Let me confess I watched Cheeni Kum (2007) just to see how Ilayaraja’s songs looked inside a Hindi film.
The film had legendary talents (Amitabh, Tabu and Paresh Rawal) who added texture, tone and acting excellence, but it was the title song, reworked from Ilayaraja’s 'Mandram Vandha Thendralukku' (Mouna Raagam 1986) which stands tall even today.
It was also my first tryst with Balki’s world which is a seamless blend of Madras and Bombay (love the older names of cities, thank you Balki). Until then, Ilayaraja’s tracks were merely copied unless he composed music for Hindi films directly, something of a rare occurrence.
Anand Milind’s 'Dhak Dhak Karne Laga' (Beta 1992) was lifted from 'Abbanee Theeyanee Dhebba', a Telugu runaway hit song from a super-duper Chiranjeevi starrer Jagadekha Veerudu Athiloka Sundari (1990). If Dhak Dhak had Madhuri lead the way, 'Abbanee' had Sridevi seduce with her steps choreographed by Pabhudeva.
Ilayaraja was thus always heard in Hindi cinema via his clones, barring Balu Mahendra’s Sadma until the ‘Balki Series’ Cheeni Kum, Paa (2009), Shamitabh (2015) and Ki & Ka (2016) happened. It was sheer joy listening to Shruti Haasan sing ‘Sannaataa’ in Shamitabh, which is set to the iconic ‘Aasaya Kaathula Thoodhuvittu’ from Johnny (1980). Balki’s films boasts of presenting Ilayaraja’s music to the pan-Indian and global Hindi film audience and 'Foolishq' from Ki & Ka was the sole song which stood out in the album as it had Ilayaraja’s melody-ahead-of-rhythm touch.
English Vinglish (2012) was a delightful film and when I read Gauri Shinde’s recent interview on how she pulls her husband Balki into her decisions, I was hoping it was also to consult for the music. And rightfully so. The track released yesterday from her upcoming film Dear Zindagi didn’t disappoint.
‘Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le’ sung by Suresh Wadkar from Sadma returns to caress some lovely visuals as a mesmerising Alia Bhatt makes her presence felt despite Shah Rukh Khan’s engulfing persona. The song will now be seen and heard for the third time in Dear Zindagi. Yes, third time.
The first was in Sadma, in 1983 which is the original track and before its resurgence now, the song had a Tamil version too. Thambikku Yendha Ooru (1984) has S P Balasubramaniam breathe life to this male solo number which speaks of love and longing in the beautifully picturised 'Yenn Vaaniley Varum Anbe Vaa'.
While Sadma had Kamalhaasan and Sridevi chase the Blue Mountain Express in Ooty, the Tamil song had Rajnikanth and Madhavi also romance in the Ooty hills. This is the only such song Ilayaraja composed with the same tune for the two stalwarts – Kamal and Rajnikanth. And now, another superstar actor Shah Rukh Khan blends into an Ilayaraja number.
Watching the montages set to the ‘Ae Zindagi’ song makes me believe that the film has the possibility to rise above its teasers, which so far, seemed to be on the lines of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The promos and ‘dialogues about life’ didn’t work for me as much as Alia’s emotional upheavals and her growing crush on Shah Rukh’s character did in this song’s promo.
Interestingly Cheeni Kum also had an older Amitabh Bachchan romance a younger Tabu but their interactions spanned through a real-time passionate relationship.
Back to 'Ae Zindagi..' — what a breath of fresh of air the track is even though it has been 33 long years after its first release. What a sense of togetherness the shots reveal between the leads. They may or may not be a clichéd romantic pair yet there is a bond which belongs to both age-groups. I fear the film may have some sermons from Shah Rukh to Alia on love, but I hope they have more to do and less to tell each other.
To say Ilayaraja is one of the finest music directors we have, had is to undermine his importance in the current spectrum. But to use his best songs in an updated setting in a film which has a world-wide audience across continents is Balki’s single best contribution to his cinema.
There’s another strange fact here — the song for the same situation in Moondram Pirai (1982) and the one in Sadma, its Hindi remake, have similar guitar strings but are set to two entirely different tunes. Listen to 'Poongkaatru pudhiraanadhu' by K J Yesudas in Tamil and 'Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le' in Hindi and feel Ilayaraja’s genius take-over your senses.
Dear Zindagi, let’s bring it on.