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Raja's professional traits

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Post  ravinat on Fri Jul 31, 2020 6:42 pm

In the public space, the media finds it easy to showcase some of Raja's weaknesses, such as his short temper or his ranting. Even in the most popular of his videos, it's always about how quickly he composes a tune or how brilliantly he orchestrates it. Most people have drooled over his background musical skills. While he has his own weaknesses like any human being, not much has been discussed about his professional traits. There are some rare professional traits that Raja follows that have served him well in the last 45 years in his career. This thread will discuss some of them. Feel free to participate. Please post only videos that demonstrate his professionalism and not any of his usual musical videos.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Jul 31, 2020 6:49 pm

Professional respect for  musicians
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There are several musicians who played for Raja, who no longer do. Example, Veenai Gayatri used to play for him in the early days of his career. Parthasarathy replaced him. Sudhakar used to play flute, who was replaced by Napoleon Selvaraj. Viji Manuel was replaced by Bharani. VS Narasimhan was replaced by Prabhakar. There is a very long list of musicians who have played for him over the past 45 years.

Not once has Raja spoken ill of any of his past musicians. Most of his yesteryear musicians have only praised him. He was himself a combo organ player for several composers before he became one. He completely understands the mindset of a professional musician. He treats them with respect and ensures that the relationship is strictly professional.

There are other composers who do this too. The film musicians have very strong union and they have their rules. However, the feedback loop one gets from the yesteryear musicians clearly demonstrates that he not only let them prosper when he did well, he also treated them with the respect they deserve.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Jul 31, 2020 8:05 pm

Creating an innovative and safe environment
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Raja always composed music during the day. His studio and surroundings are always considered professional and a safe one. He does not call his singers or musicians to show up at 1 am in the morning. In fact, he ran it with the precision of a factory short of punch cards for time in and time out. He still does it that way. While he demanded a lot from his voices (singers and instruments), they were all absolutely safe. Most singers like Uma Ramanan or Jensi were conservative and they considered singing as a day job. Not some crazy midnight binges. There was pressure during the recording sessions - however, it was like pressure on a regular job to excel. 

Most other composers do follow the steps of Raja. However, there was a time when musicians turned up at the studio heavily drunk. In Raja's world, even if they were the best on that instrument, they had no place in his recording. Musicians were never allowed to gossip, which was very common. They were pushed so much that they had no breathing space and had to perform back to back on both shifts. 

Some less talented singers and musicians were let go and that is the way any high performance setup works.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:11 pm

Respecting fellow music achievers
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Almost every Raja fan knows about his respect for Dr. Balamuralikrishna. As he was his 'go to ' person on Carnatic music,, he always held him in high respect. Whether it is in his studio or in a function, Balamurali/TVG always got Raja's respect. Even in a felicitation to MSV and earlier to AR, when Balamurali was present, Raja made it a point to speak about BMK. 

He has the same level of respect for other Classical musicians such as Ajoy Chakraborthy (Hey Ram), Shiv Kumar Sharma (who came to inaugurate Swappnam), Bhimsen Joshi and Carnatic musicians such as Mandolin Srinivas, Sudha and Jayashree. I have left out a few other Carnatic musicians as these are top of mind examples. While the classical musicians keep speaking about him on several occasions, he does not go to praise them sky high as he feels humble before them. They are always given a special treatment when they record with him.

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Post  app_engine on Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:51 pm

Excellent thread!

Perhaps someone with industry connections can add how the musicians who worked with him got paid.

Not about the high / low / fair rates but whatever was agreed upon whether got paid without fail and on time.

That should have been good (as otherwise people could not have continued for so long and loyal).

Possibly the union thing helped but there had been always not-so-great tales told about payments (in general) about the film industry.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Jul 31, 2020 10:52 pm

Standing tall when challenged
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During the early 90s, Deva was getting assignments at Raja's cost. He was not a bad composer, but I understand that he enticed Raja's musicians by offering them a higher remuneration. Some fell for the bucks and Raja was challenged. This is like Microsoft raiding programmers out of Google. Shit happens in every industry. What is impressive is that, Raja could have called a press conference and lamented the practice or found ways to lock his orchestra. He did neither. When musicians did not turn up, he rewrote the instrument scores for the orchestra that was available. In today's world, composers complain to the union, or take to social media blasting any challengers.

It is not easy to focus on your work, when such undercutting takes place. He composed Kaala Paani and Guru at this time, when all this was going on.

App and others, can you confirm, if what I have stated here is true.

