This film is proof that a decent film can be made with a simple concept. In essence, Roja is a love story painted on a background of terrorism. The first part describes the arranged marriage which brings the protagonists together and the small hiccups before the pair settle down. Then the movie moves on to the young man being abducted while on an assignment in Kashmir and the trauma that both people go through in quite different ways. It ends happily for those who, like me, prefer happy endings.
There are deeper questions which are addressed superficially – individual well-being vs collective interest, nationalism vs zealotry, terrorism and its cost, the ethics of prisoner exchange, child soldiers, collateral damage in war etc. All these are only touched upon with not much commentary; the director keeps his eyes focused on the protagonists.
The leads Arvind Swamy and Madhoo give good performances. The director, Mani Ratnam, retains a reasonable pace and holds our interest throughout. But for me, the films stands out for two exceptional factors, the cinematography and the music.
One cannot see the film without noticing the extraordinary camera work. The lighting is so perfect! Each shot seems to be lovingly composed. Be it the lovely lush village of the South or the snow peaked wilderness of the North, the camera has captured the beauty of all it has surveyed. I paused often, looking at a frame like I would look at a painting in a museum. Santosh Sivan is not without reason the most awarded Director of Photography in India. He is an artist extraordinaire. I am a fan.
Musically, this film is very important because it is the debut movie score of wunderkind A.R.Rahman. With two Academy Awards, two Grammy Awards, four National Awards and fifteen Filmfare Awards, to name a few, his career has been exemplary. I fell in love with the music of Roja when I first heard it in 1992; nearly 20 years later I still listen to this album with great pleasure. In fact, I believe I like this early phase of Rahman’s music more than his later work. This score was included in the Time Magazine Top-10 Soundtracks of all time in 2005. Vairamuthu’s lyrics are a good match for the beauty of Rahman’s music. A collector’s album. Note: The songs were translated into Hindi as well but as I listen only to the Tamil version, I cannot comment on them.
- Chinna Chinna Asai – Minmini. A lovely list of wishes, this song reminds me of the sweetness of ‘favourite things’ from Sound of Music.
சின்ன சின்ன ஆசை சிறகடிக்கும் ஆசை
முத்து முத்து ஆசை முடிந்து வைத்த ஆசை
வெண்ணிலவு தொட்டு முத்தமிட ஆசை
என்னை இந்த பூமி சுற்றிவர ஆசை
மல்லிகை பூவாய் மாறிவிட ஆசை
தென்றலை கண்டு மாலை இட ஆசை
மேகங்களை எல்லாம் தொட்டுவிட ஆசை
சோகங்களை எல்லாம் விட்டுவிட ஆசை
Little wishes, winged wishes,
Pearl like wishes, secreted wishes,
A wish to touch the moon and kiss it,
A wish that the world circle around me,
A wish to change into a Jasmine flower,
A wish to garland a spring breeze,
A wish to touch all the clouds,
A wish to leave all sadness.
Rukmani – S.P.Balasubramaniam, Chitra. The lyrics make me uncomfortable as they are explicit, on the edge of vulgar, but the melody is very appealing. The rhythm section of Rahman’s ensemble conduct a veritable masterclass! A.R.Rahman’s magic is woven throughout. The choreography is excellent, this song is both worth listening to and worth watching.
Pudhu Vellai Mazhai – Sujatha, Unni Menon. A slow and gentle song beautifully sung by Sujatha and Unni Menon. I love the instrumental interludes.
Kadal Rojave – Sujatha, S.P.Balasubramaniam. Simply perfect! Lovely melody and equally beautiful interludes. How romantic are the lyrics! கண்ணுக்குள் நீதான் கண்ணீரில் நீதான் கண்மூடிப் பார்த்தால் நெஞ்சுக்குள் நீதான். ‘Only you in my eyes, only you in my tears, and if I close my eyes and see, only you in my heart.’ Well said!
Tamizha Tamizha – Hariharan. A nationalistic song, it starts quietly but rises to this wonderful exuberant crescendo which brings on goosebumps! Great music.
You can listen to the album here.
I have selected two songs for you. Kadal Rojave is my favourite from this album.
And you must watch Rukmani for the dancing and the rhythms :