Monday, April 09, 2012

Mallu rockers hit Mollywood

In a new trend, Kerala-based rock bands are being used successfully in Malayalam films

Photo: Members of the Avial rock band

By Shevlin Sebastian

When the 2011 hit Malayalam film, 'Salt n’ Pepper' was winding to a close, the audience got a jolt. Suddenly, music exploded from the speakers and the members of the rock band, ‘Avial’ – Tony John (Vocals), Rex Vijayan (Guitars and Synthesisers), Binny Issac (Bass) and Mithun Puthanveetil (Drums) – stepped forward through a haze of artificial smoke and flashing strobe lights. Then Tony John – in a red T-shirt, green lungi, and with a gleaming bald pate – launched into 'Aanakallan'.

It was a Kerala folklore song, and had a pulsing, rhythmic beat. “We had modified the lyrics,” says Tony. “The music is a blend of traditional folk music and progressive rock.” Says Rex: “The song was used as the original soundtrack.”  

It was, of course, the first time in Malayalam cinema that a rock band was picturised for a film. Not surprisingly, 'Aanakallan' received a lot of hits on You Tube. Asked to explain its success, Tony says, “Since this was a new concept in a Malayalam film, the people liked it. Also, the directors and the audience are getting younger. So there is more appreciation for this type of music.”
Another reason could be the predictable nature of film music. “There is not much of innovation,” says Tony. “Production standards are weak. For example, a saxophone is best played during a romantic moment, but, in Malayalam films, it is used in several scenes.”

An additional cause was the impact of the Hindi film, ‘Rockstar’, which starred Farhan Akhtar, and described the ups and downs of a Mumbai-based grunge rock band, ‘Magik’. “The songs became a big hit among Malayalis also,” says Rex. “This might have made Mollywood to sit up and take notice.”  
But the 'Aanakallan' song happened by accident. The director of 'Salt n’ Pepper', Aashiq Abu, heard about ‘Avial’ through some mutual friends. So he befriended the band members, listened to a few songs, liked what he heard, and commissioned a song.

What came as a surprise to the group was how quickly they became popular. “That is the power of Malayalam cinema,” says Tony. “We have been playing as a band since 2003 and had a small, but devoted group of fans. But 'Salt n’ Pepper' changed all that and introduced us to a wider public.”
And now, ‘Avial’ has also composed three new songs – ‘Ayyo’, ‘Arambath’, ‘Thithithara’ – for 'Second Show', the debut film of Dulquer Salman, the son of superstar Mammooty. “We have also got a good response from 'Second Show',” says Rex. The film is probably going to be a sleeper hit of 2012. But Rex says that the band earns their money by doing live shows all over the country. “Unfortunately, playing for films is not lucrative at all,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rex has done some solo work. When his friend Sameer Thahir was directing his debut film, ‘Chappa Kurishu’, he asked Rex to do the original soundtrack. And his song, ‘Theyya Theyya’ became an instant hit, thanks to the uploading of the film sequence on You Tube. Thereafter, he did the background score for ‘Second Show’ also.
The Kochi-based rock band Motherjane have also ventured into film music. Director Amal Neerad approached them to do the original sound track for his film, 'Anwar'. “I liked their music,” he says. And so Motherjane composed a rock song called 'Jihad'.

Says drummer John Thomas, “The brief from Amal was about how terrorism was affecting the lives of ordinary Muslims. He felt it was unjust to spoil a community's name by projecting the acts of a few thousands onto millions of innocent people.”

The band believes that rock songs in Malayalam films is the start of a new movement. “The audience is receptive to all kinds of music,” says John. “Earlier, there were clear guidelines for music in films, but that is no longer been followed. In Tamil, Hindi, and Hollywood films, it has become a regular occurrence for bands to play in films. But the trend has only just begun in Mollywood. We have received other offers, but nothing has been finalized yet.”

So it looks like Mallu rockers are here to stay in Mollywood!

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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