Why You Should…
If you value emotional depth and narrative intelligence, this international effort from Santhosh Narayanan brief but consistently rewarding.
Why You Shouldn’t…
If despite its harmonic delights, you can’t help but nag for more complexity in composition.
Release Date: 9th August 2016 (DIGITAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Santhosh Narayanan
Label: Think Music
Much has been said in the diasporas of Southern India about the hugely anticipated gangster film, KABALI. For those who know of Superstar Rajinikanth’s screen presence, it’s an intellectual, eclectic treat and then some. For those unacquainted with the man, his name and the surprisingly legendary status that comes with 36 years of beloved, admired servitude to Indian cinema as a whole is of something new to discover. Fresh off the success of two lauded independent releases, director Pa. Ranjith explores a different narrative path in his fledgling career, revitalizing the gangster crime genre at large. An aged don, Kabaleeswaran (Kabali for short), returns from jail in the elusive confines of Malaysia, after having wrongfully suffered 25 years in a false sentence for starting a massacre at a Hindu temple that resulted in the unexpected death of his wife, Kumudhavalli. Resurrecting his former allegiances with his own gang, he begins a relentless war against a notorious Malaysian crime syndicate named Gang 43, and soon begins to reflect on the many shadows of his fractured past and impending future. Opening to favorable acclaim from critics and audiences alike, the film became the highest grossing Tamil-language film of all time, with an estimated 3.5 billion crores (roughly $52 million).
Continuing his partnership with Ranjith, Narayanan continues to evoke a more streamlined and Western-inspired series of passages, whilst also remaining true to his native soul. As is the case with most Indian films, the group of assorted songs are delineated for score cues, the composer remaining loyal to his themes. Delving more into overt synthetic and orchestral territory, the composer maintains a consistent sense of haunting likability to his narrative tapestry, as exposed in “43 Gang”, using a wordless vocal melody to represent the iron hold the villainous gang has on Kuala Lumpur, with mild percussive slapping in steady rhythm. This motif returns in “Evil Minds”, using eerie synth layers, piano and whining violins. He holds the synthetics primarily as means of enunciating tension in the conflict between Kabali and Tony, the primary villain, and makes for interesting textural applications in “Dealings”. “Face Off” represents maturity in the composer’s string lines and use of pulsating bass techniques, capturing a sense of almost genuine dread in its repeating two-note string passages.
For the gangster himself, Narayanan gives a suave, swanky feel in “Kabaleeswaran”, utilizing the drum palettes and ride cymbals as heard in the song from the film, “Veera Thurandhara” (Brave Leader), in flashback sequences- this classy feel is extended in “Kozhi Kari”, before dissolving into hard grunge rock to characterize the gangster’s anger. The main primary identity for the man is a characterized whistle in “Kabali Whistle Theme”, with dialogue and rap portions surprisingly not distracting. Another facet of his multi-lined identity is in “Kabali’s Little Girl”, the main theme for his daughter revealed as the story progresses, in tender piano and cello portions. The cello descending portions represent his newfound paternal affections, whilst the haunting solo voice captures his daughter. The love theme for him and his presumed dead wife is first introduced in “Kabali’s Reunion”, taking shades of lovely melancholy colours from the song from the film, “Maya Nadhi” (Mystic River). His wife’s theme, in “Kumudhavalli” is a longing piano and string led passage that steals the heart with sincerity, from the film’s song, “Vaanam Paarthen” (I Saw The Sky), with soulful flute passages to mirror how time has passed since her absence, and the impact it has on the gangster. Narayanan cleverly intertwines the two lovers together using the refrain from Maya Nadhi, and offers warmth in “Maya Nadhi Piano”, with emotionally rewarding results. For a dark, gritty action film to have such a strong, albeit lamentably brief emotional (let alone romantic!) core is a surprise indeed, and many listeners will take comfort and solace in these cues. Lastly, the hardcore, vengeful and fan-pleasing grit of the character is stylized through a dirty, abrasive distorted electric guitar flanger effect in “Straight Outta Jail”, a reference to the film’s introductory sequence, as well as the composer’s sense of humour. Well-maintained distortions and volume give way to this cuthroat identity of badass proportions, primarily heard in the film’s song “Neruppu Da” (I’m Fire!), with B-minor laden progressions. His final calling card is a electronic silen-wail, used effectively without overbearing irritation. Narayanan uses narrative intelligence more than compositional intelligence to score the film, deft in his leitmotivic touch.
Other cues pivotal to the narrative is “Meena” using a lovely female soprano to depict the character whom Kabali has grown fond of, and has adopted from the homeless into his charitable Free Life Foundation. Major-minor relationships are outstanding in this controlled cue. You’ll arch your eyebrows in pleasure at the string-led throwback to Herrmann in “Tamilmaran”, the clever use of this older technique to mirror another character pivotal to the flashback sequences. Narrative dialogues are key in “The Beginning of the End”, as the gangster confesses his time is running out, with the Gang 43 motif on strings to show this, and he vows to return peace to the adopted individuals and city. “The Don” extends that class and suave demeanor through bass and drum portions, using the calling card wail, and almost passing for a Bond cue that could have easily slipped through the new Daniel Craig era of films. More longing and rich romantic progressions reminiscent of Goldsmith‘s The Russia House are heard in “The Search for Kumudhavalli”, using a deep, dark saxophone. The villainous motif comes full circle in “Tony Li”, with more synthetic distortions and ominous low cello descent. Rather than opt for a melodic theme for the character, Narayanan uses a rhythmic motif instead. The final cue, “Under Attack” features rattling percussion and eerie ambiances with reverb, as an obscure means of creating tension. Perhaps the most reasonable complaint to address with this otherwise fine score is the lack of significant cues from the film itself. The dialogue will be of intrigue for international listeners not well-versed with the Tamil language, fortunately containing no obscene or crude remarks. But in a product that runs under half an hour, and contains a rewarding thematic tapestry, there lies much to like in this effort from Narayanan, and at the very least, it provides an interesting diversion.
(all music written by Santhosh Narayanan)
1) 43 Gang (1:40)
2) Dealings (1:04)
3) Evil Minds (0:32)
4) Face Off (2:19)
5) Kabaleeswaran (0:58)
6) Kabali Whistle Theme (0:43)
7) Kabali’s Little Girl (1:30)
8) Kabali’s Reunion (0:55)
9) Kozhi Kari (1:20)
10) Kumudhavalli (2:38)
11) Maya Nadhi Piano (1:38)
12) Meena (1:18)
13) Straight Outta Jail (2:08)
14) Tamilmaran (0:47)
15) The Beginning of The End (2:24)
16) The Don (2:15)
17) The Search For Kumudhavalli (1:17)
18) Tony Li (1:10)
19) Under Attack (0:50)