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Post  ravinat on Sat Aug 01, 2020 9:59 pm

Humility about his work
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Given his wide repertoire of music, there are a few instances where he has spoken about how he composes a tune for a situation. In fact, most directors and actors have spoken more about it than him. However, unlike other composers, I have not seen him brag about his greatest skill - writing background score. All I have heard him say is about placement of music in films and that's it. My theory is that he considers background music as something very professional that layperson does not understand. Recently, he mentioned to Prabhu Solomon that background music is about underlying the script of a movie. Perhaps, underlying is no big deal for him as the script is from the director. Given his achievements in background music, he can brag about it. He stays away from bragging about his towering achievement in public, which is very unusual.

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Post  ravinat on Sat Aug 01, 2020 10:06 pm

Keeping professional matters private
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He did have differences with a several artists such as VM or BR or SPB during his career. However, when he runs into a rough patch, he keeps the differences private and does not run to the media to lament about it. On the other hand, the artists, who benefited out of him, did mud sling him through the media. Even when they did (SPB being the latest), Raja keeps quiet about such differences. Some issues get resolved (like SPB, BR) and others never (VM), but that is completely private. The media never respects his stance and tries to dig into such differences, only to estrange him further from the media. All along, the media needed him more than he needed the media.

Even when there were huge conspiracies to undermine him in the 80s (AVM), in the 90s (VM, KB etc), Raja never lamented and took the high road. He had so much trust in his own talent and was sure that it will rise above such mean minded fellow film fraternity.

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Post  app_engine on Tue Aug 04, 2020 11:28 pm

ravinat wrote:Humility about his work
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I have posted this youtube link (which someone shared on twitter) in the "Anything about IR" thread.  As per one film institute student in this youtube, IR did not mind doing BGM for his school project - that is in year 2000, just after finishing music for Hey Ram with BSO. One of the many testimonies to his commitment to profession & humility!

I don't think he has ever talked anywhere about such things. (I don't think even others talked about this particular one before - at least I've never read anywhere before on this kuRumpadam).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tbLo4BbPW8

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Post  ravinat on Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:44 pm

Lending a hand to new talent
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I do not know if anybody can match or come close to Raja in this aspect. Something in his early life as a musician has triggered this great professional (can be viewed unprofessional if you are entirely money minded) trait of helping young talent by lending his name to the project. There are so many film makers who owe their existence to Raja (most of them don't). This ranges from BR, MR, Manivannan, Bala, Suseendran, Thangar Pachchan, Mano Bala, Lenin Bharathi, P. Vasu, Santhana Bharathi, and so on. The list is a long one. Only Balu Mahendra remained loyal to him. Almost all others were not. However, Raja never bothered about it as his focus was on helping the next young man/woman make it big in films by lending his name. Many of them paid him a pittance for their first project. Some of them made it up to him in their next project. Others simply used him as a ladder and kicked it after they got to the elevation they wanted to go. However, Raja never lamented about this industry behavior and is completely focused on helping new talent to this day.

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Post  ravinat on Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:47 pm

Focus on work and not the industry
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His interests are three things - Music, literature and spirituality. All the directors who have worked with him closely have mentioned that he never gossips about the industry. Nor he speaks about other composers, musicians while doing work on a project. He sticks to one or more of his three interests and that's all there is to it. In most cases, it is just the film and the music. While this is true about a few other composers, it is Raja who created this discipline at work int he industry for others to follow.

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Post  ravinat on Thu Aug 06, 2020 12:02 am

Making the score sheet the king of music
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When Raja entered the industry, it was haphazard music making. People showed up and learned how to play their parts in a way that was not standardized. Though Raja learned to write music due to his issues of poverty and staying in a crowded room with his brothers, (he did not want to play instruments when others were sleeping) he soon became such a master that he was good at it more than his native language. He used this to his full advantage and disciplined the entire music industry in the South. While he helped people willing to learn (Napoleon Selvaraj mentioned this as he did not know how to read staff notation initially), there was no place for any musicians who did not learn to read notation. No loose improvisations - unfortunately, this continues even today despite all the technological advances. Even mirudhangam players, who were regulars in his music, had to learn.

This was key to his productivity. No composer can come close to his volume or quality of music, if they cannot master  writing sheet music. All his biographical documentation talks more about him graduating in classical guitar and not on this aspect. This is truly HUGE, as he was able to meet such crazy demands for his work, due to this ability. Let's leave aside his musical genius of blending, amalgamating, integrating genres - that's too tall an ask for other composers. However, being able to write long and short scores in such record time (OAK in 3 days, TIS in 11 days),  is the key aspect of his success. I do not think anyone in the industry is following him in this aspect today. Trust me, sheet music is boring to write. However, for a master, this is just an extension of his mind. Despite AWS that can generate sheet music for various instruments, other composers take at least 10 to 100 times more time than Raja does.

