Music is everywhere in the cosmos of a Selvaraghavan film. When Vinod is in the throes of savagery in Kadhal Kondein, he breaks into a feral dance in the woods as Yuvan’s haunting ‘Kadhal Konden’ theme sets in. In Nenjam Marapathillai (2021), a routine police investigation turns into a superbly whacky “dude-bro song”, when Ramsay rounds up his servants to set their bloodied story straight, in between synchronised bops. Many filmmakers have cracked the song-and-dance drill in films, but very few do it in the wonderfully absurdist fashion that Selvaraghavan often does. On the sidelines of his birthday, here’s a subjective list of five of his wholesomely staged albums, ranked in ascending order.
Most of us here have dealt with the occasional friend, Mr Existential dread, an uninvited guest that creeps in without notice. In Mayakkam Enna, this dread is given a tragicomic voice in ‘Voda Voda’. “Ulagamae speed-ah odi poguthu, en vandi puncture aayi nikkuthu (The world is running by with speed while my bike has been punctured),” sings Dhanush, who is a wildlife photographer who hasn’t caught a break yet. My favourite scene in the song is when a confused Karthik, working odd jobs, finds himself clicking pictures at a funeral one second, and a marriage the next. The dread continues in ‘Naan Sonnadhum Mazhai Vandhucha’, but the brilliant difference is that Karthik is now newly married. So, even when he goes on with odd photography jobs, the doom doesn’t seem so bad when your wife is right by your side, bearing half your burden. While the misogynistic ‘Adida Avala’ doesn’t deserve a mention, Saindhavi’s heartbreaking ‘Pirai Thedi’, an ode to unshakeable partners, does.
The soundscape of ‘Ayirathil Oruvan’ is as inventive and whimsical as the film itself. And of course ‘Un Mela Aasadhan’ is half the reason why the movie makes it to this list, but isn’t that pretty incredible? Seconds after ambushing and devouring a camel, archaeologists Anita, Lavanya, and their porter Muthu, spiral into madness. This is when GV Prakash Kumar’s hypnotic number engulfs us, evoking feelings of absurdity and intrigue. A viral hit at the time, the song is still remembered for its audacity in weaving a song about three high adults slowly losing their minds. Between swigs of old whiskey and camel meat, the trio has a lighter moment before their life changes forever in the Chola universe.
In the psychedelic and gothic ‘Oh Eesa’, we get a precursor to their descent into madness. ‘Celebration Of Life’, the last song in the film proves that a period composition doesn’t mean it cannot be frothy, a song which aptly depicts Muthu’s playfulness and new-found stoicism.
If you want to know what Pudhupettai is all about, just listen to ‘Enga Area’ once. Even before the song begins, the milieu is beautifully established. Kokki Kumar (Dhanush) is on his way to school, surrounded by a multitude of sounds in his North Chennai neighbourhood. As he passes by a funeral and a puberty function, all in the same street, his friends greet him with friendly expletives. And the explosive song begins. Throughout the song, Kokki is clear about one thing – the boundary of class that separates his notorious turf from the rest of the city. With its flash-mob style dance choreography, the song depicts everything that his community is known for (harbour, football, debauchery and undying friendships) all under five minutes. Like most of Selvaraghavan’s films, Pudhupettai, too, is a man’s coming-of-age story. So, if ‘Enga Area’ depicts Kumar’s boyish flexes, ‘Variya’ is his step into adulthood, one of the endless possibilities. Kumar joins Anbu’s gang of thugs and is suddenly pushed into a world of drugs, women and money. The song, which is mostly dialogue-free, is a masterclass in eliciting feelings with just one word. Is he singing “variya” to all the new money, or his new but splintered self? And who can ever forget the delightful Bala Singh grooving to Yuvan's hook step with gusto?
In any other romantic drama, you’d get a breezy number when a man realises his love for a woman for the first time. And perhaps a soul-wrenching number when that romance isn’t reciprocated. In Kadhal Kondein, however, things are marvellously upside down. What else can you expect from a Selva romance? Rain pours, sparks fly (quite literally) and there’s some dancing around electric poles on the streets. But ‘Thottu Thottu’ is not your conventional first-love song. Vinod has finally realised that there is space for love in heart and he doesn’t know what to do with all this feeling. So, he takes to the streets, doing a ferocious dance to internalise the storm that the love has raged in his heart. “Intha kanavu nilaikuma, Dhinam kaana kidaikuma (Will this dream last? Will I live to witness this every day?),” he sings as the sounds of the violin engulf his thoughts. After all, love is but a privilege in Vinod’s world. In a stark contrast, Aadhi’s love song gets a goofy take in ‘Kadhal Mattum Purivathillai’, a frothy number accompanied by the harmonica and keys. Love is pain for one, and giddy delight for the other.
And in Harish Raghavendra’s ‘Devathaiyai Kanden’, the “heartbreak” song, we get one of Yuvan's breeziest melodies. In this gorgeous Harish Raghavendra number, Divya (Sonia Aggarwal) and Aadhi fall in love, while Vinod disintegrates in his perpetual third-wheel state. “Kallarai melae pookum pookal koondhalai poi thaan seradhae (Flowers that bloom in the graveyard can never reach the hair),” the lyrics go, Na Muthukumar’s words succinctly depicting the biting irony. ‘Nenjodu Kalandhidu’, brings the film to a full circle with Vinod baring himself to Divya for the first time. The mood here shifts from yearning romance to lullaby – perhaps to mark his last ever slumber before he loses himself.
If the Kadhal Konden album signified a romance that was young and reckless, 7G Rainbow Colony is a more poignant yet melancholic cousin of the former. The formidable album reflects love in all its forms, warts and all. ‘Kanpesum Varthaigal’ begins with the sounds of mocking cackles of colony residents. The moment is a direct reference to an earlier sequence when Kathir and gang render a mechanical version of ‘Rajadhi Raja' in a colony annual event. But in this moment, however, Kathir turns it around and belts the ultimate soup song ever, shutting everyone down. In ‘Kanaa Kaanum Kaalangal’, we see a slow burn romance that is on its cusp.
In the film, which hasn’t aged too well when matters of consent are concerned, Divya is worn down by a persistent Kathir. However, in ‘Kanaa Kaanum…’ we see real snippets of a friendship turning into a situationship in Harish Raghavendra’s outstanding baritone. On the other side of the spectrum is ‘January Madham’, an exploration of sexual desires. But it is in ‘Ninaithu Ninaithu’ that the Yuvan-Selva machine hits the sweet spot. With soft sounds of saxophone drowning the sobs outside Divya’s house, the camera slowly pans from her framed picture, surrounded by family and friends, to Kathir, sitting outside his dead lover’s house all alone. Death might be poetic to some. But the poeticism is superlative in a Selvaraghavan film.