Ilaiyaraja-Mani Ratnam was a dream combination in the late 1980s that produced so many hit films namely Mouna Ragam, Agni Natchthiram, Nayagan and Thalapathy. Ilaiyaraja is undisputedly one of the best in the world when it comes to background scores.
Mani Rathnam, recalling his experience of working with Raja, says, “Ilayaraja would look at the scene once, and immediately start giving notes to his assistants, as a bunch of musicians, hovering around him, would collect the notes for their instrument and go to their places. When the orchestra played out the notes, they would be perfect, not just in harmony but also in timing – the background score would commence exactly where it should and end at the exact place required.”
Here are some of the scenes from Manirathnam movies that are popular for the background score:
Rajini and Srividhya inside a Temple, Thalapathy (1991):
Without any dialogues exchanged, Manirathnam, Ilayaraja, Rajnikanth and Santhosh Sivan have pulled off a brilliant scene. Rajini’s character is likened to Karna in Mahabharatha, where the mother, Srividya, abandons her first child (Rajni) on a train immediately after his birth.
In this scene, Rajini and Srividya are inside a temple, flanking either sides of a pillar, both oblivious of the umbilical cord that once bound them. As they hear the train horn, both Rajni and Srividya turn towards it with a longing etched in their faces with Jai Shankar haplessly watching this juxtapositioning. Raja waits for the longing to reach a tipping before the Chinna Thayaval flute begins and leaves a lump in our throats.
Kamal visits his daughter’s house, Nayagan (1987):
His friend’s arrest leaves Kamal Haasan miffed. He invades the ‘Police commissioner’’s (Nasser) house to warn him about this. It turns out that his daughter, Karthika, who left home unable to put up with her unruly father, is married to Nasser. Raja has waited until Kamal fully absorbs the shock of seeing his daughter wedded to the Police commissioner before starting with the Nadaswaram-bit. Listen the background score as Kamal Haasan’s face veers from excitement to bafflement to embarrassment to disappointment as Karthika asks him to leave the place before her son comes to know about his evil grandfather.
Karthik returns Revathi’s chain, Mouna Ragam (1986):
Mouna Ragam Karthik was the heartthrob of so many teenage girls in the 1980s. The movie was famous for the chemistry Karthik and Revathi shared on-screen, the screen-play and Ilayaraja’s music. In this scene, Karthik visits Revathi’s college to return her chain which she had used to take him out in bail. The background score begins with cute piano-bit and after a pause, it continues and captures the mood brilliantly as Karthik tells Revathi that he likes her and Revathi is left bewildered.
Kamal visits a red-light area, Nayagan (1987):
Kamal Haasan visits a red-light area in Bombay. He decides to leave the place as he finds out that the prostitute is a school-girl. Saranya, who plays the prostitute’s role, requests not to for she had to prepare for her exams the next day. Listen to the strings in the background that captures the mood of the scene after Kamal lets her study the entire night. Yet another Manirathnam-Ilayaraja scene with minimum dialogues and the latter shows why he’s the king of background score.
Rajini and Shobana break-up, Thalapathy (1991):
Shobana, who hails from a conventional background falls in love with Rajnikanth, but decides to part-ways with him and marry the District Collector in order to keep her parents happy. As she leaves an angry Rajni, who warns her to leave the place and yet wishes her good luck, soothing strings, predominantly based on Kalyani and an excerpt from Sundari kannal oru seidhi, accompanies the emotion beginning with “naan unnai neenga mattaen” as if to remind us of the white lies and the empty promises they once exchanged as lovers. Interestingly the flute-bit takes over in ‘kannal oru seidhi’ after the strings culminate in Sundari. A sad solo-violin is played in the background when they meet again after Shobana’s marriage toying with our goosebumps.