CHENNAI: What if Madras could sing and show around a new entrant in the city — this was the thought that went behind the making of The Madras Song by Murugappa Group, according to video director Vijay Prabhakaran. It would not be all about the demography, not about the specific buildings and sites, but more about the experience, Vijay and his team decided. And thus, each shot of the four-minute song was conceived.
The song begins with a woman, played by Yasmin Ponappa of Aaranya Kaandam fame, updating her Facebook status, stating that she is going to be stuck in Chennai for three days. “The video is about how she experiences Madras in three days with suggestions from people online and friends in the city,” says Vijay. The film shows her routine as she enjoys the beach, takes the local train, treats herself to roadside popsicles, dances to koothu songs, visits temples and mingles with the crowd in Ranganathan Street.
“That was a challenging part,” says Vijay, rolling his eyes. “We made Yasmin dance in the oddest of places like the busy T Nagar lanes and Koyambedu Market,” he says. The team went in small crews to shoot in the narrow streets without calling much attention from the local residents. Vijay wanted to retain the attitude and feel of the city. He gave priority to it rather than the buildings or places where the scenes were shot. “For example, there is a shot where Yasmin smells a rose. That was shot inside the Koyambedu market, but I did not take a wide shot to show the building,” he says.
Though they wrapped up shooting with Yasmin in nine days, the conception, editing and patching up took two months for the team. To start with, they asked people — those who had stayed here all their lives or for a temporary period — about what Madras meant to them. “It was difficult for them to explain. They couldn’t say it in one word. They would come back after half an hour and mention the names of places or services that they think is the best here,” says Vijay.
Borrowing from the many interviews, the team included scenes of Yasmin getting a head massage, buying things from an old shop at Parry’s Corner, admiring the array of bangles probably in Sowcarpet, and dancing with a group of young boys on a reality show stage set up with singer Chitra in the background.
“We included everybody’s Madras in it,” says Vijay. Apart from Chithra, the song has a few glimpses of director Gautham Menon, singers Naresh Iyer and Sudha Raghunathan, dancer Padma Subrahmanyam and chess wizard Viswanathan Anand. “We wanted celebrities who represent Madras,” says Vijay. In connection with the video and as part of Madras Week, the Murugappa group will be hosting two quiz competitions on August 24 and September 6 respectively.
Singing the city
Vanga Bossu, idhu dhaan Madras, goes the starting line. “Seva koovuthu satham keta vedikum pattasu,” lyricist Subu sings the second line, and explains that the city wakes up with the cock-a-doodle and gets working unlike other metropolitan cities. “In Bangalore, it is hard to buy tea before 8 am, in Chennai, the shops open by 3 am,” he says.
Subu says that he wanted to retain the local flavour and at the same time maintain a class. “We did not want it to be another Kolaveri,” he adds.
The lines pudicha cut outtu, pudikelana get outtu get repeated often in the song. With this, Subu refers to the culture of huge banners and cut outs in the city for anyone who is famous — be it cine actors, politicians or other people.
“We consciously avoided using names of places and buildings, we wanted to show more about how it feels. Like the taste of filter coffee that lingers long after you taste it,” he says.
The eternal muse
Chennai chronicler Sriram V says that The Madras song by The Murugappa group is probably the fourth of its kind, and the first with lyrics. “The first one was by Maurice Ravel in 1911, a French composer who came to India and composed four poems on Jaipur, Banaras, Lahore and Madras,” he says. Henry Cowell composed the Madras symphony in 1958 and Allen Hovhaness came two years later, and composed the Madras Sonata. “This is an indication of how far we have travelled, from classical to modern music,” he says.