As teenagers in the 90s, we had started to assert our tastes in music beyond our parents’ choice of old Hindi film melodies. While we liked those too, we were ever open to new influences, and so it was during a ride in our Aunt and Uncle’s car, that our cousins put in the audio tape for Thiruda Thiruda. That was the first time I heard Konjam nilavu, or Chandralekha as it came to be referred to popularly, especially in its later Hindi version. Considering no one in the family spoke or understood the language, the playing of the original Tamil soundtrack was even more strange and memorable.
Such was the difference between A.R. Rehman‘s music and most Hindi film music at the time, that many flocked to this film’s soundtrack for the music, ignoring the lack of understanding for what was being said. Perhaps the fact that the movie also starred Anu Agrawal, an up and coming Hindi film actress at the time, also helped garner some attention.
The cinematography by P.C. Sreeram was bold, dramatic and never afraid of keeping things in the dark for effect, and the blatantly Western instrumentation and style of music mingled with all the visuals of traditional Indian architecture and theatrical Indian costumes assured that no one was looking away.
With lines such as:
Konjam nilavu, konjam neruppu
Ondraaga saernthaal enthan thaegham
A piece of the Moon, a bit of fire,
When brought together, are my body
… and the mildly provocative imagery that accompanied them, this song set the stage for what was to be the start of the cult of Item Songs, provocative but slickly-executed dance sequences and songs staring attractive starlets, inserted into the proceedings for the marketing value and the spectacle. Here Anu Agrawal was very much a part of the film as a whole, but this song set the tone for things to come.