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Music Review: Periyar is impressive
Saraswathy Srinivas
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January 08, 2007 16:00 IST

A Tamil period film, Periyar is based on rationalist, social reformer and Dravida kazhakam founder, EV Ramaswamy Naicker, respectfully called Periyar by his followers. Satyaraj plays the title role and Khushboo stars as Periyar's second wife, Maniyamma. The film is directed by Gnana Rajasekharan, who made the period film, Bharathi.

Periyar has music by Vidyasagar, and the composer offers delectable fare in tune with the music and sounds of the times. Lyricist Vairamuthu highlights many social evils like casteism, untouchability, orthodoxy, superstition and exploitation of women against which Periyar had raised his voice. Yet the album might get brickbats along with encomiums, thanks to some of the lyricist's provocative lines.

The five-track album opens with Itai tazhukikkolla, a dance number by a courtesan. Vidyasagar captures the old-world soundscape and ambience, while Vairamuthu's lyrics have explicit sexual connotations. The sarcastic tone of the girl forced into the world's oldest profession adds a faint touch of gloom. The track has echoes of the old MS Rajeswari song O rasikkum seemane vaa from Shivaji Ganesan's debut film, Parasakthi. Vidyasagar has been able to reproduce the gramophone record-like tonal quality of those days in terms of both vocals and instrumentation. Priya Subramanyam has accordingly modulated her voice exceedingly well.

Pakavan orunaal begins with the soft strain of the thampura followed by a Sanskrit shloka expressing total surrender of the self to God, and then it changes track. The number is in the form of a musical pattimandram (debate) in the classical style. Vidyasagar has used a number of voices led by his favourite Madhu Balakrishnan, who sounds like a clone of the legendary KJ Jesudas. Surprisingly Madhu hasn't been given a solo in this album. Vairamuthu's lyrics here are volatile.

Thai thai thai is a dance music number in the classical style. Again, the theme is exploitation of women. Generous use of the flute provides a melodious feel. Vairamuthu uses some crass imagery to express the sexually victimised women's plight, like 'a leaf from which many people eat.' Vocals are dominated by Vijayalakshmi Subramanyam. Manikkavinayagam with his thala swirls gives adequate support.

Kadavula -- again by Madhu Balakrishnan with a group of well-known others -- is an outcry against idol worship and casteism, an emphatic statement of the atheism Periyar believed in. The vigorous number is embellished with sitar and violin accompaniment.

As is his practice, Vidyasagar reserves the best for last -- a highly philosophical number. Thaayum yaaro, rendered by KJ Jesudas, is a solemn piece lamenting about the futility of human relationships. Jesudas infuses anguish and pathos into the number advocating detachment. The soft strains of the sitar heighten the impact. This is Jesudas at his best.

Periyar is great music for those nostalgic for the bygone era.

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