The lyrics are ho-hum, critics say; what prevented Vairamuthu from entering?
Vairamuthu, with his strong understanding of ancient words and understanding of Sangam literature, might have been a better choice as a lyricist for a period film like “Ponniyan Selvan”; but, others think the new lyricists haven’t had enough time
On July 31, the long-awaited film Ponnyyin Selvanthe first single from Ponni Nadhi, has been freed. Composed by AR Rahman, the lyrics were penned by newcomer Ilango Krishnan, a modern poet in the Tamil literary world.
Although the song is trending around the world, a lot of criticism is piling up against the film’s makers for not bringing in veteran lyricist Vairamuthu, whose name has popped up several times in the #MeToo movement.
Vairamuthu, a seven-time national award winner for lyrics, who completed 50 years as a writer in the Tamil literary world this year, was not included in this project. Despite the fact that the creative trio of Mani Ratnam-Rahman-Vairamuthu have been among the most successful teams in Kollywood, giving Tamil cinema some of its most memorable songs.
When Mani Ratnam announced the film adaptation of by Kalki Ponnyyin Selvan, the majority of his fans expected Vairamuthu to once again weave his magic, combining ancient words into a modern meter and blending them with the history of the Chola Kingdom. Being a voracious reader, Vairamuthu also has a deep understanding of Sangam literature.
However, he is missing from the mega project. Although there is no official word on why this is so, it is suspected that the sexual harassment allegations made against him by singer Chinmayi Sripada may have led Mani Ratnam and Rahman to give him a large place.
One of the writers closely associated with Madras Talkies, on condition of anonymity, confirmed to The Federal that Vairamuthu was indeed kept out of the project due to #MeToo allegations.
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“Initially, he was in the project. But, after the production house was criticized for Vairamuthu’s involvement in the project, it was dropped. The film was nearing completion and it was only during the post-production phase that Rahman began composing for the film. Even the re-recording had not been done. Finally, the date of the film was also announced. The delays caused the production house and the filmmaker to try out different lyricists and that’s how Ilango Krishnan, who is well versed in Tamil literature, was recruited,” the writer explains.
Karunthel Rajesh, a screenwriter, also said that Vairamuthu’s name in pan-Indian film like Ponnyan Selvan could have sent the wrong message. “Besides playback singer Chinmayi, 18 other women have brought charges against him. Even Rahman’s sister Reihana was criticized for participating in Vairamuthu for a project. So keep him away from Ponnyyin Selvan project seems to be a collective decision made by the producers, the director and the composer,” added Rajesh.
The Federal tried to contact producers Lyca Productions and Madras Talkies for comment, but none were available.
Similar ideas, similar words
However, Vairamuthu fans and some critics are disappointed that their favorite lyricist has been sidelined. And, they slammed the song Ponni Nadhi to offer nothing new, whether in words, ideas or melodies.
Lenin Ernesto, journalist and cinephile, tells The Federal“People need to understand that a poet is different from a lyricist. Not all poets can write good songs and not all lyricists can write meaningful poems. For example, actor Dhanush is a good lyricist but he cannot become a good poet. Likewise, Ilango Krishnan is a good poet, but to become a full-fledged lyricist, he has to work hard. Only a handful of poets have the opportunity to work in a great film like this in their early days as a lyricist. In such a situation, poets must use luck well.
In his opinion, in Ponni NadhiIlango adopted ideas from a song written by Vairamuthu. “Consider the song thindra manney thai from Mani Ratnam Ayirathil Oruvan (2010). The first lines of the song go: Nell aadiya nilam engey / Sol aadiya avai engey / Vil aadiya kalam engey / Kal aadiya silai engey. (Where the earth went where the paddy danced / Where the yard went where the words danced / Where the battlefield went where the bow danced / Where the sculpture went where the stone danced).
Ilango used a similar idea. His words are: Neer satham kettadhumey nel poothu nirkum / Uli satham kettadhumey kal poothu nirkum / Pagai satham kettadhumey vil poothu nirkum / Cholathin perumaikoora sol poothu nirkum. (When the sound of water is heard, the paddy will bloom / When the sound of chisel is heard, the stone will bloom / When the sound of the enemy is heard, the bow will bloom / To tell the tale of Chola, the words will bloom flower).
“When the movie story would have taken place about 1,000 years ago, shouldn’t the lyricist use ancient words instead of colloquial terms?” Ernesto asked.
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Nativity missing in the air
Talk to The Federalthe poet Pithan Venkatraj said that in Ayirathil Oruvan, composer GV Prakash, who recently won a national award, had used instruments that gave the impression of old-time music. But Rahman tunes for Ponni Nadhi misses that period feel and just calls back to one of his earlier issues.
“If we consider Ponni Nadhi as a standalone piece, there is no problem. But when it’s part of a gigantic project like Ponnyyin Selvan, it is natural for people to expect tunes and lyrics that sound like old times. It is true that the epigraphs prove that the Tamil used at the end of the Chola period was not ancient but more or less similar to today’s style. However, while talking about the Cholas, songs containing ancient words will certainly do more justice. This is where you feel the absence of lyricists like Vairamuthu,” observes Venkatraj.
People also compare Ponni Nadhi with another career best from Vairamuthu, Narumugaye Narumugaye from Ratnam Iruvar (1997). However, the poet Uma Sakthi defended Ilango Krishnan. Sakthi said the lyricists apparently didn’t have enough time to write their songs. Everything was done at the last minute, she said.
“The lyricists should have had enough time. It’s sad that the current set of lyricists were only brought into this project at the last minute. Even then, Ilango Krishnan gave his best. It’s not lines, but the melody seems a bit old. But the composer could have added a bit more nativity to his tunes,” she said.
Handling a magnum opus
By adapting historical fiction like Ponnyyin Selvan, it is imperative that the songs reflect the soul of the novel. This can only be achieved when the lyricists have a thorough understanding of the work. With a magnum opus in five volumes like Ponnyyin Selvanlyricists on par with Vairamuthu could have worked better, fans felt.
Sri Lanka-based entrepreneur Pirashanth Kamalanathan has explained how Vairamuthu’s mastery of romance has helped the Tamil industry create a strong villainous female character like Neelambari in the film. Padayappa (1999). “Rajinikanth had wanted director Ravikumar to create a villainous female character resembling Nandhini, a character from Ponnyyin Selvan. The result was Neelambari (played by Ramya Krishnan). Kalki compares Nandhini’s beauty to the moon and her character to the poisonous serpent,” Kamalanathan said.
By writing the lines referring to Neelambari in the song Minsara Kanna, Vairamuthu had written these lines: Vennilavai thatti thatti seidhu veitha sirpam ondru kanden / Adhan vizhigalil vazhivadhu amuthalla visham endru kanden. (I saw a sculpture made of the moon / But I realized its eyes weren’t spilling elixir but venom). “Rajini would have liked Aishwarya Rai to be cast as Neelambari, who was inspired by Nandhini’s character. But now, ironically, she is playing the role of Nandhini,” he said.
However, Rajesh pointed out that Ponnyyin Selvan is not a pure historical film. It will be a fantastic film like Bahubali. Vairamuthu’s presence is therefore not essential, added Rajesh.
Lyricist Kattalai Jaya observed that although Vairamuthu was not roped in to write the songs of Ponnyan Selvanhe could at least have been consulted during the writing of the screenplay.
“Poets like Ilango Krishnan can be masters of modern Tamil literature. But, lyricists like Vairamuthu, Arivumathi, Palani Bharathi and Kabilan have a good understanding of Sangam literature. In period films like this, bringing in such seniors instead of a newcomer would have added weight,” he said.