A rather quaint song is Nallai Allai from Kaatru Veliyidai. It was heartening to notice the instant updates on Twitter and Facebook on the reference for the last line from Kurunthokai – verse47 — Nallai Allai Nannilavey (you’re not helping Oh! Moon’). Vairamuthu deftly swings in a winner in this AR Rahman number, which warms the heart in twin strokes of music and lyrics. The earlier example of Sangam poetry in the Rahman-Vairamuthu combination which shone bright in a Mani Ratnam film is the song Narumugaye from Iruvar (1997), which drew inspiration from Kurunthokai – verse 40 (Sembulam Serntha Neerthuli Pol…like red earth and pouring rain).
Nallai Allai also draws its musical genre from the MS Vishwanathan songs of the black and white era. A yearning which comes along with the evening breeze as the moon peeks in and out of the clouds! The song which chimes in my mind when Sathyaprakash sings this line — ‘Ennai Nakshathira Kaattil Alaya Vittai, Naan Endra Ennam Tholaiya Vittai’ is ‘Parandhu Sellum Paravaiyai Kettean, Paadi Sellum Kaattaiyum Kettean, Alaiyum Nenjai Avanidam Sonnean, Azhaithu Vandhaar Ennidam Unnai’ from the iconic song Ponnai Virumbum Bhoomiyiley from Aalayamani (1962). When Chinmayi hums her melody, it reminds me of a slow-paced but lilting Naalaam Naalaam Thirunaalam from Kadhalikka Neramillai (1964). Both songs were penned by Kannadasan and set to tune by his partner-in-music MSV. But Nallai Allai is closer to the Sivaji-TMS number from Aalayamani in its mood, with the man reminiscing how his love for a woman of such character has changed him for the better.
Rahman does well to give us a tune, which harks back to a by-now-forgotten-era, which set many standards in Tamil film music and lyrics. Kannadasan was not called the ‘King of Verse’ for nothing! Apart from his philosophical songs and romantic numbers, his ‘coinages’ also came to stay. Like the phrase Dheiveega Kadhalithaana (denotes the woman as divine lover) in the MGR-Saroja Devi song Pesuvadhu Kiliyaa. It took many decades for a woman lyricist, Thamarai, to describe a man thus Kalaba Kadhalaa, in the song Ondra Rendaa Aasaigal from Khakka Khakka (2003). Cut back to the Rahman-Vairamuthu-Mani Ratnam combo and we have an uncannily placed ‘pure Tamil’ lyrics for a rocking disco number — Yakkai Thiri Kadhal Sudar Anbe (body is the wick for the flame of love) from Ayutha Ezhuthu (2004), which has this awesome third line — Piravi Pizhai Kadhal Thiruththam Nenje (this birth is a flaw, love, its correction).
Sometimes chance encounters online lends to lovely experiences and of course, ideas for such columns too! @oldtamilpoetry is a twitter handle and a website where old Tamil verses from Sangam era are set to beautiful designs and explained in the simplest of English with historical significance. I follow them after director Venkat Prabhu re-tweeted a verse once. Now, every day, with each new post/verse, it’s like a flower blooming! To read and understand Tamil poems in contemporary format…ah, pure bliss!