If you were around in the 80’s, actively following the trends and exploring the new evolving genres in Malayalam film music, it would have been really, really difficult to have missed the shiny disco balls in our films, specially involving Jayan, Rahman and Ravindran ( the actor ).If these three sound alien to you, and you are pushing 40, request you to please crawl out of that rock you have been holed up in. As with all other new (!) genres that somehow desperately tried to cash in on the popularity of its popularity worldwide, there were a few memorable compositions that came out of this Frankenstein experiment of Disco’s syncopated beats to our classically-rooted sangathis in that tightly packed decade. But most of them were outright ghastly, at least for me. And I believe it all started with the inexplicable popularity of the disco-beat that peaked with Tony Manero dancing to the Bee Gees’ hip-busters. John Travolta could groove, by God, he could. And bringing up the rear were those BoneyM and Abba cassette tapes that accompanied almost every Gulf expatriate’s journey back home to Kerala, accompanying his beloved 2-in-1’s !
You should be dancing | OST from Saturday Night Fever (1977)
The problem was, there were hardly anyone in this sliver of peninsular India who could dance, atleast onscreen. In an age ruled by LPs, Audio Cassette Tapes and VHS tapes, it still took a bit for the “trend” to seep in, but luckily, someone closer home was doing it for us desis. Nazia Hassan and her album Disco Deewane, produced by Biddu, was nothing like anyone of us ever heard in our lives. It was impossible to ask the lower part of your hips and the pair of legs joined to it to stay still once the music started. It was infectious.
Nazia and Zoheb with a rare live performance of Disco Deewane.
And now that the general population were gently eased in to this genre, and seemed almost taken by it, our movie mandarins never lost a minute to give our peaceful pallavis and progressions, a thumping bass beat. They had the talent, they could possibly churn out compositions based on the new beat, that was all fine, but there arose the main problem – it was meant for dancing ! Actresses were a natural when it came to boogie, but we never had a male actor who could dance, and even if there was some one around who could shake a leg good-naturedly, it was Jayan. And to him went the early compositions, till a lanky laddie became the darling of every girl fighting peer-pressure, teenage angst, zits and ill-fitting bellbottoms – Rahman who debuted in Koodevide (1983). Till then, we had Jayan.
So what was it that mesmerised the average Malayali’s lackadaisical pair of two left-feet? From what I have learned through my weary ears is this – the disco rhythm, generously borrowing from Funk, Soul and drivin’ R &B, with soaring synthesiser notes, the Wah-Wah guitar pedals, laid down all the four notes with a thumping bass note, known commonly as the the “Four-On-the-Floor”. The standard Rock rhythm for a basic bar – the 4/4 beat ( broadly) goes Boom-Tak- Boom-Tak with the 2nd and 4th note on the snare drum, but with Disco, you dedicated your Bass note to the 2nd and 4th too, so it went Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom, with the snare already on its pace – quite groovy when you actually experience it. Not surprisingly, all the current electronic dance music follow this pattern. The bottom line is simple – you had to dance. And it was really flexible and organic. You could still add a bit of everything else, and it would come out sounding better. So, in a decade that had us rolling our eyes in weariness by the end of it, here are some of the memorable compositions, for me, from Malayalam films, that when fell on the wayside when it came to actual dancing onscreen, did a fabulous job on the actual track and vice-versa.
Inee theeram thedum from Prabhu (1979 )
This is the the earliest one that stays in my memory, with a distinct disco flavor, featuring Seema and Jayan. Composed by Shankar –
Jaikishen Ganesh ( thanks Sajith ), it has a surprisingly strong melodic structure that kinds of work in the composition’s favour as a groovy number. Maybe it took SJ to really push our indigenous bunch in that direction of churning out more in the reigning popular taste.I guess this was one of the few movies where we got to see Seema’s solo act on the dance floor, and Jayan, with all his good-naturedness can’t keep time to save his life. Seema, the ex-choreographer looks quite at ease moving to the music and performing as a club dancer should, but check out from 2 : 56 as Jayan gets on the floor. Jayan looks like a hapless, struggling pet-owner trying to rein in his pet straining against the leash ! Dancing seem to be the farthest in his mind as he good naturedly two-steps around Seema :). See, THIS is what I was speaking about. Masochism looked for a place to crawl up and die anytime the club music came on in Malayalam movies ( not quite often now, from what I see.)
Ullasapoothirikal from Meen (1980).
