Unconventional voices

No, I still don’t like Himes-bhai‘s voice. Although I will admit that the occasional Mika number works for me – Mauja Hi Mauja from Jab We Met being an example. This post is mostly about A. R. Rehman. Not his singing voice (which I’m not very fond of but works well for some songs), but his uncanny ability to pick the right singer for a certain song.

Rehman has had his favourites over the years — Hariharan and Sukhwindara Singh come to mind instantly. But every once in a while, he has made an inspired choice that completely transforms a number from good to great. These aren’t conventional voices, and wouldn’t work for most songs. But you cannot imagine how certain songs would sound if sung by someone else. Here are my top five picks in this category (links attached, in case you wanna lusten to them):

5. Raasaathi (Thiruda Thiruda): My favourite song in that album. Also, one of the songs that Shahul Hameed is best remembered for, other than Usilampatti pennkutti in Gentleman. Other than probably a base guitar somewhere in the background (and I’m not even sure about that), this song is a capella, with a lot of humming in the background and Shahul’s plaintive voice in the lead. (Listen here)

4. Chikubukku chikubukku rayile (Gentleman): Basically, this one makes the grade because of how it reinvents Tamil pronunciation. If someone spoke the language like that in my presence, I would have to physically restrain myself from punching his lights out, but the song… well, I can’t imagine any other way to sing it. (Listen here)

3. Lukka Chhuppi (Rang De Basanti): I love Lata Mangeshkar, okay? My dad’s an old Hindi film music buff, so I grew up listening to her. But hearing her sing Jiya Jale in Dil Se was the musical equivalent of seeing Rajni romance Deepika Padukone. Her voice sounded tired, strained, and clearly much older than the woman being depicted on screen. To me, that song is one of Rehman’s eminently forgettable choices. But Lukka Chhuppi… who else could have conveyed Waheeda Rehman’s heartbreak at losing her son so well? The opening lines are simple enough: We’ve played enough hide and seek/Now come out and show yourself. The tune isn’t exactly a sad one either. But the evident ageing of Lata’s voice and the tragedy being depicted on screen make it what it is. I don’t think there are too many instances where Lata’s voice would qualify as unconventional, but my guess is that most music directors would’ve ended up using a much younger voice here. Rehman chose well, and it made all the difference. (Listen here)

2. Veyilodu vilayaadi (Veyil): Not a Rehman number, this one. But since it is by his nephew G. V. Prakash Kumar, I guess you could say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Four singers, but the ones that stand out are Kailash Kher (who could make Happy Birthday sound soulful) and Jassi Gift (who I liked much better here than in his acclaimed Lajjavathiye). The other two sing the song like they would sing any number, but when Kailash lets rip with pasi vandha kuruvi muttai, or when Jassi goes Nandoorum nari oorum, the song simply catches fire. (Listen here)

1. Vidai kodu engal naade (Kannathil Muthamittal): The scene depicts a village of Sri Lankan Tamils being evacuated before the airforce bombs the place into oblivion. No matter what your politics, the sight a bunch of people leaving the place they had called home for so many years is, you will agree, heart-rending. The lyrics convey a sense of loss that remains with you long after the movie has ended. But what truly elavates the song is the quality of M S Viswanathan’s voice. You don’t hear finely modulated sorrow, but something raw and visceral. (Listen here)

Have I missed out any really good ones? You tell me.


12 thoughts on “Unconventional voices

  1. omg i hadnt heard rasaathi in such a long time. i love that song so much!! also putha pudhu bhoomi vendum. nice list. also that other song by rehman in kannathil. it plays at the end of that movie. and what a movie!

  2. We performed Rasaathi once, back in college. I was the only one who knew Tamil in that entire group, I think. Made it a bit difficult, but it was fun to do 🙂

    I remember being bowled over by the song picturizations in Thiruda Thiruda, especially Chandralekha and Thee Thee… Unfortunately, somehow the movie didn’t live up to its promise. Turned out to be a madcap caper without the madcap. The original (Kshana Kshanam, whose script RGV and Mani adapted into this one) was much more fun.

