When Legends Compete – Vairamuthu and Gulzar

I had the good luck of spending the New Year eve with two most amazing people I knew. Our discussions ranged from newly released best seller (It was termed best seller even before it got released; don’t ask me how) to movies to complicated medical procedures. The crowd in Pondicherry for New year is unbelievable. We had to hire a cab to reach Chennai as we didn’t get seat in the bus. The car stereo was playing a song which released few years back. It all started when my friend started talking about one of the similes used in the song. It shouldn’t have been used because it was not a simile at all or the poet wanted to use. It felt more like filler. It reminded of one of the most epic battles I have ever enjoyed between two great lyricists of our time.
It was between Gulzar and Vairamuthu where Mani Rathnam and A.R. Rahman had reaped the full benefits of the sportive rivalry. Now you would have guessed the movie. Yes. It is Dil Se/Uyire.
Gulzar took the lead in the game with the opening song “Chaiyya Chaiyaa”. The song starts when the hero had seen a girl in a railway station. It is love at first sight. Our guy cannot contain his excitement and it comes out as a song. The song starts like this in Hindi
“Jiske sar ho ishq ki chaaon; Paav ke neeche Jannat Hogi” which means “Whoever is walking in the shade of love has paradise beneath their feet”. Vairamuthu’s version of “Kaattu Vazhiyae Un Karichaan Kuruvigalaa; Paathakathi Kaathirukkaa Manasa Ariveegalaa” which means “Oh travelling bird, can you tell me what the girl I saw had in mind when I saw her?”
Gulzar – 1 ; Vairamuthu – 0
The second song is Jiya Jale / Nenjinile. The competition just gets intense from here. Inspired by Urdu couplets where some phrases get repeats again and again in a song adding to the beauty of the song, the Hindi lyrics of the song, uses that technique. Vairamuthu should have lit up like Sehwag seeing a full ball bowled off side.
The first stanza of the song in Hindi goes like this,
Dekhte hain tan mera; Mann mein chubhti hain nazar
Honth sil jaate unke; Narm honthon se magar
Ginti rahatii huun main apni karvaton ke silasile
Kya karun, Kaise kahun; Raat kab kaise dhale
When he looks at my body, it pricks (tickles) my heart.
But still our lips entwine all the same
I keep counting on number of times, I tossed and turned.
What should I do? How should I tell? When will this night end?
In Tamil.
oarap paarvai veesuvaan uyirin kayiril avizhumae
sevvidhazh varudumboadhu thaegaththangam urugumae
ulagin oasai adangumboadhu uyirin oasai thodangumae
vaannilaa naanumae mugilizhuththuk kan moodumae
He glances from the side of his eye and it unties the thread that held me together
When his lips caress mine, I melt like gold in contact with fire
When the sounds subside outside, our bodies start making noise
The moon gets shy and envelopes her eyes with clouds.
Clearly Vairamuthu – 1 and Gulzar – 1

Now the intensity of the competitions is in a whole new level. Then comes one of the most loved songs of Nineties Indian Music. Kanneere/Dil Se Re.

This time, both of them saw the situation from their perspective. Gulzar being close to the terrain where the movie is set gave a more relatable song for Hindi Audience. Given the free hand Vairamuthu blasted all balls to boundary with this song. That is why, I feel, in spite of the magic of A.R. Rahman the song is still remembered for its lyrics.
Lets see how both these poets expressed a similar feeling differently in their own way

Gam Dil Ke Pak Chulbule Hain
Paani Ke Ye Bulbule Hain
Bujhte Hain Bate Rehte Hain
The pain of our heart is mischevious
They are like bubbles in the water
They extinguish and then form again
Vairamuthu makes it a bit personal.
Unnodu Naan Kanda Bantham
Mannodu Mazhai Kønda Šontham
Kaainthaalum Athil eeram Mijum
Our relationship is like Rain and Moisture
Even when the surface dries, it is still wet down under.

This song ends in a tie.
Then comes the song which was immortalized in the minds of people who missed their spouses when they went to their Mother’s place or college friends who just drifted apart, people who got job in a distant land and was waiting outside telephone booth after ten PM to talk in half rate to their loved ones. Yes.. It is Ae Ajnabi/ Poongatrile.
Personally I like the Tamil version better. But lets not get my judgement in the way. The girl is a terrorist (it is safe to give away spoilers because it is almost 20 years since the movie released). The guy is from a radio station. He broadcasts a song which speaks his mind and touches the woman. She is overwhelmed by the song and switches off the radio for a second, coming back to reality for a second and then switches it on in hope of having that rendezvous atleast in her mind. Lets see how Gulzar said it.
Roz roz resham si hawa aate jaate kehti hai bata
Resham si hawa kehti hai bata
Vo jo doodh dhuli masoom kali
Vo hai kahan kahan hai
Vo roshni kahan hai vo jaansi kahan hai
Main adhoora tu adhoori jee rahein hain
Day in and day out
The silken air brushes against me
and asks
Where is she-
That angelic, innocent bud
That glow, that glitter
That breath of your life?
Look how incomplete I am-
How incomplete you must be too
And then there is Vairamuthu. He sees that our guy is a radio station guy and gets the whole visual in his disposal. May be the storyboard drawings or Mani Ratnam explained his scenes to him. I don’t know how he pulled it off. But here are the lyrics.
Kaatrin Alai Varisai Kaetkindrathaa
Kaetkum Paattil Oru Uyir Vidum Kanneer Valikindrathaa
Nenju Nanaigindrathaa
Ithayam Karugum Oru Vaasam Varukirathaa
Kaatril Kanneerai Aetri
Kavithai Chendaenai Ootri
Kanne Un Vaasal Saerthaen
Oayum Jeevan Oadum Munne Oadoadi Vaa..
Do you see the frequency in the wind (pun)
Do you feel the tear of a soul in the song you are listening to.
Does it drench your heart?
Do you smell the heart which is slowly burning?
I uploaded my tears in the wind, and added some words to you it
And tried to bring it to your living room.
Before my life extinguish, please do come and see me.
If you see the video, when the stanza starts Manisha starts walking towards the room where the radio is. She sits and listens to the song and just before the last line, she turns off the radio. Such a poetic making.
So in MY scorecard Vairamuthu – 1 and Gulzar – 0. Partly because in Hindi version there are some words which don’t fit exactly to the tune and repetitions.

Satrangi Re.
This song demands a separate post. (I wrote a book in the same theme). But I feel that Vairamuthu was caught off guard. The theme of the song is based on sufi stages of love. The song was pictured depicting seven colors and also the seven stages of love which is very foreign to Tamil audience. It is like asking Gulzar to write a song about Jallikattu. Knowing the intensity of the song and what it means to the movie, Vairamuthu wrote an article in Ananda Vikatan before the movie release just about this song. The audio become a hit, but the video made little sense to people down south. May be Kishor can do a video about this song.
Vairamuthu – 0 ; Gulzar – 1.
It is sad that we don’t get to see such lyrics anymore and we listen to some beautiful songs here and there. Thanks to Mani Rathman and A.R. Rahman, the competition is still alive. When they came back again in Raavan Vairamuthu won it hands down with “Usure Poguthey” compared to “Behne De”. Let us wait for the masters to come back again with some great songs to enthral us.