It is the guitar intro that literally freezes you in your tracks. I personally consider this the best guitar intro/riff ever in Malayalam film music.Though Meen (1980) was quintessential Jayan, this club classic owes its charm, in part to Jose and Ambika too, who was the best that could ever be found to convincingly enact and portray the entire vibe onscreen. The original plan was to shoot the song at Yercaud as a usual run-around-trees-and-get-soaked-in-the-rain routine, but thankfully they had to drop the plan in the last minute and move it indoors, according to Jayanan Vincent, the movie’s DOC. How bland it would have been, if it had been the former, I wonder.What also amazes me more than the composition, is the amazing dexterity of G Devarajan in his compositions. Wah-wahing guitars and bossa nova infusion is the something that you would almost never expect from the Maestro, but when he does it, he does it brilliantly. Even though the charanams struggle hard to keep up with the tight rhythm ( I always imagine them packed in a tin ), the way it comes out sounds as if KJ Yesudas does more scat-singing than normal playback. It almost seems like the charanam is in a tearing hurry to get somewhere 🙂 Also have you ever noticed that Jose’s guitar is NOT connected to any power source and he, like almost all our male actors, CANNOT play a single chord from the song, onscreen ?
Aarambham madhu paathrangil from Aarambham (1980)
This is here for a reason and it has more to do with the choreography and picturisation than the actual composition. This has been the best among the lot of the frantic and senseless gyrations that the choreographers put poor Ravindran through, in songs cloned a hundred times over. The guy was given a head band, spandex leggings and asked to go there and look “dancey” is what I feel everytime I see him in one of these.This song is also an prelude to another memoir that I felt I should put down on our fabulous Cadbury Songs ( the onscreen ‘Cabaret’ ), also called Caavarey Saangs by unaesthetic and tasteless peoples 🙂 KJ Joy‘s composition almost till the half of it proceeds at a very laid-back part-waltzy, part-bossa-nova pace till it reaches 2 :22 when all hell breaks loose as the synthesisers open up along with the horns. More, coming soon !
Welcome Ladies ( ! ) from Kolilakkam (1981)
I am not quite sure the song title is appropriate as all the female vocal track seem to be doing through out the track is to do a hideous impersonation of a telephone sex-chat caller. At best, cringeworthy ! To me, it just resembles one of those instrumental dance interludes that we were familiar from countless other movies, but done with more juice.There is always a mismatch when it comes to the actual rhythm of the song and the dance -forms/styles employed to convey the vibe. I mean, ball-room waltz in a club where the singer croons in a tone that would have your Bible-lovin’ grandma scrub your mouth, ears and eyes with soap if she ever came to know you were in it, watching her ? The rhythm goes purely break-beat at places, and there is one more delightful aspect to it as Jayan actually gets on down and dirty, at times even taking out his “You should be dancing” moves – check out 40 : 42 !
Theyyattam Dhamanikalil from Thrishna (1981).
Aw, c’mon, don’t pretend as if you don’t like this song, of course you do 🙂 Though I do wonder where Raj Kumar is, these days. This was one of the signature compositions of Shyam, with its heavy laden rhythm layers and a pronounced guitar leading the proceedings. But if you notice, the bass notes are pounding away in the background, regardless of whether its a set of rain-soaked dancers onscreen 🙂 Also, mercifully, Shyam doesn’t restrict the booming rhythm to just the pallavi and takes the ‘ expected refuge’ with Indian percussion and violin overlays in the charanams, he stands his ground and let it pound away for the entire song. Then again, he wouldn’t need to, the man was a master of the West’s kind of music too.
Swargavaathil from Iniyenkilum (1983)
One of those IV Sasi assembly line products, that T Damodaran seem to recycle with happy abandon, since Ee Naadu (1982) demolished the box-office, and this was no better. The setting here is the young bunch in Hong Kong for performing a music concert and they go for a night-out in the city. Its Shyam again, and the opening guitar with wah-wahs are at work on overdrive through the composition.There is also a Japanese song sampler welded in between to enhance the ‘flavor’ maybe, but it doesn’t seem to bring in any, according to me.But the entire composition is peppy and then there is Ravindran and Mohanlal two-stepping in a rare occurance 🙂 What more do I need ?
