On this day in 1976, Ilaiyaraaja’s first film Annakkili released. He had started his career at the age of 14 when he joined a travelling music troupe and later came to Chennai to work in films. In his 44 years in cinema, the composer, to whose songs many generations have fallen in love, pushed the boundaries of background and film music and composed close to 7,000 songs for over a thousand films in many languages.
Here is a list of a few of his most loved songs.
Machana Pathingala, Annakkili
‘Machana Pathingala’ was the most popular from Annakkili. Sujatha stars as the protagonist in this song, sung by S Janaki. Ilaiyaaraja is said to have initially composed this tune for a wedding, and this song is about Sujatha’s wait for her lover which she sings with humour. The story for the film was written by R Selvaraj, and the screenplay, dialogues, and lyrics were by Panchu Arunachalam. The film marked the arrival of Ilaiyaraaja and is also remembered for Sujatha, Sivakumar, Thengai Srinivasan, and Srikanth’s performances.
Then Poove Poove Va, Anbulla Rajinikanth
The best songs from Anbulla Rajinikanth were ‘Muthumani Chudare Vaa’ sung by KJ Yesudas, ‘Kadavul Ullame’ by Latha Rajinikanth and others, and ‘Then Poove Poove Vaa’ by SP Balasubrahmanyam and S Janaki. This song features Rajkumar and Ambika in a love duet. SPB’s classic improvisations are set to a lively composition with guitar and flute taking the lead initially, then followed by the violin. The film and its songs were a superhit. Child actor Meena, Rajinikanth, and Ambika played the lead, and it was director K Natraj’s debut film.
Illaya Nila Pozhigirathey, Payanangal Mudivathillai
‘Ilaya Nila’ was originally composed for Moodu Pani in 1980, but director Balu Mahendra reportedly felt the song wouldn’t fit in the film. So Ilaiyaraaja used it two years later for Payanangal Mudivathillai, the R Sundararajan directorial starring Mohan and Poornima Bhagyaraj. The song’s first line, “Ilaiya nila pozhigiradhe, idhayam varai nanaikiradhe,” was inspired by composer MS Viswanathan’s ‘Senthamizh Paadum Santhana Kaatru’. The song’s guitar portions are the highlight. Ilaiyaraaja had over 20 retakes to get guitarist Chandrasekhar to play the notes till he was completely satisfied.
Jothe Jotheyali, Geetha
‘Jotheyali’ is a very popular Ilaiyaraaja composition in Kannada, sung by S Janaki and SPB. It’s an evergreen love song about two people going forward together in a relationship. The music and background score for the film was composed by Ilaiyaraaja in 1981. It was a musical hit, and ‘Jotheyali’ and ‘Santhoshakke’, which also became widely popular, is still performed at concerts and played on radios. Ilaiyaraaja later adapted ‘Jotheyali’ as ‘Vizhiyile Mani’ for Nooravathu Naal, and ‘Jaane Do Na’ for Chini Kum.
Madai Thiranthu, Nizhalgal
Nizhalgal is considered one of Bharathiraja’s best directorials. The story centres on four youngsters and the film featured a new cast and crew. Ilaiyaraaja’s most loved songs – ‘Madai Thiranthu’ and ‘Ithu Oru Pon Malai’, sung by SPB, ‘Poongathavae‘ by Deepan Chakravarthy and Uma Ramanan are from Nizhalgal. ‘Madai Thiranthu’ is a song about the pleasure of making music. The vocals, chorus, harmonium, guitars, and drums seamlessly come together in this Ilaiyaraaja composition.
Enna Satham Indha Neram, Punnagai Mannan
A classic SPB solo, sung to Ilaiyaraaja’s composition, ‘Enna Satham Intha Neram’ is for all moods and times. It plays at an important part in the film when Kamal Haasan and Rekha leave home and come to a cliff where they’re by themselves. The lyrics ask what the sounds around them are and whether they are the birds chirping or the loud waters. Synthesizers were used for the first time in Tamil cinema for the songs of this film. It is also remembered for AR Rahman, who played the keyboard for Raaja in this film.
Andhi Mazhai Pozhigirathu, Raaja Paarvai
Raaja Paarvai was Kamal Haasan’s 100th film, which he also wrote and produced along with his brother Charuhaasan. Ilaiyaraaja composed some of his best songs and background score for this film, and ‘Andhi Mazhai’ is considered by many to be a classic in Tamil cinema. Sung by SPB and S Janaki, ‘Andhi Mazhai’ is set to two raagas and western classical music, which was unheard of in a Tamil film before.
Vaa Vennila, Mella Thiranthathu Kathavu
Ilaiyaraaja and MS Viswananthan got together for Mella Thiranthathu Kathavu in 1986. The background score and orchestration was by Raaja and the composition by MSV, and this arrangement led to the movie’s most popular song Vaa Vennila. It was inspired by ‘Vaan Meethile Inba Then Maari Peiyuthe’ from MSV’s 1953 film Chandirani. Ilaiyaraaja is known for the speed at which he works, and the duo reportedly completed this song in less than half a day.
