LOVE AND LONGING IN ALWARPET

It is quite evident now that I am quite obsessed with the song; the repeat count alone going into a few hundreds, so I ask you not to trust me on this endeavor. I am probably up to no good.

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Songs in the Tamil film occupies a curious position, having had it all along, it looks colorless without it and having too much of it only hinders the movement of story. For all the talk about having to do away with songs so that we can stand on shoulder with our western counterparts only seem to be the stand of a schoolboy trying to get into a gang.

In a recent discussion on television, a director professed that he is ashamed to show his films abroad because that would involve explaining on why do the characters break into the song and dance, it seemed so bizarre to the audience there.

Most Indians are brought up by film songs, with a near absent independent music scene and when classical music seems too far to touch, it is this goddess of film music which reaches its hands to the fallen Indian, quenching thirst and providing some kind of peace.

Quite unusual for a spy thriller, but quite usual for the Indian film, Vishwaroopam begins with flamboyant song and dance and it is a song that has had my attention ever since I heard Kamal announce it one afternoon on TV, obviously it is a trick.

Trick because you can argue quite well on both sides, whether there is a song because he is a kathak dancer or because there is a song he (Kamal) played the dancer; but the simplest answer is because Kamal loves to sing and dance and if cinema is culmination of all arts, might as well.

But it is to the nearest perfect lyrics that I want to draw attention; Kamal has been much ignored as a lyricist; for who would have imagined that a black-shirt- wearing- Periyar-rational-thought speaker wrote the lyrics for this fantastical devotional song.  Kamal of course chooses to call this just a love song.

Like all moving love songs, this is a song of longing and disappointment; it is the careful use of sadness which brings out the happiness in the song set to tune for dancing legs of course; it is a song that had made me sit in wonder for many nights at stretch and that too without the involvement of Ilayaraaja.

Kamal manages to summon the steadfast waiting of the Alwars, complete with Nayika Bhavam (when the Alwar transforms into the wailing lady in waiting, for Krishna)

In longing, all is not what it seems;

Not even the daily sky is permanent, nor do the warm dreams give me comfort

The Alwars were lyrical madmen(and woman) so immersed in Bhakti, that which gives them their collective name; constantly failing to differentiate between here and there, real and unreal and sometimes rejecting both in favor of disappointment through which they finally hope to get some kind of temporary respite. In effect, it is the longing for the lord which provides them with smallish ecstasy; but the sadness that longing will ever remain as longing plunges them into more sorrow.

It is a brilliant line, something I fail to understand how Kamal’s rational mind penned down; the song uses many such uneven dualities like the Krishna who removed the sleep from the sleepless eyes (!) or the  man who swallowed the world, French kissed me; alluding also to Kamal’s notorious past image of being the original onscreen kisser.

Maybe it is unfair to make comparisons to the Alwars of yore, but he isn’t asking for comparisons; it is an imitation that will make me seek the original canon.  

* People who are interested in stray coincidences will note that Kamal Haasan somehow manages to reside in a Madras locality curiously called Alwarpet.

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