THE ROAD NOT TAKEN: THE RISE OF SANTHOSH NARAYANAN AND MOHAMAAD GHIBRAN

Mani Prabhu (Iflickz blogger) traces the incredible journey of two young musicians, who have dared to break the mould… 


16th September 2015. One eventful day when wishful reveries came true. The kind of magic that evoked déjà-vu memories of the 80s. The sort of high that made fans and cineastes go totally berserk. Well, how often you get to see a smashing trailer and a ruthless first look, one from each of the two industry stalwarts back to back on the same day! Superstar Rajinikanth in an avatar that seems like the answer to every cinema’s lover’s dream, and Kamal Haasan in a trailer that screams of the actor’s uncanny ability to effectively blend art, technology and commerce! Just, wow. The obvious frenzy over the magical first glimpses of the actors aside, the striking common element between Kabali and Thoongavanam cannot be missed. Both these films, in addition to having young promising directors at the helm of affairs, have their music composed by two new-generation musicians, who have started redefining Tamil cinema soundtracks.

Well, if you are someone who had been religiously following Tamil cinema since the Rahman storm set in, you couldn’t have missed the distinctive musical breeze that started whipping through the industry from the start of the new decade. By the end of 2010, AR. Rahman, the pioneer of new-age Indian music, had again created magic and reclaimed his indisputable position with the VTV album. But he was straddling several industries and working only with select filmmakers, meaning a significant slowing down of the juggernaut. The talented Yuvan and Harris Jayaraj, who shot to prominence in the early 2000s, were going through an inconsistent and generic phase, showing only occasional sparks of brilliance. GV. Prakash displayed initial promise, but was getting bogged down, thanks to the unrelenting demands of the industry. The circumstances screamed for a change.  Also, mainstream cinematic content was about to undergo another major shift, with new breed of filmmakers with a discerning eye for experimentation queuing up to make a difference. A refreshing musical makeover was the need of the hour. The call was answered resoundingly, as the new decade dawned.  The men of the moment, Santhosh Narayanan and Mohamaad Ghibran, happened to Tamil cinema.

A parallel journey of ground-breaking compositionsExactly four years back, Mohammed Ghibran’s debut soundtrack Vaagai Sooda Vaa came as a breath of fresh air at a time, when musical refinement and layering were going for a toss in the industry. With a unique blend of rural folk and western orchestration, tracks like the crafty ‘Sara Sara Saara Kaathu’, the striking ‘Poraaney Poraaney’ and the spectacular symphony ‘Aana Aavanna’ spoke directly to the listener’s soul than the brain. Here was a musical composer whose arrangements seemed to break a lot of templates. The first seed of innovation was apparently sown. A twenty nine year youngster debuted the very next year with a delightfully quirky album Attakathi, which had everything from whacky ‘gaanas’ to earthy melodies but with an inexplicable twist. The name was Santhosh Narayanan. He followed it up the same year with a uber-hip background score in Pizza, which incidentally had some of the best pop beats ever used in Tamil cinema. But it wasn’t just that. Who would have thought of Gaana Bala singing jazz and blues! Yes, it happened; the delectable combination resulted in the ‘Ninaukkuthey’ track that had a brilliance and madness written over it. The second seed had taken root.

Ghibran went on to work in films like Vatthikuchi, Kuttipuli and Naiyaandi in 2013. WhileVatthikuchi’s soundtrack made quite an impression with catchy melodies like ‘Kuru Kuru’ and‘Kanna Kanna’, the other two lost their way in the films’ critical bashing. But the man’s eye for a distinct technique came across loud and clear. Santhosh, on the other hand, was on song, giving an eccentric post-rock ambience to our Indian rhythms in Soodhu Kavvum and VillaSoodhu Kavvum in particular, with the likes of the rip-roaring ‘Sudden Delight’ theme and three genre blending beauties (‘Mama Drouser’, ‘Come na come’ and ‘Kaasu Panam’) established Santhosh as someone who could make two polar musical worlds coexist.

Both composers came out all guns blazing in 2014, which proved to be a true aural treat. With an assortment of sufi melodies (Chillendra chillendra), carnatic brilliance (Kannukul Pothiveipen) and western orchestrations (Enthaara), Ghibran truly proved his passion for experimentation and versatility in Thirumanam Ennum Nikkah. Next from his stable, came the soul-stirringAmara Kaaviyam album that had some haunting melodies (‘Edhedho Ennamvandhu’, ‘Dheva Dhevadhai’). The crazily talented Ghibran was on roll.

Santhosh Narayan, simultaneously was creating magic with his signature crossover style. In the poignant Cuckoo, he paid perfect tribute to Raja with tracks like ‘Manasula Soorakaathe’, ‘Agaasatha’ and ‘Kodaiyila’, featuring some enthralling orchestration and a delightful interplay of violins and flute. But the show had just begun. Just when we were reeling from Cuckoo’s impact, Jigarthanda happened. And what a musical experience, it turned out to be. In probably the most audaciously irreverent and eclectic soundtrack in quite some years, Santhosh rewrote all grammar rules of Tamil cinema music, unleashing all genres possible on the unsuspecting audience. Name it and its there; Gangster rap (Ding Dong), Country folk (Paandi Naatu), Ambient melody (Dhesayum Ezhandheney), Synth-pop (Kannamma), Folk-blues fusion (Baby), Gibberish blues (Jigar), Reggae (Thanda), Jazz (Ottam), Western spaghetti (Hoo Haa). The background score was a class of its own, dripping of Tarantino-esque cockiness. With melodies like ‘Aagayam Theepidicha’ and ‘Naan Nee’ and loads of North Madras swagger (Kakidha Kappal), Madras was another feather in the musician’s cap. Santhosh wrapped up 2014 with the funky Enakkul Oruvan. The man had pushed the envelope to crazy limits, exploring new sounds with a blatant disregard for norms.

It was now Ghibran’s turn. He shot back with the daring and ambitious Uttama Villain, delivering an album which took Tamil cinema music to heights, hitherto unheard of. Featuring native narrations blending Villupaatu and western orchestrations (Uthaman kadhai, Mutharasan Kadhai), haunting period melodies using traditional instrumentations like tabla, ghatam and dholak (Saagaavaram, Kadhalam kadavul mun), imposing vocals in a koothu base with a dash of atonality (Iraniyan Naadagam) and stunning instrumentals (Father and son, Father and daughter, Letter from and to Yamini), the Uttama Villain soundtrack was truly one of a kind. Ghibran had made a statement, a powerful one at that. He went on to own 2015 with the chartbuster ‘Yeya En Kottikkaara’ in Paapanasam, yet another proof of his talent to embellish his tracks with stunning intricacies. Santhosh Narayanan, meanwhile, impressed with the soaring ‘Pogiren’ and the delectably rustic folk number ‘Raasathi’ in his only release for the year 36 Vayadhinile.

In addition to Kabali, Santhosh has interesting projects lined up like Irudhi Sutru, Iraivi, The Nalan Kumarasamy
project, Kashmora
 and Vada Chennai. The opportunities for more radical soundtracks are infinite. Ghibran seems to have a bagged a Vikram film after Thoongavanam, while the second part of Vishwaroopam promises to be a real game-changer for him. With both these young talents in such fine form and growing in leaps and bounds, it’s surely exciting times ahead for Tamil cinema.

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