It’s a film soundtrack… a call for revolution… Rajinikanth’s political campaign for Tamil Nadu chief ministership in verse form: take your pick.
Santosh Narayanan’s nine songs for Pa Ranjith’s Kaala are as politically loaded as the movie itself. Four of the tracks are outright protest songs, with lyrics that make a case for overthrowing decades-old oppression and rising up in revolt. Of the remaining five, two songs talk of an impending revolt. It’s stirring stuff, not quite of the singalong variety.
Rajinikanth plays a Robin Hood-esque don from Mumbai’s Dharavi neighbourhood in the June 7 release. Kaala marks Ranjith’s second collaboration with Rajinikanth after the equally politically loaded Kabali (2016). The teaser for Kaala quotes a line from the track Katravai Patravai: “A thousand years of silence is enough. Organise, make change, revolt.”
The dream of a revolution is reiterated in Semma Weightu, which was released on May Day. The song celebrates the ferocity of Rajinikanth’s Kaala Seth, the guardian angel of Dharavi, while also singing praises of the unity among the working class. Narayanan’s use of rap and hip-hop create a memorable and groovy tune.
Urimaiyai Meetpom, sung by a full-throated Vijay Prakash and Ananthu, with lyrics by Arivu, questions the establishment about the source of its power. “Our land is our right, get up and join us, don’t be scared to ask counter questions,” declares the chorus as the song builds up the tempo using the dholak and the table.
Poraduvom, sung by rapper Dopeadelicz, argues that people have been blindsided by false assurances. An uprising is inevitable, Dopeadelicz raps to a rhythm inspired by the sound of a ticking clock. The song even makes room for Marathi and Hindi rap, which reflects the numerous communities and languages that exist within Dharavi. The Marathi lyrics point to the state of things, and not only in Dharavi: “People sweat it out, but their money is wasted; traders have entered the fray; people fall for false advertisements; the youth has no work…Drought and then scams took the lives of farmers, the arm of the law is long.”
Theruvilakku uses the metaphor of a streetlight to talk about the power of the common people. The luminosity offered by a streetlight alone is enough for a revolution, argue rappers Dopeadelicz and Logan. Sung in the rustic voices of Dopeadelicz and Muthamil, the song is addressed to those who dare to doubt the power of the masses: “We are the ones that have reposed our faith in our labour, we are not the caste that follows the caste system.” Narayanan uses a simple drum beat to keep the lyrics company, keeping the instrumental interludes to the minimum.
The “Neruppu Da” (He is Fire) catchphrase from Kabaali is revisited and given a makeover in Nikkal Nikkal, sung by Dopeadelicz, Vivek and Arunraja Kamaraj. The song speaks to power with one message: get out. Neruppa Da becomes “Kelambu Da” (Get Going) with a Hindi chorus, nikal nikal chal tere. Narayanan uses Indian percussion instruments to make the song more robust and hard-hitting.
Narayanan has composed the music for all of Ranjith’s films, right from his debut Attakathi (2012). As is the norm for most composers creating music for Rajinikanth’s films, Narayanan creates tracks that are dedicated to the style and image of the star while also addressing Kalaa’s call to arms.
Both Katravai Patravai and Semma Weightu attempt to strike a balance between praising Rajinikanth and reflecting the movie’s themes of rebellion and revolt. Katravai Patravai is similar both in its structure and function to the Kabaali title track (including the whistling). Semma Weightu resembles Ulagam Oruvannukku. They sound snazzy for sure, but also sound familiar.
Except in the romantic song Kannamma, female voices are missing from the soundtrack. Kannamma is sung by Ananthu, but makes room for Dhee’s female voice. Ananthu sang Mayanadhi in Kabaali, but Kannamma isn’t quite as soulful and striking.
In Kaala, Narayanan sets aside the trademark quirkiness heard in the tracks Kasu Panam and Come Na Come from Soodhu Kavvum and Dingu Dongu from Jigarthanda, which wove together the message and the tune in an interesting package. The lone song offering something different in a largely homogeneous album is Thanga Sela, sung by Shankar Mahadevan, Pradeep Kumar and Ananthu. Narayanan’s ability to use folk tunes well is best heard in this song sung by Rajinikanth’s character to his wife (Eshwari) about her indispensability. The chorus Thilla Tangu Tangu recalls Vijaykanth’s track from Therkathi Kallan (1988) and Paravai Muniyamma’s rendition of the same line in Dhool’s Madhuraveerathane.