Strange chords #3: Duet Theme

Duet is not the best film K. Balachander has made. A remake of Cyrano de Bergerac, with assorted additional nonsense and a dash of Alibaba thrown in for good measure, the movie never really manages to get itself out of the way and reach the heights it could. It is, however, one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen, from a musical standpoint. The main reason why I’m somewhat fond of that movie is its music.

They key, for me, came during the opening titles itself. I didn’t notice it when I saw the movie for the first time, since I didn’t know the whole plot then. But when I went back home and listened to the album, I realized what KB and Rehman were doing in that opening piece.

It is a Kadri Gopalnath saxophone solo in Kalyanavasantham – a beautiful, beautiful raga (best known example: Nadaloludai, composed by Sri Thyagaraja – yet another of his little gems). In the movie, you see Prabhu playing it.

He plays a character named Guna, a talented musician and sax player, who forms part of a successful music duo with his brother Siva. Guna is overweight, and doesn’t have much luck with women as a result, whereas Siva pretty much has them eating out of his hands. A minor early crisis causes them to move to a different city, where they begin their career afresh. Their life settles into a comfortable routine when love comes in the form of Anjali, a film choreographer who lives next door. She loves Guna’s music, but thinks Siva is the one composing it. Things get a little heated when this truth is revealed, but before it can be resolved between the three of them, additional complications arrive in the form of Sirpi, a psychotic movie star with designs on Anjali. It all ends in a violent and senseless climax where all extra characters are bumped off and only the hero and heroine are left.

Crazy plot, and there’s really no obvious reason why I should narrate it here. But now that you know this plot, go back and listen to the theme music and see how it is patterned – how it starts off slow, breaks for a moment when the waves crash against the rocks, starts again, settles into a rhythm, then picks up the pace, then begins to have more ominous notes sounding in the background, and ends with the waves crashing against the sea. When you think about it, this could have been pretty much any piece – most movies have random instrumental music playing over the opening titles – but KB showed here what he could do with it.

The entire story is told in flashback from Prabhu’s point of view, and you realize, after watching it and harking back to its musical set pieces, that this was a man who used his sax as a narrative intrument. Listen to the interludes in En kaadhalae, and you see how he expresses his feelings – his frustration, his despair, his love – through his instrument. Amazing piece of work.

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One thought on “Strange chords #3: Duet Theme

  1. S says:

    I saw this movie in Kamala theatre when it came out and remember being completely mesmerized by the music (though I knew nothing about “music” then nor do I, now). I don’t think I’ve ever rewatched Duet (nor remember much from my first viewing except of course the quality/effect of the music, Prabhu and Ramesh Aravind being extremely petty and Meenakshi Seshadri being extremely pretty) but reading this makes me want to check out that theme music for those patterns you mention are hidden in seeming randomness. Plus, what’s not to love about… Sax.

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