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Ilaiyaraaja at 80

Last Updated : 03 June 2023, 09:24 IST

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‘Naguva Nayana’ from ‘Pallavi Anupallavi’
‘Naguva Nayana’ from ‘Pallavi Anupallavi’
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‘Sundari kannaal oru sethi’ from ‘Thalapathy’
‘Sundari kannaal oru sethi’ from ‘Thalapathy’
‘Mouna mela noyi’ from ‘Sagara Sangamam’
‘Mouna mela noyi’ from ‘Sagara Sangamam’

The thing with best-of lists is that they are always inconclusive. More so when they are collated from the wide-ranging work of an artiste like Ilaiyaraaja. Picking 10 from hundreds is borderline blasphemy. This is an attempt at a personal, cross-genre list, largely limited to his most prolific decade, the 1980s. Each of these entries come with at least 10 contenders. But like with all best-of-lists, there’s also fun in considering and replaying the ones that didn’t make it. Happy 80th, legend.

Putham puthu kaalai – Alaigal Oyvathillai (1981, Tamil)

S Janaki in spectacular form, singing about desire, misty mornings and kolams in the sky with a languid dreaminess no remix can capture.

Jotheyali jothe jotheyali – Geetha (1981, Kannada)

There is something about a consistently playful S P Balasubramaniam that makes this the best among the three versions. A staple in the throwback compilations.

Mounamelanoyi – Sagara sangamam (1983, Telugu)

A classic slow-swayer on silences and sweet nothings that makes perfect nighttime listening.

Naguva nayana – Pallavi Anupallavi (1983, Kannada)

The love for this instantly hummable tune is also for nostalgia, for old Bangalore, for a simpler time.

Oh vasantha raja – Neengal Kettavai (1984, Tamil)

One from the essential 80s, this features a terrific lead-in and a cool fusion-y sound. Still a regular in town-bus playlists.

Poomalai vaangi vanthaan – Sindhu Bhairavi (1985, Tamil)

K J Yesudas is magnificent in this mournful song about a musician’s fall from grace. The classical score for this K Balachander film was also Raaja’s comeback at the purists miffed about some of his assembly-line work.

Shenbagame shenbagame – Enga Ooru Paattukkaran (1987, Tamil)

The folksy, familiar beat which defined some of Raaja’s most popular work finds a refreshing expression in Asha Bhonsle’s thinly accented vocals.

Rajaraja sozhan naan – Rettaivaal Kuruvi (1987, Tamil)

This hugely popular Yesudas number could be a soul-twin to the singer’s own ‘En iniya pon nilaave’ from another Balu Mahendra film, ‘Moodupani’. Just better.

Sundari kannaal oru sethi – Thalapathi (1991, Tamil)

At over seven minutes, the best track from the last Mani Ratnam-Ilaiyaraaja album is a soaring composition set around a warrior in love.

Devasangeetham neeyalle – Guru (1997, Malayalam)

The haunting track is in line with Raaja’s 1990s on-off thing with a new, increasingly orchestra-heavy sound. The Budapest Symphony Orchestra performed the soundtrack for this underrated film about faith and fanaticism, parts of which are set in an imagined land of the blind.

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Published 03 June 2023, 09:04 IST

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