Based on renowned poet Mahakavi P Kunjiraman Nair’s critically acclaimed poem Kaliyachan, director Farook Abdulrahiman’s movie was made in 2012 but didn’t get much public attention till it won a bunch of awards at the National and State awards (including Best Background Score for the composer Bijibal at both levels). The movie is only officially getting released this Friday though. Given that it is the portrayal of the life of a kathakali actor, the songs are almost entirely based on the music associated with the art-form – arrangement replete with percussion like chenda, maddalam, chengila, edaykka etc. And while most of the songs use lines by P Kunjiraman himself, there are a couple of songs penned by Rafeeq Ahamed and one by SV Ramanunni.
You can listen to the songs here. Or you can watch them at the end of the review. I advise you to do the latter although some have dialogues in between, because there is a lot of visual beauty here with the colours of kathakali and the pristine Kerala landscape surrounding the river Bharathappuzha. Additional musician credits also supplied at the end.
Seeing as Kaliyachan’s soundtrack is made up mostly of background cues, most tracks are understandably short and the whole playlist of 12 songs lasts just under 20 minutes. But given that all of them are vocal tracks, it also leads to some annoyance when a song you fall in love with gets over in less than a minute. For me that happened most with Ucchanda Garvam, a track that speaks of the protagonist’s pride causing a reluctance towards playing the act his teacher wants him to (the protagonist’s relationship with his teacher is apparently a central theme of the movie). The song starts off in a dramatic fashion with an overdrive of instruments and a tune set to the delightful arabhi raga, delivered well by KJ Chakrapani, but finishes in just two lines and 25 seconds! Lolapeethambara sees a quatrain by Kunjiraman Nair set to another lovely raga, sri, and Ram Mohan on vocals. That combination of flute (Rajesh Cherthala) and the percussion (Kishore N Karun & Sandeep Natarajan) that kicks in after the quiet start is the highlight of the song. Ram gets four more songs in the soundtrack. The kalyani raga based Kettunna Veshathine is one of the longer tracks, once again speaking of the teacher-student relation. Ram’s singing seems very kathakali-oriented (I therefore assume this is kathakali singer Nedumpally Ram Mohan), and works very well here. Composer quite aptly chooses a neelambari-ish tune for Porumee Paazhkali; the soothing nature of the raga blends beautifully with the nostalgic tone of Kunjiraman’s words that are about missing home – one of the more “filmy” songs of the soundtrack this (though once again far shorter than a regular film song). Ram Mohan’s other two songs are both kathakali-themed again, and the man excels in both. While Smeram Guruvin is set to atana raga (with an interestingly darker counterpoint on the cello in the backdrop), Bijibal chooses the sombre panthuvarali raga for Thaavithulumbum sabhaakambam, poet’s imaginative verse about the protagonist’s feelings during his stage debut.
Bijibal gets Thaikkudam Bridge vocalist Vipin Lal for the romantic Manjil Kulichu (begada raga, perhaps). Lovely tune, and excellent choice of edaykka as the percussive base for the rather soothing arrangement. Veteran vocalist P Jayachandran sings the hindolam-based Paapaleela Lolanaavan penned by Rafeeq Ahamed. The arrangement is a nice fusion of relatively filmy elements (Mithun Raju’s guitar & Biju Annamanada’s veena the highlights) with the kathakali based percussion. Rafeeq Ahamed’s other song is sung by the composer himself; Harinakshi Janamoule is based in karnaranjani raga. Lovely choice of raga and a top class arrangement to go with it! The other lyricist SV Ramanunni gets to pen the ode to Nila – synonym of Bharathappuzha that poets and authors love to use – which is also a central character in the film as you might realise if you were to watch the song videos. And Damippippoo’s video gives a particularly good view of the river. Lovely song too, starting on mohanam and switching to mukhari and then sindhubhairavi raga as it progresses, and nicely sung by Bijibal. The final two songs are also rendered by the composer; the two most tragic tracks of the movie, both indicative of the hero’s downfall. Both the tracks are minimally orchestrated, giving prominence to the words. Andhakarathil is in Charukesi raga while Mounashilpam uses shubhapanthuvarali and the rendition is of a free-form nature due to the sparse background elements, especially with the latter. Singing isn’t the best in Mounashilpam, but it works.
That initially mentioned quibble aside, Kaliyachan is a stellar body of work from Bijibal, rich in classical and folk aspects, perfectly in sync with P Kunjiraman Nair’s classic poetry.
Music Aloud Rating: 9/10
Top Recos: All the tracks.
Additional credits (thanks to @harish_io for helping with this)
Keyboards : Aby Salvin Thomas, Vipinlal, Nandhu Kartha
Wind section : Rajesh Cherthala
Veena: Biju Annamanada
Solo Violin : Bijibal
Additional vocals : Nandhu Kartha
Guitar : Mithun Raju
Ethnic percussion: Kishore N Karun, Sandeep Natarajan
PS: Thanks to @kitha_n for playing raga consultant!