Ekangi is a costly film, quite in line with the lavish extravaganzas that are considered Ravichandran's style. His first film as director, Premaloka, borrowed the basic storyline from Grease and did a witty Kannada adaptation using Hamsalekha's lyrics and music. Ravichandran later remade the Subhash Ghai film Hero as Ranadheera, and established himself as a bigtime producer and actor in Kannada.
One of the things you could say in Ravichandran's favour is that he is not penny-pinching when he makes his films, and visually tries not just to match but to excel the original. He made Bannada Gejje bringing in advanced cameras from Hollywood, but the film turned out to be a spectacular flop. That didn't deter him and he continued to make extravanganza after extravaganza.
Ravichandran's late father N Veeraswamy had produced great hits in his time. The Rajkumar starrer he made under the Eshwari Films banner, Naa Ninna Mareyalaare, had wonderful songs composed by Rajan Nagendra. No Kannada film music lover will forget the title song, and tracks like Nannaseya hoove, beladingala cheluve. Music gets a high priority in Ravichandran films, and he pays greater attaention to that department than his father used to do. And now that Ravichandran has broken away from Hamsalekha, he has been writing his own lyrics and making his own tunes.
From a critical perspective, Ravichandran's films represent the worst of an oppressive, pro-rich order. He glorifies himself to a megalomaniac degree, and the male gaze in his films is brazen. He is fond of making an ostentatious display of houses, cars and clothes.
Ravichandran worked with Juhi Chawla long before she became a rage in Mumbai, and recently acted alongside Shilpa Shetty. He takes great pains and spares no expense to shoot his songs, and these sequences bring in audiences for repeat viewings.
The Ekangi album was released in Davangere at a live show compered by Prakash Rai (called Prakash Raj in Tamil). Ravichandran has also brought in the actress Ramya to dance with him on stage.
Sonu Nigam opens the album with Be alone to be happy, be happy to be alone. This Hindi singer has won the admiration of the Kannada film industry for a faultless diction. The highlight is the solo violin. Lines like "Nenapalli naa usiraadide, nenapalli naa preetiside" don't sit very comfortably on the beat, but the swing movement is laced with a very rich orchestra of violins and a chorus of female voices, in the style of Hindi blockbusters, also a style spoofed in a recent ad starring Shah Rukh Khan for the Videocon Internet TV.
The next track, Nannane kele nanna pranave, has a preponderance of the guitar, and brings to mind the country songs of the '60s. Echoes groups like Eagles and Ventures. Sung by Hariharan, it is you might call a love ballad. The guitar bits are very stylishly syncopated, and give you the experience of beautiful guitar songs like Ilaiyanila composed by Ilaiyaraja. The guitar goes off into a very unexpected Flamenco flourish to the end of each charana. Hariharan is restrained, and sings the soft lines well. It must also be said that the tabla and guitar combination makes for an interesting sound.
Nee ekangiyamma opens so beautifully with a piano passage that I was transposed to the best years of Abba, especially their hit number Chiquitita. The arrangement, dominated by the piano, violins and cellos, is lavish, layered and symphonic. Madhu Balakrishnan, who sings this track, is clearly a Yesudas fan, and you can see that in his enunciation. The unpredictable chord progressions sound as rich and authentically acoustic as on any Abba album.
Hudugi superamma opens like a Beethoven symphony, and then you hear echoes of the violin bits in Enamma hudugi, a hit song from Ravichandran's Premaloka. It then takes a turn into jazz -- blues in fact -- and the interlude continues the mood with dissonant trumpets, and a descending double bass. Sung by Suresh Peters of Chukubuku chukubuku fame, it also has Anupama of Chandralekha fame and Rajesh doing some phrases.
The words of Banna bannada loka, bannisalu saaladu ee saalu are a good example of the kind of maudlin sentimentality that Ravichandran's songs are all about. Shankar Mahadevan sings: "Ekangi naanamma/ premangi naanamma/ appa amma illamma/ nina bitre nanag yaaramma" (I'm alone, I'm a lover, I have no parents/ who do I have but you?). This coming from a hero who uses the rest of the cinematic and musical canvas to sing his own praises as an invincible lone ranger who is "happy to be alone" and "alone to be happy"!
Ondu nimisha is interestingly syncopated, and has the sound of a clock ticking away in the background. It is sung by Anuradha Sriram and S P Balasubramanyam. The acoustic violin ensemble and the sax sound good, but the lyrics are so broken and disjointed that it is hard to make out what they are saying.
Nee maadid tappa is my choice of track on this album. It is oriented towards lower tones, and gains its flamboyance from a bass track that is often punctuated by orchestral bangs, a solo violin and towards the end, a sparse piano. The words are again totally dumbed down, and the song might have remained in memory much longer if the tune had been accompanied by some good words. It is a long song, but is carried along smoothly by the polished orchestra.
On the whole, this is an album that you can buy and enjoy for the orchestral arrangements alone. The quality of recording is excellent. Full marks to the string ensemble, and to the other instrumentalists. But you will be disappointed if you look for poetry, or even the street-smart variety of verse that Hamsalekha specialises in. If only Ravichandran had taken better care of the lyrics, this might have been another landmark album like Premaloka.
Published on 26 November 2001
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