Shankar Mahadevan’s voice has a distinctive quality to it – it tends to fill the ears and embody a kind of surround sound quality.
Among the first times Mahadevan’s voice boomed through the screen was when hairstylist Deva (Prabhudeva) cries his heart out in the song Vennilave Vennilave in Rajiv Menon’s 1997 romantic drama Minsaara Kanavu. (The happier version was sung by Hariharan). Music composer AR Rahman knew that Mahadevan’s resonant and full-throttle singing would work perfectly for a moment of heartbreak. Mahadevan’s ability to hold higher and lower notes with equal strength and depth was remarkable.
Rahman has given Mahadevan some of the most memorable tracks of his multi-faceted career – Varaha Nadhikkarai Oram from Sangamam (1999), Uppu Karuvadu from Mudhalvan (1999), September Maadham from Alaipayuthey (2000), Thaniye from Rhythm (2000), the title track of Thenali (2000). These tracks highlight the classically-trained yet playback-ready voice of Mahadevan, who had by then established himself as a acclaimed composer along with Ehsan Noorani and Loy Mendosa and a versatile, multi-lingual singer.
The song that brought out the best of both Mahadevan as well as Rahman is from 2000, and is again from a Rajiv Menon film. Rahman composed Yenna Solla Pogirai from Kandukondain Kandukondain in Misra Kirvani raga and set it to a haunting rhythm with fascinating instrumental interludes. Menon visualised the song against the pyramids of Giza, which allows Mahadevan’s voice to echo and reverberate among the ancient monuments. Ajith and Tabu, dressed in Rajasthani outfits, convincingly play passionate lovers yearning to be together.
Yenna Solla Pogirai is the theme song of Manohar (Ajith) and Soumya (Tabu) in Kandukondain Kandukondain. Snatches of the song appear right from the moment when Manohar sets his eyes on Soumya. She mistakes him to be her prospective groom and agrees to the alliance. Manohar, an aspiring filmmaker, has come to ask if Soumya’s house can be rented out for a film shoot, and he feels sorry when Soumya realises the embarrassing truth. But it is love at first sight for both: he realises it, she is reluctant to admit it.
After they run into each other a couple of times, a determined Manohar confronts Soumya and asks her if she feels the same way as he does. Soumya mumbles a no, at which point Manohar breaks into Yenna Solla Pogirai.
The song begins with Mahadevan’s two-line solo before the instruments kick in. His voice matches Ajith’s searching and intense eyes as he asks Soumya what her final answer is going to be. In true filmmaker style, Manohar slips into a dream sequence in which they are star-crossed lovers in a desert. By the end, Soumya does give her consent to Manohar. Who would possibly turn down such a passionately sung proposal?
Mahadevan won a National Film Award for the track.