Kuzhal Oothum Kannanuku, Mella Thiranthathu Kathavu
‘Kuzhal Oothum’ was the only song from Mella Thiranthathu Kathavu that was composed by Ilaiyaraaja. Radha falls in love with her relative Mohan who is a musician visiting her village. She teases him by singing in the woods, and ‘Kuzhal Oothum’ was placed in this sequence. Mohan’s flute competes with Radha’s vocals. The song was a breakthrough in singer KS Chitra’s career.
Kanne Kalaimaane, Moondram Pirai
In 1980, poet and lyricist Kannadasan was not well and about to leave for Chicago for medical treatment when Ilaiyaraaja had sent for this song. After listening to the film’s story and situation, he is believed to have written it in about two minutes. He was present at the recording session of the song, which took place in September 1981. It was the last recorded song that Kannadasan wrote before his death.
Ilaiyaraaja uses minimal instrumentation for this stirring composition, sung by KJ Yesudas. Director Balu Mahendra based the film on his relationship with actress Shoba. In this song and the film, Sridevi and Kamal Hassan gave one of their best performances.
Kaatril Endhan Geetham, Johnny
In director J Mahendran’s Johnny, Sridevi played a popular singer and Rajinikanth was her ardent fan. This celebrated song opens with her character Archana singing alone in the pouring rain while she waits for Johnny to come. It sets a sombre mood and S Janaki’s vocals, as always, keeps us spellbound. Ilaiyaraaja later also used this song in ‘Naina Bole’ for Aur Ek Prem Kahani in 1996.
Other Sridevi-Ilaiyaraaja songs are ‘Senthoora Poove’ from 16 Vaiyathinile, ‘Ilamai Ennum Poogaatru’ from Pagalil Oru Iravu, ‘Kanne Kalaimaane’ from Moondram Pirai and more.
Naguva Nayana, Pallavi AnuPallavi
Anil Kapoor plays a young man in love with his close friend played by Lakshmi in Pallavi Anupallavi (1983). This was Mani Ratnam’s first film, and he was introduced to Ilaiyaraaja through Balu Mahendra. Because the budget of the film was small Mani Ratnam had told Raaja he could not afford to pay him well, and the composer agreed to work for one-fourth or one-fifth the salary he was getting at the time. The songs in the film went on to become a huge hit, and the two of them later collaborated for many popular films.
Emani Ne Cheli, Mantri Gari Viyyankudu
Ilaiyaraaja has composed countless Telugu songs, and to a lesser extent in Malayalam, Kannada, and Hindi. ‘Emani Ne Cheli’ is a timeless love song set in Ooty, featuring Chiranjeevi and Poornima Jayaram in the lead. After the huge success of Ilaiyaraaja’s first collaboration with Chiranjeevi for Abhilasha in 1983, he signed on for directors Bapu and Ramana’s Mantri Gari Viyyankudu that same year.
Pavuraniki Panjaraniki, Chanti
This Venkatesh and Meena starrer from the Telugu super-hit film Chanti (1992) had songs by Illaiyaraja which were a musical hit. ‘Paviraniki Panjaraniki’ is a moving composition sung by SPB, with lyrics by Vetri Murthy. This was the first Telugu film to cross 100 days in over 40 theatres. This was an industry record that time, and the songs are credited as one of the reasons for the film’s success. The movie also raised Venkatesh and Meena to popularity.
Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu, Thalapathi
For Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathy, Ilaiyaraaja composed one of his most popular soundtracks and each song became a classic. ‘Rakkamma’ was a chartbuster. In 2002, it was voted 4th in the world’s top 10 most popular songs of all time by BBC. The song was shot over several nights with Rajinikanth, Sonu Walia, and the background dancers. It was choreographed by Mugur Sundar and Prabhu Deva, and it came alive with the orchestration of the 64 violins that Ilaiyaraaja used.
Oho Megham Vanthatho, Mouna Raagam
‘Oho Megham Vanthatho’ from this Mani Ratnam film features Revathy dancing in the rain with others as she tries to avoid a prospective groom. The music and the percussion have us hooked, the lyrics, and the visuals make this one of the best monsoon songs, bringing the promise of rain. ‘Nilaave Vaa’, ‘Chinna Chinna Vanna Kuyil’ were the other popular songs from the film. It had five tracks by Ilaiyaraaja, with lyrics by Vaali, sung by S Janaki and SPB.
Oru kaatril, Naan Kadavul
One of Ilaiyaraaja’s later compositions was for the 2009 Arya and Pooja-starrer Naan Kadavul, written and directed by Bala. Ilaiyaraaja composed seven songs for the film, collaborating with Vaali for lyrics. ‘Oru Kaatril’ was also sung by him, and the female version was by Shreya Ghoshal. The song has violin interludes and a composition that was classic of Ilaiyaraaja’s 80s music.
Vaanam Mella, Neethaane En Ponvasantham
A mesmerising number that traces the journey of Varun and Nithya, Jiiva and Samantha’s characters from this Gautham Menon film, from childhood to their school life. ‘Vaanam Mella’ was sung by the maestro himself along with Bela Shende in the lyrics of late lyricist Na Muthukumar. The composer said in a gathering that this was his most favourite composition in recent times owing to the lyrics that captures the essence of love perfectly. The entire album turned out to be successful.