Swapaanam – Music Review (Malayalam Soundtrack)

Swapaanam_Movie_PosterThe last time (and probably the only time) I heard a proper kedaaragowla raga-based song in film was in the 1992 film Sargam – Bombay Ravi-Yusuf Ali Kecheri-Yesudas/Chithra’s Andolanam. In Kaliyaayi Nee, composer Srivalsan J Menon presents another simple yet brilliant composition employing the delightfully addictive raga, making particularly splendid use of flute (Kudamaloor Janardhanan) and edaykka (Subramanian Peringode and Thrippunithura Hari). On the vocals we have Meera Ram Mohan and Deepu Nair carrying off a fab job. Swathi Thirunaal’s Kaamini Mani Sakhi (set in poorva kamodari raga) gets a very interesting rearrangement at the composer’s hands – the combination of Kottayam Murali’s morsing and V Sreejith’s ghatam being the main reason for that. Meera Ram Mohan is joined by Kalyani Menon in this one (the choice of Kalyani Menon apparently owes it to the fact that the sakhi referred to in the song is usually an older person. Just a testimony to the amount of thought that’s gone into the music). Also deserving a mention is Sreejith V’s ghatam. V Soundararajan’s veena phrases provide a serene start to the naattakkurinji-based Madhava Maasamo before Hariprasad and Sreeranjini Kodampally (who also headed an episode on Kappa TV’s Music Mojo earlier this year) take over with poet Manoj Kuroor’s verses (Manoj earlier worked with Shaji N Karun in Vaanaprastham too, and has penned all original songs in Swapaanam). The veena continues to be the mainstay of the arrangement, alongside chenda (Udayan Namboothiri, Kalamandalam Krishnadas) and edaykka. Composer himself gets behind the mic for Paalazhi Thedum (thodi nadanaamakriya raga, as confirmed by the composer and pointed out by Soumya in comments) and produces a characteristically flawless rendition, assisted very well by the chorus. In the backdrop this time is a full-blown chendamelam (recorded live, as can be seen in the BTS video at the end of the review); the combination has a haunting, mystical effect.

Srivalsan Menon’s presentation of Baalakavi Rama Sastry’s traditional piece Maara Sannibhakara (raga neelaambari) conforms very much to its kathakali padam roots (with the exception of O K Gopi’s naadaswaram bits perhaps, which are a nice touch nevertheless). Arundhathi sounds brilliant as ever singing this one; it is a pity the industry never made judicious use of the lady’s talents. The soundtrack also features a second work by Rama Sastry, Kaamopama Roopan, sung by Kottakkal Madhu, famous exponent of the sopaanam style of music. The song can seem a bit of a drag, given its monotonous rendition and the length which extends over nine minutes. But being a fan of the raga Charukesi in which the song is mostly set, and the shift to another favourite raga, reethigowla, with about two minutes left to the song meant that I quite enjoyed the composition. It is interesting though how the tone of the song remains pretty much the same even after switch from a sombre to a rather delightful raga. Naasikaabhooshani, in which Oru Vela Raavinnakam is set, isn’t a very pleasant raga. In fact the violin solos by Edapally Ajithkumar in this song have an unsettling feel often times (the first thought I had when I heard those violin solos was that Ilayaraja could have made a brilliant haunting piece out of this raga!) But this fact in no way undermines the brilliance in display all through the composition (which incidentally was my top Malayalam song in Music Aloud annual roundup) – be it Ajithkumar on violin, Lekha R Nair behind the mic, Manoj Kuroor’s words or the overall tune and arrangement by Srivalsan Menon – the song is an absolute gem! Ajithkumar turns vocalist with the next one alongside Ratheesh Ramakrishnan, Murali Sangeeth and Vivek. Antharangamee (set to raga lalitha, @kitha_n tells me) is a short, dark piece whose highlight is the rhythm it is set to; a rarely used Kundanachi thaalam which was apparently devised by Kunjan Nambiar during his thullal days. By the soundtrack’s standards, Mazhaville is the least classical composition, having a filmier melodic disposition. The composer does pepper the song with portions from Gopalakrishna Bharathiyar’s jaunpuri-based Carnatic composition Eppo Varuvaaro though. The melodic Malayalam bits are sung by Amal Antony while Shenkottai Harihara Subramanian handles the Carnatic Tamil section.

Though director Shaji N Karun’s movies aren’t bound to be recollected for their music, it is a fact that the man has always shown exceptional taste in his movies’ scores, trying to explore various aspects of Kerala’s musical tradition through his films. It was kathakali in Vaanaprastham, chavittu naadakam in Kutty Srank. This time it is a theme quite similar to Vaanaprastham, with mohiniyaattam and chendamelam at its core. And Sreevalsan J Menon delivers perfectly – a well-researched, classically rich set of songs, all this with a bunch of relatively unknown (mostly) yet highly talented musicians.  I repeat what I said in my roundups earlier, best Malayalam soundtrack of the year!

Music Aloud Rating: 9/10

Top Recos: I can only think of a song or two at best that I would avoid mentioning here so just go ahead and listen to the whole thing.

(All musician credits are given in the video of Paalaazhi Thedum that I have listed below)

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