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Post  app_engine on Thu Aug 06, 2020 6:08 pm

ravinat wrote:Lending a hand to new talent
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Others simply used him as a ladder and kicked it after they got to the elevation they wanted to go.

One director (who talks much on media / TV) needs a special mention in this case - Vasanth.

He was a KB-loyalist (having worked as assistant director for many films) and it is understandable that such loyalty is proper / his 1st priority in life etc.

However, as an independent director doing his 1st film kELadi kaNmaNi, he got so much from IR (not just phenomenal songs but IR reportedly took longer to score BGM and "enhanced" the below-average movie to an entirely different level).

I could not understand how anyone could choose someone else for the very next movie - or never again work with such a composer in their career - unless such person has some inexplicably sinister thinking.

Also, the circumstantial evidence that shows he became part of the gumbal that very actively campaigned AGAINST IR during 90's (kavidhalaya, KB-MR, VM-Deva-ARR-Suresh Krishna et al) showcases how ridiculous the people in this industry can be.

This is strictly IMO - notwithstanding the fact that he talks big about IR on TV/YT nowadays, later worked with YSR etc.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Aug 07, 2020 4:29 pm

Musical genre is a professional matter
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There is so much material available on the internet about the various genres that Raja has integrated into his output. Even the most seasoned analysts struggle with the genres of Raja as it never comes out in its original format in his output. They merely happen to be one of his inputs. Having said that, have you seen Raja talking about any musical genre in the public space? Never. To him, genre and other tools of music making are strictly professional. He is of the view that the final output is open to discussion and not all the techniques which went into his music making. 

Contrast this to present day composers who keep bragging about R&B, Jazz and other genres being part of their work. Given his depth and breadth of his work, Raja could have easily run press conferences on only genres for hours and hours. He does not do it even now.

The only exception to this was his recent comment in 2013 about his learning Jazz drumming from the BSO drummer.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Aug 07, 2020 4:37 pm

Carnatic ragas are professional matters
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There are thousands of internet sites that write about the usage of various rare ragas by Raja, his grahabedam and other CCM techniques. Have you ever heard Raja talk about any of this? Never. In fact, he goes on to say that he is not a trained musician! Similar to musical genres, CCM ragas and techniques are also strictly professional for Raja. In one of his interviews, he said that he does not think of ragas at all. The tune flows through him and the pundits call it Kalyani or Kosalam - let them say whatever!

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Post  ravinat on Fri Aug 07, 2020 7:07 pm

Orchestration is composer's professional responsibility
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With the exception of John Williams, even the Western composers neither conduct their orchestra, nor consider orchestration as their professional responsibility. Like most things Indian, we are different. Sometimes, Raja uses a conductor (Puru/Prabhakar) and at other times, becomes a conductor himself. I consider him as the emperor of orchestration. However, he never portrays himself that way. He projects himself as a tune smith among general audience and this is the reason for 90% of his fan base drooling over his songs than the orchestration that goes with it or his background scores.  Again, he considers orchestration as something that ordinary film music audience do not understand and leaves that out of his public agenda during concerts. Even when he performed the Maya Bazaar song in Toronto in 2013, he never used the term 'Acapella' - the song is just performed and he goes on tot he next.

With growing awareness, he occasionally demonstrates some of his orchestral successes (Sundari Kannal) and a few other songs, but simply tells the audience that these are true compositions (example, Oh Priya). I am not in agreement that he is just a tune smith, but that is his professional choice. He is not a Bollywood composer who just creates tunes and leaves the rest to others. However, this is his professional trait that I do not like.

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Post  Kr on Fri Aug 07, 2020 10:05 pm

Great topic and excellent points Ravi and App.  Ilaiyaraaja has been my role model and I admire so much about him.  App and you have pointed out quite a few of those.  Here are a few other points that stands out for me...

1.  The dedication he demonstrated in waking up at 4am daily, when he was extremely busy with movies, to go to TVG's house to learn carnatic music
2.  He has demonstrated that he still (in his late 60s/70s) has that dedication and humility by learning Jazz from Laslo Kovacs 
3. Dedication shown by him in days of practices he actively leads before his live concert tours and the concert themselves where he stands for 5-6 hours and ensures to perform the songs perfectly similar to the original
4. As enumerated by many directors and actors including Rajini, how they would 3 sessions of recording a day before Diwali or other festivals when multiple movies scored by him are slated for release

The other incident that showcased his professionalism was when Rohini asked a question to Shankar that would have embarrassed him, Ilaiyaraaja stepped in to admonish Rohini.  While most criticized Ilaiyaraaja for admonishing Rohini, my perspective was that it showed his professionalism to not make it personal.

