Ilaiyaraja reprised – Same tune, different language…

A few days back, the FM channel was blaring “old” songs from the 80s and 90s – some passable tunes and some not-so-bearable. And then a familiar, much-forgotten tune wafted through the sound waves – bringing with it memories long forgotten; something seemed wrong to me. Here was an extremely popular Tamil song (from a movie that is remembered even today – for Rajnikanth and Sridevi’s stellar performances), being reused in Hindi and the result was good but the original was definitely much better! It shouldn’t have been a surprise – the 90s did see a lot of such “inspired”/ plagiarised songs, especially in the case of someone as prolific as as the legendary Ilaiyaraja. However, the difference in this case was that the music director Ilaiyaraja used his older tune in a different film, different language and different context. Not new at all in Hindi music. S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman and Salil Choudhary have reused their Bangla tunes in Hindi to much success – examples are aplenty – and require another list altogether.

Here is a list of Ilaiyaraja songs –  songs from Tamil and Kannada that have been reused/ recreated or blatantly lifted in Hindi cinema. I restricted myself to songs in just these two languages and to songs from either the late 70s or 80s. No song, as in the original version, in this list is post that.

Also, having grown up in the North, I haven’t watched that many Tamil/Kannada movies – just the rare ones that DD showed on Sunday afternoon or the video cassette that would be sourced once in a while from the local South Indian store. So while I have heard these songs a million number of times, I haven’t watched these movies – of course the Mani Ratnam movies are an exception.  Considering these are mainly from the 70s and 80s, the picturisation is not all that great and where I felt it took away from the song/ music, I have included only the audio version.

  1. Kaathal Oviyam (Tamil, Alaigal Oivathillai, 1981) : Released in 1981, Alaigal Oivathillai was a blockbuster movie directed by the legendary Bharathiraja. It was also the debut movie of the lead pair, Karthik and Radha, who went on to make their mark in Tamil cinema. Karthik went on to become quite the heartthrob of the 1980s starring in Mani Ratnam classics such as Mouna Raagam (1986) and Agni Natchathiram. What is interesting is that all the songs of this movie are popular and have been reused in either Tamil cinema or in Hindi cinema. This song, sung by Ilaiyaraja and Jency, makes an appearance in Hindi cinema in a tele-film in the 1990s. Balu Mahendra remade his Kannada hit, Kokila (1977), as a tele-film Aur ek prem kahani (1996), he got Ilaiyaraja to reprise some of his old tunes. This one becomes the plaintive Asha Bhosle ditty, Meri Zindagi. Gone are the opening notes of the Tamil number (shloka followed by the church bells, indicative of the Hindu-Christian plot line) – the music is different, lyrics and language are different, but the tune is the same. In a way, it is a whole new song!
  2. Jotheyali jotheyali (Kannada, Geetha, 1981): This song, starring one of Kannada cinema’s most talented actors, Shankar Nag (Anant Nag’s younger brother), is an absolute masterpiece. Still extremely popular, 38 years after its release, this timeless tune (sung by SPB and S. Janaki) that has been remade in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi is one of Kannada cinema’s best songs!  In a televised tribute to  Ilaiyaraja on his 68th birthday, the ad-film maker turned director, R.Balki, who considers him the greatest composer in the world said that since only one-half of the country has heard the maestro’s compositions. To rectify this and to bring some of Ilaiyaraja’s best compositions to a wider audience, he selected 4 of the maestro’s tunes  and requested him to “recreate” them for his movie Cheeni Kum (2007). This was one of the songs chosen and the end result, the playful, Jaane do na.
  3. Izhaya nila pozhigirathey (Tamil, Payanangal Mudivathilai, 1982); An all-time classic, this lovely SPB solo is said to have been okayed by the music director on the 25th take during recording – it was then that the guitarist got the interludes` absolutely right! The song found its way into Hindi cinema the very next year – when it was “borrowed” by Kalyanji-Anandji for the movie’s remake/ copy and remains popular till date – Neele neele ambar (Kalakaar, 1983).
  4. Thoongatha vizhigal renda (Tamil, Agni Natchathiram, 1988): This sensuous duet based on the Carnatic raga, Amrithavarshini, and sung by Yesudas and S. Janaki is from one of my favourite Tamil movies. Directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Prabhu, Karthik and Amala, Agni Natchathiram was a super-duper hit back then. Each of its songs is an absolute masterpiece. When this movie was remade/ copied in Hindi as Vansh, this song became a melodious Main toh deewani hui!
  5. Mandram vandha thendrulukku (Tamil, Mouna Raagam, 1986): What can I say about this Mani Ratnam classic? I watched Mouna Raagam in the late 80s when Doordarshan telecast it on a Sunday afternoon and the next day to my surprise, many of my classmates in school had watched it too and were blown away. Recess that day was spent discussing and marvelling over this movie. (Ok, ok, we were drooling over Karthik!) Mouna Raagam remains one of Ratnam’s best movies till date and he has so many more to his credit since! This song was one of the 4 tunes picked by R. Balki and the Hindi song is equally popular too: the title track of Cheeni Kum (2007)
  6. Naguva Nayana (Kannada, Pallavi Anupallavi, 1984): Another super popular Kannada song from Mani Ratnam’s debut movie starring Anil Kapoor, Lakshmi and Kiran Vairale. One of my favourites, not just because of the tune, but because it shows Bangalore in all its beauty (and the way I remember it!) R. Balki requested Ilaiyaraja and the film makers for permission when he used it in an ad film he made in 2008. The ad was that of Idea Cellular – it is a popular tune.
  7. Thenpandi cheemayilai (Tamil, Nayakan, 1987): This one is from Mani Ratnam’s collaboration with Kamal Haasan – the gangster classic, Nayakan, that was based on the life of the Bombay don, Varadarajan Mudaliar. Nayakan has been voted as one of the greatest movies of all-time. It promptly was remade in Hindi, the very next year after its release. Dayavan (1988), starring Vinod Khanna, Feroz Khan and Madhuri Dixit, is probably remembered now for some scenes between Vinod Khanna and Madhuri Dixit, if at all. Some of the songs were direct lifts too – and sorry to say, they were butchered. Especially this number sung both by Ilaiyaraja and Kamal Haasan, which plays through the film. I cringe each time I hear the Hindi version, the Mohd Aziz song, Dil tera kisne toda

This is in no way a comprehensive or a complete list – there are so many more tunes of his that have crept into Hindi cinema. An example is Dhak dhak karne laga (Beta, 1992) which was a direct lift of the Telugu song, Abbani Tiyyani (Jagadeeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari). 

Or pick any Anand-Milind song of the 90s, and you may just find its inspiration in a Telugu / Tamil song. These haven’t been included as these are post my cut-off date, and also mostly they are in Telugu (and I am not too familiar with that language).

Making this list was personally a satisfying experience – I got to hear so many of the maestro’s compositions. A musician par excellence who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan earlier this year, Ilaiyaraaja is a living legend and simply matchless!

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