Oru madhurakinavin from Kanamarayathu ( 1984 )
Probably our most recalled disco standard in Malayalam filmsongs. 1984 was the blessed year of disco as far as Malayalm films were concerned. It was the year that gave our twiddling producers their redemption – at last, here was a lad who could really dance, though he went a wee bit overboard at times. From Kaaanamarayathu, in 1984, it was the Era of the Disco Boy, till it petered out by the end of the decade. One had a morbid fear of losing one’s moorings , getting overdosed on the Rahman-Rohini-disco movies that seem to pop up every month.But Shyam had nailed it with Madhurakkinaavin. It was the bassline that ruled supreme along with those drum-solos, which I think were a first for Malayalam playback films, looking at the duration of those interludes. I consider this, along with Konchum nin Imbam from Thaalavattam (1986) and Puzhayorathil from Adharvam (1989) as the percussive trinity in Malayalam film playback, but then again, its me. But there is always a fundamental aspect that never loses its prominence, be it any composition of Shyam – a strong melodic structure. And it must be the very reason that the song stays afresh even today, and so “in” that they even made a remixed version out of it in 2011, but I’ll pass. I still love the original. Someday when I meet him personally, would really love to ask Shyam if he could recall who pounded the skins on that recording session for this song. Wouldn’t be great to go over and meet him, then and personally thank him for that awesome solos.
The Disco Interlude from Kaliyil Alpam Kaaryam (1984)
Rahman again, but remember that bit about going overboard a teeny, weeny bit ? This is one of those. There is also the ghost of “You should be dancing ” in the group-moves on the floor if you notice . Music is by Ravindran who also does the lead solo male vocal in the track. The movie also has something which I found very interesting, a live concert recording of Osibisa ploughing through their Keep on Trying track, which the young Rahman is shown attending. And that too in a Sathyan Anthikkad movie ! Were there any movies where they showed live concert footage of Western artists ? Do write in.
Checkout the Boogie.
Nishayude chirakil from Thammil Thammil (1985)
Rahman again, and this time, his producers have left no gilt costume shops unexplored and there is an added bonus ! We do have Ravindran joining in with the weirdest set of steps ever to be found on a makeshift dancefloor. Oh, the abuse they put him through 🙂 Somewhere in the middle, even good friend Rahman join in, and you start testing your sanity. And the costumes, God, the costumes. I think it was a continuation of the “I am a Disco Dancer” and “Star” legacies from up North. I have always thought Rahman looked like our version of Kumar Gaurav in Star (1982) 🙂
Our Disco Starts at 4 : 25.
Disco from Ee thanalil Ithiri Neram (1985)
As if to dispel the faintest doubt from our minds, they go ahead and compose a song which just spells it outright, even though I usually look for a place to hide, listening to the Gandharvan spelling out D-I-S-C-O. It was also our own tribue to Ottawan’s monster hit D.I.S.C.O way back in 1979. If you remember, even Bappi Lahiri borrowed it for his Disco Dancer in 1982. There was no reason why we shouldn’t do it. I really hope the video of this surfaces up sometime 🙂 Not that it was much different from Rahman’s other disco adventures, but just for the record. This was Shyam again who laid out the track, and am sure he would have chuckled trying to find out the romantic connotations that linked “സ്വര്ണത്താമര കിളിയെ” and “തങ്കതാഴികകുടമേ ” 😀
Oru Malarthoppile from Love story ( 1986 ).
Two reasons why this still stays memorable. The first was, obviously, the composition, again by Shyam. The wah-wah guitars and the synthesiser bass lines flitted on and off the main rhythm structure, but the final effect was pure groove. The second reason is the actor in that movie Shafiq. Another case of starburst, I suppose. Would reall love to know where he is now. Was he sidelined as he was found to be a threat to other young ‘heartthrobs of those times, wish I knew. The song is packed with energy and he brings it out I would say, in a way more natural and effective than Rahman.
Konchum nin imbabm from Thaalavattam (1986).
For the life of me, I cannot recall watching this song oncreen in Thalavattam (1986), but still have the looped audio file on infinite play in my Notebook. I have NEVER come across a song that makes you say “Hell, Yeah !” yet retains the essential flavor of Malayalam ever. This, for me, is THE ONE. Right from the liquid drum-solo intro and the brass section that screamingly joins, this is one song that lifts my spirit, every time I feel worn out. Raghu Kumar will have my lifelong respect for composing a track that you can proudly play out to anyone regardless of language, and see them go tapping their feet by the 4th bar. This is my all time favorite. It is, for me, the perfect driving song in Malayalam 🙂 The simple harmony soaring vocals, and the guitar that joins the sonic conversation at 2 : 45 – sheer bliss. But its the driving drums that makes it memorable. I can go and on.