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Post  ravinat on Sat Aug 08, 2020 12:00 am

Creating a group singing ecosystem in film music
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While the popular media is about how group singers never get credit with Raja's music, one needs to look deeper to understand his design. What is the point of letting group singers get credit on an album cover or two and then dump them? 

Raja's group singing ecosystem is one, where to be a group singer in Raja's orchestra, the singer needs to understand both Western harmony singing and Indian Carnatic music. It is a training ground as Raja's group parts are not simple. Example, 'Oru Devadhai Vandhadhu' sang by the group backing Asha Bhonsle, or 'Vaanam Thottu Pona' from Devar Magan. Once you are good at basic expectations that Raja has, you get a steady stream of work for the next decade. Even Sharreth was a group singer with Raja. Anita, Surmukhi, Priya, Senthil, Rita are all very capable singers on their own. Professionally, to keep opportunities coming is more important than letting them bask in the limelight of one album. That is the Raja group singing ecosystem. There is no composer who has used as much group voices than Raja in Indian film music

His commitment to group voices has been huge. In his early days, few group singers from the previous era knew sight reading. That is an ecosystem that had to be developed. Today, there are voice trainers, harmony trainers and so on. None existed in the late 70s and early 80s. Still, Raja could create 'Eriyile Elandha Maram' or 'Kelade Nema Geega'. 

Today's composers simply take advantage of ready talent that is available. They did not develop it. Raja had to. He has never spoken about his struggles with developing group voices for his music. That is part of his professional challenges and he does not discuss this outside of his studio.

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Post  ravinat on Sat Aug 08, 2020 12:36 am

Structured music creation process
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This is the only professional trait of Raja that has been discussed widely in the public space by media and celebrities. His dedication of starting the work at 7 am and ensuring that the shift ends at 1 PM with a clear deliverable (it can be a 2 reels of BGM or a song) is something unheard of, till Raja arrived. Music creation involves a ton of creativity and most composers free wheel. It depends on their moods, their creative juices flowing etc. For Raja, he is gifted that the creative juices seem to flow always for him. So, anytime is good time to compose music. 

To me, just talent alone is not enough to create this well oiled machine. Nobody in this business in any part of the world has been able to replicate what Raja does. This machine was created by his observation and experience of working as a music assistant for more than 150 films. He figured what not to do, even before he started composing music. You need to understand that this machine requires a few very important sub-systems to be functioning in full efficiency for this to happen. The closest analogy is that of JIT in the auto industry. Even in this example, the auto industry has the plan from soup to nuts for a particular model to be produced, the assembly line is fully tooled, and the frame is identical for all the cars that are being built in that shift. In Raja's world, nobody (including him) knows the exact plan, there is no standard frame or platform, and even JIT inventory is not guaranteed. I am bringing the example of the super efficient automotive business as an example here as this is several orders of magnitude more efficient. Perhaps, the only better comparison would be the dabbawallahs of Mumbai. If dubbawallahs of Mumbai are CMM Level 5 in quality, I don't know what to call this - there are only 5 levels in that model!

1. The music is mostly 2 charanams and three pallavi (this is the standard size of the dabba in the dabbawallah example)
2. The music score for the interludes and preludes are written on the morning of the recording (all other comparisons fade here, as they have a well thought out templated design)
3. The musicians are quickly assembled depending on the score (in automotive parlance, this is like changing the tooling for every shift - nobody does that)
4. Assemble the main and the group singers. Change them depending on their availability (this is like having trained resources ready to roll any time - the dabbawallah and the auto are poor examples as they have a standard set of workers on assembly line/area)
5. Training the singers, orchestra and group artists. This is like JIT inventory. However, the comparison is not a great one, as training on the job takes several weeks/months in those cases
6. Rehearsing with all the voices (instrument, human), fixing, improvising and perfecting the delivery

Like a shiny new car (or truck) rolling out of the assembly line, you have a great song by 1 pm ready for the movie. There is method and madness (as it cannot be replicated) at the same time. Apart from talented singers, Raja has had a stream of talented musicians who were able to deliver within 2 to 3 hours of seeing the music on paper. 

This professional music creation (taking an example from the computer software world, the process is object oriented - you can change the foundation without the edifice falling) will remain one of his greatest legacies.

