Karnan brings together two different musical worlds

Santhosh Narayanan’s rousing score and songs add to the sense of rebellion in Dhanush-starrer Karnan

Karnan inhabits two different musical worlds. One is rooted in Tamil culture and brings forth the musicality of the land that its creator (director Mari Selvaraj) largely grew up in and drew inspiration from. The other is the score provided by FAME’s Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra, one that alternately nosedives and takes off in a musical sense.

The soundtrack employs both these worlds to a considerable extent to accentuate the mood of the sequences; if musical pauses and the orchestra’s sustained notes are used to describe everyday life in ‘Podiyankulam’ and ‘Podiyankulam makkal’, there’s a boisterous joie de vivre in the folksy ‘Karnan aattam’.

“We were confident that the idea of having Tamil folk artistes and a full-fledged orchestra in the same film would work,” says composer Santhosh Narayanan. “What was most satisfying was that they were both in their rooted space.”

The use of melam

Santhosh’s music stands out in modern Tamil cinema as he uses several unique voices and traditional instruments, with Karnan just a recent example of this. For instance, the trending ‘Kandaa vara sollunga’ makes ample use of folk artiste Kidakkuzhi Mariyammal’s rustic vocal artistry. The film also features popular music composer Deva and Reetha Anthony singing an oppari that has stirring lyrics by Yugabharathi (‘Cholerannu vandha noyi, Yeman kannedhire thinnuduche…’). There’s also the melodious ‘Thattaan thattaan’ and the motivational ‘Uthrathenga’. The album also features some not-so-often heard instruments such as the pambai, thudumbu, and urumi among others.

A scene from Karnan  

The people behind the unique rustic sounds you hear in Karnan mostly belong to the Ramanathapuram Marungan Melam team. “Marungan aiyah is the greatest nagaswaram player I have ever heard. These folk artistes are in extreme financial stress, but they still sculpt their own instruments and dedicate their entire lives to the art form. When they all play together, there’s a lot of energy and passion in their music, and we have tried our best to capture that for Karnan,” says Santhosh.

The film and its music are deeply inspired by the setting — a village in the interior of Tamil Nadu that doesn’t even have a bus stop of its own — and depicts what director Mari Selvaraj himself experienced in his youth. “We grow up with certain cultural references but we need empathy to understand other people,” says Santhosh. “Our world is not restricted to the few hundreds we know. When Mari (Selvaraj) met me and narrated his story, I realised how his need has always been about sustenance. When I convert his ideas into music, it needs to come from his point of view. Mari gives certain key tweaks in this aspect; for instance, I had composed the interval block sequence as two separate segments, but he insisted that it be one long musical piece.”

Songs of death

Another feature of the sound track is the use of oppari, a musical outpouring of lament and grief at a funeral. If the Mari Selvaraj-Santhosh Narayan combination designed ‘Karuppi’ in their previous film Pariyerum Perumal as a tribute to a dead dog, here they come up with the evocative ‘Manjanathi puranam’, a number in which you can feel singer Deva’s lament.

“There are several forms of oppari, but cinema largely uses only one format. At times, there’s even some dark humour in it. This art form is not just about death, it is also about life in many ways. I feel it works well as a metaphor in Karnan and integrates well with the other styles of music. Even ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ (Santhosh’s superhit indie track featuring Dhee and Arivu) had an oppari element.” That oppari co-exists with an orchestra speaks volumes about the musical variety in Karnan, and foretells an interesting future for Tamil film music.

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