‘Nallai Allai’ — A fairy tale, told in fashion

Abhilash Annadurai
Mar 21, 2017 · 7 min read
‘Nallai Allai’ Song from Maniratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai

Well, this song is a trap. And instantly addictive. It makes you listen to it again and again to know what’s so addictive about it. After many attempts to decode its secrets, I am publishing my views on it, as an ardent Music listener.

There are 3 ingredients that makes this song exquisitely romantic.

Ambiance by AR Rahman:

Yes, its an Ambiance full of life, and not just Music. The Mild, yet impactful, Guitar by Keba Jeremiah, added with the backing vocals of Arjun Chandy and the Mellifluous hums by Chinmayi will give you an out-of-the-world experience in the song. The lady voice has been used only minimally yet effectively, in Rahman’s trademark style.

Like many, I also believe that the Mozart as such delivers his best when in combination with Maniratnam and Vairamuthu. The beauty of this Trio is that, each of the artists brings their best to the table, and often its tough to say which part of the work is better. Vairamuthu pens lines that directly touches our hearts; Rahman makes Music that talks to you like a character in the movie; Maniratnam, slices and dices the songs in his own style, adds his part of magic and makes it all the more entertaining.

The below sequence from ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ having the song ‘Sattena Nanaidhadhu Nenjam’, is a classic example for this.

In ‘Nallai Allai’ Rahman has underplayed the music intentionally and let the vocals and lyrics dominate the work. He has crafted it beautifully. That is the beauty in the work of Rahman- he ensures that the song is a hit, even if music is not the cynosure there. Literally, he is a musician who does not blow his own trumpet. He did the same in making ‘Avalum Naanum’ in AYM; he has done it again for Kaatru Veliyidai now.

The Soothing voice of Sathya Prakash:

This song requires a male voice that needs to describe a woman, in a manly and romantic manner. And Rahman, once again has chosen the best of the talents for this. Sathya Prakash had established his melodious voice for Rahman already in the song ‘Raasaali’, in AYM.

The song has words from Classical Thamizh, which the singer handles deftly. His pronunciations are so perfect that the words are left lingering in the minds of the listeners. But what makes his work shine is his modulations, which makes the song come alive like a play enacted in front of us. Right at the start of the song, he makes it with a high throw in the voice like a story-teller. Later he adds magical modulations every time the lover in the song experiences highs and lows, taking us smoothly along in the ride.

Vairamuthu’s Thamizh:

What makes this song a winner is the work of Kaviperarasu Vairamuthu. classy lines that brings out the love of the guy in a poetic manner, which makes the love sound as pure as the Thamizh used to describe it. Not just words, but the usage of Language itself has been done so differently by Vairamuthu. The result is this beautiful song which has multiple layers of adornments on it.

1.Classic Words

The Poet, being the veteran he is, has tried to treat us with the words which are almost at the verge of being forgotten. Let us look into the words which makes this song so special. The meaning for the words are italicized and mentioned beside each of them.

Aazhi- Sea, Nallai- Good, Allai- Not, Mugai- Flower bud,
Mugizh- Flower bud ready to bloom, Magarantham- Pollens,
Naarum- Smelling Good.

The word ‘Mugai’ from the days of Sangam Literature, tells the depth at which Thamizh poets then used to go when describing the beauty of nature. In English, we merely see a bud transforming into a flower. But in Sangam Literature, a flower has a life-cycle with 7 stages in it- which are: Arumbu, Mottu, Mugai, Malar, Alar, Vee, Semmal. Notably, the poet has used the word in one of his earlier work. Again with the same combo- Rahman and Maniratnam. I will leave for the readers to guess.

The poet uses a word ‘Mugizh’, which is again a word from olden days of Tamil. He has wonderfully brought-in the right meaning of the word- ‘Naarum’ in this song. Currently the word Naatram (related to Naarum) is used to denote bad-smell. But, originally in Thamizh, the word Naatram means ‘Fragrance’. In this song, the poet mentions ‘Naarum Poove’, which denotes ‘Flower that is emitting fragrance’.

2.Creative Combinations

Given that the individual words itself are so romantic, Vairamuthu has again combined them in an amazing way to produce marvelous Alliterations that resound in the memory of listeners.

