasons behind such impact. To him, it is not the "suddha gaandhaaram" or "chatusruthi rishabham" in the swaram or E flat or the D minor in he octave that created the effect, that caused that feeling. The heart that beats with a certain rhythm, the pulse that beats at a certain rate, the air that whooshes at a certain pitch, the birds that chip at a certain frequency - music is in the air, harmony is in the life, melody is in the living and symphony is just everywhere around. Recall Sirivennela's famous words about the rhythms of life

janinchu prati Sisu gaLamuna palikina jeevana naada tarangam
chaetana pondina spandana dhwaninchu hrudaya mrundanga dhwaanam
anaadi raagam aadi taaLamuna ananta jeevana vaahinigaa
saagina srushTi vilaasamule ||virinchinai virachinchiTini||

Chakravarthy, true to to his name, ruled the music scene for more than a decade from mid seventies to well into the eighties, when telugu movie started its painful trek away from the artistic interpretation of the medium towards where money is the only language spoken. He had taken over the baton from stalwarts who had created memorable everlasting tunes that would live for as long as the sun and the moon would. Inheriting a great legacy at such a trouble point of time, when it willingly broke away from what made it standa on part with other media of great repute during that era, was hard on all departments, particularly on music and words, as they could never reach to the high standards set by their predecessors, creating purposeless and meaningless sounds - be it in the form of notes, or in the form of words. After the trouble period passed on, and it had been decided that the new standards of cinema revolved entirely around instant gratification and constant entertainment, many a change came over, particularly in the music side, aimed specifically at regaling the masses. Songs like "gu gu gu gu guDisundi, ma ma ma ma manchamundi", "vangamaaka vangamaaka vangi vangi tongi tongi chooDamaaka" won commercial applause and acceptance for the kind of the frivolity of the tunes and frothiness of the words. It went without saying that cinema dropped out of the contention, when it came to which was a more serious and far-reaching medium. It was good to an extent to have the mission statement clearly spelling out at appealing to ignorance than to intelligence, and to have the clarity that cinema was no longer the cultural torch bearer of the generation. From out of such clarity and mission statements, music directors like Chakravarthy took shape.

He created tunes, thousands in number, most of which fizzled out and faded over the passage of time and yet were immensely popular and widely accepted, within the context of the few hours of the screen time and a few days after the scheduled run. It is a testament to his great talent of churning out one commercial hit after another, while simultaneously working on 20 or so films at the same time, in one calendar year. Between his commercial successes like "konDa meeda chandamaama kOna lOna kOya bhaama", "kuDi kannu koTTa gaane kurraaNNi, yeDam kannu koTTagaane yerrONNi", "manchamaesi duppaTaesi andamanta istaanu raa raa raaja", he scored the occasional "ee madhumaasamlO ee darahaasamlO", "taaralu digi vacchina vaeLa, mallelu naDichocchina vaeLa", "maru mallela kannaa tellanidi, makarandamu kannaa tiyyanidi", without getting COMPLETELY mired and seeped in mindless commercialism. Without any assistance from inventive orchestration or innovative compositions, Chakravarthy, like his predecessors, took the safe (and dangerous) route of relying entirely on the soul of the tune to bear the entire burden of the song, sticking to the same standards to well over 10 years, as telugu cinema rode over his shoulders and rose to greater heights of market reach and commercial viability of its products.

Around late seventies, a new wave started to rise up in Tamil cinema. Although it adhered to the same standards of commercial format, it started treading a new ground, bringing some amount of realism and neutrality to the proceedings, without completely going over the top, all in the name of entertainment. Bharatiraja, to a large extent (and Balachander to some extent), ushered in this new era with his take on the village milieu, blending them with more human and real life-like emotions and imparting the sensibilities of the common man. As his movies started to find wider audience, so was the acceptance of his themes in telugu cinema, thanks to the art of dubbing and act of remaking. One such village based theme (though, not directed by Bharatiraja) was "Raamachilaka". The movie, dripping in melodrama, was about a wide-eyed village belle, who meets the man of her dreams, a fresh entry into her village from the near-by city, and starts to build her life around him, and as hte story would have it, she sacrifices him to unforseen situations, getting killed in the process. The movie was no great shakes, but a couple of tunes in the movie ("raama chilakaa peLLi koDukevarae", "maavayya vastaaDanTa manasicchi pOtaaDanTa"), reworked by Satyam for the telugu audience, stood out from the rest. Around the same period Bharatiraja's "16 Vayathinile" struck the right chord with the audience on both sides of the Andhra-Tamil border. This time it had Chakravarthy at the helm rehashing the great original tune, to come up with the soulful melody of S.Janaki, that had innocence, aspirations, hope and optimism blended into it and the result was "sirimalle poova, sirimalle poova, chinnaari chilakammaa".

It is particularly striking how this song is hauntingly reminiscent "raama chilakaa peLLi koDukevarae", when the song steps into the "charaNam" part with the omni-present "Dappu", echoing the heart beat of the aspirations in both the occasions. The styles were eerily similar thought the music was credited to different directors for both the movies. Shortly thereafter, Bharatiraja, moving away from his trademark villages, made a suspense thriller, setting it in an urban mileu. "Erra Gulaabeelu", a bonafide winner in both the original the dubbed versions, credit much of the success to not only a bold theme handled in a slick and a mature manner, but also to a couple of great melodies that became instant classics ("ee erra gulaabee virisinadi", "aedO toli valapae"). With Western orchestration and very unique composition (particularly with the latter one), the momentum slowly started shifting towards innovation, in the way a tune is scored, moving consciously away from what was considered standard. When "Don" went on to become a great success in 78, K.S.R.Das promptly transported the theme into telugu medium for NTR and hired a virtual no-name to rehash the great tunes of Kalyanji-Anandji from the original. Though the interest didn't quite pique with an aging NTR portraying both a stoic and silly DON, the way the song "yeh meraa dil pyaar kaa deewaanaa" was completely changed into "naa paruvam nee kOsam" into a worthy, if not better, composition, with trumpets, guitar and percussion, each going haywire but together creating a perfect harmony, that matched the energy and vigor of the original, and yet remained completely independent and inspiring, marked the formal arrival of a new music director, whose tunes, but not the name, had become familiar to the telugu audience from a couple of years ago - Ilayaraja.

To be continued in the next part

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Also read Velugu Needalu of
K Balachandar
SP Bala Subramanyam
K Viswanath
Bapu Ramana

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