The ‘Nayagan Theme’ Is Among My All-Time Favourites: Govind Vasantha On The Illaiyaraaja Influence

In terms of the melody, it’s surely ‘Thendral Vanthu’, says the composer about his favourite Illaiyaraaja song
The ‘Nayagan Theme’ Is Among My All-Time Favourites: Govind Vasantha On The Illaiyaraaja Influence

Edited excerpts from a longer interview with Baradwaj Rangan about the influence music of greats like MS Viswanathan, Baburaj and Illaiyaraaja has had on Govind Vasantha's musical sensibilities: 

Baradwaj Rangan: Let's talk about Illaiyaraaja. I know it's an ocean but if there's one song that defines him for you, what would it be?

Govind Vasantha: I would say two songs. One is the Malayalam song 'Thumbi Vaa' from Olangal. I remember listening to the songs on a tape recorder. Me and my brother, we both love bass. This tape recorder had an equaliser and we would always push up the bass knob. But the bass of 'Thumbi Vaa' is legendary. It's another song in itself. It's not the normal pattern of using bass at all.

BR: Illaiyaraaja's tunes for bass…its almost like he's written notes for them separately. It's like there are three songs for each song. One of my favourites for the bass is 'Megham Kottattum' from Enakkul Oruvuan. The bass in that is something else…

GV: Even in 'Poongatru…', it has a double-bass portion going on. Very much like metal music. We can easily make a metal cover of that song. He uses guitars like no one else. Ok so apart from 'Thumbi Vaa', I think 'Thendral Vanthu' was another eye opener for me. In terms of the melody, it's surely 'Thendral Vanthu'.

BR: That's a long gap between these two songs…

GV: I listened to Olangal after 'Thendral Vanthu' actually. Back then I would keep listening to a cassette called "Illaiyaraaja Hits: Tamil". There were obviously no Malayalam songs in that. 'Olangal' I first heard it on TV, that too in someone else's home. It was 'Thumbi Vaa' and 'Kuliradunu Manathu' from the same film. I didn't even know that it was Illaiyaraaja song because I didn't know he made music for Malayalam. We didnt have a TV. We only had this tape recorder. Me discovering his Malayalam works happened only after that. It started with Tamil first. Especially the background score in Nayagan. It is one of my all-time favourites. The music in that is kind of like an Italian film. Maybe from the police films in Italy, like the use of horns…

BR: For me it was the reverse. I could discover Raaja's Telugu film music easier than his Malayalam works. It was a little difficult for me. My first song was 'Thamara Killi Padunnu' from Moonam Pakkam. I was so thrilled because it was filled with the signatures of his works from Tamil. But it was sounding different because when you don't know the language, the language itself starts sounding like music. In Tamil of course, I could follow the meaning, but not in Malayalam.  

GV: Even for me in Tamil, I had absolutely no idea what they were singing about. Other than Johnson master in Malayalam, I was more into background scores. But score were mostly available in Tamil for Raaja and Rahman. In Malayalam I wasn't personally impressed with background scores expect for Johnson master, who was legendary. So, I was more into Tamil music back then. Even in Moonam Pakkam, I would just listen without knowing who has composed it. I would even judge it. It's only later I found out who it was. There is a small bit in it, but it gels so perfectly with that song. Its synth, but sounds like a flute. I started exploring his songs and his third line will usually be the best line of the song. Like 'Thendral Vanthu' or 'Illam Kathu Visuthey'. I think he created that forumula of a song going high in the third line. And it will take you higher. And even his instrumentation. I used to hate the use of tabla, especially the way Hindi songs would use it. But Raja and Vidyasagar made me appreciate it again. They both use it so well. 

BR: So if you were to mention five of his songs, what would they be? You already mentioned 'Thumbi Vaa' and 'Thendral Vanthu'…

GV: 'Poongatru…', 'Kodai Kaala Katre'…again the third line. I get goosebumps. 'Elangathu Visudhey'. 'Om Sivoham' then. For me, it's like a metal song without the guitar and drums. There are lots of his songs. His use of strings for instance. In 'Lajja' he composed the BGM. There is a symphony like song. It's an amazing melody. I think it's one of his most underrated albums. 

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