When was the last time someone talked about the present day Malayalam film music? Is it because it’s going through a bad phase now? Even reality show singers pick Tamil and Hindi songs or rely on old Malayalam classics to prove their skills. No one seems to be bothered about the songs made in Malayalam in the past 3-4 years, with a few exceptions. Stage shows and dance programmes are almost completely relied on Tamil and Hindi music, since it is extremely difficult to find even one foot-tapping number from the vast array of songs being made in film after film here. The directors and producers seem to have no interest in music; even the biggest movies came with mediocre musical scores.
Death of great composers like Raveendran and M.G. Radhakrishnan have created an emptiness which can’t be ignored. Johnson is in semi-retirement mode and has a more comfortable job as a reality show judge. Ouseppachan and Mohan Sithara give good songs given a chance. Ilaiyaraaja makes better songs in Malayalam than what he makes in Tamil, but bears the criticism of recycling his own yesteryear Tamil hits. Vidyasagar is inconsistent when he gives the chartbuster Neelathamara first and the mediocre Apoorvaragam next. Alex Paul, after the initial streak of good melodies, fell into lower standards soon. M Jayachandran is the only composer who is able to give good songs – both melodies and fast paced songs, consistently. Veteran lyric writer Gireesh Puttenchery’s demise in April 2010 has created a sudden emptiness for soulful lyrics.
BUT, all is not lost. A new breed of composers, lyricists and singers are gradually making their presence felt in Malayalam film music. None of them have taken the industry by storm, but they keep surprising us with some great songs now and then. Young composers like Bijibal, Rahul Raj, Shaan Rahman, Gopi Sunder, Prashant Pillai, Mejo Joseph, Ratheesh Vega, Siddharth Vipin, Manu Ramesan and many others have entered the music industry bringing a lot of freshness to our music. Their passion towards music is shown in their work, and their music is slowly and steadily gaining acceptance among the Malayali audience, who are a bit reserved about new trends.
While the veteran composers had great scripts with due importance to music to work on, the new comers are forced to do songs meant only as fillers in commercial cinema. In a limited scope, these youngsters have made a mark by bringing in a fresh feel to their songs, without imitating their seniors. With movies such as Loudspeaker, Malarvaadi Arts Club, Ritu, Big B, Sagar Alias Jacky, Nayakan, Notebook, Cycle, Cocktail, Anwar and Chekavar, these composers have shown what they are capable of through their compositions, vocal arrangements and orchestrations. Various new genres of music like rap (Big B, Sagar Alias Jacky), jazz (Kaathu Kaathu – Malarvadi Arts Club), hip-hop (Njaan – Anwar), qawwali (Kizhakku Pookkum – Anwar) are being tried out in Malayalam music, which the younger generation can connect to.
And they've also proved their versatility within the albums they compose. Shaan can pull off a beautiful 'Maamarangale' in a movie like Ee Pattanathil Bhootham. Prashant Pillai is able to give an adrenalin rush through a song like 'Kaatte Vaayo' and also give the blissful 'Lolalolamaayi' in the same movie Nayakan. Bijibal showed what he is capable of, with his first outing (Arabikkatha) itself. Rahul Raj proved his range through different genres of songs in Chotta Mumbai, Chekavar and the award winning Ritu. Likewise, each one of these young composers can boast of a wide range in the music they create.
While they are experimenting with all these genres, they also make songs rooted in our language and culture alternatively. Fresh voices like Shreya Ghoshal , Shankar Mahadevan, Ranjith, Karthik, Naresh Iyer, Benny Dayal, Achu, Rahul Nambiar, Suchithra, etc. are tried out with brilliant effect. Singers like Vijay Yesudas and Shwetha Mohan have been given the opportunity to prove their versatility through these fresh tunes, while the veterans like Jayachandran, M.G. Sreekumar, Chitra and Sujatha are also used according to the requirements of the songs. But one sorely misses the voice of K.J. Yesudas, who is seldom heard now, except in certain brilliant songs by M. Jayachandran (Amma Mazhakkarinu, Pinne Ennodonnum).
Composers like Deepak Dev and Alphonse Joseph (on a high after singing AR Rahman’s Aaromale) are also coming back with a vengeance. They are the ones who had initially created some hope and then faded out in between. But Deepak Dev gave the chartbuster Puthiya Mukham last year and was back in the top league. Alphonse has done some wonderful work in recent films like Athmakatha, Cocktail, etc and has plenty of projects lined up.
Lyricists like Rafeeq Ahmed and Anil Panachooran also instill hope. Vineeth Sreenivasan impressed with his outing as a lyricist through the simplistic songs of Malarvaadi Arts Club. With more and more young filmmakers coming into the industry, there are many more opportunities for these composers, singers and lyricists to get challenging projects to work on and prove their worth.
With the audience becoming much more aware of the different technical aspects in cinema, the background scores are noticed more than before. Almost all the fresh faces are good in background scores too.
Bijibal is one of the most sought after people for background scores after movies like Palery Manikyam and Passenger. Rahul Raj impressed with his funky, over-the-top score for Chotta Mumbai and a wonderfully understated score in Ritu. Shaan Rahman’s background score for Malarvaadi Arts Club drew attention too. The theme tracks of the movie like the funny ‘Shashi’ became immensely popular even as mobile ringtones. Gopi Sunder’s background scores in Amal Neerad flicks are always appreciated and looked forward to. He impressed with a beautiful score in Ividam Swargamanu as well. Amal Neerad’s new movie Anwar even features an English rock song by the popular rock band Motherjane as a part of its soundtrack, thus tapping the potential the film of alternate non-film music also.
The young breed may not be able to deliver a His Highness Abdullah or a Bharatham or a Sargam or a Manichithrathaazhu. The reason is such films happen seldom these days. Situations for songs like ‘Ramakatha Ganalayam’ or a ‘Pramadavanam’ are a rarity to find in our movies today. After Vadakkumnathan, there hasn’t been a single movie with importance for music. Give these guys such movies and situations, they would come up with some great work!!
Music is treated just as a mandatory requirement in our movies and not as an art form or a tool to move the narrative forward. Very few directors like Lal Jose make it a point to make the songs noticed in a movie. With the limited scope they get, these composers are doing a wonderful job, and if they are given the right opportunities and scripts, they are capable of doing much more than what they are already doing. Malayalam film music may not go back to the time of the Devarajans, Baburajs, Raveendrans or Johnsons, but hopefully shall progress to being known as the music of the Bijibals, Shaans, Rahuls or Gopis.