Southern Lights: Best New Year Songs

These are our pick of songs for the occasion from across south India. What are yours?
Southern Lights: Best New Year Songs

For the first column of 2018, I decided to do something simple: pick one song from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam that celebrates the new year (or at least, contains the words "happy new year.") In Tamil, there was no choice. It was Ilamai idho idho from Sakalakala Vallavan (1982). Before the advent of 24×7 TV, when we were still reliant on programmes like Oliyum Oliyum and Chitrahaar to catch a glimpse of song sequences, this was the song that used to be played at the beginning of every new year.

So apart from the great music (Ilaiyaraaja) and the enthusiastic singing (SP Balasubramaniam), this song, for me, is about memories – memories of garish AVM productions that had at least one gargantuan number like this one (roller-skate disco? Bring it on!); memories of Kamal Haasan from a time he'd just made a splash in Hindi cinema (note the nod to Ek Duuje Ke Liye at the 3.13 mark); memories of a time actors' songs were beginning to seem more like an homage to their careers (note also, the reference to Kamal's first film, Kalathur Kannamma, at the 3.23 mark, and then, Kalyanaraman).

In other words, New Year's is incomplete for a generation without this song – but how would Ilamai idho idho seem if made for today's generation? This number from the Kannada film, Happy New Year (2017), provides the answer. It's an anthology film, based on a number of events set around New Year's Eve – but this song, called Party Anthem (and composed by Raghu Dixit), bears little connection to the narrative. It's a standalone song, a "promotion" song, something that did not exist in the time of Sakalakala Vallavan. The picturisation is like that of a music video – ultra-slick, filled with quick cuts, tailor-made for the dance floor, but also a little impersonal.

The following Malayalam song, from Muttathe Mulla (1977), is more… personal. (The music is by V Dakshinamoorthy.) The situation is equally generic, but there's a pleasing human touch, a wonderful camp feel. How can you not love the fact that there's a little subplot going on out there, involving a man dressed like a Roman warrior, helmet and all? And it ends in a swordfight! Today's videos are so automaton-like, so perfect, and everyone's so gym-built, so it's a relief to rewind to cabaret numbers like this one, where "good taste" was rightfully given the boot. There was only one cardinal rule: There's no such thing as too many feathers.

Finally, this cheering-up Rajan-Nagendra number from Manchu Pallaki (1982), with Chiranjeevi at his most energetic. Who wouldn't want a shout-out from across the terrace from someone so filled with life? (Look! He persists and wins a smile and a wave from a determined-to-wallow-in-misery Suhasini). That's the can-do spirit we want, really, during a year's beginning. To echo the song, "Welcome, welcome new year, goodbye old year."

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