    I think the song you’re referring to in Kannathil is Vellai pookkal. It appears both in the beginning (when depicting the romance between Nandita Das and Chakravarthy) and over the end credits.

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  4. Rajendran says:

    The very mention of unconventional voices reminds me of the sinus-voiced Bhupinder. Pancham needs to be given credit for choosing the so-called unconventional lot in mainstream Hindi music. Except for Madan Mohan(Haqueeqat and Mausam) and Jaidev(Alaap and Gharonda), I am unable to recollect anyone but Pancham to have used the services of Bhupinder repeatedly in an era when Kishore Kumar was the hobson’s choice for most others. My pick of the lot is a rendition called “Ek hi Khwab” from Kinara by Bhupinder. There are of course several other Bhupinder songs for Pancham that are exceptional.

    Not only Bhupinder, but Pancham chose some lesser known people in the Hindi world like Anup Ghoshal for Tujhse Naaraaz Nahin(Masoom) and Aarti Mukhopadhyay for Do Naina(Masoom again). I also liked the way he picked Amit Kumar for a few songs. Perhaps, others were not daring enough to avoid following the beaten track in terms of singers.

    I guess it is a lot easier to introduce newer voices these days. Coming to Rahman, his choice of Asha Bhosle for Vennila, the jazz number from Iruvar and Mano for Aariyathil Naan Oruvan, a la TMS style solo from Iruvar again seem to stand out for me. On the other hand, I wonder why he pulverizes Tamizh songs by having Udit Narayan sing some of them.

  5. When you think about it, a lot of voices have been considered unconventional when they came in, even before Pancham did his thing.

    Mukesh, for instance, started off singing like K L Saigal, then found his own niche. But I doubt that a voice like his would’ve lasted long, had it not been for the uncanny sync he had with Raj Kapoor. Lata herself sang in a style so radically different from people like Shamshad Begum when she came into the industry, that she would’ve been considered unconventional.

    Your Iruvar references are spot on! Especially Mano doing a TMS – the effect was uncanny. Then there is Poonkodiyil punnagai, sung by a woman named Sandhya. Until I looked it up on the Net, I could’ve sworn it was sung by Susheela herself!

    The reason why I left it out, though, was that the soundtrack of that movie had a lot to do with evoking memories of a particular period in Tamil film music. You couldn’t evaluate it in isolation. It was like a form of mimicry/tribute/whatever.


    ps: It’s interesting that you should mention Bhupinder and HaqeeqatHoke Majboor Mujhe is the subject of my next post 🙂

  6. V says:

    I fully agree with Mr. Rajendran’s comments on Iruvar, and also his observation on the effect of using some singers on Tamizh songs, which trend unfortunately picked more steam after Rahman’s experimentations.

    Ilaiyaraaja’s tryst with unconventional voices like those in ‘Anne Anne’ (Kozhi Koovuthu) is also worth mentioning. Coming to it, even Jency’s voice was unconventional.

  7. Hey Ramsu, ru sure about Hoke Majboor, coz i myself am planning it. I heard that song so many times, yet just cant help feeling moved by it. All the 4 singers- Bhupinder, Rafi, Talat and Manna Dey, synch so perfectly for the song. And the lyrics by Kaifi Azmi are brilliant. Check my post on Kaifi Azmi, where i mentioned this song.

  8. Ratnakar,

    Go ahead and write it up! I don’t think the song would hurt from having two eulogies — its brilliance is such that it deserves a lot more.

    I was less than impressed with the vocals of Bhupinder and Manna Dey in that song, though. Rafi and Talat totally blew me away, while the other two just about hung in there.


  9. vinayvasan says:

    Bailamore from Kadhal Virus had Rahman getting Simbu to sing the song… An unconventional choice and one certainly cant deny that Simbu had done a great job on it

  10. S says:

    You make a great case for the uncanny effect of the unconventional voice. Good you included all the links as I was able to “lusten” to them, right here right now. :p

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