Natchathira Kaadu- Forest of Stars,
Nallai Allai- You’re not Good,
Mugai, Mugizh, Mottu, Malar- Different stages of a flower
Mullai Kollai- Garden with Jasmine Flowers (Kollai- Garden at the backyard of a house)

Nallai Allai- is a usage from Kurunthogai, written almost 2000 years back. It carries a line: “நல்லை யல்லை நெடுவெண்ணிலவே.” (Nallai Allai neduvennilave- meaning: Oh dear moon, You’re not Good).

In the last stanza, the poet brings in a usage: “Mugai, Mugizh, Mottendra…”, which rhetorically conveys us that- the Lover was waiting through the seasons to reach his Beloved.

Like the title of the movie, Kaatru Veliyidai, this song also brings a feeling of experiencing pure and poetic love. Towards the end the song, the poet uses 2 of the Alliterations together-
Mullai Kollai, Nee Nallai Allai- this makes it doubly delightful.

3.Fairy Tale with Figures of Speech

As if the wonder of words and alliterations are not enough the Poet has generously bestowed numerous Figures of Speech and weaved the song into a beautiful fairy tale, making it oozing with romance.

The tale is about the Lover who is left searching for his Beloved. He tries to follow her closely, but every time ends up in disappointment without reaching her. The Poet has used the help of subjects like Moon, Night and Flowers to describe the Beloved. These are typical subjects used by Poets since the ancient days of Poetry when they try to portray the Beloved. But Vairamuthu’s imagination makes the song so mesmerizing.

The Lover sees his Beloved from the high skies, as a moon in the sea. As soon as he tries to reach her by getting to the sea, she moves out to the skies. He waits to caress the face of her, who is as soft as a flower-bud. While she was blossoming as a flower, he waits to feel the fragrance (love). But before he gets the feel of it, she vanishes into thin air.

Coming to the way in which the story unfolds, the Poet scores with his brilliance in using ‘Vanja Pugazhchi’, which is similar to ‘Irony’ in figures of speech. Usually, people use it sarcastically to demean a person with normal words. But it also can work the other way around, i.e. to praise a person, by using not-so-good words. The Poet has done the latter. He says, ‘Oh dear moon, You’re not good’. But, builds up a story base in parallel to tell us that, the Beloved is so gorgeous and adorable that the Lover is in incessant search for her.

The Poet also uses, ‘Nannilave’ (Moon) and ‘Nallirave’ (Midnight), to personify the Beloved. This is more of ‘Uruvagam’, which is a figure of speech meant to portray one subject as something else. He uses the same, while saying: ‘Natchathira Kaadu’ (Forest of Stars).

When the Poet says:
“Naan Unnai thedum velaiyile nee,
Megam soodi odivittaai”- he brings into life a stage with Moon, Cloud and sky as characters. And creates a scene wherein, the Lover is searching for his Beloved, i.e. Moon and she wears a veil of cloud and escapes away. Spell-binding imagination by the poet!

Later when the Poet says ‘Manam Kolla Kaathirunthen’, he brings in two meanings. ‘Manam’- means both fragrance and marriage. So the Lover is saying, when you were a flower, I tried to experience your fragrance. He as well means that, when she came of the age he was eager to marry her and feel her love.

Between the lines, the Poet did not forget to add his philosophical touch. He says:
“Oligalin thedal enbadhellaam
Mounaththil mudigindradhe…
Mounathin thedal enbadhellaam
Nganathil mudigindradhe!”

That means-
“Search for Sounds ends up in Silence.
Search for Silence ends up in Wisdom.”

Summing up…

Since the song is the depiction of feelings by the lover about his beloved, the vocals are also perfectly arranged accordingly. The Lady voice comes only in interludes, but is sweet and effervescent; just like the shine of the moon or fragrance of the flower. On the other hand, the male is bold enough to reinforce the romantic feelings of the Lover and gentle enough to leave us feel yearning with him. Rahman, undisputedly, has rolled out another master-piece melody, which will stay afresh for ages. It is the unsaid duty of every poet to preserve the beautiful words and usages in the language, and Vairamuthu has done a Yeoman job there! I thank him for penning such a classic and leave with these lines dedicated to Kaviperarusu of Thamizh Literature today-

நல்லை அல்லை : இதில் இன்பம் கொள்ளை,
கம்பன் பிள்ளை, இவர் தமிழுக்கு இல்லை எல்லை!