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He was an invincible composer South India has never witnessed till then. Nearly every producer, director, actor or a technician dreamt of working with at least one film with him. People used to wait for hours to hear his new release songs on the radio. They used to wait crazily for his new album cassette to be released so that it could be brought home and hear it until the tape wears off! If a new project of his is announced, people used to wait for it to be released. Some even used to watch a flop film just because he scored music for it. The households, restaurants, streets, buses- literally the whole of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh reverberated with his songs for the entire decade of 80s and early 90s. He is none other than Isaignani Maestro Ilaiyaraaja!

The Raja's Reign..

Everybody knows the rise of Ilaiyaraaja as a composer and the wonders he created during the decade of 80s in Telugu Cinema. His presence gave a new and fresh look to the world of music as he introduced new international genres like Jazz, Pop, Electronic Sounds for the first time in Telugu Cinema without tampering the melodic aspect of the composition. He knew the magic of re-recording and the impact it would create to elevate a scene. Till then, composers used violin for a sad sequence and sitar for a happy sequence. But Ilaiyaraaja turned the tables by using unusual instruments for unlikely sequences- yet creating the impact. Being a spiritual devotee of Ramana Maharshi, he knew the value of silence and how brilliantly it would impact a scene or a composition.  People embraced Ilaiyaraaja as their own in Telugu, as his music in Telugu never had the flavor of Tamil Nadu where he resides from. He became one of us by giving the most rustic folk track pertaining to local areas of AP with fantastic ease.

He created symphony in a tragedy song "Oh Priya Priya..." in Geethanjali and gave raw massy numbers such as "Abbanee Teeyanee.." (Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari) for which Chiranjeevi’s steps rocked the audience of that era. Maestro Ilaiyaraaja could take the audience in time travel journey for the first time, with superior background score in an experimental film like Aditya 369. Telugu People are highly fortunate to get such phenomenal work from him,  though less in number- every album has a unique Telugu flavor and not to forget; out of three national awards he got, two of them are for his work in Telugu (Sagara Sangamam and Rudraveena). People danced, cried, felt aggressive, stunned- literally went through every emotion a person can experience in their lifetime.

It's Just Break Time...

Things started changing in the mid 90s when new talents started propping up and the advent of modern sounds, and techno music becoming the front seat. Younger composers came up with fresher tunes and new orchestration and Ilaiyaraaja did not fade away but decided to take a break from his nonstop composing work. He was doing few films occasionally in Tamil but in Telugu his work was for a hiatus. Some critics started saying Ilaiyaraaja has lost his touch and some went aboard saying it is high time he retires.

But he came up with Krishna Vamshi’s defining film Antahpuram (1997) which shocked the audience in every respect. The compositions looked completely fresh and novel and it simply meant Ilaiyaraaja has rediscovered his style of composing. As he always says “ No composition should remind the listener of an earlier work. Despite having an inspiration, it should sound as unique as a streaming flow of a river”, the same philosophy reflected in his modern songs. No Telugu audience can forget the evergreen female solo ‘Asalem Gurthukuraadhu’ from the film sung brilliantly by Chitra.

The New Age Ilaiyaraaja:

The New Age Ilaiyaraaja continued to make wonders in Tamil Nadu with some stunning albums in post 2000s era as well but he came up with a great melodious devotional album Sri Rama Rajyam (2011) directed by Bapu. It was indeed a challenge to record background score for a mythological film which had its comparison with original but he gave amazing western classical pieces elevating every scene in the film. The composition "Jagadananda Kaaraka..." is heard in almost every temple and household even till date.  His association with Prakash Raj began with Dhoni (2012) a film which had some thought provoking music and amazing background score.

Completely contrasting to this, he scored for Gautham Menon’s feel good love story Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu which had completely modern compositions.  He recorded these songs in London along with the prestigious symphony- thereby redefining the way love melodies can be composed. Yedhi Yedhi became the most laid back melodious hit of that year.  Next arrived Gundello Godari, a rustic social movie which had some fresh folk styled tunes as well.

Now, Maestro Ilaiyaraaja has composed for Prakash Raj’s Ulavacharu Biryani which has some very interesting tracks. He made the energetic powerhouse Kailash Kher sing a song relating to the food of Andhra Pradesh with great ease. He is currently busy working for Gunasekhar’s Rudramadevi next.

There is literally no rise and fall for composers like Ilaiyaraaja. They never fall back and get short in innovation relating to music. They only rediscover and come forward with something new to enthrall the audience with their superior composing skills. wishes Maestro Ilaiyaraaja a very happy birthday and a musically rich year ahead!

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