Bye, bye, lady in yellow

Perhaps Kaniyan Poongundran of Thupparivaalan may not have matched up to the shrewdness of Sherlock, perhaps Manoharan may not have had as much utility as Watson, but these missteps aside, there’s something about Thupparivalan that is almost getting taken for granted: its lack of songs. Sure, it isn’t the first to take that route, but it’s still important every time to acknowledge how it mustn’t be easy at all to go against the norm. The more films like Thupparivaalan get recognised and lauded for doing away with songs — those ugly speed-breakers, those story hamperers — the more producers will treat it as a not-so-mandatory aspect of filmmaking.

This isn’t an argument against musicals. That’s a genre unto itself. And I have no problems with songs being used sparingly, or to aid development—like in Dora. But to bring the story to a complete halt and use a song as a relief from storytelling… brings dishonour to the art of storytelling. No good story should need such a break in the first place. By now, perhaps you’re frowning and pointing out that our cinema itself evolved from song and dance. Well, then, it’s time to evolve further. In an overzealous stubbornness to retain what we deem to be our identity, it’s important not to defend the counterproductive. Our identity can be celebrated by making ingrown stories about our people, our world — not by making a bunch of extras dance around the hero while the viewers twiddle their thumbs and wait for the story to begin.

This avoidance of songs may not be as novel anymore as it was when Kamal’s Kuruthipunal was made in 1995. But it nevertheless must not have been easy for Mysskin to get here… even in an age that’s supposedly well-evolved. For a while, they didn’t even get his apparent dislike for songs, and even went as far as to peg him as that filmmaker who’d shoot songs featuring a woman in a yellow saree. They’d constantly ask him about this assumed obsession. In a recent chat with me, the director expressed frustration at being repeatedly asked about it. Imagine being asked about your love for something, when it’s all you’ve done to try and lobby against that very thing. It appears that Mysskin has finally built a solid body of work that has given him the freedom to bid goodbye to the woman in the yellow saree.

But younger, newer filmmakers don’t and won’t have it so easy. It’s said that actors generally recommend cinematographers based on their camaraderie with them, and the confidence that perhaps on account of their recommendation, they will be shown in flattering light. Composers, meanwhile, are generally chosen for the quality of their songs. Any argument about our composers is always about their songs, in stark contrast to how discussions about international composers are always about their scores. Mysskin’s last film, Pisaasu, was a wonderful affirmation that good stories don’t need song breaks. But how many truly know about the man who composed music for the film? Arrol Corelli, the composer, is also the man behind the violin flourishes in Thupparivaalan. But Arrol doesn’t have his Kolaveri Di yet, and so, nobody’s heralding him as the next big thing in Tamil cinema. It’s a tragedy. And if this situation were in a big budget Tamil film, this is around when you could take out your cigarette packet, for this is usually considered perfect placement for a TASMAC song.

This column was originally written for The New Indian Express.  All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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