Singer Sujatha’s ‘Thamara Poovukkum’ song from the Tamil drama film Pasumpon (1995) has received a new lease of life. The Vidyasagar composition, which she sang along with Krishna Chandar back in the Nineties, features in a crucial fight scene in the recent Lokesh Kanagaraj film Leo (2023), starring Vijay and Trisha. Sujatha hasn’t watched Leo yet, and is curious to know more about the scene. “I heard it is played during a fight. Is it at least a fight between friends?” she asked hopefully. The answer is no. “They used another song of mine, ‘Chakku Chakku Vathikuchi’ from Asuran (1995) in a fight in Vikram (2022) as well. I don’t know why they’re picking my songs for adi scenes!” Sujatha said with a laugh.
The singer is enjoying the trend though. “The song gets a new interpretation when it is played in such scenes in movies today. The only point I wish to underline is that the composer and lyricist of the original song should be credited in the film,” she said, adding that the revival of the song meant that it would now feature regularly in concerts and reality TV shows. “The song was already very popular in Malaysia. Now it will catch on here as well.”
Bringing back music from the Eighties, Nineties and early 2000s in contemporary Tamil films is a trend popularised by young directors like Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Lokesh Kanagaraj, Prem Kumar and Nelson Dilipkumar. But the idea of using songs from one film in another isn’t new, pointed out Santhosh, vice president of the music label, Think Music. “In Tenali (2000), director KS Ravikumar does a cameo and when he appears, ‘Kikku Eruthe’ from his own film Padayappa (1999) is played. We call it sync usage,” he said.
Think Tapes, a sister entity of Think Music, owns the rights for ‘Karu Karu Karupayi’ from Eazhaiyin Sirippil (2000), another old song that features in Leo. Vijay dances to the Deva song right before the ‘Thamarai Poovukkum’ fight breaks out. “Think Tapes acquired the rights for Eazhaiyin Sirippil along with a few other titles in 2020. We upload HD video versions of these songs on our YouTube channel,” said Santhosh. Around six months ago, Seven Screen Studio, Leo’s production house, got in touch with Think Tapes and told them that they planned to use the song in the film.
“Kanagaraj has always used old songs well in his films, and we’ve seen this right from Kaithi (2019). They purchased the sync license from us, and we were happy letting them use the song in the film,” said Santhosh. After all, a song to which Vijay dances in a film was bound to go viral and bring more viewership to the channel. The song was uploaded a few days before the film’s release on October 19, once the team knew for sure that it was indeed going to appear in the final cut of the movie. “It had around 3,000 views before Leo came out, and after that, the views jumped to millions within days,” said Santhosh.
Not only that, Think Tapes has also been running a hashtag campaign for the song, inviting viewers to record themselves dancing to ‘Karu Karu Karupayi’. The Instagram page of the channel shares these videos – from professional dancers to young children, there are several people “vibing” to the song. “Though we own the copyright for the song, we made a small contribution to composer Deva sir because we knew the song was going to become crazy viral,” he said.
Nelson Dilipkumar’s Jailer (2023) is another recent film that places old songs in a context completely different to their use in the original films. In the Rajinikanth starrer, the eccentric villain (Vinayakan) plays songs like ‘Kannodu Kanbathellam’ from Jeans (1998) and ‘Taal Se Taal Mila’ from Taal (1999), so his henchmen can dance. The incongruity is typical of Dilipkumar’s cinematic universe which is full of kooky villains who are equal parts brutal and amusing.
But it isn’t only for such violent characters or scenes that old songs are being repurposed. In the romance film 96 (2018), the heroine Janu (Gouri Kishan and Trisha) is an ardent fan of the famous singer S Janaki with whom she shares her name. The film, which is about the bittersweet reunion of high school sweethearts, has Janu singing several old songs – but there is one song that she never sings despite repeated requests from her love, Ram (Aadithya Bhaskar and Vijay Sethupathi). His favourite is ‘Yamunai Aatrile’ from Thalapathi (1991), but because he keeps making the request through other people and never directly, Janu doesn’t oblige. Besides, the original song wasn’t sung by S Janaki, it was sung by Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik.
It’s only during a power cut in Ram’s house that Janu changes her mind and at last sings it. He is in another room, searching for a light, when the song reaches his ears. Disbelievingly, he scrambles to find the light, and arrives just as Janu is singing the lines, “Aayarpadiyil Kannan illayo/ Aasai vaipadhe anbu thollaiyo/ Paavam Radha!” that express the love and longing that Radha has towards her lover, Lord Krishna. The poignant moment arrives in the film after Janu and Ram discover that a simple miscommunication in the past completely changed the course of their relationship. ‘Yamunai Aatrile’ was always a popular song, but after 96, it symbolised a lot more for young people listening to it with the tragedy-tinged Ram-Janu love story in mind.
Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s existential drama film Super Deluxe (2019) peppered the screenplay with several Ilaiyaraaja numbers – ranging from ‘Andhiyile Vaanam’ from Chinnavar (1992) to ‘I am a Disco Dancer’ from Paadum Vaanampadi (1985) and ‘Maasi Maasam’ from Dharma Durai (1991). The placement of these songs adds to the situational comedy in the film. For instance, ‘Saathu Nada Saathu’ from Sethupathi IPS (1994) has the hero’s wife, a dignified teacher (Meena), dancing glamorously to “distract” the villains for a noble cause. In Super Deluxe, the song plays on a TV set when a group of young boys visits a shop to repair their TV, only to realise that the cash they’ve got is demonetised currency.
“These songs certainly have great nostalgic value,” said Sujatha. “When we do concerts, we regularly see the audience asking for old songs that they have grown up with. The 25 or 30 plus crowd that comes for these concerts see it as a way to relive their school and college days. Their memories are mixed with this music.” Sujatha still remembers recording ‘Thamara Poovukum’ at the Media Artists recording studio with sound engineer H Sridhar and composer Vidyasagar. “Krishna Chandar and I recorded the song separately. It has such a lovely sangathi and that is its highlight,” she said.
Even though many of the retro songs that are being rediscovered are melodies and romantic duets, such song and dance sequences are slowly disappearing from Tamil cinema where the action thriller genre reigns supreme as far as the big male stars are concerned. “I like listening to new songs on the radio. When everything sounds the same, and a song like this – a melody or romantic duet – comes up, I feel like listening to it more,” acknowledged Sujatha. “I wouldn’t say we don’t get any such good songs now, but they don’t become as popular.” The youth today wants “mood uplifting songs”. “Everyone is so busy working all the time that perhaps it is fast, energetic songs that people feel like listening to,” she mused.
But the magic of these retro songs is such that they’re still able to captivate today’s generation, as long as they are able to connect with it.
“My marketing head Magesh Rajendran told me that he played ‘Karu Karu Karupayi’ as a test before Leo was released for the 2K kids who were partying. At the time, they didn’t really take to it. But after the release, they’re vibing to it like anything,” said Santhosh, pointing out that the integration of these songs with contemporary superstar films help them stay relevant. “These are songs that the youth of today may have never explored, but after it comes out in such a film, they own it and celebrate it.” Old wine in a new bottle perhaps, but the high it gives Tamil cinema fans is just the same, if not more.