Carnatic Music in Mainstream Cinema

ara“Isai Kettal Puvi Asainthadum Athu Iraiavan Arulagum” is a classic lyric from a song in the movie thavaputhan which defines the relationship of music with us. Especially when considering the evolution of Indian Cinema Carnatic Music plays a significant role. In the initial stages Carnatic Musicians were casted as the leads in the films as they were able to both act and sing. This practice in the 40’s paved way to a strong relationship of Classical Music with the moving art.The bond between Carnatic Music and Films were inseparable even after the evolution of films and their transition from films based on theatres. 

Carnatic Music has a history spanning more than a century and has many compositions created by multiple “Vaakeyakarargal” in its library. These precious compositions have been used by the creators of Cinema by giving them a western / fusionist touch. But the placements of these songs are more fascinating than the fusion mix given to them.

I personally believe that Isaignani Ilayaraja is the pioneer in this beautiful process. For example if we consider “Sindu Bairavi”, with the flow of the film he has incorporated many kritis which add an immense value to the story line of the film. Also in the film he has tried to blend these compositions with a Tamil lyric which supports the films plot.

To make the character played by Sivakumar to understand the value of music being accessible by everyone Suhasini sings “Padariyen Padippariyen”. This song beautifully blends with “Mari Mari Ninne” a Kriti composed by Tyagarajar in Kamboji Raagam. Blending a Carnatic Composition with a song has been a very common practice in Tamil Cinema. Like “Paadariyen Padippariyen” we can also mention “Aalankuyil Koovum Rayil” from Parthiban Kanavu movie. Music Composer Vidyasagar has composed the song parallel to “Enna Thavam Seithanai” a Patham composed by Papanasam Sivan.

Also the Kritis and Patham of Carnatic Music has been used extensively to express the love in many films. The recent flick “Krishna and his Leela” had Anantha Bairavi Thillana and Patham “Alai Paayuthe”. Especially “Alaipayuthe was placed perfectly where Krishna struggles between the relationships with Sathya and Radha. Also the Ananthabhairavi Thillana with EDM fusion is used extensively in the trailer of the film, which perfectly transports the emotions of the characters to the viewers and elevates the trailer to another level.

Also in the Nani starrer “Bhale Bhale Magadivoy” Music composer uses “Endaro Mahanubhavalu”, one of Tyagaraja’s Pancharathna Kriti in an classical fusion style to visualize the budding romance between Lavanya Tripati (who is a Bharathanatyam Dancer) and Nani.

A.R.Rahman has also composed many songs which are based on Carnatic music like “Malargal Keatten” from OK Kanmani , “Nila Kaigirathu” from Indira and “Narumugaiye” from Iruvar. But “Rasaali” from Achcham Yenbathu Madamaiyada has the Saranam (Kaamboji Ragam) and one of the Sarana Swaram (Sri Ragam) from a Navaragamalika Varnam composed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer. Also the this interlude makes more sense to the visual which shows a traditional household which supports Simbu and Manjima on their way to Kanyakumari. In the film Alaipayuthe ARR uses the composition “Alaipayuthe” by Oothukaadu Venkadasubbaiyar not only in a vocal presentation also as instrumental where Poorni’s sister tells her parents about Karthik.

In some films the Carnatic Music compositions are used to bring back the nostalgic memories of the lead characters. For example in the Mohanlal starrer Malayalam movie Mr. Fraud the Carnatic Music composition by G. N. Balasubramaniam in Mohana Ragam is used. The character played by Miya George sings “Sada Paalaya” which reminds Mohanlal about his mother and in the end of the song Mohanlal joins Miya George and they sing together.

Another interesting usage of Carnatic Music can be observed in the films of Trivikram. In the film Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo when Allu Arjun enters Tabu’s  place we can notice a Carnatic Music rendition by Priya Sisters. Similarly in Attarintiki Daredi when Pawan Kalayan enters the house of Nadiya in background “Deva Devam” composed by Annamacharya in Hindolam Ragam will be played. This shows that he uses Carnatic influences to show the divinity of the house. Also in the film Agnyathavaasi’s teaser extensively uses “Swagatham Krishna” composed by Oothukadu Venkadasubbayar in Mohana Raagam. The teaser is edited perfectly to blend with the composition and it gives me Goosebumps each time I saw it. 

Even though Carnatic music considered to be boring, or old fashioned by many youngsters they tend to forget that this art form has many to offer. Even in recent times when watching “Super Singer Champion of Champions” , a new reality show on Star Vijay I realised that how beaytifully Carnatic music can be blend with western artforms. This artform is able to modify itself and adopt to the changing times. Lets’ make more Jugalbandis with East and West!!

Written By,

- Nitharshanan Sivabalasundaram


Shree October 12, 2020

Could you just say raga fir the song Rasiga Rasiga from movie star composed by A. R. Rahman in tamil?

Subhadra Balaji February 13, 2021
That was very elaborate. I have been looking for the raga of this song called madhurame from the movie Arjun Reddy….
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