Ilayaraja: Top 20 songs from the maestro who’s scored music for 1000 films

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The Pongal release Tharai Thappattai marked the 1000th film of Isaignani Ilayaraja, the incomparable  maestro of Tamil film music. We attempt the impossible, drawing up a list of 20 most-loved Ilayaraja songs, conceding there are hundreds more that should have made it.


Machana Pathingala, from Annakili

In 1975, a young man who had come to Chennai seeking his fortune was given the opportunity to score the music for Annakili. It marked the arrival of a phenomenon on the South Indian film scene. For the songs in this sensitive, black & white film about unrequited love Ilayaraja combined folk rhythms with the film music techniques of the times. This vibrant song in the sweet voice of Janaki will always remain a favourite with those who listened to the radio in the late ‘70s.

Metti Oli Kaatrodu, from Metti

The ‘80s were marked by dozens of melodies of this sort. Ilayaraja himself sang this song from Metti, by Mahendran, with Janaki providing the humming. More than a few fans of this song say it transports them to another plane. Sensuous lyrics add to its appeal.

Nee Oru Kadhal Sangeetham, from Nayagan

In this beautifully shot song, featuring Kamal Haasan and Saranya, from Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan, Ilayaraja displayed his flair for working with classical ragas. This one in Shyam Kalyani, sung by Chitra and Mano, makes it to the top ten of most people’s favourite love songs.

Kalyana Then Nila, from Mounam Sammadham

This song, featuring Mammootty and Amala, is another of the maestro’s super-hit romantic melodies. With its classical overtones and beautifully constructed wordplay, it creates a mellow mood.

Enna Sattham Indha Neram, from Punnagai Mannan

In the film, this song is a prelude to a tragedy when the young lovers decide to commit suicide. S P Balasubramaniam’s voice and the maestro’s music combine to make a super-hit number.

Poongkathave Thaazh Thiravai, from Nizhalgal

When it comes to classical tunes, Ilayaraja is in supreme control. This song from Nizhalgal is made wondrous with its haunting violin pieces.

Atho Megha Oorvalam, from Eeramana Rojave

The superb lyrics of Pulamai Pitthan meet their match in the music of Ilayaraja in this 1991 hit. This was also the time when the maestro began to include table pieces in his film songs.

Kanmani Anbodu, from Guna

Kamal Haasan sang for friend and mentor Ilayaraja in this song. The female voice is that of S. Janaki. Shot in a cave in Kodaikanal, the song also made the location famous.

Thendral Vandhu Ennai Thodum, Thendrale Ennai Thodu

This song added lustre to a film that was a light-hearted romance. The voice of K J Yesudas and music of Ilayaraja will take anyone who was young and in love in the mid-‘80s on a nostalgic journey.

Anthi Mazhai Pozhigirathu, from Raja Paarvai

Ilayaraja’s penchant for playing with classical ragas – in this case, Vasantha — is showcased in this song from the Kamal Haasan-starrer. It is sung by S P Balasubramaniam and S. Janaki and features alaaps which connoisseurs of classical music applaud.

Ore Naal Unai Naan, from Ilamai Oonjaludugirathe

Nilavu Thoongum Neram, from Kunguma Chimizh

A gentle melody, this song makes for great nocturnal listening. And who, but the Isaignani, could have coaxed such magic out of a mouth organ?

Kanne Kalaimaane, from Moondram Pirai

Ilayaraja’s talent was to bring out the very best of the most accomplished singers. This song is one of K J Yesudas’s super hits that never fails to move the listener.

Janani Janai, from Thai Moogambikai

This is the evocation with which Isaignani Ilayaraja begins his live concerts. Dedicated to his favourite deity, Kollur Mookambika, it is so much more than a devotional song.