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Viral harmony


A new Tamil song by the Mozart of Madras is burning up the internet. TOI-Crest finds out why this achy melody has become a sensation.

A Tamil song gone viral is not always great news musically - it is usually wacky, raucous stuff that might tickle your funny bone and set your feet tapping. But last weekend Shakthisree Gopalan, a slender young Chennai singer, perched on a high stool at the studios of MTV Unplugged with AR Rahman by her side, broke the mould.

As the mellow notes of ARR's accordion twinkle away, she starts singing in a voice that is at once easy and earthy: Nenjukulle omma mudunjirukaen (I have tied you up in my heart). There is some spartan and delicate guitar and violin work alongside the song but it never overshadows the voice and right up until the song winds down, you have no choice but to listen. If you follow the lyrics it is an achy song of love, if you don't you are floored anyway by the pull of the melody.

Nenjukulle is the first song from ARR's score from Mani Ratnam's next work, Kadal, to be revealed in the public domain. That it would click was predictable, what no one anticipated was the song becoming a viral hit on social networking and video sharing sites. It had overwhelmed fans admitting coarsely to 'raping' the replay button.

"This song is the essential Rahman we all knew and loved, you hear the nuancing and the layering that are his hallmark, " says classical pianist and ARR watcher Anil Srinivasan explaining its unprecedented popularity. The composer who has had several ups and lows in his creative graph, has been in pretty decent form lately, with Rockstar delivering some great songs and the buzz over upcoming Jab Tak Hai Jaan. But this song is reminiscent of his early works, Uyire and Chinna Chinna, with basic and subtle melodies. And as a lot of fans believe, he always reserves his best for mentor Ratnam, especially when he teams up with the raw power of Vairamuthu's lyrics.
Rahman's own Twitter response to the flood of incoherent compliments was uncharacteristically ebullient: "OMG. . . OMG. . . Didn't expect such kind of remarks for our MTV Unplugged event. . . "

But the one who can't believe the unending tide of accolades is young Gopalan, a fairly well-known face in Chennai's small indie music circle who holds a day job as an architect. "I didn't see this coming. To share screen and
musical space with Rahman sir itself was a big deal. I thought it would create a buzz and fade away. When the bubble grew I thought it would burst soon. But it hasn't !"

Gopalan has for a while now been doing background vocals for Rahman, one among the many bright singers who embellish the periphery of his musical world. Then one day he walked up to her and asked: "Would you like to sing?" "All I could say was 'Yah!'" recalls the singer.

It is not an easy song though it sounds effortless. "It was a tricky. If you hear it closely, it is breathless in phases but that is the beauty of it. It is about a girl who is madly, head over heels in love. And that breathless effect worked to convey that, " she says. Rahman himself had only instruction: When you sing just feel this overwhelming love and longing. Keep it subtle and sing it like it is your own song.

Flautist Naveen Iyer, a regular in Rahman songs including Nenjukulle, says he was sceptical about the song's popular appeal though he himself thought it was fabulous. "I loved its musicality. But the chords and arrangements are very complex and novel. I wasn't sure listeners would accept it but I am happy I was wrong, " he says.

The song's success is bound to catapult Gopalan into the big league. Once a part of the rock band Off the Record (" I am now off the record, " Gopalan jokes), she is now with Pajama Conspiracy, a four-piece Chennai band that plays easy listening music.

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