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Post  ravinat on Fri Aug 14, 2020 5:28 pm

All professional challenges must be answered by good work
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This is one of Raja's professional traits that few have and it is very hard to emulate. He has had more musical challenges in his early professional life than any other composer. However, Raja does not get into a duel or run to the media to answer any of the musical challenges that are thrown at him. He simply answers them with his work and the detractors shy away as a result. It is like winning battles without firing a single shot. The work speaks louder than words.

Today, a number of Raja's fans identify him as a Carnatic expert. That was not the case when he started his career. Most critics viewed him as a villager, who does not know the nuances of Carnatic music. When he had a number of hits in the first couple of years, they dismissed him as a folk fluke. How does he handle it? He composes a song in a rare raga, Reethigowlai, and gets the doyen of Carnatic music, Dr. Balamurali Krishna to sing it. The detractors went silent. Even those who murmured, turned fans, when he released Kovil Pura in 1981, which has several compositions in rare ragas (Rasikaranjani, Gowlai, etc). What best way is there to convert detractors to fans?

Raja got instant recognition for his folk music, but in a very demeaning way. Most pundits used this recognition as a way to criticize him for everything else he did. What is the best way to answer such critics? He did that in two ways, to the best of my knowledge. The first method is to blend folk into CCM and WCM that nobody could even think of - Eriyile Elandha Maram was such an answer. The second method was to take CCM to ordinary folks - Punjai Undu from UMT and Paadariyaen from SB are examples of such responses. 

When the Bappi Lahiri wave of disco music was making headway in the early 80s, there was pressure to compose disco style music and a few detractors challenged Raja as someone, who does not understand this paradigm. Silently, he composes several songs when he got an opportunity, such as,  'Vaa Vaa Pakkam Vaa', or "Thottum Thodamal'. However, the surviving disco song of the 80s today is not Bappi's songs, but, 'Ilamai Idho Idho' from this genre. Every new year day, his detractors are constantly reminded of his answer in the 80s, if they still care to remember!

Some more detractors still were trying to get a fix of him and criticized him as a strange mixture of music trying to go from one genre to the next. Most people (including me) did not understand his genius in the early 80s. His answer to this question was a question itself! 'How to Name it?' was the answer that to the question.Nobody could answer his questions in that album and when the album was released, all doubts about his genius were put to bed. Here is a composer who goes beyond genres and has his own creation that takes these genres as input and he creates his own output, which has traces of inputs that blend into his musical output. Even the most hard nosed analyst cannot put a finger into his class of music. That story continues to this date.

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Post  Usha on Fri Aug 14, 2020 6:08 pm

ravinat,

Carnatic Raja..... sadharanamaga solla mudiyadhu..... unmaiyana oru paamaranukum ragathai solli koduthu irukar..... miga elidhaga.
anga irukar IR........

ragam patri theriyadhavar evarum. Raja paatinal.. kuraindhadhu 10 ragam solla mudiyum........ apadi kathu koduthu irukar Raja.

oru gramathil,, marathadiyil.. oru miga sirandha asiriyar..... unmaiyana gramathu manavargalukum, manavikalukum... arumaiyaga
uyarndha padathai solli thandha oru asiriyar pola namma Raja.......

thannudiya isaiyil. namaku elidhaga neraiya padam solli koduthu irukar.... ELIDHAGA.. idhu romba mukkiyam..... idhilum
Rajavai pola yarum solli koduthadhu illai..........
adhanal Raja Great. Raja Isaikadavul.....

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Post  ravinat on Mon Aug 17, 2020 10:35 pm

Be open about music inspiration
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I was recently hearing a song by Shreya Goshal in Malayalam which took the 'Hey Ram' tune, 'Nee Paartha Paarvai'. This was set to music by M. Jayachandran and he did not state openly anywhere that he got inspired by Raja's work.



This never happens with Raja. There are several occasions, where Raja has openly admitted either the source of a tune that was inspired by another composer's work or there was a film director's requirement. There are several examples.

He has mentioned that 'Vaa Vennila' from MTK was inspired by the MSV tune 'Vaan Meedhile'. He does not stop there. He also told the world that his earlier song 'Oh Nenjame, idhu Un raagame' was also inspired by the same 'Vaan Meedhile'. He could have easily claimed that to be his original tune as nobody found that till he revealed it.

He also went on to talk about 'Inji iduppazhagi' to be an inspiration of 'Yeh Dil Diwana' of SD and 'Oru Maapillaikku' inspired by 'Naan Paarthathile' of MSV. It takes enormous courage to openly admit such things and he has no issues about admitting some of his tunes being inspired. 

I still recollect how he shot back at the BBC interviewer who wanted to credit him for folk music. He said, KVM has done folk music long before and he has done nothing new.

None of the present day composers have this professional courage to admit what inspired some of their tunes.

ravinat

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