Most of Lenin Rajendran’s films often bridged the art-mainstream divide in Malayalam cinema. Of the many elements that Lenin had successfully used to veer the mainstream audience towards good work of art was music.
Even when he made biographies and stories that documented a bygone era, he put utmost care to pin a profoundly poetic and melodious soundtrack that suited the narrative.
Lenin had made a slew of movies that could be termed steady streams of intense romance coupled with soothing music.
His musical journey started with his debut film Venal (Summer) in 1981 composed by the legendary composer Manamadurai Balakrishnan Srinivasan aka MBS.
Lenin continued his collaboration with MBS in his sophomore feature Chillu the next year. The film was not a commercial success but its soundtrack is still regarded as one of the best ever in Malayalam cinema.
Quite an unconventional film for the time of its release, Chillu was a love story of childhood buddies Annie (Santhi Krishna) and Manu (Rony Vincent) and Annie’s misunderstood friendship with her fine arts college mate Ananthu (Venu Nagavalli).
Annie is an independent girl who had lost her mother at a young age. Her father (Adoor Bhasi) who is a criminal lawyer wants her to live freely without restrictions because he believed that lack of freedom and choice causes many youngsters to digress from their paths.
Manu, a cricket player and a possessive lover, had lost his father and lives with his mother and elder brother.
The affair between Manu and Annie is quite fragile. Manu’s insecurities come in the way of their happiness every now and then. He is a possessive lover who cannot stand Annie’s friendship with her male college mates.
On the other hand, Annie, an intelligent and bold girl, understands his insecurities and is considerate. “He is like a son to me,” she tells her friend jokingly.
We see that Manu, on occasions when he feels lonely and sad, wishing to be crying on the lap of Annie like a child. In another scene, Annie tells Manu that she wants to marry him and have a child like her artist friend Ananthu. She says she wants to breastfeed him even when he grows out of that age.
In another scene, she also talks about his bad company the manner in which a mother would advise her kid.
In Lenin’s screenplay, songs often capture the mood of a sequence or capture the emotional turmoil that a character goes through. The lyrical quality of the songs not only reflected the genius of a person who loved good writing but also someone who deeply passionate about creating songs that live forever.
It is no wonder then that he chose MB Sreenivasan to score music for many of his films. MBS was known as a ‘poetic composer’ who was one of the proponents of composing music for the already written lyrics at a time the trend was writing lyrics to suit the tunes given by the composer.
Chillu contains 3 songs penned by ONV Kurup and three poems by ONV Kurup, Kavalam Narayana Panicker and Edasseri.
The best of the soundtrack is Pokkuveyil Ponnuruki beautifully rendered by Yesudas.
Lenin had mentioned this as his favourite track from the film. In the film, this song belongs to Ananthu who is a gloomy loner unable to move on from the memories of his lost love.
Lenin uses soulful poetry by ONV to summarise all of Ananthu’s backstory into a single song. Annie plays this song on a tape recorder to surprise Ananthu during her birthday lunch with Manu, Ananthu, Annie’s father and a college friend.
While it takes him back to his memories with his lover (Jalaja whom we see only in a couple of songs), Manu gets increasingly uncomfortable and insecure. Ananthu is lost in memories even after the song had ended.
Rathri, ee rathri ennomale pole, pattil, ee pattil ninnormakal mathram (Like you, my beloved, in this night, this song too is filled with your memories).
Chaithram chayam chalichu is the semi-classical gem arranged in ahir bhairav, which was one of the favourite ragas of MBS. This is the first song of the movie and the one that introduces the Annie-Manu relationship. A perfect love poem that describes the beauty of the woman, it says nature borrows colours from the best of its elements to make a beautiful portrait of her.
A song that tests the singer’s rootedness in classical and cares for precision, the song has grown popular over years in reality shows. The sequence was shot in a single day in the backdrop of the Veli lake and boat club with the lead pair Rony Vincent and Shanthi Krishna.
The song Oru Vattam Koodiyen is a poem by ONV that Lenin discovered from a children’s magazine while he was writing the script of Chillu.
Lenin visited ONV to seek permission to use it for a situation in the film. ONV tweaked it a bit and MB Sreenivasan gave it a magical touch of melody.
The song continues to set the mood of perfect nostalgia for generations of Malayalee expats around the world and all those who want to relive a golden era of their lives back home.
The song repeats on two occasions in the film: the male version, sung by Yesudas when Ananthu and Annie are on an art retreat and the female version by S Janaki sans any orchestra sets the tone for Annie’s loneliness after her breakup with Manu.
It’s a melody that symbolises the minimalism, which distinguishes MBS from other composers of the era. Its charm rests solely on the power of the poetry, the melody and the rendition. ONV had recounted MBS dancing blissfully when he rendered the poem to him at the Marina beach.
“I will compose and play this to you tomorrow,” MBS declared to him the moment he finished his rendition.
Mannu, the folk bit by Kavalam is used for the song and dance at the art camp. Venu Nagavalli’s claps and singing pick up the pitch with no instruments in the BGM. This peppy folk number too had lit up many a celebration on campuses and college hostels.
Poet and playwright Edasseri’s Poothappattu was used in one of the campus scenes. Poet Balachandran Chullikkad had sung it.
Chillu is a perfect soundtrack that takes you back on a romantic nostalgia trip.
The director, composer and the poet who gave us Chillu are no more.
Generations will experience the pristine soundtrack that they had left behind.
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here)