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Review

Rajkumar's rich musicscape

Legends brings 67 Rajkumar songs in five volumes. It walks you through energetic numbers like Yaare koogadali, devotional numbers like Guruvara banthamma, and melancholy hits like Idu yaaru bareda katheyo

Dr Rajkumar
Legends
HMV
Rs 250 (5 cassettes)

How many of today's actors can sing? Close to none. Many young heroes who do attempt singing do it just for novelty. They have no music training, and no clue to raga grammar. Give them a tune that calls for some subtlety and you'll find them wanting.

Rajkumar comes from that era when actors couldn't survive if they didn't know music. He acted for some years in company drama, where all actors used to be groomed in diction and music. Tunes were mostly raga-based, and if an actor couldn't sing them well enough, he got nowhere.

Naadamaya, which won Rajkumar the national award for best playback singing, may not be a very unusual song, but no other film actor in India -- including Rajkumar's own fairly successful actor-sons -- could have sung it. It is based on raga Todi, with its complex graces, and strings other ragas as it progresses. He switches ragas with ease, and sings complex swara patterns like a professional classical artiste.

Legends presents 67 Rajkumar songs on five tapes. Naadamaya is not included, but it could well have been, considering that other songs from Jeevana Chaitra (1992) have made it to the collection. His popular theatre-style songs from the mythological Babruvahana also don't figure here.

Rajkumar has been the leading hero in Kannada cinema for five decades, but he emerged as a singer only mid-way in his career, when he sang the energetic and wildly popular Yaare koogadali in the 1974 film Sampatthige Sawal. Legengs presents this song in Volume 1.

Till then, P B Srinivas had been Rajkumar's voice, giving Kannada cinema some of its most beautiful, stylised songs. By stylised, I mean songs that didn't depend on classical ragas, but which experimented with all kinds of tonal and orchestral colour. Just two songs to remind you of the quality of the P B Srinivas musical period: Nee mudida mallige hoovina maale and Nee bandu nintaaga. Brooding, intense and lovely.

Once Rajkumar the singer was discovered, P B Srinivas all but lost his job. Like Mukesh, Srinivas had a certain melancholic heaviness: his voice could handle lighter songs all right, but it excelled in the sad ones. Rajkumar's voice was capable of greater vivacity, best seen in songs like Naa ninna mareyalaare, from the 1976 film of the same name, and Thai thai thai thai bangaari from Girikanye (1977). These films are represented in Legends with one song each -- Girikanye with Yenendu naa helali and Naa Ninna Mareyalaare with Nannaaseya hoove. Both films had music by Rajan Nagendra.

Rajkumar sang some good melancholic numbers too. Take, for example, Idu yaaru bareda katheyo from the murder mystery Premada Kaanike, whose story, incidentally, was written by Salim-Javed. He conveys the song's fatalism with restraint, in a tune composed by Upendra Kumar.

The similarly pensive Kanneera dhare ideke ideke from Hosa Belaku is one of his very best songs. Based on raga Lalit, its tune is clearly taken from a Jagjit Singh ghazal, but Rajkumar brings to it an intensity all his own. M Ranga Rao, who made the music for that film, was moved to tears when he heard Rajkumar's rendering at the studio, and rushed to hug him.

Chi Udayashankar, who wrote all his songs in the initial two decades, also contributed to Rajkumar's musical popularity by writing transparent, lucid lyrics.

Tanuvu manavu from Raja Nanna Raja (1976) is one of my favourites. It shows Rajkumar at his flamboyant best. He sings the notes clipped and gamaka-free, firmly establishing his versatility. The music is by G K Venkatesh, who got the best out of Rajkumar. Other notable Venkatesh songs in this collection are Beladingalagi baa and Ninagaagi ododi bande.

In many Venkatesh songs, the interludes give the songs a fascinating character. The 1980 film Haalu Jenu saw him out of form, but just look at the prelude and interludes in Chinnada mallige hoove from Huli Haalina Mevu (1979) to understand his brilliance. The orchestral bridge passages are rivetting in their very unpredictability.

Another Venkatesh song that distinguishes itself with fine interludes is Adhe Kannu. Taken from a less successful film of the same name, it shows Rajkumar singing with a heightened tremolo. I suspect Ilaiyaraja made the bleak, pounding, fear-evoking interludes: they bear his stamp. He was Venkatesh's assistant for many years.

Ilaiyaraja made the music for one Rajkumar film, Nee Nanna Gellalaare, and Legends features two songs from it -- Anuraga enaaythu and Jeeva hoovayithu. Both are notable for their unorthodox tunes and interludes. In the second song, Ilaiyaraja gets Rajkumar to sing on parallel tracks and achieves a warm, fugue-like effect, with the voices beginning at unexpected points and overlapping one another like waves.

Kamala Hasan describes Rajkumar as a pious man for whom work is 'puja'. Rajkumar is a believer, and talks often of spirituality. He has cut albums in praise of several gods. Featured in Legends are songs from his devotional albums. Guruvara banthamma is probably his most popular song on Raghavendra Swami. Harihara sutana is in praise of Ayyappa. Volume 3 is made up songs from private albums, but they sound tame and are no patch on the more dramatic film songs he has sung.

There are a few unremarkable songs in this collection, like the title song from Sapthapadi (1992), where he is given a shruti that is too high for his voice. That's a problem in some recent songs -- he gets uncomfortable when he hits the high notes.

Legends is a representative compilation of Rajkumar's work as a singer. It doesn't feature any of his post-1994 songs, but lovers of Kannada film music will still cherish it.

S R Ramakrishna


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