Is there any raag like Maand to express love and longing? The question is rhetorical for film music composers across languages who have used this raag to create a staggering variety of tunes.

The raag’s characteristics give composers with the freedom to mould its framework according to the situation. Maand is remarkably flexible, working for both joyous and tragic moments. Whether the characters are together or apart, ecstatic or pained, Maand conveys all the hues.

Perhaps the most recognisable exploration of Maand in Tamil cinema is from the song Masila Nilave Nam in P Neelkantan’s Ambikapathy (1957). Ambikapathy is set in the Chola era in the 12th century and recreates the fabled romance between Ambikapathi (Sivaji Ganesan) and Amaravati (P Bhanumathi). The couple is so content in their mutual ardour that they feel that the entire world is celebrating their love. Composer G Ramanathan’s mesmerising pallavi is like a garland that adorns the song, making it very difficult to not listen to it over and over again.

Masila Nilave Nam, Ambikapathy (1957).

Even superheroes are not immune to romance. MG Ramachandran was a demigod on the screen and was often showcased as the epitome of masculinity. In Kumari Pennin Ullathile from Tapi Chankya’s Enga Veettu Pillai (1985), he is so deeply infatuated that he hugs a pillow as he thinks about his lover. As TM Soundararajan goes Kudiyirukka Naan Varuvathendral with some trademark sangatis, we get a shot of Maand right through our veins from this MS Viswanthan melody.

Kumari Pennin Ullathile, Enga Veettu Pillai (1985).

In Hindi cinema, both SD Burman and Naushad picked Maand for situations that expressed passion. In Vijay Bhatt’s Baiju Bawra (1952), which was scored by Naushad, the singer Baiju (Bharat Bhushan) is on a mission to defeat Tansen in Akbar’s court. As he leaves his village, his lover Gauri (Meena Kumari) sings Bachpan Ki Mohabbat, a pleading song that is worth every note in gold.

The songs of Baiju Bawra (1952).

It is always difficult to pin a film song down to a single raag. Unlike the repetitive nature of classical traditions, where innovation lies in interpretation rather than in radical rearrangement, film music allows greater aesthetic liberties. However, when an emotive raag like Maand makes its appearance in a song that is otherwise a ragamalika (garland of raags), it is difficult to focus on anything else.

Ilaiyaraaja’s Vanna Chindu from Gangai Amaran’s Kovil Kalai (1993) is a stunning melody in a folk tempo. It is almost like the tempo was an afterthought to fit the film sequence. But that doesn’t take away from the genius of the arrangement. The second charanam in singer S Janaki’s voice is a treat.

Vanna Chindu, Kovil Kalai (1993).

AR Rahman too used Maand for Suresh Krissna’s Sangamam (1999). Folk artist Selvam (Rahman, the actor) and Bharatanatyam dancer Abhirami (Vindhya) are kept apart by Abhirami’s egoistic father, who looks down on folk traditions. Sowkiyama Kanne Sowkiyama is about the anticipation of the love that nevertheless blooms between Selvam and Abhirami.

The orchestration in the interlude sets this composition apart in its grandeur, and it is wonderfully complemented by Nityashree Mahadevan’s strong voice with an emphasis on diction. The saxophone makes an appearance when you expect the nadaswaram, given the setting – a twist only adds to the beauty of the tune.

Sowkiyama Kanne Sowkiyama, Sangamam (1999).

Maand also had an impact on theatre. In the legendary Marathi play Sangeet Maan-Apmaan, directed by KP Khadilkar, Govindrao Tembe’s Mala Madan Bhase provides the emotional crescendo in a story that revolves around a woman who gives up her ambitions of wealth for the man she loves. The composition is a classical heavyweight that demands a full range of voice modulations that is challenging even for pros.

Mala Madan Bhase, performed by Manik Varma.

Here is a classical tillana composed by legendary Carnatic violinist Lalgudi G Jayaraman. Notice the titillating phrases that convey Maand at its purest. The lyrics communicate the highest form of bhakti poetry – surrendering to the divine.

Tillana in Maand by Lalgudi G Jayaraman.