A Song in Perspective

Film music in India is a genre by itself. Songs are a uniquely Indian style of narration in movies. That is just as well. Imagine how much poorer our leisure hours would have been otherwise. The lyrics of many Indian film songs are fine poetry. That is not surprising because many lyricists in different Indian languages are also renowned poets. This is true of Malayalam film music too as it has been especially enriched by the work of lyricists who are also poets of outstanding genius. Vayalar, P. Bhaskaran, O. N. V. Kurup, Yusufali Kechery, Rafeeq Ahamed are the names that come to mind immediately, though there are many others.

So, this week, here is a lovely song.

Please listen to it first before you read on. It is beautiful not just because the lines written by famous Malayalam poet Rafeeq Ahamed are exquisite poetry but also because the tune composed by Shahbaz Aman enhances the sentiments the lines speak of and the orchestration blends seamlessly with these not to speak of the singer Unni Menon whose resonant voice makes the song truly poignant.

This song ‘Maranamethunna Nerathu’ – ‘When Death Comes Calling’ – is from the movie ‘Spirit’ (2012) directed by Ranjith. The film tells the story of an alcoholic journalist and the ‘spirit’ that threatens to drown him. One of the highlights of the film was a sterling performance by actor Nandhu who portrayed an alcoholic plumber called Maniyan. This particular song occurs in the film after the death of a talented young poet, Sameer, (played by Siddarth Bharathan) a friend of the protagonist, Raghunandan (played by Mohanlal) who succumbs to complications arising out of alcoholism. It marks a turning point in the narrative an epiphanic moment for the protagonist when he realises what he is heading towards. In the story, the song is the last one penned by Sameer, the poet.

When death comes calling, please sit by me awhile, the poet tells his love. He wants her by his side so that his fingers deadened from gathering embers may cease for the last time after they caress her. He wants her beside him so that the last gasp of air he draws in is redolent with her fragrance and his eyes that never need open again will have her face submerged within before they finally close and his ears may seal with the sound of her voice.

The dying man requests his love to sit by his side so that her presence may bring the rain of unfading memories of her and his mind that is aflame with knowing and remembering may green over in the shower of these. His lips are a kiss-wound that will heal close if he chants the sweet prayer of her name. He yearns for her presence by him so that the cold may creep up his feet as they remember the countless walkways to her. He is sure that if she is beside him, then he will rise again from the very dirt that buries him; a fresh blade of grass.

There is a strong sense of regret throughout the song. But the regret is not bitter. It is one of calm acceptance. We know he has not been good to her, that he has strayed away and been unfaithful and hurtful. Life has thrown many experiences at him and that is why his head is aflame with ‘knowing and remembering’. And now as life is ebbing away he wants her to know how much she means to him.

The outstanding poetry of the lines is enhanced by restrained music and the soulful singing by Unni Menon whose rich voice is always a pleasure to hear.

We love different songs for different reasons. Some for the poetry, some for the music, some for the singing. This is a song where all three have blended perfectly. The language is very simple Malayalam, crisp and spare; no word acrobatics there. The music too is minimal just the piano, strings and the soft rhythm perhaps a tambouri. The singer has sung it with a great degree of restraint not putting any unnecessary emotion into his voice. And the result is spectacular.

Listening to this song puts things in perspective. It reminds us of our mortality and permanence at the same time. We die. We blend into the earth and the air. We rise again, a fresh green blade of grass. Life goes on.

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